Leicester Rathayatra: festival of Chariots back after a 3-year break
By Fiora Flinton
The Hindu festival of Chariots, Rathayatra is back in Leicester and takes places on Sunday 7 August.
Rathayatra is one of the oldest street festivals in the world and was initially observed in the ancient holy city of Jagannath Puri in Odisha, India.
Festival goers from across the UK will hand pull a 40ft chariot carrying the deities of Lord Jagannath (Krishna), his sister Subhadra and Lord Balarama through the city centre.
Spokesperson Nima Suchak says: “the reason for the festival is that devotees feel that they get the honour of pulling the ropes (of the chariot) and so if they pull the ropes, the idea is that they are pulling God into their heart.”
This festival has been celebrated in Leicester for many years, making this year’s one the 29th celebration – “we should have just celebrated 30 years (of the festival in Leicester), but it is our 29th year celebrating, as we had a three-year gap because of COVID.”
The festival starts with an inauguration ceremony at ISKCON Leicester (31 Granby Street) at 9am, followed by the procession through Leicester city centre at 11:30am, arriving at Cossington Park at 2:30pm for the free festival.
“It’s a very lively procession, with lots of musicians and instruments, traditional ones as well as western and it culminates in a big festival in Cossington park.”
“There, people can expect a stage show with dances, drama, singing and chanting. There’ll also be experience tents where people can experience mantra meditation, the opportunity to shop for arts and crafts, a play area for children and free food for everyone.”
The celebration starts with a Pahandi ceremony – “not many places in the world actually celebrate this festival, it happens in India and outside of India, but Leicester is one of the few places that do the Pahandi ceremony.”
Nima added that they are expecting around 10,000 people to attend the event, which makes it the second largest of its kind in Europe.
“In India, not everybody is able to go into the temple, so it’s a very inclusive festival, anyone and attend or take part, regardless of their faith or background.”
“It’s the idea that it’s the one day that God comes out of the temple to meet the people rather than people having to go the temple.”
Further information about this event is available on the ISKCON Leicester website www.iskconleicester.org or their social media.