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Festival of India – Greater Houston Rath Yatra 2017

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THE WOODLANDS: The rain clouds disappeared into thin layers of heavenly covering while the gorgeous thick forest trees surrounded the site for the 5th Annual Greater Houston Rath Yatra on Saturday, June 24. The Char Dham Hindu Temple and Star Plus presented this year’s Festival of India at a new location: the Char Dham Hindu Temple site in The Woodlands, inviting a new crowd dynamic nearly a thousand strong. “It was my dream to hold this Rath Yatra on the Char Dham Temple grounds and though construction was only 85% complete, the entire team made it happen!” beamed key organizer and Char Dham / SKAI Foundation founder, Dr. Surya Sahoo. One resident of The Woodlands and ardent devotee said, “I just walked to the event from my home to enjoy this annual tradition commemorating Lord Jagannath’ s summer vacation with elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra from the main Jagannath Temple in Puri, India, to the Gundicha Mandir, all replicated here in my neighborhood!”

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Those devotees who arrived early were honored with double strands of jasmine garlands specially flown in from India that morning. “What a divine delight to be immersed in singing The Lord’s name with this divine fragrance while dancing!” said ISKCON’s Guru Bhakti Ma. She led the devotional aspects of the event along with Saranga Thakur Das. The ISKCON President for the last 25 years, Shyam Sundar Das, was bestowed the honor of “The King” who sweeps the path with a special broom in front of the auspicious Raths (chariots) during the procession. ISKCON’s Krishna Kripa Das took a few moments to explain the significance of the festival and his son, Gaura Karuna Das, gave the finale performance of devotional kirtans mixed with hip hop beats and rap.

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Three enormous decorated chariots were pulled around the accessible temple grounds with throngs of humble devotees singing kirtans and dancing in slow majestic rhythm. Priests doled out Prasad (blessed whole fruits and specially made sweets of Khaja and Laddoos) to devotees. Throngs of believers seeking Lord Jagannath’s blessings, vied for the divine opportunity to pull the ropes of the chariots along in procession.

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Lines were at times a bit long for Char Dham’s generous Dinner “Prasad” but the tasty combination of Chole, Poori, Tamarind Rice, Bisibele Bath, Curd Rice and Sweets was “…worth the wait…” reported Aparna, one of the devotees.

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Sahoo had a vision to bring this festival to Houston five years ago when he and his wife, Kabita, experienced a miracle. Kabita suffered from paralysis on her right side after a stroke, but was determined to visit the original ancient Rath Yatra in Puri, India. As they approached the chariots in the procession, magically Kabita was able to climb one of the chariots – by herself – and felt the feeling return to her right side. Almost immediately her paralysis was cured and she was able to walk and function normally again! “We wanted to recreate the festival here in Houston and offer everyone a chance to experience the Lord of the Universe’s divine blessing,” said Kabita. “Later this year, in November 2017, the Temple will officially open for devotees to make a more convenient, shortened pilgrimage to the Char Dham Temples – the four sacred worship sites originally found at the four corners of India – Badrinath in the north, Dwarkanath in the west, Rameshwaram in the south and Jagannath in the east.

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The event was also sponsored by New York Life Agent, Amirali Dodhiya, and My Tax Filer’s Gangaraj. Hindus of Greater Houston and India Culture Center also supported the cultural aspects of the event. SKAI’s Partha Mohanty and the head priest Sri Kiran Narayanam worked tirelessly to guide the Masala Radio and Entertainment Crews in executing a flawless event. Masala Radio’s lead radio jockey, Sunil Thakkar, emceed the lively entertainment and kept spirits high with frequent chants of “Jai Jagannath” “Hari Bol,” and “Hare Krishna.” The cultural program included devotional songs by devotees from ISKCON, choreographed dances by US Desi Gals, H-Town Divas, Odissi Academy, Shingari School of Rhythm, Avantica Odissi School, Vinanti Mistry, Bollywood Dancing Stars and devotional songs sung by Gaura Karuna. The dance performances culminated in a grand “Four Corners of India” Fashion show by Jaz Creationz.

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The cooling breezes, Indian food, music, dancing, deities and raths all contributed to a spiritual experience especially in the setting of The Woodlands.

Photos by Jesus Kargue Creative Tecknik Photo, Arion Videographer and Thejas Rajaram.

For more event photos and videos visit GreaterHoustonRathYatra.org or HoustonIndiaFestival.com

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