June 24, 2012
Ashadh Shukla Panchami, Kaliyug Varsha 5114
HARVEST, Alabama — Ratha Yatra, the festival when the image of Lord Jagannath, along with his brother and sister deities, are transported from their temple shrine to another building, demonstrates the best of Hinduism, says former Ambassador Pramathesh Rath.
Rath, along with Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks and Rabi Rath Sharma, a philosopher from India, were guests of honor Sunday for Ratha Yatra, the joyful chariot festival of Lord Jagannath.
“This is an opportunity for all devotees, irrespective of religion or caste or race or age, to receive the blessing,” Rath said. “Hinduism is the most inclusive of faiths.”
To the clamor of gongs, conch shell trumpets, cymbals, tambourines and ghanti, devotees and visitors helped carry the wooden images from the main temple of the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama to the annex building, where they will reside for the next week.
Bahuda (return) Yatra will be observed Saturday, along with the 17th anniversary of the temple.
Priests prepare the small versions of the images of, from left, Sri Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannatha, to ride in a chariot to the annex center of the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama Sunday (June 24, 2012). (The Huntsville Times/Kay Campbell)
More than 1.2 million devotees attended the festival this year in Puri, Orissa, the location of the main shrine of Lord Jagannath, Rath said.
The chariots there are about 45 feet tall, intricately decorated, and are pulled through the streets by long ropes, which are considered an extension of the arms of the deity.
Those who help draw the carriages – an honor open to anyone – are considered to be touching the deity himself.
Outsiders seeing Hindus bow before fantastically carved images can get a wrong idea about the faith, Rath said.
“The secret to Hinduism has been its ability to adapt, to take on new aspects of culture and time,” Rath said. “All of these ways of seeing God came from communities in all parts of India. Jagannath was originally a tribal god, but with the development of Hinduism, came to be seen as a form of Krishna.”
“This is not idol worship,” Rath said. “This is iconography. We all call God by different names, but the wise know that God is one, that there is one universal principle.”
Source: All Alabama