Tomorrow at midday a huge, colourful procession will move down 5th Ave in the centre of Manhattan. Drums will sound, thousands of voices will sing in unison, praising and celebrating the divine. Three giant carts will be pulled by long ropes, their wheels slowly turning. Atop these carts will sit sacred forms of God, along with his brother and sister. This is Rathayatra – Festival of Chariots.
Its history is widely written about, so I won’t repeat it all here. Suffice to say it’s an ancient festival from India, that was first brought to the Western world by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the late 60s. The best thing about it, is that everyone gets a chance to join in, by singing, dancing, feasting, sweeping, serving and so much more. All of this is in the mood of sincere service to Lord Jagannath, whose name, meaning Lord of the Universe, is one of many thousands of different names for the divine.
I was thinking about the upcoming festival as I sat in a plane a few weeks ago, and was suddenly overwhelmed at the thought of dancing again before the chariot procession. There’s nothing like it.
O my Lord Jagannath!
O Lord whose smile is the curved bow to which I tie my heart-string,
I want to dance before you forever!
Moving in every direction,
tracing sacred lines across the road upon which you travel.
I will throw my arms to the sky
and jump with every last spark of energy.
With joy I will stamp my feet in rhythm,
if it brings you pleasure.
O Lord Jagannath, my heart is filled with supreme bliss to receive your glance,
even for a moment.
Never mind the beating sun,
your gaze sends a cooling sandalwood breeze.
Never mind my tired feet – this body is an imperfect instrument,
but by your limitless grace, I can dance across the hardest of ground.
My dear Lord, by some good fortune, I have the chance to come before you now –
to spin, to stretch, to sway and sing,
whether this sky brings pelting rain, or the fiercest heat,
I shall dance! I shall dance!
This moment is golden and complete, because you are present.
O Lord of my heart,
please allow me to dance before you forever.
If I cannot twist and turn and leap –
if I cannot offer you my every movement in this moment,
I will be lost.
My sweet Lord, descended from the divine world,
please accept my every step
as a dance, a song, a prayer,