Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Durban Rathayatra was scheduled for April 2nd till the 5th this year, which was the Easter weekend – from Friday to Monday. Actually this is when we always hold it, and for the last 22 years it has been a tremendous success.
However this year things in South Africa are different. The country is hosting the World Soccer Cup tournament, and so many things are upside down as a result. Many of the major roads in the cities around the country are being repaired, causing untold chaos for drivers (I’ve almost missed a few flights as a result of being delayed on the way to the airport), and it also impacted on our Rathayatra. The specific problem was that our usual festival site by the Durban beachfront was having some construction done on it, and as a result we were not able to use it.
The City Council said they would give us another site nearby, but until March 5th, just four weeks before the Rathayatra, they had offered us nothing, and the organizers were in great anxiety. Actually there is always
some drama every year in getting the festival site. Previously there was a staunch Christian lady in charge of giving permission for special events in the city like Rathayatra, named Mrs Adams, and she always tried to put obstacles in our way with a hope the festival would have to be cancelled. When Indradyumna Maharaja would organize the event he would often personally go down and visit her with a beautiful prasadam cake, and that would soften her heart a little and she would let it go on. Krishna tests His devotees in so many ways.
So finally on March 5th the word came through that we could use the old Durban Drive In site, with the parking area next to it. Altogether it was a huge site – about six hectares, or 60,000 square metres – so it was big enough, but it was all tar sealed and two blocks away from the sea, and didn’t have the same atmosphere as the usual place. Svarupa Damodara, the co-National Secretary for the country and main festival organizer was sceptical, but Indradyumna Maharaja went down there and inspected it and felt it was going to be good, so we went ahead.
On the Friday we had a maha-abhisheka for our three metre tall utsava (festival) Deity of Lord Caitanya. Before we started the Indian High Commissioner, Mr Sharan, spoke, praising ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada, and then the Deputy Mayor of Durban, Mr Logie Naidoo, spoke. Mr Naidoo is a member of the African National Congress (ANC) which previously was a revolutionary movement, but is now the government of the counry. He has been connected with our movement for many years, so as usual he spoke very nicely. Previously, during the time of Apartheid (racial segregation) in South Africa when the ANC was banned he had been imprisoned because of his political views. He had been locked in solitary confinement for a whole
year, never seeing anyone else at all, and they told him that all he could have would be one book. He asked for a Bhagavad Gita. When they brought him a Bhagavad Gita it happened to be Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and he would read the book every day for the whole year. When he speaks one can feel how much impact it made on him.
During the abhisheka Rama Govinda Maharaja and I poured hundreds of litres of milk, yoghurt, ghee, honey, sugar water, fruit juices and other substances over Him, and it was quite an incredible experience. As this was going on, B.B.Govinda Maharaja led beautiful kirtana in the company of Indradyumna Maharaja. There are a number of nice photos of the abhisheka in our most recent gallery.
The Durban Rathayatra is a major event, and must be one of ISKCON’s biggest festivals outside of India. We have never tried to count how many people come, but over the four full days of the event it must be about 200,000 or so. Many different things go on. There is the main tent where there are kirtanas and classes by our ISKCON sannyasis (this year about 13 of them came), as well as amazing dramas put on by Bhakti Marg Maharaja. This year the main play was about the three lives of Bharata Maharaja – as a king, then a deer, and then as Jada Bharata.
There are two tents for Questions and Answers, where sannyasis and other senior devotees take questions on anything to do with Krishna consciousness. These tents are usually full with people, and are one of the high highlights of the whole festival. Then there is a big tent selling Srila Prabhupada’s books, a tent for DVDs and CDs, a tent where the sannyasis can display their books and other productions, and loads of prasadam tents. The weather this year was quite warm, so the ice cream and milk shake tent was packed out the whole day, every day, and the devotees could hardly cope with it. The chips tent was busy as usual, and the pizza tent sold more than 3000 pizzas. The general take away tent was constantly busy, and the sit down restaurant tent was busy also.
One of the main highlights of the festival is the Jagannatha temple tent, where the Deities sit for the four days, with kirtana going on all the time and people coming and making offerings to Them. On the Friday night, the first night, I was fortunate enough to get to sing the Jagannathastakam for Their pleasure, along with about 100 or more devotees, and it was really nice. The lights were turned low and everyone offered lamps, as we do for Lord Damodara during Kartik month, so it was very deeply atmospheric.
There are also general sales tents selling all sorts of paraphernalia and clothing connected with Krishna consciousness, and they were also packed out all the time.
Over and above these there was a tent for the upcoming temple in Pietermaritzburg, about an hour’s drive from Durban, a tent for Food for Life, a tent for Cow Protection, and a number of other tents.
On Saturday we had the main Rathayatra procession, with three big chariots plus a chariot for Lord Caitanya. It was quite long, about three and a half hours, and the temperature was about 35 degree, so it was quite demanding. As usual I was on the front chariot, throwing sweets to the devotees and people in general, and spraying them with water from a crop spraying device. Kadamba Kanana Maharaja was the main singer in front of our chariot, which was Subhadra devi’s, and he led the kirtana for maybe two and a half hours
in the blazing sun. Towards the end I thought I should go down and relieve him in case he overdid it (which he is sometimes prone to do), so I was able to lead the kirtana into the festival grounds.
Apparently on that day it was the disappearance anniversary of Krishna das Babaji Maharaja, one of Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrothers who was particularly close to Srila Prabhupada. Govinda Maharaja had a nice relationship with Maharaja when he was present in this world, and he became inspired to lead
the kirtana in front of Lord Balarama’s chariot in honour of Maharaja. He got so much into it he just carried on with a roaring kirtana for the whole three and a half hours! While he was leading kirtana Indradyumna Maharaja was moving around with his camera, taking photos of the event.
My disciples Vrajarenu devi dasi and Bhakta Rajesh had just published the second volume of my diary about my travels, and I had to sit in the tent signing copies for people most of the festival, other than when I had to do Questions and Answers.
Sunday was also a very busy day at the festival, except that in the evening it started pouring with rain. During the day we had a nice initiation ceremony in front of the Jagannatha Deities.
Then on Monday, the fourth and final day of the festival we had a beautiful return Rathayatra in the evening with just one chariot. I was again throwing sweets and squirting people with water from the chariot, which is something like my constitutional position in these Rathayatras. The devotees had organized about 100 litres of water, and there was so much that when we came into the festival grounds at the end I took a cup and started throwing it out over the crowd.
The programme finished with another wonderful kirtana by Govinda Maharaja. I’m sure Srila Prabhupada was very happy with everything.
South Africa is a very dangerous place. There is a lot of crime, and many people are murdered every day. Even many devotees have been murdered – at least about 20 who I knew personally. At our previous Rathayatras we didn’t have a proper place for everyone to park their cars, and as a result every year at least one or two cars would be stolen while people were in the festival. But this year we had this huge amount of space, all tar sealed, and it was able to accommodate a couple of thousand cars at a time, so our conclusion was that actually this site was better than the one nearer the beach, and I think we will try to get it again in 2011.
Following the Rathayatra I stayed on in Durban as the BBT were going to hold an all-Africa BBT conference on Saturday the 10th. It was an amazingly successful event, and then on Sunday the 11th I flew to Port Elizabeth, further down the east coast of South Africa to visit our centre and our congregation there, headed by Svetadvipa das and Gourasundara.
Gauranga das has written a report about that, and I’ll post it in a few days.
Right now I’m on a plane, flying to Mauritius. I’ll be there for a week, and then come back to Durban for a short tent campaign, and then fly to Lithuania and Russia on the 26th.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami