Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots Durban
Devotees wearing robes and exotic saris gather on the beachfront in Durban, South Africa, for the annual Easter weekend Festival of Chariots
By Wanda Hennig
First published on examiner.com: South Africa Travel
“Are you from here?” the cute guy in the saffron robe, who strikes a pose soon as he sees my camera, asks.
“I’m from Europe,” he says. “I’m a monk. We travel all over making festivals.”
He is standing amidst a huge crowd of people, a lot of them wearing robes and many of the women wearing what look like their most exotic saris, gathered on the beachfront in Durban, South Africa, to participate in the annual Easter weekend Festival of Chariots, which marks the start of a great big four-day Hare Krishna celebration.
Singing and chanting devotees of all ages — and the interested and curious — are gathered to pull three lofty chariots festooned with thousands of flower garlands and billowing brilliantly colored fabric canopies. They look like three towering vessels in full sail as they move slowly along the beachfront, continuing to what is a virtual tent city.
It is here that for four days, devotees, locals, tourists — the hungry — are invited to go and learn what the Krishna philosophy and lifestyle is all about by way of local and international performances (song, dance and more).
Hare Krishna devotees prepare fresh food
Various food stalls, meanwhile, offer vegetarian food items (fast foods to full course meals), all freshly prepared by devotees. Every visitor is invited to enjoy a meal of breyani, dhall, soji, salad and juice. All in honor of Krishna, or Jagannatha. No charge.
Back to my monk waiting for the procession to start.
He pulls out a colorfully packaged DVD.
“It’s got movies and pictures and recipes,” he says, thrusting it into my free hand. “For just a small donation,” he adds.
He smiles amiably and takes it back when I say, truthfully, that I left my purse and my money in my car.
Ratha-yatra, or the Festival of Chariots, has been celebrated for more than 5,000 years in the Indian holy city of Jagannatha Puri and more recently, by Hare Krishna devotees in cities around the world.
The ornate Hare Krishna temple
In Durban, where an ornate and lavishly decorated Hare Krishna temple is one of the landmarks, 2017 marks it’s 29th year.
My horoscope on the morning of the festival read that I should pray or meditate in the interests of equilibrium and good spirits. Being in the company of hundreds of happy chanting people seemed a good option.
“Go and hold onto the rope and help pull the chariots, at least for a few seconds. It’s auspicious,” one of the marshals urges. Auspicious sounds good. I join the line of rope-pulling devotees for a few minutes. Then accept a broom from a monk sweeping the street in front of the third chariot and hand him my camera when he suggests he take my picture.
Words and photos © Wanda Hennig, 2017.