Traditional Indian street festival set to return to Bath later this month

Rathayatra, the festival of the chariots, takes place all over the world and will be observed by millions. It’s been traditionally celebrated annually in Jagannath Puri in Orissa, India, where Lord Jagannath along with His sister Subhadra and elder brother Balabhadra are paraded through the streets of the city. Ashish Rajhansha, a member of the Bath Hindu Community CiC (Community Interest Company), and one of the organisers of the event, said: “For many people, Lord Jagannath is an incarnation of Lord Krishna. “This event commemorates the story of Him being paraded through the streets. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play music, instruments, and devotional songs, including the famous Hare Krishna mantra.
“Here in Bath we’ll be walking through the city with our chariot. Anyone is welcome to come along and take part in this auspicious occasion.” The event is the sixth of its kind in the city, with up to 300 people expected to take part this year including Hindus, Hare Krishna devotees, members of other faiths, and the general public. Susmita Rajhansha, who has spent several weeks planning the local festival, added: “A sight of Lord Jagannath on the chariot is considered to be blessing, with many saints, poets and scriptures repeatedly praising the sanctity of this special festival. “The significance of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is believed to result in a blessing.”
The first Rathayatra held outside of India took place in San Francisco in 1967, and was organised by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) – more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement.
The Bath festival comes at a time when the local Hindu community continues to grow. With almost 400 members across Bath & North East Somerset, the 2011 census marked a significant increase in the number of people professing to identify as ‘Hindu’ or as followers of the Hindu religion. Nathan Hartley, spokesperson for ISKCON Festivals, added: “Members of the Hare Krishna movement are looking forward to making a return again this year to Bath for the city’s annual Rathayatra Festival. “This colourful affair has become a much looked-forward to spectacle each summer, and is a real opportunity for local people to experience this ancient philosophical tradition in practice.”
The 2016 Bath Rathayatra will take place on Saturday 28th May, starting at 12.30 pm at the top of Midland Road/Upper Bristol Road junction with a traditional Hindu coconut ceremony. The procession will run through the city, around Kingsmead Square, finishing with prasadam (sanctified spiritual food) and a celebration in Royal Victoria Park later in the afternoon.