Houston Rath Yatra Brings Communities Together

Pahandi-carrying Lord Balabhadra to chariot.

Pahandi-carrying Lord Balabhadra to chariot.

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By Chetana Samal

HOUSTON: It was 10:30 pm on a Sunday night. The Lords, the devotees and the ambience were all in unison – no one seemed to be in a hurry. The seventh Houston Rath-yatra, the annual journey by Lord Jagannath with his brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Devi Subhadra, organized by Orissa Culture Center in association with Sita Ram Foundation was celebrated on June 29, with a Texas-size participation by Houstonians!

The annual signature event of OCC is divided into two segments. The yatra and open air cultural presentation  and Houstonians had a rare treat this year to listen to none other than Anuradha Paudwal, the queen of devotional music. Her closeness to her audience was beyond words and her affable, easy-to-reach aura made an indelible mark in our hearts.

As the dusk approached and weather cooled down, thousands joined Lords on their annual  yatra to their aunt’s house on a 24-feet high, newly built chariot, decorated with applique works on haldi and kumkum colored fabric. It’s amazing, how natives of Houston, could work for months to replicate the same experience as of historic town of Puri, thousands miles away.

In the early morning, havan was led by Dr. Debananda Pati himself which followed traditional offering of ‘Chhapan Bhog’, the 56-varieties of food which is said to constitute Lords’ palate on any given day! It is believed that Lord Vishnu takes His bath at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and retires at Dwarika!

Health fair by OCC.

Health fair by OCC.

Proactively OCC is promoting healthy living as part of giving back to community through organized Free Health Fair, the patients were checked for Blood pressure, BMI for obesity screening, blood sugar and cholesterol. Each patient received a limited physical examination and advice for healthy living by a physician.

This year, the symbolic King, Dr. Shanti Bansal graced the occasion with poise and humility and related his experience in his words, “As the king of the Rath-yatra Festival, I had the honor of serving and praying tribute to Lord Jagannath by sweeping his chariot.  Standing on the chariot, I was inspired to see the hundreds of attendees displaying their passion and devotion. I (am) looking forward to next year to be able to be part of the procession once again.”

The incredible Emcee was none other than Kalasudha Devi Dasi. The dignified and simple ways of Kalasudhaji brings complex scriptures to common parlance – a very rare gift!

Malina Maharana, a Memorial high school Senior and a student of Guru Smt. Supradipta Datta, performed ‘Durga Stuti’ to the thunderous clapping of audience.

Anuradha Paudwal took the whole stage on her stride by melodious bhajans in many Indian languages. She participated in  Pahandi Bije as well as led the devotees for Arati with Jai Jagadisha Hare…with nice breeze flowing, and with deities blessing from chariot, she continued her repertoire supported by her team of talented musicians including her son Aditya Paudwal on a decked up stage next to chariot.

Prominent leaders and priests from various religious organizations joined together in the Maha- Arati. Samuhik prayer with all love and dedication, was sure a step forward in world peace. With all diyas lighted, the divine smell of incense, the sound of cymbal, kirtans , bhajans and spontaneity of dancing by audience was sure a moment captured in history.