Atlanta,GA: The Hanuman Mandir of Alpharetta celebrated one of the most ancient festivals in the world “Sri Jagannatha Ratha Yatra” also popularly known as the “Chariot Festival” for the third time in a row on Saturday June 28th, 2014. Hundreds of devotees thronged the temple displaying utmost devotional fervor. The festival has its special place in the history of Sanathana Dharma for being the only festival where the Lord of the Universe “Jagannatha” along with his brother “Balabhadra” and sister “Subhadra” in their original deity form (not the uthsava moorthi) come out of their abode and go on to the streets of the town for celebrations. As the Lord walks out of the sanctorum and take position in the royal chariot people of all religions, cast, creed etc. enthrall in complete excitement and devotion looking at the lords. Although the festival is now celebrated all over the world in its own ways the Hanuman Mandir celebrates it in a very unique way by performing all the rituals exactly replicating the way they are performed in the holy dhaama of Puri, in the state ofOdisha,Indiawithout any deviation.
The festival started with “Snaana Yatra” on June 15th 2014. The Snaana Yatra is celebrated on Jyeshta Purnima to the deities Jagannatha, Bhalabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshana and Madanmohan with 108 kalashas and decorated in elephant headgear representing the Vinayaka (Gaja Vesha). After the Snaana Yatra the lordships are traditionally believed to fall ill and are kept in a sick room for 2 weeks. The lordships recover in a fortnight and resume giving darshan to the devotees in the grand procession, called “Ratha Yatra”. Hundreds of devotees participated in the Snaana Yatra festival where everyone gets once a year opportunity to perform Abhishekam. The festival started with Surya Puja, Mangalarpan by praying to Surya Bhagavaan for his blessings to ensure that everything happens as planned. Later the deities are taken to Snaana Mandap (Dhadi Pahandi) and several pujas are performed starting with Jalaadhivaasam, Kalasha Puja, Pancha Devatha Puja, Sodasopachaara Puja followed by Snaanabhishekam with 108 Kalashas.
The lordships have come out of sickness to give darshan to all the devotees on the 28th of June. On this day after performing Kalasha puja and Nrusimha Homam, the deities are carried one after the other in to the beautifully decorated Ratha. This procession is called Goti Pahandi when the deities move one after the other in close succession. Devotees chanted loudly “Jai Jagannath”, “Jai Balabhadra”, “Jai Subhadra” in ecstasy as the lordships are carried all the way with little pauses in forward and backward motions as if lending their ears to the earnest prayers of the devotees.
Tens of devotees worked day and night to put the Ratha (chariot) together just in time for this beautiful procession. Hats off to Sri Bimal Mishra for his sincere and dedicate effort in engineering the Chariot to the right shape and size in order to make it more streamlined and conducive to roll. Over the years he has improvised on building the chariot making it more efficient towards better maneuvering. Our Hanuman Mandir head priest Srimannarayana Puranam Swami once again proved he is the best in the town for Alankaaram. The deities were beautifully dressed and decorated with jewels and flowers. The chariot carrying the deities was equally decorated with flowers and garlands. The temple priest Laxman Acharya Swami is known for his dedication while performing the Pujas and Homams. He ensured that the devotees are immersed in devotion during the entire festival. The head priest of IACA temple Pundit Pramod Padhi and volunteer priest Debee Khadenga were diligently involved in assisting the pujas.
Swami Adyananda Saraswathi Maharaja who has been supervising the Ratha Yatra festival at Hanuman Mandir since its inception was present this year as well. He is an erudite Sadhu who knows the entire process of Jagannath worship and Ratha Yatra as performed in Puri. With his expert guidance and the help of volunteers, Mandir celebrates this festival with original traditions. Ratha Yatra started with “Cheraa Pahanraa” ritual where before pulling the chariots, the king of the town comes in a palanquin, offers garland, perform arathi, fans the deities with chaamaram, pays his obeisance and sweeps the platform around the simhaasana of the chariots with a broom. Devotees enthusiastically participated in pulling the chariot across the street and all around the school opposite of the temple. Devotees from local Iskcon temple participated in the Ratha Yatra and performed Bhajans much to the delight of devotees. The best was when Raghupathy Kishore led the Bhajans from the front. Devotees could not resist but dance in ecstasy and sang with utmost devotion. The entire Ratha Yatra procession was very impressive which took the consciousness of the devotees out of this mundane world and immerse themselves in bhakti.
Several volunteers helped in the preparation of Prasadam working from Friday until Saturday evening. The food volunteer team ensured that more than 900 devotees participating in the festival are fed with the sanctified food Prasadam. All the visiting parents were very happy as the kids were kept engaged throughout the festival busy with play rides and candy machines. The senior priests Sriman Rangachary Swami and the founder Sri Seshavathaaram Swami were present all the time and especially during the Ratha Yatra engaged the devotees and took care of the deities on the chariot. The board of Hanuman Mandir would like to sincerely thank all the volunteers who spent several hours in parking control, food management, assembly of Ratha and in various other activities. Hanuman Mandir would like to invite all the devotees for the upcoming Ganesh Chaturdhi procession in September and the Navarathri festival in October and seek the blessings of their beloved lords.