I have to admit I’ve never put any significant time into studying the Hindu religion. It’s always seemed sort of like the protocols of the British Monarchy: Complex, convoluted, multi-layered, and something I wasn’t ever likely to need to know. But like the British Monarchy, when it comes time for sheer unadulterated SPECTACLE, they do it RIGHT.
And Houston is fortunate – we have a large enough South Asian community that when the religious calendar calls for spectacle, spectacle happens.
This is Rath Yatra, sometimes referred to as the “Festival of Chariots” or the Car Festival. It started in Puri, on the east coast of India, some time back – as much as five thousand years ago, by some accounts. The story has it that long ago, Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe (an early Lord Krishna), decided to take his brother and sister and visit their Aunt in her temple. This was partly for a holiday and partly to give various devotees in the area a chance to actually see and be seen by their god, which is no small thing. So, after several days of public bathing (for purification) the Gods came out of their temples and climbed into their chariots, joined by an entourage of other deities, helpers, and guardians. The chariots were pulled to Aunt Gundicha’s temple, where the Gods and followers stayed for nine days, feasting on Jagannath’s favorite sweet pancakes and generally having a good time, before returning to the chariots and going home. This trip, both ways, was accompanied by musicians, dancers, devotees and followers.