June 19, 2011
Jyeshtha Krushna Chaturthi, Kaliyug Varsha 5113
Hindu Festival of Chariots attracts hundreds in honor of Hare Krishna
About 300 Krishna devotees cheered and chanted Saturday as followers pulled an ornately decorated chariot with a colorful canopy carrying the likeness of a deity along the shoreline in Jacksonville Beach.
The deity, Lord Jagannatha, represents peace and cleansing of sin for followers.
The event was the annual Ratha Yatras, or Hindu Festival of Chariots parade, which originated in India about 500 years ago. The parade celebrates the last incarnation of Krishna on Earth.
Devotees arched about a mile Saturday, proceeding south from Eighth Avenue North.
“This is the only event in which Krishna in the form of Lord Jagannatha comes out to see the people,” said 61-year-old Krishna devotee Sandra Elsey.
The Alachua County resident, who goes by the name of Sukhada, helped delicately decorate the festive 4,000-pound chariot with fresh flowers, incense and balloons.
The festival represents spiritual enlightenment, said Elsey, a devotee since 1974. She said the non-sectarian religion is based on service to Krishna and doing good deeds to others.
“We believe that when people chant [our] god’s name over and over and think about peace and love, they will experience a change in themselves from the bondage of the material world and violence,” she said.
Saturday’s event was the second of four planned in Florida. They started with a Memorial Day procession in Daytona Beach and will continue July 10 in Tampa and Aug. 6 in Clearwater.
Participants said Alachua County has the largest Krishna population in North America.