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.