This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Festival of Chariots attracts thousands
Thousands of men, women and children joined in to heave three huge chariots through the city streets yesterday as Lord Krishna was displayed to his devotees.
The 16th annual Rathayatra Festival of Chariots, staged by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, saw the parade draw in about 10,000 people from all over the country.
Some had travelled from afar afield as India, and dropped to their knees as the effigies of Lord Jagannath (Krishna), his sister Subadhra and older brother Balaram, were slowly pulled past.
The worshipers were in Leicester today to witness the celebration of the 5,000-year-old festival, which included singing and music and culminated in a large feast at Cossington Park.
Devotee Madhava Das, 29, who lives in the city, became a monk eight years ago.
Since then he has lived a disciplined lifestyle, visiting other parts of the country to share his beliefs.
He said: “This is the one time of year when those who maybe don’t go to the temple can see the deities, which come out once a year.
“It’s so people can see them - and by pulling at the ropes of the chariot it signifies that they are pulling the Lord into their hearts and lives. The music is essential too.
“We chant a mantra to glorify God and to celebrate life and spirituality.”
The three giant chariots, measuring up to 30ft tall, were taken from the Clock Tower, along Belgrave Gate, over the flyover and finished in Cossington Park, where a feast was waiting.
Live music, dancing and singing - which took place on a large stage - was also on the bill at the post-parade festival.
Ben Dowdeswell, 33, and Lee West, also 33, from the Derek Frearson Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu group, who meet at the Peepul Centre, in Orchardson Avenue, entertained the masses with a Chinese lion dance.
Ben, from Barwell, said: “This, for me, sums up the great diversity of Leicester - a bunch of white guys dancing around in a Chinese lion costume at a Hare Krishna festival.
“I think it’s great, it’s our third year and they keep calling us and getting us back - so we must be doing something right.”
Two weeks ago more than one million people gathered in India for the largest staging of this worldwide festival.
Ezrsebet Varga, 46, who had travelled from London to take part in today’s event, said: “This festival has been celebrated for thousands of years, and people come from all over the country.
“In India it’s huge. More than one million people went recently.”
In 2010, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) were left with no place of worship after an explosion destroyed the temple in North Evington.
Now, the group members are hoping to set up a restaurant, heritage room and an informal library at the former HSBC bank, in Granby Street, Leicester.
A planning application for the former bank has been submitted to Leicester City Council.