Three chariots carrying the gods pulled through the campus for the Ratha Yatra celebration on Wednesday.
The annual Festival of the Chariots, as it’s called, opened as volunteers carried bright and lavish chariots in a large parade from Pegasus Circle to the Student Union at UCF, before hosting a multicultural celebration in the Pegasus ballroom encouraging tolerance of other faiths.
The ceremony represents the humanization of God according to Professor Deepa Nair, a Faculty Advisor for the Indian Student Association.
“It is an opportunity to see God and for him to see us,” Nair said.
Ratha Yatra honors Lord Krishna’s return to Vrindaban and originated over 5,000 years ago in India, in a city called Jagannatha Puri. The three wooden chariots are present for the three deities, Lord Balarama and Lady Subhadra, and namely the “Lord of the Universe,” Jagannatha.
High energy dances and drums filled the ballroom echoing the same chants that accompanied the Chariot parade which circled the Student Union in the afternoon.
Enthusiasts joyously dancing and chanting the “Lord’s Holy Names” remind those in attendance just how universal religious traditions are:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Not unlike Allah or Yahweh, Jehovah or Jesus Christ, the supreme deity at the center of the Hindu occasion is the source of dutiful pride for those in attendance but people involved insist the festival is anything but religious.
Shraddhanjali Devidasi of the Hare Krishna Society described it as “a cultural outreach.” Similarly, Dvaipayana Das of UCF’s Sangam Club said: “this is about spirituality and self-realization, not religion.”
The chariot procession and wellness festival is part of a larger effort to tell people about the ancient civilization of India in colleges around the U.S. by groups like the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) who organized the event and performs around the world.
Several hundreds of students and enthusiasts from all backgrounds partook in the diverse celebration ranging from a Bhakti Yoga session, vegetarian Indian foods, sacred dance, and a lengthy musical performance from The Mayapuris and lasted nearly nine hours.
The diversity of the crowd even surprised Das who glanced into the ballroom at those enjoying the art of a Hindu sculptor. “We do not consider any boundaries, anybody comes.”
Undoubtedly, the sight of an open and embracing Hindu tradition greeting new faces with Kirtan world music and what they called prasadam (free food) is more than welcome.
For leaders like Nair the spiritual passion of the festival is crucial. “The times that we are living in, we need to be aware of the different cultures and be respectful of different cultural ideas and identities.”