Rath Yatra Draws in the Multitudes at VPSS


Highlights of the event included, ceremonies and rituals prescribed for the rath yatra, the Pahandi or the Lords carried to the Chariot by devotees, the ceremonial sweeping, the Chherra Panhara, before the Chariot, bhajans by Indian Bhajan Samrat and Padmashree recipient Anoop Jalota who had been specially invited for this occasion. Photos: Ananta Patel

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: It was a monumental day last Sunday, July 14 at the VPSS premises for the organizers and volunteers of the Orissa Culture Center who in partnership with the Shri Sita Ram Foundation organized a rath yatra.  Thanks to their combined efforts and dedication, the well-organized event was a resounding success with almost 2,000  people turning up to participate enthusiastically in the annual ceremonial chariot rath yatra of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, a replica of the one held annually in Puri, Orissa.


Why Lord Jagannath’s deity has no arms and legs is both interesting and illuminating. It is said that Lord Vishnu came to King Indradyumna in a dream and instructed him to create the idol of Neela Madhaba.  However there was a condition: if anyone saw the idol before it was completed, the work would not progress any further.  The impatient King took a peek with the result the deity has no arms and legs.


Various ceremonies and rituals prescribed for the rath yatra were observed by the priests in the morning along with a free health camp. In keeping with the Jagannatha philosophy of universal brotherhood and religious tolerance, a unified devotional session was organized in the afternoon where representatives of several supporting organizations were asked to sing bhajans and kirtans of their choice. ISKCON’s Trivikrama Swami enjoined the gathering with a gentle reminder to get in touch with their inner consciousness and live in accordance with the guiding principles of the Bhagwad Gita.  He also advocated vegetarianism and kept his discourse to a minimum by recalling the words of his spiritual master who believed that “one should chant more and talk less”.


The discourse was followed by the most central ceremony – the Pahandi or the Lords carried to the Chariot by devotees to the accompaniment of the beating of dholaks, cymbals and the blowing of conch shells. Once the dieties were placed on the rath, local Hindu activist Vijay Pallod and his wife, Sushma, dressed in the roles of the King and Queen, came forward to conduct the ceremonial sweeping, the Chherra Panhara, before the Chariot. “It is our honor and privilege that Lord Jagannatha has called us to participate in the ceremonial sweeping” said Sushma Pallod dressed in a resplendent gold and red lehenga.  They led the procession as it wound its way around the front parking area of the VPSS after which the Maha–arati took place in front of the chariot and free prasadam was distributed.


In the evening, a cultural program emceed by Kalasudha Mataji of ISKCON was organized.  A letter written by Gajapati Maharaja of Orissa was read out followed by an exquisite dance in praise of Goddess Durga by Suprita Trilok and a group dance performed by Dhara, Divya, Diksha, Riya and Shilpita which was beautifully coordinated.  The auditorium was packed to capacity with another 500 people sitting outside and all waited eagerly for the highlight of the evening’s program – Indian Bhajan Samrat and Padmashree recipient Anoop Jalota who had been specially invited for this occasion to sing their favorite bhajans.

And he didn’t disappoint his admirers and the audience.  Starting with “Aisi Lagi Lagan” (a popular number of his that one finds impossible to stop humming) and “Jag Me Sundar Hai Do Naam” he instantaneously established an easy rapport with the audience.   He invited the audience to sing along, quipped some witticisms and of course sang his all-time favorite hits. The audience soaked up the soul stirring bhajans and were clearly reluctant to leave despite it being a working day the next day. The gathering erupted with laughter when he jokingly attributed his remarkable voice control to Baba Ramdev’s pranayama exercises. Jalota also paid poignant homage to the memory of his good friend, the late Jagjit Singh by singing two of Jagjit’s ghazals.


This was Jalota’s twelfth visit to Houston and he spoke to the media a few minutes before his program began. When asked what could be done to get the younger generation to listen willingly to bhajans and kirtans, he replied that it was the parents’ responsibility to teach their children their culture and language.  This would enable children understand the infused poetry in the bhajan or kirtan and truly appreciate its beauty.  Jalota, a recipient of the prestigious Indian Padmashree award in 2012, also acknowledged that the award did bring along with it the added responsibility of maintaining high standards. When asked to name his favorite lyricists, he mentioned Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi and among the newer crop of singers believed that Sonu Nigam has the most potential and voice versatility.

At the conclusion of the program, Aditya Samal, on behalf of OCC thanked Jalota for his gracious presence and stressed that an event of such magnitude was possible only because of the committed and tireless efforts of the entire Houston Odiya community as well as the active support and participation of Hindus of Greater Houston, ISKCON, Gaudiya Math, Hindu Worship Society, Meenakshi Temple, Houston Namadwaar, Sai Baba Temple, HDBS, Shiv-Shakti Temple, Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation, Gayatri Parivar, Guruvayurappan Temple, Ashtalakshmi Temple and Saidurga Shivavishnu Mandir.  Aditya Samal was also greatly appreciative of the unstinting support given by the Shri Sita Ram Foundation headed by Dr. Arun Verma.  Dr. Verma is the force behind the new Govindaji Gaudiya Maath that was recently opened and the immensely popular Ram Leela and Dassehra functions which are major attractions in Houston.