The Ratha Yātrā 2018 at Puducherry was celebrated in a grand fashion on the 10th of March, a Saturday. Although Governor Kiran Bedi was invited to be the Chief Guest of Honor, she could not make it due to other commitments. So His Grace Sundar Gopāl Prabhu became the Chief Guest.
The entire 5.5-km-long journey was accompanied with Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra kīrtana. Devotees from different parts of India participated in this event. They also had a wonderful Bharatanatyam performance by Srimati Gayathri from Bharata Kala Mandapam. Inter-school drawing and coloring competitions were conducted for more than 3,000 students of six different schools as part of the awareness campaign for the festival and prizes were distributed to winning students on the day of the event. Prasādam was distributed throughout the route. A few devotees actively distributed Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books on the streets as well.
Apart from the obvious success of the festival, the festival actually became a catalyst for another important event — the ISKM India meeting — the first of its kind so far. It was not part of the agenda at all but it just happened by the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda, since many devotees were present from various parts of India.
Devotees from Navadvīpa, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh as well as Tamil Nadu were present and each of them are either already running a temple or are eager to start one in their respective areas.
Sundar Gopāl Prabhu and our humble self have joined from Singapore to participate in the festivities and we landed in India 5 days prior to the festival. While I stayed at Puducherry all the days leading to the festival, Sundar Gopāl Prabhu started his route from Kolkata, and traveled by train to Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and finally reached Puducherry. He made his travels with devotees headed by Muralī Prabhu and Sundara Śrīnivasa Prabhu. Muralī Prabhu had one well-wisher who donated a temple to him in Orissa. In Puducherry, we had one new brahmacārī who joined up from Andhra Pradesh.
The above-mentioned ISKM India meeting happened the day after the Ratha Yātrā. It was not a highly polished meeting as such but nevertheless a very fruitful one. Plans were made about how to establish registered societies and temples in all these areas and conduct preaching programs. The practice of sādhanā is stated as of utmost impotance as purity is the force. Without spiritual purity of conduct, no preaching can happen. And that standard for sādhanā is the morning program starting with maṅgala-ārati, all the way through the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam class as a daily function. Those devotees who are not up to this standard for some reason or the other, are advised to follow as best as they can and constantly work their way up to come to the actual standard requested of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Apart from that, the congregation devotees of these respective areas should be encouraged to attend maṅgala-ārati at least once in a week with the devotees in the temple. In this way, they can begin to advance as well. In addition, emphasis was made on regular communication via online tools between all the leaders so that everyone stays on the same page to push this movement for Śrīla Prabhupāda in the purest form possible.
On hindsight, this meeting could be termed as the seed for growth of ISKM in India; and that was quite an accomplishment. Since then, things have been slowly, but surely, moving forward.
So, all in all, the Ratha Yātrā festival was very successful considering all the above-mentioned developments.