We had a fantastic Rathayatra. After a ride on the NY subway, I met up with the devotees at the starting point on 57th.  Over a couple of hours we traversed about 50 city blocks, which is a couple of miles, right down 5th Ave. which Srila Prabhupada said was the most important street in the world.

There were tens of thousands of people out on the street, and more than 2,000 devotees turned out. Its the biggest Rathayatra in America and devotees from all down the east coast came, including a bus load from Alachua.Nowadays everyone has a digital camera (except me!) and so there must have been many thousands of pictures taken of the carts and deities and devotees. I saw one motorcycle police woman who was assigned to direct the traffic take out her mobile phone and take pictures of the chariots as she directed the traffic.

I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way on foot. My knee just won’t last that kind of distance anymore. So I rode all the way on Subhadra’s cart. I had some powerful flashbacks to the very first NY Rathayatra in 1976:July 18th, 1976 (from TD 3)Prabhupada has been waiting for this day when he can witness Rathayatra in the place he first began ISKCON just ten years ago.Srila Prabhupada maintained his regular program this morning, except there was no class because all the devotees were fully engaged in preparing for the festival. We drove past the ratha site just in time to see the devotees pulling the chariots to the parade start. As we neared them, Srila Prabhupada suggested that the devotees include all the temple vehicles in the procession. “Full opulence,” he said as he smiled. “sad-aisvarya-purna.”

Tamal Krishna Maharaja caught up the proposal with enthusiasm, lamenting that only three buses and a few vans were present out of the twenty-five vans and eight buses the Radha-Damodara party has. However, he and Adi-kesava assured Prabhupada they would at least all be there along with all the temple cars, with the exception of the older vehicles.

Adi-kesava told us that each chariot weighed fourteen thousand pounds. Even with their top canopies lowered they looked formidable. Seven and a half feet tall steel wheels were covered in mirrors, and their brightly painted frames dazzled. Prabhupada was very impressed with them, commenting several times how strong and nicely made they were. Jayananda prabhu, who Ramesvara Maharaja said had worked throughout the last five nights to ensure the carts were ready, was leading the carts looking tired, yet blissful. He had been working all night with sixty other men to get the carts to the beginning of the parade route, and had drafted another fifteen men to help with one of the chariots that was refusing to budge.

Just as Srila Prabhupada’s car pulled close, that chariot began to move. The devotees were all shouting, “Prabhupada! Balarama!” to gain both strength and enthusiasm. When they saw Srila Prabhupada in the car they began to shout and pull with even greater vigor. “Jaya Prabhupada!” they called out. Srila Prabhupada smiled and called back, “Jaya. Hare Krsna!”

Ramesvara reminded Srila Prabhupada how in the Caitanya-caritamrta he had written that just as the cart of Jagannatha in Puri is compared to Mount Sumeru, similarly, in London they were comparing it to Lord Nelson’s column.
Prabhupada said the British newspaper, the Guardian, had published its report with the words, “Rival to Nelson’s column.”

Tamal Krishna said the Guardian was a good newspaper. Prabhupada, however, felt they were now against us for political reasons. “Only politics. So mean-minded, they have no idea even beyond politics.”

As we walked around the park Tamal Krishna Maharaja told Srila Prabhupada that when they had applied to the city for permission to hold Ratha-yatra they only said it was going to be a small parade with some hand-drawn floats. Tamal laughed. “Another trick of the Hare Krsnas.”

Prabhupada smilingly compared them to Lord Vamana asking Bali Maharaja for charity. “Bali Maharaja was asked for three feet of land. ‘Very good. You speak so nicely, such intelligent, but You are boy; You do not know how to ask. I can give You a big island.’ ‘No, I must be satisfied as I require. I don’t want more. Only three feet, that’s all.'”

* * *

Prabhupada took his massage, prasadam and rest half an hour earlier than usual, so he was ready to go when the car arrived at 3:00 p.m. to take him to the parade. As the car moved down 7th Avenue across the intersections we could see the chariots making their way down 5th Avenue. The parade was so long that the lead cart, Lord Jagannatha’s, and the third one, Lord Balarama’s, crossed two different junctions simultaneously, both surrounded by huge crowds of devotees and onlookers.

Our car pulled up at the Empire State Building, on 34th Street and 5th Avenue, where Prabhupada waited the arrival of the chariots. We looked back up 5th Avenue to see the incredible spectacle of three brightly festooned rathas, their multicolored canopies reaching high into the air, majestically gliding down the man-made concrete canyon with an entourage stretching back for blocks.

Six hundred devotees chanted and danced in multiple kirtana parties, in front and on all sides, glorifying the Lord of the universe. Many thousands of onlookers lined the sidewalks, including a large turnout from the Indian community. Prabhupada said it was a long-cherished dream come true.

The lead chariot went past us and then the parade came to a halt. Srila Prabhupada stepped out of his car and, surrounded by an escort of sannyasis using their dandas as a makeshift barrier, he approached Lady Subhadra’s chariot, his hands held together in respectful pranamas.

Prabhupada walked slowly through the crowd which pressed forward to see him, almost hemming him in. Television and news reporters were there in force. They were practically fighting with each other to try to get their photo shots and a possible interview. Srila Prabhupada ascended the chariot and sat comfortably on the vyasasana which the devotees had mounted under the front deck between the wheels.

With Tamal Krishna Maharaja, Kirtanananda Maharaja, Radhaballabha dasa, Candanacarya dasa, myself and some other devotees flanking him, the parade restarted. Radhaballabha carried a walkie-talkie. He told me afterward that he and several others who stuck close by Srila Prabhupada throughout the parade were all armed in case there was any trouble.

But everything went very smoothly — ecstatically — as one large group of devotees after another took turns to come before Subhadra’s chariot, each one chanting and dancing with abandon before His Divine Grace before peeling off to make way for the next. And all along the route New Yorkers and tourists stood by the roadside, amazed and delighted by the grand spectacle.

After an hour or so the chariots arrived at their Washington Square Park destination where many thousands more spectators were milling around, inspecting various booths and awaiting the arrival of the Lord. Our chariot pulled into the park, just at the side of a large stage. Prabhupada, grinning broadly, dismounted and was led to the stage while the devotees prepared for his lecture.

The smoothness with which the devotees had handled the parade was marred somewhat at this point because they made the mistake of thinking that they could use the vyasasana from the chariot for Srila Prabhupada’s lecture on stage. But they had problems getting it moved, and this resulted in Prabhupada having to stand around for about ten minutes while they struggled to set it up. He asked for water, but none was on hand, and it was another fifteen minutes before some arrived. Prabhupada became a little annoyed with all this. Then devotees proceeded to bring the three deities to a platform directly behind and above him during his lecture, thus interrupting him. But apart from these hitches, Prabhupada was delighted with the whole affair. It was an impressive achievement in the most famous and important city in the world, and a triumphant climax to Prabhupada’s American tour.

His talk was very short. He began by giving a brief summary of the origin of the festival, describing how Krsna came to take the form of Lord Jagannatha. …

He ended, “We have got so many books. So kindly take advantage of this Movement and impartially try to understand what is the purpose of this Movement, why we are distributing so many literatures. Soberly and with calm head, try to understand this Movement and be happy. That is our only mission. Thank you very much.”

To the cheers of the huge crowd of devotees, Srila Prabhupada dismounted the stage and returned to the temple, leaving his disciples to continue on with the festival into the late evening.

Once back at the temple he immediately took rest, even though it was only 6:30 in the evening. He was strained, but happy. As I massaged his legs he lay back and laughed, “I thought there would be some fanaticism!” He was referring to a heckler who stood on the square’s fountain at the back of the crowd shouting protests during his lecture. “Did you see that man?” he asked me. “One large black man came up and Thump! he knocked him in the water.” Prabhupada had seen it all from the stage and he chuckled as he recalled the incident. Actually there was practically no disturbance from anyone, except a few fanatic Christians who marched alongside the parade carrying placards that read “Turn or Burn.”

Prabhupada got up again at 8:00 PM and Tamal Krishna Maharaja and Bali-mardana prabhu came to give detailed reports on the day’s events. According to them the festival was a great and unqualified success. There were no real incidents to speak of, and even the police were very happy.

Sudama Maharaja and his troupe enthralled the crowd with their dramas. The devotees sold books, made life members, and ran various preaching booths. Devotees came from almost every temple in America and Canada and from as far away as South America to make it a truly international celebration. Everyone agreed that it was the biggest and most successful festival ISKCON has staged in the West.

Tamal Krishna Maharaja estimated that between thirty and forty thousand people went through the park in five or six hours. Over seven thousand people enjoyed seven different kinds of free prasadam, and sales of sweets and watermelon slices brought in over five thousand dollars.

Prabhupada liked it when they told him a single piece of burfi sold for a dollar and that a slice of melon went for fifty cents. “People, they are simple here. They are not, about money matters, so much attracted. They have got enough money. They don’t care. They want that it is good taste, that’s all.”

Typically, Prabhupada asked if the crazy boy who had been shouting also got prasadam. Tamal told him he thought he must have because free prasadam was given to everyone.

Prabhupada also asked if the police were given prasadam. Tamal said he wasn’t sure because Tosana Krsna prabhu was looking after them. “We’ll bring them some present tomorrow,” he said. “But they made the statement that ‘If every parade was so beautiful and so nicely orderly, we would be very happy.'”

“Yes,” Prabhupada said. “And that cannot be expected from any other group, only in this group. Such a huge crowd, and there was not a single instance of violence.”

Prabhupada suggested to them that the devotees purchase a building in the Washington Square locale and have two parades: one going and, seven days later, another returning. Lord Jagannatha could stay in the downtown building and a weeklong festival could be held in the park. Then the rest of the year they could use the house for preaching.

He had previously told them they could open temples in every district of New York. “Uptown, downtown, all around the town!”

Tamal Krishna attempted to persuade Prabhupada to remain in New York, tempting him with the temple facilities and the promise of being able to write. He said that if Prabhupada came to stay he and the devotees would work day and night and give up all personal considerations in order to preach.

Prabhupada laughed at his persistence, praising his determination. He said that he was agreeable to the offer, but other devotees wanted to see him too. Apart from that, he said that in India his presence was required. “If the government is going against our Movement, then I’ll have to stay. There is no alternative.” Prabhupada told us that as a result of the Emergency called by Indira Gandhi, and the jailing of her opponents, the result will be that she and her Congress Party will never be elected again. “That is sure. Therefore she’s postponing election. Now they have lost all their credit. They will never be elected. Congress Party and Indira Gandhi finished.”

As we talked Sravanananda prabhu came in with some 7 UP. Prabhupada had asked me for some when he woke from his rest. He sipped the fizzy soft drink and told us, “From my childhood I liked this lemonade. I think it was cost, in our childhood, three paisa.”

Pusta Krsna Maharaja came in, exuberant from a full day’s chanting and preaching. He had led one of the kirtana groups in the parade. Several times he came before Srila Prabhupada’s chariot, his face aglow, fully enlivened to be out with the devotees in the midst of the action. Srila Prabhupada smiled and complimented him, “Pusta Krsna Maharaja chanted.”

Pusta Krsna also had good things to say about the festival. “Prabhupada, this festival was wonderful. So many people took prasadam, and afterward they had a play and then they did some bhajanas, and the people were enchanted by the whole thing. And the neighbors there, they said that ‘In the five years I’ve lived by the park, the park has never been so nice.'”

Prabhupada inquired whether Ambarisa had been there. Bali-mardana said he was in the parade, but had returned to Boston immediately after. He said he had been very willing to cooperate with any publicity and had no objection to his name being used.

It was very late, after ten, and Prabhupada told the devotees to take rest. “You have all worked so hard.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Back to 2008:

I saw Jayapataka Maharaja lead the kirtan just behind me, all the way down nearly to the destination, Washington Sq. Park. He was completely wiped out when I saw him at the park, and his feet were swollen but I was impressed with his effort.

Unfortunately after only an hour at the park the clouds gathered and we had a couple of downpours, really loud thunder claps, and then it poured down for the rest of the afternoon. That killed the rest of the program and I went back to the flat I am staying about 6 PM. Fortunately it is only two blocks away from Washington Sq. Park. I only sold nine books but I was happy.

In Washington Sq. Park I saw heaps of old devotees I hadn’t seen for many years. I spoke with Bhaktijan who I hadn’t seen since 1976. Romapada Swami told me he saw Achyutananda at the parade. He said he looks like he weighs about 120 lbs. so his condition isn’t so good, but Romapad Maharaja saw him go before the chariots and get down and offer his obeisances, then he took out a pair of kartals and started chanting. So his heart is still in the right place even if he hasn’t been active for many years.

I was again disappointed not to meet Ramesvara prabhu. He didn’t show up. I rang him a couple of times but only got his voice-mail.

I saw Raghunatha, the ex-gurukuli, he is still writing and handed (sold!) me a book he just published called “Social Cost: Magic Bullet of Social Policy. The Savings, Efficiencies and Fairness of a Social Cost Based Tax System Called ROOPA: Responsibility for One’s Own Products and Actions.” I am not sure I will be able to read through it, it looks as complicated as the title.

The premise though is really interesting. He calculates the economic costs to human society of breaking the four regulative principles. Something like ‘the wages of sin are big bills and destruction of the environment.’ I told him I thought it would create a revolution in economics. And I think it will. In a current climate of economic doubt and impending recession, its a novel and pithy look at the economic cost of sense enjoyment.

It may be difficult to convince people that certain activities should be given up because they are morally wrong, but you take the same actions and explain how its costing trillions of dollars to maintain them, well then I think you have a pretty powerful motivation for people to abandon them. Follow the four regs. because it makes economic sense. Now there’s a viable argument!I also saw Arundhati, who traveled with husband Pradyumna and son Aniruddha for nearly a year and half on Srila Prabhupada’s party, cooking and transcribing His Divine Grace’s nightly dictations. She is living two hours north of NY, but I didn’t get a chance to really talk to her. I had hear with alarm some time back that Aniruddha was quite distressed but now she says he is doing alright, he is in Hawaii still and he is managing himself OK.I spoke with Pradyumna, who was very pleased to see me. He lives at the Sanctuary, which is the building we took over from Kirtanananda’s people at 25 1st Ave. Its exactly back to back with 26 2nd Ave. but much bigger. We have a group of brahmacaris that live there, it is literally one block over from 26 2nd Ave. Pradyumna was just leaving for a couple of days to Philadelphia and I am hoping to have lunch with him on Tuesday.Satyaraja has an excellent new book out called “The Yoga of Kirtan” which is a bunch of interviews with all the leaders of the kirtan yoga circuit some devotees and some not. It looked pretty interesting so I bought one from him. It comes with a CD. After reading some of it I highly recommend it. As usual, Satyaraja is up on the current trends and keeping his writing topical.

So it was a great day, apart from the weather at the end. If you ever get the chance and haven’t experience a NY rathayatra-do it! You won’t be sorry.

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