Saturday’s Ratha Yatra Parade of Chariots Festival was greeted with enthusiasm and togetherness.
Participants in the Parade of Chariots Festival of India endured cloudy skies above, as religious chants, brightly colored chariots and enthusiastic attendees were seen and heard all the way down the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Art Museum on Saturday, Sept. 12.
This year’s “Feed Your Soul” slogan, which was used to advertise for this event, summed up the parade’s meaning for both its participants and its coordinators. Women dressed in sari and salwar clothing and men in sherwani and dhoti clothing gathered to play cultural transcendental music, sing religious chants and mantras and enjoy a delicious vegetarian feast.
Chariots of red, orange and yellow dangled with flowers and beads as they made their way to Eakin’s Oval in front of the art museum, where vendors and performers set up to entertain visitors.
The mission of Philadelphia’s annual Ratha Yatra Parade of Chariots Festival is to “bring all residents of the Philadelphia area together.”
From the very first Ratha Yatra, dating back 5,000 years ago in India, gatherers have had the opportunity to spread various messages and cultural traditions to those willing to respect and open their minds to it.
“This annual festival is held to give us all an opportunity to reconnect in an attitude of service and love,” Committee Chairman Vishnugada Dasa said.
Platforms held musical performances, classical Indian dances, drama, philosophical discussions and explanations of vegetarianism. Vendors, such as palm readers and those who sold Indian clothing and jewelry, provided a welcoming cultural environment for a fun-filled day.
“I was surprised and also appreciative of the fact that various non-Indians, in addition to the followers, were present and taking full part in the parade,” said junior biochemistry major Arpan Patel.
Patel attended the festival in hopes of celebrating with members of his own cultural background.
“The parade did a great job of integrating individual bystanders on the street and showing an energetic display of the Indian culture throughout downtown Philadelphia,” he added. “In the end, it was a great cultural and ethnic learning experience for all.”
Those intrigued most by the celebrations seemed to be those who attended the event with no personal relation to the cultural background, like Janelle Ince, a senior accounting major.
“I have had an interest in cultures different from my own, so I wanted to attend the Festival to experience the Indian culture in a way that would educate me on the religion, the food and the music,” said Ince, who is a resident assistant for Temple. “I brought my residents along to share this experience and to help them see firsthand how people of other ethnicities and religions live.”
The festival served as a great reminder of how cultural diversity is exhibited, celebrated and embraced throughout the city of Philadelphia.
“Each one of us has special talents,” Dasa said. “Those abilities become a source of spiritual growth and happiness…and that is the signature of this celebration. We invite you to use your special talents or just sing with us, sample the feast and enjoy the entertainment, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, age or beliefs.”
Monica Sellecchia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.