Photos: Rath Yatra, Festival of Chariots, returns to downtown Calgary

Festival celebrated by members of Calgary's Hindu community after cancelled years due to pandemic

The 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary’s branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) celebrated The Festival of Chariots on Sunday, the first such celebration since the pandemic began.

Thousands of Calgary’s Hindu community gathered to pull a gigantic carriage from Stephen Avenue to Shaw Millennium Park. Along the way members of ISKON, known more commonly in the west as Hare Krishna, sang songs in a form of musical worship known as Kirtan.

The Festival of Chariots, also known as Rath Yatra, was first held in Calgary in 2004. The event has been held in major cities around the world, after originating in Jagannatha Puri.

“I’m glad that we get to celebrate our our own rituals, our own traditions, in a very small way here in Calgary,” said Sonia Joshi, president of the International Hindu Foundation.

“This makes us feel at home while we are away from home, thousands and thousands of miles away.”

The procession was followed by a feast of vegetarian food, live music, dancing, and drama performances.

Religious observance also a way to return to community life

Joshi said that the pandemic left many members of her community feeling lonely and isolated. The return to being able to celebrate something together, she said, was a way of ending that loneliness.

“The last time I was here was in 2019 with my families and some of my friends from Toronto. And this time we are so excited—it is so important,” she said.

“We were at home, and you know, you need some spiritual fodder for your soul. So that is what you get here when you get to roam around with the community.”

Joshi said that festival was a very important event in the religious calendar, and getting to celebrate Lord Krishna was critical for her community.

“It is very, very great—it is just a blessing for us,” she said.

August was declared Hindu Heritage Month in Alberta by the Government of Alberta in 2021. The International Hindu Foundation along with the Multicultural Youth Society of Chestermere is holding a festival celebrating Hindu Heritage Month in that Chestermere from August 26 to 29.

“We are all inviting everyone there. It is irrespective of religion or region where you belong to, and all are welcome come and enjoy with us,” said Joshi.

Photos from the Festival of Chariots

Women wear traditional Indian outfits for the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Calgarians gather to take selfies and to pull the carriage in the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Many Calgarians gathered to pull the ropes for the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The chariot, with a statue of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, in the the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
The chariot in the the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Religious singing and dancing was essential to the Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Dancers lead the way in front of a large rainbow balloon archway in the 18th annual Festival of Chariots, Rath Yatra, on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Sunday, July 24, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

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