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India celebrates a deity with its 'chariot festival'


If you love a parade, you'll want to watch the grand and colorful Rathayatra Parade, India's ancient Festival of Chariots, on Saturday, beginning at Pratt and Eutaw streets downtown.

This is the third annual Rathayatra Parade or "cart festival" in Baltimore. It begins outside Oriole Park, travels east on Pratt Street to McKeldin Square at the Inner Harbor, where a huge Festival of India will take place.

The parade starts at noon with participants singing, dancing and pulling a cart along the parade route.

"When people see us in downtown Baltimore, they're going to see the exact same thing they see in India," says Sunanda Das, festival coordinator. "This is a festival that originates in [an area] of India called Orissa at a Temple called Lord Jagannatha. The actual definition of Jagannatha is 'lord of the universe.' Jagannatha is another name for Krishna."

Das explains that at the Rathayatra parade in India, "there is a specific deified form of God that comes out of the temple in Orissa and is put on a cart and pulled for several miles to another temple. It's a huge festival. Thousands and thousands come to pull the cart by hand."

The Baltimore festival will have not quite so many participants and only one cart instead of the usual three.

"The deity of Jagannatha is a representative form of Krishna, who lived 5,000 years ago," Das says. "Those who are part of the Hindu tradition believe that Krishna is an avatar or incarnation of God."

In Baltimore, devotees will pull the 30-foot-high chariot with the deity inside, by hand, the entire length of the parade, beginning at noon.

The Jagannatha, which is fashioned out of wood, belongs to the Hare Krishna Temple in Catonsville, which is sponsoring the day's events.

In pulling the cart, "the devotee is pulling the lord into his heart through his chanting and singing," Das says. "Devotees are playing instruments and singing and dancing. It's a display of the devotion to the 'lord of the universe' through a simple pulling of the cart."

The wood and metal cart has four 6-foot-high wheels and a canopy top that is collapsible for going under low-hanging obstacles.

"It's a beautiful cart, painted in bright colors to replicate the original cart in India," Das says.

After the parade, which will last about an hour and a half, the Festival of India will begin at McKeldin Square. The festival features live classical Indian music and dancing, art exhibits, theatrical performances, literature on yoga and meditation and a free multicourse vegetarian feast.

There will also be an exhibit on the founder of the Krishna movement and an exhibit on vegetarianism. Dancing and Indian music will be on stage. Representatives from the governor's office, the mayor's office and Sen. Barbara Mikulski's office will present citations, and a representative from the Ambassador of India's office is expected.

The festival will be held under tents, so it will take place rain or shine.

The Rathayatra Parade begins at noon Saturday at Pratt and Eutaw streets. It travels on Pratt Street to Light Street, where it concludes at McKeldin Square, about 2 p.m. for the Festival of India. The parade, festival and feast are free. Call 410-247-0958 or 410-744-1624 or visit www.balti

For more family events, see Page 37.

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