Rath Yatar the Festival of Chariots – A look at Hindu Culture in Michigan

The Festival of Chariots – Novi 2017

As a traveler, I have an innate urge to learn about different cultures, religions, and customs. From the Shinto shrines of Japan, to the towering cathedrals of Europe, religion has been a defining part of nearly, if not every culture. But you do not have to fly halfway around the world to get to know your fellow man better. The beauty of America is that it is a mixing pot of all different views, customs, cultures, and backgrounds.

Today’s adventure started as a simple Facebook post to a blogger group I am apart of. It was an invitation to the Golden Jubilee of Rath Yatar, also know as the Festival of Chariots, a free event at the Novi Civic Center in Michigan. I just so happened to be in the area that weekend, and knowing next to nothing about Hindu culture, I thought this would be an amazing chance to learn something new.

Women in traditional sari leading the procession.

The Festival of Chariots, in short, centers around the deity Jagannath, and his siblings Balabhadra & Subhadra. Jagannath, which literally translates to “Lord of the Universe” is a deity worshiped regionally by Hindu & Buddhists in India and is seen as the abstract form of Vishnu.  The Annual Festival, called Ratha Yatara celebrates the three deities being taken from their chief temple in Puri, and placed on large intricate chariots (Ratha) to be pulled by their followers to another temple called Gundicha where they will reside for a few days and then be returned.

Up close look at the front of the chariot where you can see from left to right Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath.

The festival, which started in Puri is now a common sight in major cities around the world, including London, New York, Mexico City, Singapore, and Moscow. Not to mention, it can be found right here in Michigan, just a short distance from Detroit in a city called Novi. Rath Yatar has evolved past not only it’s deeper meaning of the journey of Jagannath, but to also represent community togetherness, with the belief that the pulling of the chariot represents pulling the deity, and their love into your heart.

pulling the chariot festival of chariots
Everyone getting ready to pull the chariot

It was hard not to get into the festival spirit once I had arrived as the event was abuzz with joy and laughter. The place was teeming with people from all over Michigan and beyond, singing and dancing, and generally celebrating life. And you did not have to be Hindu to feel welcomed. The organizers want everyone to feel included, and offer all of their event for free.. At the end of the procession route, there was food, music, demonstrations, vendors, yoga, and so much more!

Cooking up delicious food for the festival

Everyone was very helpful. Going into this, I did not have a very good understanding of what the festival was about, but they were more than happy to not only educate me, but invited me to visit them at their temple for a feast & services nearby. I sadly was unable to attend, but appreciated the kind gesture. I came away from the event with a better understanding of the Hindu culture and a greater appreciation for the the beautiful different people in this world.

The Festival of Chariots event takes place every June/July, and is a great opportunity to learn about the fascinating culture of India.

To find an event near you, you can check out http://festivalofchariots.org/.

For more information on Novi’s event you can check out their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/mirathyatra/

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