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(The 1977 New York parade was well managed, polite and had the mood of a proverbial Sunday walk in the park. Everything was nicely arranged and in this photo you can see maybe 3-4 police officers just casually strolling along appreciating the beauty of the carts and the melodies of the chants.)
(This was the turn out I encountered the day of the parade. Even the side streets were jam packed with thousands of people pushing towards the cart to see what the Hare Krishna devotees had built for Lord Jagannatha. Subhag Swami Maharaj and the late Tamal Krishna Maharaja are the two devotees seen in the photo on the right. )
(While working on the Samadhi project Bhavananda asked me to come up with a suggestion for how to better use the open space between the buildings in Mayapur. I responded with a complete set of plans for the Mayapura “Lotus” fountain garden. Caitanya Simha prabhu actually managed the construction of the fountain but I had a chance to go see when I returned to Calcutta for either Gaura Purnima or the Rathayatra festival in 1981. I asked these three gurukula children to pose on the bench that was an integral part of the fountain design. This photo captures how ridiculous it was to expect children of this size to “Work the Brakes” on the back side of the Rath cart! (The Lotus fountain was torn down circa 1995 to make way for the construction of the huge Temple of Vedic Planetarium.))
(On one side there appeared to be the whole city of Calcutta very enthusiastic to pull Lord Jagannatha through the streets. On the other side were this group of gurukula children, recruited at the last minute to pull on the rear ropes if we needed to stop! Just the thought of it is chilling and that was what I saw as I came out onto the street to start the parade!)
Let the Parade Begin !
“One old devotee said, "My dear Lord, when we are away from You we become so anxious to see You again, and there is great misery in our lives. But then when we do see You, there immediately comes the fear of separation. Under the circumstances, both when we see You and when we do not see You, we are subjected to different kinds of tribulation." This is an instance of a contradictory mixture of ecstatic love for Krsna. Such ecstatic love is palatable, and expert critics have compared such ecstatic love to a mixture of yogurt, sugar candy and a little black pepper. The combined taste is very palatable.” - “The Nectar of Devotion” Chapter 33, Indirect Expressions of Ecstatic Love, Dread
At that point my job was done until about 1p.m. when the parade was scheduled to start. I took the opportunity to go back to where the bramacharis slept on the roof of the temple and get some more rest. Someone brought me a little fruit and mahaprasadam, which was all my stomach, could process at that time but it was enough. About three hours later it was time to get back up and go meet the people who had come to escort Lord Jagannatha from our temple to the reception pandal more than three miles away on the North side of the city.
As I came down the stairs and through the shower-room that had been built right in the middle of the hall en-root back to the main temple, I could tell a lot was going on. Even before I came around the corner my ears told me that the temple was packed more than I had ever seen it before. I had to wedge myself thru the crowd to get to the veranda where the rath
cart from the street below was now popping up. Everyone had told me several times to expect a lot of people to show up, but there were so many people on the street below you could not even see the asphalt. People had climbed on top of walls and cars and anything they could to watch as the deities had been lovingly escorted onto the carts. I began to realize I was not in New York anymore!
Jayapataka Maharaja had been calling for me because it was time to start the parade. Despite the untimely Malaria attack from the day before all of the activity was energizing me to get the Rath cart rolling. All we needed to do now was get everyone in place and let the ropes out.
Jayapataka, myself, and the other temple devotees not already engaged outside descended the stairs together and as I came through the door the first thing I checked for safety reasons was to see who would be working the back ropes as the last minute arrangement I made for stopping the cart. To my chilling consternation the devotees struggling to even hold the thick ropes in their little hands were the very young Mayapur gurukula children! My first reaction was to say something but as I attempted to gather my thoughts it was impossible. Everything was moving too fast as the raw energy of the crowd pulsated everywhere. Jayapataka Maharaja ascended the chariot with several other devotees and I pushed my way to the parallel steering bars in the front of the cart so we could begin. When I finally managed to wedge my way to the front I discovered there were at least a dozen enthusiastic young men who were all competing among themselves to be Lord Jagannatha’s designated driver. I attempted to tell them that it was my job to steer the chariot but they spoke several different languages and few understood English. I appealed to the police who I assumed were there to help keep order but they made it quite clear that although they had the khaki uniform of a peace-officer, this was ISKCON’s parade and therefore the onus was on me and my cronies to make this festival a success.
While the kirtan played on everyone else was shouting something to someone in his or her native tongue. Jayapataka Maharaja was enlivening the crowd by bellowing “Hari Bolo” while throwing up his hands. The pujaris were shouting between themselves about how to receive all the gifts people were coming to hand up to them for the deities. I finally managed to elbow my way into position using broken Bengali “Isme amar Kaj koro/That’s my job!” My heart was thumping and I really had no idea how serious this situation was that I had gotten myself into this time. On the front side of the cart was what seemed like the entire city of Calcutta and on the back were about 35 children not more than four feet tall who looked just as frazzled and bewildered by everything as I felt. Although I knew I was not ultimately in charge of anything, I had hoped that I would at least have some false confidence that everything was going to be all right. I had attempted to encourage some adults in my immediate vicinity to go help on the back ropes but everyone looked at me like I was asking them to commit a terrible sin. “No! So sorry sir!” they exclaimed. “Bhakti means pull murti forward, not to try and hold him back!”
Aye yai yai? NY did not have a crowd like this. In fact I had never been at an event where so many people were packed together for one common cause and the irony was also overwhelming. In one sense everyone was waiting for me to give the word to begin the parade as if I somehow had everything under control. The fact was that right at that crucial moment I had been working three months towards, I had absolutely no idea how this was going to work out.
This crowd was way beyond anything I could have ever anticipated despite how many times people told me it was going to be huge! Oh my God Jagannatha Swami. The ropes were still tucked under the cart as a safety precaution. What was going to happen when I gave the instruction to let them out? About 100 yards down at the end of Albert road the cart would have to turn right onto Camac Street and there were still cars parked along each side. How would I ever manage to make the turn with all these young hyper-bhaktis ready to launch the Rath cart into orbit as soon as the ropes were released? There were people everywhere and no place for them to get out of the way. Woahha.... All I could envision was the cart crashing into cars and rolling over body parts while I frantically attempted to make what was an equivalent to a hair pin turn with a three ton chariot and a 12 foot wheel base rolling way too fast! Hare Krishna! Hare Rama! Oh Jagannatha! Please protect all of your dedicated devotees!
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