Madison Hindu Community Celebrates Chariot Festival

In the seaside city of Puri, India, one million people gather every year to witness the Hindu festival Rath Yatra. The Chariot Festival begins when the three gods—Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra, and younger sister Lord Subhadra—board three forty-five-foot-tall chariots and pay a visit to their "garden house," the Gundicha Temple, two miles from their home.

During the procession, the gods are brought to their vehicles and pulled across the Grand Avenue by devotees from around the world and of all religions. Many consider it religiously significant to catch a glimpse of the gods while they are in their chariots. The event is broadcast live across India and on international networks.

To keep connections with some of the biggest festivals in Hinduism and raise awareness of the Chariot Festival abroad, the American Hindu Association held the second annual Chariot Festival Rath Yatra celebrations in Fitchburg included a chariot procession that mirrored one occurring in Puri, India (Photo: Manoj Singha)Rath Yatra celebrations in Fitchburg included a chariot procession that mirrored one occurring in Puri, India (Photo: Manoj Singha) at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center (HTCC) in Fitchburg on July 13, 2013. The festivities mirrored those occurring 8000 miles away in Puri, with the procession of the chariot around the HTCC's seven-acre property.

Around 400 attendees took part in the festivities. Priest Pt. Raghuchandra Bhatt of Milwaukee conducted the ceremony and the Lords were offered more than 40 Indian delicacies.

Devotees returned from pulling the chariots to take part in an Indian fair. The American Hindu Association and Taj Indian Restaurant sold Indian snacks. Also present were Indian clothing and jewelry vendors from the Chicago Area, a local robotics program, and games for children. All proceeds from the festival went towards the construction of a new temple on the property.

Guests were also entertained with a cultural program featuring the classical dance Bharatnatyam performed by students from the local Kalaanjali School of Dance and Music, the classical dance Odissi performed by Akshita Pattnaik, music by professional flutist Pawan Benjamin of the Manhattan School of Music, Hindusthani flute played by Akash Pattnaik, and music by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Indian Classical music group, SAAZ.

The festival culminated with the return of the deities to the main temple through a celebration on July 21, 2013. The event, highlighting the presence of Hinduism in Madison, also made many devotees nostalgic as they remembered the colorful festivals they awaited as children.

This is an event in June/July that will be continued at the HTCC every year.

--Akash Pattnaik is a 10th grader at Middleton High School