Festival of Chariots

A long procession of colorful, flowing clothing, drummers, dancers, and walkers — known as the ancient Rathat Yatra parade — returns to wind its way through Clearwater’s streets on May 4.

CLEARWATER — A long procession of colorful, flowing clothing, drummers, dancers, and walkers — known as the ancient Rathat Yatra parade — returns to wind its way through Clearwater’s streets on May 4.

The ancient procession is just one part of the Festival of the Chariots that visits Clearwater and each of Florida’s largest cities every year.

“The Rathat Yatra started originally in India and has been going on for thousands of years,” festival organizer Bhadra Das told the Beacon. Das said his name was given to him by his spiritual leader and founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The society, formed in New York City in 1966, sponsors the Festival of Chariots, the parade, and the community feast that follows.

The two-mile long procession includes a huge chariot with a blue, red and yellow canopy decorated with swans, lotus flowers, flags, Hanuman (Lord of Celibacy) and a brass chakra on top, organizers said. Hundreds of parade participants and Parade members pull the chariot with two, thick ropes more than 100 feet long.

Indian deities Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, decorated with stunning silk outfits and real flowers, ride atop the chariot. The leisurely parade will stop along the route so participants can sing and dance for observers.

The parade begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Pier 60 Pavilion and returns there, at which time there will be a free feast for as many members of the public until 7 p.m. While parade participants are walking, beachgoers and other members of the public can attend a cultural program at the pavilion, Bhadra Das said.

Clearwater Beach, which is still in its Spring Break mode, provides a lot of attendees every year, Das said. Sunbathers, families, and hotel guests in the area are invited to attend the free event.

“It is a beautiful festival, with socializing, so everybody’s invited,” he said. “It’s free to take part in it. We are a multicultural, multinational organization, with participants from many different nations.”

The goal of the festival is to proclaim one’s love of God, regardless of one’s deity, Bhadra Das said.

“The whole point is, we all have relationship with the Lord — Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish anyone — we all are part and parcel of the Lord and have a relationship with the lord,” he said. “This is about celebrating peace individually, peace in each family, peace for the whole planet.”

The parade, which the festival organizers call “a very visual event with colorful traditional costumes and flower decorations,” will be accompanied by the cultural program, with family friendly activities, including live music and classical Indian dance acts, books, and a bazaar.

According to Das, the big draw is the free, vegetarian and vegan feast of traditional Indian dishes.

“You will experience peace and happiness, while at the same time have nice, vegetarian food,” he said. “So that one doesn’t have to harm any animals, the Lord has provided grains, vegetables, fruits, milk in nature.”

There will be no dairy products on the beach because of the heat and sun, said Bhadra Das, who lives in Alachua near Gainesville.

Nine Ratha Yatra Parades are held yearly in Florida: Miami, Jacksonville Beach, Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Daytona Beach, Clearwater Beach and St. Augustine. The group also holds events in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

For more information, contact festival organizers at nartaka@windstream.net.