New York

Hare Krishna Parade – The Festival of Yatha Ratra

SPortnoy_20150613_0006HARE KRSNA HARE KRSNA





In New York City, summer is synonymous with weekend parades.

Every weekend. Rain or shine.

On Friday, a friend of mine, Jennifer Graylock, a professional photographer who shoots big red carpet events such as the Oscars, sent me an email suggesting we shoot the annual Hare Krishna parade following day.

Hare Krishna Parade?  I had no idea. It’s hard to keep up with all the parades but after living in NYC for over 15 years I thought I would have heard about it at least once.


I’ll be frank, I’ve never been a big fan of parades. (I know. I know. I’m weird.) I’ve never found them particularly entertaining. Watching people wave from a float or walk under a giant balloon just doesn’t rate on my fun-o-meter.

Hare Krishna Parade 2015, New York City

But from a photographic point of view I thought it might be interesting and worth a look and I am so glad I did. It was bright and colorful and everyone was in a good mood. Hundreds of people on a sticky, hot summer day and they were incredibly happy. Other parades I’ve been to were filled with gaiety and laughter but this parade was joyous in a way that I’ve never experienced before.

Jennifer and I met at the parade’s staging area at 45th street and Fifth Avenue at 11:30am. The sun was already beating down slashing the street with harsh shadows and bouncing off the Mylar balloons that hung from three huge, technicolor chariots, each carrying one of three deities. Servants of the deities were on board to fan, protect and give offerings.

Ratha Yatra Festival, Background

The festival of Ratha Yatra has been celebrated since ancient times, as one of the most important yearly events in the Vaishnava-Hindu faith. Vaishnavism, the worship of Lord Krishna, is one of the principle branches within the broad Hindu tradition. Vaishnavas are monotheists, and believe Lord Krishna to be the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims.

In Jagannath Puri, the deity worshiped in the main temple is an image of Lord Krishna, and is called Jagannath (which means “Lord of the Universe”). He is worshiped along with his brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, in the main shrine. Every summer, at the beginning of the monsoon season, the three (3) deities are taken out of the temple amidst great fanfare, and are placed on bright and colorful chariots. Almost a million worshipers throng to the city and pull the chariots with love and devotion, accompanied by joyful music, religious chants, and dancing.

In 1976 A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement inaugurated the New York City version of this ancient Indian parade. Since then, it has been celebrated annually and has become a New York summer tradition. This festival blends the splendor of a millennia-old celebration with the excitement of a parade down New York’s world famous Fifth Avenue. ~ Press Release

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Hundreds of Krishna filled the streets in traditional garb and lined up to pull the long yellow ropes that would power the chariots to Washington Square Park where the parade would end but the celebrating would continue.

Once it began, the parade moved at a leisurely pace, occupying the left-hand side of the avenue while police on motorcycles took up the right flank ensuring that the crowd didn’t expand too far west and get hit by traffic.

Jennifer and I wove in and out of the crowd as they walked and sang and danced.

It was a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning…..


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7 replies »

  1. Hello Susan, liked your blog. Just to acquaint you a little more…this fair has a special meaning altogether. It is believed that when a man is on his death bed, his entire life crosses past his eyes like a flashback, reminding him of all his karmas (deeds), good, bad and ugly. A man who participates or pulls the Krishnas chariot is believed to stop this flashback at the point of this event, and anything beyond this point is not flashed anymore. The karmas are the most potent decision maker of a mans destiny as per Hindu culture, and Krishna is the beholder of the same. Anyone who summons to his chariot in love and faith frees himself from the bonds of karma.

    A gentle update on the ‘Title’ of your post, with your permission, it is ‘Ratha Yatra’, the ride of the chariot…Thanks for writing about it. Hope to see you in India soon 🙂 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing the pictures of this procession and explaining the event. Haven’t seen pictures from India in your collection. Time of Kumb Mela and Pushkar Camel auction are good occasions to visit and photograph. The poverty and misery is accepted by Hindus as Karma. Affluent People looking at them are more miserable and dis-satisfied than the dis-advantaged. Riots and looting are not for possessions, but for religious differences or politics

    • Dear Mohan – I am glad you liked the pictures. I have not been to India yet but it’s on my wish list. Thank you for very much for the information about Kumb Mela and Pushkar Camel… 🙂

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