Every summer, on the Second Saturday of June, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) presents their jubilant annual Ratha Yatra (Festival of the Chariots) Parade down Fifth Avenue. The procession of colorful chariots begins promptly at 12:00 PM from the corner of 45th Street and 5th Avenue and proceeds down Fifth Avenue, to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.
The festival of Ratha Yatra has been celebrated since ancient times, as one of the most important yearly events in the Vaishnava-Hindu faith. Vaishnavism, the worship of Lord Krishna, is one of the principal branches of the broad Hindu tradition. Vaishnavas are monotheists and believe Lord Krishna to be the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In Jagannath Puri, the deity worshiped in the main temple is an image of Lord Krishna, and is called Jagannath (which means “Lord of the Universe”). He is worshiped along with his brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, in the main shrine. Every summer, at the beginning of the monsoon season, the three (3) deities are taken out of the temple amidst great fanfare and are placed on bright and colorful chariots. Almost a million worshipers throng the city and pull the chariots with love and devotion, accompanied by joyful music, religious chants, and dancing.
In 1976 A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement inaugurated the New York City version of this ancient Indian parade. Since then, it has been celebrated annually and has become a New York summer tradition. This festival blends the splendor of a millennia-old celebration with the excitement of a parade down New York’s world-famous Fifth Avenue.