Episode 1: It Begins In New York
(Mayesvara Dasa – I do not recall who gave me this photo but it is an excellent shot of Balarama’s Cart as it rolled down 5th Avenue. Jambavan Prabhu is on the ground steering the cart using the two bar system Jayananda designed. I am standing on the right (starboard) side of the deity deck. )
“As the man who digs obtains underground water by use of a shovel, so the student attains the knowledge possessed by his preceptor through his service.” – Chanakya Niti Sastra 14.17
Prabhupada: “So therefore for knowledge, you have to go to a proficient man or person, that is knowledge. Why do you go to a school and college? Be in knowledge at home. If you want to steal even, you have to learn it from a professional thief, how to cheat, how to steal. That is also another kind of knowledge. You cannot steal unless you become expert by learning how to steal from an expert thief. So knowledge means you have to receive it from higher authority. That is knowledge. – Garden Conversation — June 22, 1976, New Vrindaban
This story really begins in the city of New York. It was 1976 and I was a new young devotee thrust into the genera of Ratha-yatra out of necessity. Jayananda prabhu had been working frantically to complete two new very big chariots for the now quite famous 1976 parade down 5th Avenue. He needed help and I was asked to refocus the temple construction crew to help at the Rath site for the last three days prior to the parade. What originally sounded like a simple thing turned into a major all-night affair that changed my life. I have already documented that story in a different tale entitled: The Historic 1976 New York Ratha-yatra Parade ! (The reader is invited to hear me narrate that story at the following link if they would like to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKQGnP2p03g)
Srila Prabhupada was very pleased with the acquisition of the 13 story building on 55th street but it was very costly to maintain. So it was decided that the Radha Damodara traveling Sankirtan party would consolidate with the New York temple in order to help meet the huge overhead because it consisted of an army of more than 100 book distributors, ie: income producing devotees. I had come to N.Y. as a member of the Radha Damodara bus program and after helping with the emergency rebuild of Balaram’s cart it now appears my destiny had already been decided before I was aware of it.
Jayananda prabhu had concealed his illness very effectively so I did not even know how sick he was until Tamal Krishna Maharaja and Adi Kesava called me to their office to talk to me about his medical prognosis and what they now wanted me to do. To conserve his energy, the doctors ordered that Jayananda prabhu was to be relieved of all heavy work. It was further decided that he would do much better if he relocated to a more accommodating environment than the wet/icy below freezing weather of New York City. So it was decided that he would be sent to Los Angeles in less than two weeks and I was to: “Learn everything I could from Jayananda prabhu about building rath carts.”
Consequently my new responsibility was to do whatever Jayananda prabhu felt would help me prepare to head up the Ratha-yatra parade the following year in New York. The first order of business was to completely dismantle the carts after the 1976 parade. Those chariots were so huge each one had a 3×3 footprint of 9 parking spots. The only place we could possibly store them was in the temple parking garage but that meant they had to be completely dismantled. The carts had been built like a big wooden erector set using ½ inch diameter threaded rod and steel angle plates to hold the large 4X8 horizontal chassis beams to the 4X4 upright deck posts. Jayananda prabhu advised we mark every piece so we could rebuild the carts the following year and that is what we did. In this way I was fortunate enough to study nearly every single part of the NY rath carts. Meanwhile Jayananda prabhu explained everything he could think of about Ratha-yatra to me. I did not realize it at that time… but in retrospection he seemed to know he would not be available in person or by phone the following year.
(Mayesvara Dasa – I bonded quickly with Jayananda prabhu because he was such an easy person to get to know and there was a lot to admire about his humble demeanor. He was not at all tinged with pride about his legendary accomplishments. This photo was also given to me so I am not certain where or when it was taken but if I had to guess I would say sometime in the summer of 1976, maybe even on the day of the parade! )
Episode 2: Improvements Requested
Prabhupada: “Everyone engaged in some particular department, he must improve and… Then things will go on nice(ly). – Room Conversation – April 22, 1977, Bombay
Prabhupada: “Expert means whatever he is doing, he must do it very nicely That’s all. Suppose you are sweeping this room. You can do it very nicely, to your best knowledge. That is expert. The people will say, “Oh, you have very nicely done.” Any work you do, do it very nicely. That is expert. Don’t do it haphazardly. To your best talent, to your best capacity, try to finish it very nicely, whatever it may be. You are entrusted with some work. Do it nicely. That is expert. If you think that you are unable to do that work, then whatever work you can do, you take. But do it nicely. That is expert. Don’t imitate. “Oh, I have no capacity to work in that way, but I want to imitate. Oh, he is doing that. I shall do that.” Don’t do that. That is not expert. You take up what you can do very nicely and do it nicely.” – Room Conversation — July 16, 1968, Montreal
It was during this time that Jayananda prabhu went out of his way to inform me about the various things he wanted improved on the carts. He was particularly dissatisfied with the canopy lifting mechanism especially after the colossal failure the night before the parade. The also required a 2X4 to prop each stage up so the center pole could be let down where pins were then put in at a lower point to crank it to the next section. It was both clumsy and dangerous and he knew there had to be a better way to lift the canopy safely.
The other thing Jayananda prabhu was unsatisfied with was the braking mechanism. He confided in me that although he provided what he called brakes on the NY carts they really didn’t work. He said they were made to look very effective to appease the regulating authorities but he confessed that they were completely inadequate to stop the cart.
What he had done was weld a 4ft pipe on the existing brake lever with the idea that a strong 200lb brahmachari would throw all his weight against it when we wanted the stop the cart. However a short study in simple physics easily explains how this impressive looking system could not possibly bring the Rath to a halt.
Yes, 200lbs hanging on the end of a 4ft lever might seem like a lot of force, but we also have to consider the force on the other side of the equation. That consisted of the entire Rath cart which had a conservative weight of about 2500lbs. However it was also reasonable to assume that the upper deck of the cart would carry a dozen or so well fed dignitaries which meant the opposing counter force could be as much as twenty times what the brakes could handle! “Sure we got brakes officer… just look at that big strong man in the back. When he pulls on that four foot lever it expands the brake calipers and the cart stops!” Hare Krishna! (But my name isn’t Yudhisthira!)
Jayananda prabhu reassured me that the way he figured out how to actually keep the cart from rolling out of control was to tie another set of ropes to the back axle. Then, with the help of 2nd team of devotees using those ropes, they could slow the cart down or stop it when they were instructed to do so. It troubled Jayananda prabhu that these two things in particular had still not been resolved to his satisfaction. I promised him I would do all I could to make the improvements we discussed.
One day Jayananda prabhu said he wanted to walk me through the entire process of how to build a Ratha-yatra cart from scratch. Somehow I knew that was a very special benediction so I got my tape recorder and to this day I have the recording of those special moments. During that 45 minute exchange one can hear Jayananda prabhu explaining how to select an axle, how to frame the chariot, and design large steel wheel properly as well as numerous other petty details related to building a Rath cart.
(Mayesvara Dasa – I apologize for the poor quality of these images but I am actually fortunate to still have them in decent enough shape to even share them as they are here. This one is the engineering drawing for cart auto tilting spire apparatus.)
(This drawing shows the cross sections of how the cables pass thru the telescoping system I affectionately referred to as the “20th Century Ratha-yatra Telescope.” This technique was used on the 1978 Calcutta Ratha-yatra chariot and every cart I contributed to since then as explained in Episode 6 of this story. )
(This drawing details out the reinforcements required at the top of the telescope so it doesn’t fail when the inner portions are extended out 2ft up to the base of the top kailash.)
Episode 3: Finding My Way
(The first photo shows how Jagannatha’s chariot was intended to look in the 1976 parade before there were concerns about the central telescope being adequately strong enough to withstand wind forces. (See Jayananda Story for Details))
“I am very glad to note your eagerness for expanding your service. This attitude is very nice and it is required of the devotee at every stage.” – Letter to: Dinesh — Los Angeles 1 August, 1970
“Now you have everything, respect, philosophy, money, temples, books, all these things I have given, but I am an old man and my notice is already there. Now it is up to you all how to manage it. If you cannot increase it, you should at least maintain what I have given you. You cannot accuse me that I have not given you anything. So it is a great responsibility you now have.” – Letter to: Jagannatha-suta: — Vrindaban 26 August, 1975
Jayananda prabhu left for California in January 1977. He had given me all that he knew and I felt both honored to have earned his trust and respect. Needless to say I was very sad to see him go as he had become like an older brother to me. After we said our farewells it was about four months later at the end of May when I learned that Jayananda prabhu had left his body. Like all those who knew him I was saddened by this news. However, I felt it was now my duty to lead the reconstruction of the marvelous chariots he designed for the New York parade that following summer of 1977.
Many on the crew who had helped build the carts the year before were still in New York and we were all nostalgically reminiscent of Jayananda prabhu’s wonderful association. We felt his energy as we rebuilt the carts and wanted to please him more than ever. One day someone jokingly lamented about how Lord Jagannatha deserved to have carts decorated with gemstones and we marveled about the idea for a while. Not too long after that I had learned that there was a discount warehouse in Rhode Island which sold boxes of imitation rhinestones, gems, and jeweled ornaments. I asked the Rath crew if they would be willing to go out on Sankirtan for one day to raise funds to purchase gems. They agreed and that year, Lord Jagannatha’s cart was adorned with sparkling gems!
After completing the 1977 N.Y. parade the carts were dismantled again and I reminded Dhrystadyumna and Tamal Krishna that when I dropped out of my senior year of college at the University of Kansas to join the Radha Damodara bus party, it was with the understanding I could serve in India. They had stalled me off for three years but the health of His Divine Grace was rapidly getting worse. In November of that year the world lost the association of the most important spiritual revolutionary to ever come the Western World. I had missed the opportunity to be there for that historic moment, but now I was more determined than ever to go. I had done all that had been requested of me and I felt it was time for me to finally go to India and stay there. Tamal Krishna finally agreed to let me go and it was originally decided that I would be sent to Hare Krishna Land at Juhu Beach. At the last minute however Tamal Krishna changed his mind and decided that he preferred to donate my efforts to the Mayapur project. So in January of 1977 I set off with a letter of introduction written by Adi Kesava which clearly reflected the mood I had in going to India. In the closing of introduction it said something like this:
“Dear Jayapataka Maharaja,.. Mayesvara dasa “…has a one year entry visa on his passport and a return trip ticket from India, which we are hoping will not be required for use. It is his anticipation to stay for some time, hopefully at least until the completion of his mortal life-time.”
(Both of these photos show the gems we used to decorate the wheels. On the left you can see me leaning hard on the old style parallel steering bars that Jayananda originally designed in an attempt to steer the Rath towards the right (Port Side). The other photo shows Sarvabauma prabhu in the foreground. He is accredited with pioneering how to do big book distribution by being the first person to distribute 138 big books on a single day of sankirtan in 1974!)
(Adi Kesava Swami composed this letter of introduction for me when it was time for me to depart for Mayapura. He properly captured my mood in the closing lines but I must say even I was very surprised to encounter this when I read it for the first time. )
Episode 4: Getting to Calcutta
(Vidyananda Prabhu took this photo of me in 1976 at the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindaban when I got initiated. I had completely forgotten I asked him to take a photo of me when Srila Prabhupada handed me my beads. I was stunned with appreciation two years later when he finally gave it to me at some festival when our paths crossed again at an unplanned time! )
“Actually, one should undergo severe austerities and penances only to achieve spiritual happiness. In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is recommended that tapasya, or austerity, should be accepted for realizing the Supreme Lord. By accepting austerity in devotional service, one regains his spiritual life, and as soon as one regains his spiritual life, he enjoys unlimited spiritual bliss. But if someone undertakes austerities and penances for some material gain, it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita that the results are temporary and that they are desired by persons of less intelligence.” -Krishna Book 20: Description of Autumn
This was actually going to be my second trip to India. My first trip was In 1976 when the Radha Damodara bus program was at it’s peak. After dropping out of University I was immediately thrown into intense regime of book distribution. It was a routine filled with severe austerities because our focus was to sell books whatever way we dreamed up. We did really surreptitious things like jump the fence at Drive-In theaters to sell books to the moviegoers and even tried to surreptitious into casinos in Las Vegas to hit up the gamblers. If we got back to the mother bus too late we had to wait for the next morning to take prasadam again. We lived out of a suitcase, slept on a different patch of raw earth every night, sometimes-bathed in cold lakes. We were always dodging police and security officers but not always successfully at eluding them, which meant occasional evenings at the local jail. Yet all of it was worth it to me because I had the good fortune of being initiated by Srila Prabhupada in the courtyard of the Krishna Balaram mandir two years earlier when I went attended the 1976 Mayapur festival.
Tamal Krishna reciprocated with our eccentric efforts by sending nearly 100 devotees from the Radha Damodara party to the last big GaurPurnima festival before Prabhupadas health began to fail. When all other devotees traveling from north America were added to that list there were well over 200plus Vaishnavas traveling at the same time. The BBT accountant Mahendra took advantage of this fact and determined it would be more cost effective for ISKCON to charter our own 747 jet instead of purchase 300 individual tickets to fill the plane.
The Radha Damodara party was the behemoth of all the other temples represented and our deities were accustomed to always traveling so they came with us. Vishnu Jhana made a a makeshift altar to put them on at the front of the 2nd class passenger section of the plane because it was more spacious than the 1st class section. That way we could get everyone together for our usual deity worship programs. It all felt very much at home to those of us who had spent months worshiping deities in the confinement of a converted bus with very low ceilings. So as this flying bus transported us to mother India, we did what we usually did and proceeded to chant and dance with abandon at 40,000 feet over the Alantic ocean for the pleasure of the deities. However all of this was to the chagrin of the jumbo jet captain. The stewardesses who were there by aviation laws to attend to our needs really didn’t know what to do with all our saffron exuberance. However when the plane started to bounce in the sky with our chanting and dancing, the captain instructed them to tell us we had to be less enthusiastic about flying the friendly skies. At that point we had to be satisfied with the less raucous “Swami Step.”
On route to Mayapur I did attend the Bombay opening and it was glorious. Once again Srila Prabhupad triumphed and despite all the difficulties he had to overcome, the opening of the Bombay mandir was another firm testimony to the extraordinary vision of His Divine Grace’s mission.
Eventually I arrived in Mayapur and continued my natural affinity and love affair with everything Indian. I set out to learn Bengali as much as I could and eventually got to where I could communicate by linking words together albeit without grammar in very primitive bundled syntax like: “Going now I temple.” I am sure I sounded like an alien creature, but for the most part the Bengali people were humored by my efforts and seemed to understand what I was attempting to say.
(This is a photo of Anadi Dasa Prabhu doing arati. He was the head pujari for Gaura-Nitai on the Radha Damodara traveling temple program. This was the bus party led by Sudama Maharaja and Dhristadyumna that I dropped out of College to join October 10, 2005. Anadi is a bit hunched over here because the altar was tightly fit into the inside of an old greyhound bus. That was why the devotees on the Radha-Damodara bus party felt so at home having kirtan on a jet as we flew to India the in the spring of 2006 when I had the good fortune to get initiated!)
Episode 5: A Jumbo Rath for Calcutta
(This is a photo of Srila Prabhupada’s sister, Pishima, if you watch the video clip below yu will see her cooling the deities with a peacock fan in the opening shots of the first Calcutta Ratha-yatra in 1972. This clip is 5m:20s long.
LINK: http://www.iskconkolkata.com/kolkata-rath-yatra/previous-rath-yatras/ )
“Knowing that it was Dhrtarastra who had sent the invitation, Yudhisthira felt obliged to go. He had vowed never to refuse his elders’ orders. Even though he was now emperor of the world, Dhrtarastra was a respectable superior. He said, “I have no desire to gamble, but if I am challenged I will not be able to refuse, because the ksatriya code is to always accept a challenge. Surely this world moves according to the will of supreme Providence. All-powerful fate deprives us of our reason and we move according to its dictates as if bound by a rope. I will come to Hastinapura on King Dhrtarastra’s command.” – Mahabharata : 1.19: The Dice Game (Translation by Krishna Dharma Prabhu)
After I arrived in Mayapur someone apparently told Jayapataka Maharaja that I had been trained by Jayananda on how to build a Rath cart. I had only been in Mayapur for about two months before he approached me with his idea to build a BIG Rath cart for a July parade in what was then still called Calcutta. Apparently the Calcutta temple had held a Ratha-yatra in the previous years starting with the first one in 1972 and they were all relatively well attended. But nobody had attempted to build a Jumbo Rath like Jayananda had pioneered in the United States and I had the opportunity to learn all about this while working with him in N.Y.
At first I was apprehensive about the task because Calcutta was NOT New York by ANY comparison. Yet it seemed like the spirit of Jayananda prabhu was again speaking to my doubts … “This was why I spent so much time sharing everything I learned about how to build a Ratha-yatra chariot with you. Now you must take what I shared and help make the Calcutta Ratha-yatra glorious.”
Yikes! While I pondered the idea I felt a wave of uncertainty. I had only been in Mayapur for about three months and I knew very little about the challenges that I would face in Calcutta. As I thought about all the things I would have to coordinate I also realized that I would have to build the entire rath without the help of power tools. The local carpenters did not use skill saws or electric drills. When they needed to drill a hole they used a bow drill, which was the same too, that Prometheus learned could draw fire from wood. It was a very primitive spool and bow like device fitted with a crude steel tip that was rotated back and forth very quickly long enough until it eventually cut a hole. When a board had to be cut length-wise, there was no table saw to rip it down, they were manually cut from top to bottom by a carpenter with a hand saw. The carpenters in India were very dexterous and would often use their feet as much as his hands to hold what want they worked on. Yep. Building a Rath cart from scratch in Calcutta would not be anything like rebuilding the carts I had left in New York.
Furthermore the irony did not escape me. This ancient festival of Ratha-yatra originated in Jagannatha Puri and now somehow at the age of 24 I was being asked to expand this extraordinary event to the city of Calcutta which was only 500km/310miles to the North of where this very grand festival originated! Who was I to attempt to do that? The people of Orissa had been building Rath carts in Puri since the days of King Indradyumna hundreds of thousands of years ago. All I did was rebuild the carts Jayananda designed in New York and I had the advantage of the fact that all the parts were labeled like a three dimensional paint by number Revell model!
As I waffled over what Jayapataka Maharaja was requesting of me, I felt an energy swell up inside like a Ksatria challenged to defend his honor. Regardless of any rational apprehensions I may have had about being in a whole different country where everything was done in awkward ways I was not familiar with… I realized that my choice had already been made when I sat with Jayananda prabhu to learn what he could teach me. I reflected again on how we would tease each other saying: “Lord Jagannatha will give you the intelligence!” Before too long I knew that my dharma was in front of me and I had to take on the project. I told Jayapataka Maharaja that I would now focus my attention on having a full scale Ratha-yatra chariot ready to go on Friday July 7th, 1978. I then set out to find a drafting table to start working on the plans.
(This is a photo of how a bow drill is used to start a fire. When the same apparatus is fitted with a flattened steel bit on the end it can cut holes in wood quite effictively. This clip runes for 1m:46s.
Episode 6: Plan It… Do Your Best… and Pray Hard!
(When I heard that the temple intended to contract for some billboards to be erected around the city of Calcutta, I submitted a few sketches with ideas for what those billboards might look like. In the top left corner of the drawing is a photo of how the artists interpreted this theme into a huge colorful billboard.)
“So do it carefully…” – A phrase that Srila Prabhupada would often cite.
“But in 1970 we worked for two months straight and built the three big carts, basically the same ones we use now. Also we had all kinds of publicity — TV, billboards, posters. And Srila Prabhupada came to that Ratha-yatra. So a lot of people came, maybe twelve thousand people. It was big — a tremendous success. We had a few mishaps, though. One cart broke down in the middle of the parade. And it was a bitter cold day.” – Inside Ratha-yatra…With an Old Insider, Back To Godhead #12-06 1977 p.??
I am a firm believer in the concept: “A failure to plan is a plan to fail” and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. So the first thing I did was draw up a complete set of detailed plans for the purpose of showing everyone what I intended to build. This was also the most effective way to price out just how much it would cost to build the jumbo-rath and that was something the temple had been asking me to do. Once I had a complete parts list I could then figure out what the necessary supplies would cost in India.
The enthusiasm at the temple was contagious. I was told that management would rent twelve billboards six in English and Six in Bengali to be placed around Calcutta advertising the advent of the ISKCON Jumbo Rath. That inspired me to also draw up some ideas for what I thought those billboards might look like.
It was at this time that I also began to realize that I could not rely on getting much general construction help from the temple devotees. Although I loved my Bengali guru-bais, none of them seemed to show a propensity for working with tools all day long and besides they were already fully engaged. The only place I saw that was with the local katha Mistris (Carpenters) when I hired them to hang doors or do brick work for the Mayapur temple. There was no question of expecting a team of new bhaktas to step forward and help out to weld, cut wood or sew huge bundles of fabric into a chariot top. I had to manage the fact that I would pretty much be doing this project on my own and I would have to locate and contract out with professionals in each field to get all these specific things done.
To do that required that I figure out exactly what each part needed to do and look like. I then had to communicate that to the respective craftsmen in each field with detailed technical drawing so they could then make exactly what I needed to according to those specifications. So as I thought over how to make Lord Jagannath’s chariot appear in Calcutta, I realized it was going to be quite a different experience then the way things got done the previous year in N.Y.
During this time I studied the requirements for a new way to lift the canopy top safely and easily. Krishna eventually gave me the insights needed and I drew up the plans for what I proudly referred to as the “20th Century Telescope”. It worked using cables, pulleys and a repeating pattern of round and square steel tubing strategically stacked inside each other. (See Drawings posted in Episode 2) This was in fact what Jayananda had been asking me to help him resolve way back in N.Y. three years before but I simply didn’t understand what it was that he was talking about back then. Now it was finally done right.
All of this went smoothly, but as I designed the wheels I recalled all the stories Jayananda prabhu told me about how the first attempt to make steel wheels in San Francisco turned into a fiasco. Those wheels did not have enough spokes and the outer rim wasn’t reinforced adequately to carry the load of the two ton chariot. Consequently; as the carts proceeded thru the parade the rim between the twelve spokes slowly got beaten into a dodecagon. (doe-deck-ua-gon /)
“Jayananda Prabhu: In 1975 I tried out making steel wheels, but the chariots were so heavy they flattened the steel and made the ride very bumpy for the Deities. So now we’re back to the standard wooden wheels.” – Inside Ratha-yatra…With an Old Insider, Back To Godhead #12-06 1977 p.??
What started like a normal rotating wheel mutated into a 12 sided polygon that went clunk-a-dee-clunk as it was thrust forward from one flattened edge to the next. The end result was that the deities would hop up and down as the wheel lunged from one flattened spoke edge to the next. Meanwhile the pujaris got tossed around the deck and had to hold on for dear life like a boat flailing in a raging ocean storm. Whoa…! Clunk-a-dee-clunk!
(Image of Progress Evaluation & Review Technique PERT Chart mapping the timeline for building the new Calcutta Chariot. )
Episode 7: Where to Find Appropriate Talent?
(This is another billboard design I put together but later realized was a bit too out of context and weird because the average person living in Calcutta doesn’t live on the third or fourth floor of a large apartment building as suggested by the top of the cart passing through the open window. The original sketch was just a plain line drawing but I added the solid colors to enhanced the blueprint to make up for the fact that the document I scanned was really faded out and virtually unreadable. )
“So if you apply your talent to engineering…then your engineering becomes perfect. Similarly, if some business is done, if you apply your business administrative talent… Just like we are doing some business, Spiritual Sky. That is small business but they are managing very nicely. This boy, Svarupa Damodara, he is a great scientist, doctor in chemistry. He is trying to explain Krsna through chemistry. Similarly, you can try to serve Krsna through engineering. You can serve Krsna by business administration. Svakarmana tam abhyarcya. In the Bhagavad-gita it is said, “Everyone can serve by his own work.” Krsna is not stereotyped. Everything is Krsna. So every department can be utilized for Krsna’s satisfaction. And if Krsna is satisfied, then your talent in the particular department of knowledge is perfect. Then it attains perfection. Samsiddhir hari-tosanam [SB 1.2.13]. Samsiddhi means perfection. And what is that perfection? That Krsna will be pleased: “Yes, you are very good engineer.” “You are very good business administrator.” “You are very good chemist.” So this is our philosophy, Krsna consciousness.” – Conversation with Bajaj and Bhusan — September 11, 1972, Arlington
Before too long I had a complete set of drawings, an itemized parts list, and even some creative suggestions for what I thought the temple might give to the people who painted the billboards. Yes. Back in those days when someone wanted to cover a big 10 x 26 foot billboard it was not done with a photo mosaic stitched together from 64 – 3’x5’ preprinted image assembled like wallpaper on a flat billboard. No. In India billboards were hand painted by special artists trained in this unique trade. So I was hopeful that maybe one of my simple 12” tall sketches would be magnified by a factor of TEN on a custom painted billboard.
Armed with a stack of about twelve drawings, I was sent from Mayapur to Calcutta to begin the actual construction. Word had gotten out that I had been working on the plans for a big Rath cart so there was already an electric mood of anticipation when I arrived at the temple with a full set of plans. Everyone was talking about the Rath parade that was going to happen. I must confess that I was feeling proud about having the opportunity to be part of such an exciting event and apply the knowledge Jayananda prabhu had entrusted me with. N.Y. was big, but everyone was telling me that Calcutta would draw ten times the attention we got on 5th Avenue in N.Y. When I heard comments like that I tended to dismiss them as the usual type of exaggerated embellishment that is common when people get excited about something. Yet all of it was contagious and now that I had a complete set of plans to work from I felt much more confident about actually tying up my dhoti and getting to work building this new Rath.
The temple agreed to issue me large sums of money in proportion to each part of the project, as I required it. We agreed that as I depleted those funds, they would replenish them as required to keep the project moving forward.
The first step now was to find out where the appropriate life member in the community that might be able to assist in the project based on the resources and business connections they might have at their disposal. In this way I was introduced to a prominent real estate developer who had invited us to build the cart in a corner of his construction site. It was located a few blocks from the temple and would be safe from vandals because he had security men to guard the site. A different life member knew a place where they sewed sails for the various boats in the Calcutta harbor. That was where I chose to get the huge canopy tarp sewn together. A third member connected me up with a contact from the steel industry where I could take the drawings for the wheels and the winch to have them welded up in the Howrah district.
So many devotees were telling me to expect a huge crowd that I felt this was probably some type of insider message Lord Jagannatha was communicating to me to make sure the cart would be safe. I recalled how Jayananda prabhu had urged me to improve the braking mechanism so I consulted with a life member in the auto parts supply business that said he was committed to help. I told him what the challenge was and he said: “No Problem.” He agreed to install hydraulic brakes that would actually STOP the cart when we needed to do so.
Wow! I was starting to get the impression that perhaps building a Rath cart in India would actually be easier than having to personally invest all the sweat and labor that Jayananda prabhu and his crew went thru to build the 1976 N.Y. carts. I had contacts to sew the canopy and weld the wheels. I had gathered a team of four hired carpenters to help me actually cut and assemble the wood. A Western devotee I had met in Mayapur called Venkatta prabhu was seeking a change of service and he volunteered to be my personal assistant. A life member had promised to install hydraulic brakes that would actually stop the cart and before long I had everything set up to begin!
(Front, Plan/Top and Side views that was used to construct the 1978 Rath cart built for Calcutta.)
Episode 8: Lessons from New York!
() I had to make a comprehensive parts list detailing out the size and length of every piece of lumber required to build the chariot. This was not only needed to order the lumber, it was also how I was able to estimate the costs for every part and figure out quite closely how much the entire cart would cost to build.)
“At the present moment, India may be compared to the lame man and the Western countries to the blind man. For the past two thousand years India has been subjugated by the rule of foreigners, and the legs of progress have been broken. In the Western countries the eyes of the people have become blind due to the dazzling glitter of material opulence. The blind man of the Western countries and the lame man of India should combine together in this Krsna consciousness movement. Then the lame man of India can walk with the help of the Westerner, and the blind Westerner can see with the help of the lame man. In short, the material advancement of the Western countries and the spiritual assets of India should combine for the elevation of all human society.” – Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 4 “The Creation of the Fourth Order”, Chapter 25, “The Descriptions of the Characteristics of King Puranjana”, Text13.
While N.Y. had given me a very strong lesson in how dangerous the Rath cart canopy could be, what I had learned from my many conversations with Jayananda prabhu was that the axle and wheels were the most vulnerable part of a Rath cart. This was particularly true for the front axle, which has many moving parts and is essential in steering the huge vessel through the streets and around corners. The reinforced huge 8ft steel wheels in N.Y. proved that when properly designed they were far more functional than the huge solid wooden wheels that were first used in the original Ratha-yatra carts that had been built. Jayananda prabhu even managed to get some very strong multi-ply conveyor belt rubber to affix to the circumference of the wheel with flat head machine screws and heavy duty industrial contact cement. It worked very well so I planned to model the wheels for the Calcutta chariot from what had worked so nicely in N.Y.
Using the same line of thinking I went out and purchased a heavy-duty truck axle from a junkyard that was then cut and re-welded together to make a 12ft. front axle wheelbase. The rear axle was simply a 12 foot long 3” piece of solid round steel that rested on a huge 6×8 beam making it virtually indestructible.
If one looks at the historic photo of Jayananda prabhu on the cover of the 1976 Back to Godhead Magazine you can see him dancing on the ground right in front of the bright yellow helm bumper on Lord Jagannatha’s huge chariot. If you look closely you will see him holding on to two long parallel pipes hooked up to the steering transom. This arrangement allowed Jayananda prabhu to turn the cart by throwing his weight against the pipes in the direction he wanted to steer the cart. It is actually easier to see the steering bars and how they work in the photos from Episode 3 (3-2 1977-N.Y._WheelGems.png) where I can be seen holding them firmly and leaning way to the side to turn the wheels. It was a simple system, and it worked well in N.Y. so I stuck with that plan for piloting the new chariot through the labyrinth of congested downtown streets in Calcutta.
Something I had already learned while heading temple projects in Mayapur was that the lumberyards in Bengal didn’t have stacks of precut wood lying around that one could just walk in and purchase. When I was growing up, wood was actually cut to 2×4”, 4×4” or 4×12” etc. Over the years since then those dimensions shrunk down to nominal sizes which meant that a product called a 2X4 really measured only 1.5”x3.5”! There appeared to be no National Lumber Standards regulating the dimensions for wood products in India. What this meant was when it was time for me to go to the local Katha Ḍukan (Wood Store ie: Lumberyard) I had to have a complete list of the exact measurements for every piece of timber that I wanted. Then, after my order was paid for, a big log would be removed from a pile and get cut on a huge band saw into the exact sizes I requested. This was all fine as long as I remembered that if I requested a 2x4x10 I would actually get a piece of wood that was 2” wide, 4” tall and 10feet long!
Episode 9: From An Idea On Paper To The Physical!
(If my memory serves me well this is the thoughtful and generous lady who would send big luscious mangos down to Venkata and myself in the afternoon while we labored under the searing Calcutta sun to build the Rath cart. Thank you again mataji 38 years later! )
“O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable Om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and the ability in man.” – Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 7 “Knowledge of the Absolute”, Text 8.
“In the proper discharge of duty, one has to learn to tolerate nonpermanent appearances and disappearances of happiness and distress. According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning even during the month of Magha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath. Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season. One has to execute his duty in spite of climatic inconveniences” – Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 2 “Contents of the Gita Summarized”, Text 14.
Once the lumber order was placed it was shipped to the site we had selected for construction and the work began. I was excited. I was in India. I was in Calcutta and with the help of Lord Jagannatha I was going to build Him a big huge chariot for a big huge parade. I was in my element and it was all coming together nicely. One thing I had overlooked was how crippling the heat could get in Calcutta as the weeks ushered in the summer blaze. The average day was 85° but it was not uncommon for it to go over 90° or even occasionally as high as 100° Fahrenheit. Venkata and I worked side by side with the hired men every day and we sweat buckets. Several times during the day we would walk about 100 feet across the lot to a water tap on the construction site to re-hydrate, bath and cool off. However by the time we got back to where we were building the cart we would be completely dry and had started sweating again!
I don’t recall the name of the very nice man who allowed us to build the Rath Cart in the corner of his construction site as his high-rise building went up. His wife was also extremely kind and she would watch us work under Surya’s firestorm from her 2nd story window. As the project moved forward she would send down her servant with two very large chilled mangoes for Venkata and myself. At first I felt awkward to accept them as a brahmachari but she was so insistent we could not refuse and we both eventually came to look forward to that treat as a part of our mid-afternoon break.
I had to periodically check the progress of the work I had contracted out which meant to physically go to the various places of business to be sure what they were making matched what I had drawn up. In the case of the wheels, axel, telescope and winch that meant taking a 7 paisa tram from the Intersection of Theater Road and Syed Ahmed Road to Howrah Station on the other side of the Hugli river. From there I would then have to take a bus for 50 paisa into the back streets of the Pikhana industrial district, where the wheels were being fabricated in a small shop. I could have easily requisitioned a Taxi, but I did not feel it would be appropriate to spend over 100 rupees for something I could accomplish for two. I knew how Srila Prabhupada was careful not to waste even one paisa and how he would often walk long distances to save pennies so who was I to get chauffeured around like some type of pithy Raj?
The man I had contracted to fabricate the big 7ft. steel wheels chewed so much paan (betel nut)with lime that his teeth were very badly rotten and his whole mouth was permanently stained a bright phosphorescent red! I must confess it was quite repulsive when I had to speak with him because little pieces of un-chewed betel nut would drop from between his teeth when he talked. I embraced all of this as part of my equi-vision training because other than that horrid visual stigma, he was otherwise an extremely nice man who was respectful to me in every possible way and he had a very pleasant and endearing demeanor!
As the weeks went by the Rath cart rose out of the dusty corner of the construction site that is now marked on the map of Calcutta with the name “Krishna Building” (Located a half mile to the East of the Calcutta temple along Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road.) During that time devotees would occasionally pop in to see what we were doing but for the most part it was a service that consisted of long hot days. We would get back to the temple in the evening and took our prasadam in the back hallway, which was usually pretty dingy. While eating 3” long cockroaches would regularly scurry around us and sometimes try and snitch a morsel of khitchri from our banana plates.
Occasionally I would see the life member who offered to install the brakes at the temple and I would inquire from him when he would come do that. He reassured me that he considered a great privilege to be asked to equip Lord Jagannatha’s cart with brakes and that I need not concern myself about any of that. This was his personal service and he would fit the cart with breaks that would work really well! But about three weeks before the parade he had still not shown up so I got the address of his shop located somewhere in Jan Bazar on the other side of Park road and I went to see him. He was quite surprised to discover that I had come to his place of work but he received me nicely and again reassured me that all would be well and he would come the following week to hook up the brakes. We shared some sugar-cane juice and I went further down into Calcutta to a warehouse on Strand Bank Road where the Canopy was being sewed.
(This is the drawing I provided to the boat sail-manufacturing tailors so they could fabricate the top to the Rath cart.)
(This is a drawing given to the welders in the Howrah district so they could fabricate the large manual two-man winch used to lift the canopy. The rath carts made today use an electric winch hardly bigger than the size of a large shoe box!)
Episode 10: Excitement & Anticipation
“When one is sufficiently eager to achieve success in devotional service, that eagerness is called samutkantha. This means “complete eagerness.” Actually this eagerness is the price for achieving success in Krsna consciousness. Everything has some value, and one has to pay the value before obtaining or possessing it. It is stated in the Vedic literature that to purchase the most valuable thing, Krsna consciousness, one has to develop intense eagerness for achieving success. – “The Nectar of Devotion”, Chapter 18, “Eagerness of Achieving Desired Success”
The Canopy was being completed in a large room that had a very high ceiling and windows but was also damp, moldy and had a dark eerie ambiance probably because of the water and smells that evaporated from the Hugli river right outside. This time when I got there the bright red and yellow canopy was laid across the wooden floor and it transformed that dingy corner of sweaty Calcutta with the sanctification of Lord Jagannatha’s presence. The worker who had been laboring at this maha tailoring project was also happy to see it and me was clear that he felt very blessed to be the one to sew the top of the new ISKCON chariot for Lord Jagannath. I had similar experiences with the men contracted to make the Paper-Mache spire.
Sporadically Jayapataka Maharaja would make a completely unexpected surprise visit to Lord Jagannatha’s chariot construction site and when he did I felt like I had just met the transcendental equivalent of one of Americas greatest WWII war hero’s General Patton. Jayapataka Maharaj would come with his entourage, maha sweets and so many numerous enlivening expressions of Hari bolo, and Jai Jagannatha that I am sure the Demigods could hear him. It was hard work but it was rewarding.
One morning while on my japa walk I came around a corner and to my glee I discovered right in front of me a larger than life ten foot high recreation of one of the small billboard sketches I had given to the temple management. Sure enough several of these hand painted billboards had been stratigically located at major intersections throughout the city to invite everyone to participate in Lord Jagannath’s historic journey on His new Jumbo-Ratha as he rode right thru the middle of one of Indias biggest cities!
It seemed like everyone was talking about the ISKCON parade! The devotees had been telling me all along that tens of thousands of people would show up but I kept dismissing it as exaggeration. They were trying to tell me what to expect, but my conservative nature just couldn’t believe what I was certain was a lot of hypnotic hyperbole cranked up by the fever of over expected enthusiasm.
The following week the canopy, paper-mache Kailash (spire), steel wheels, telescope and three-foot tall deck winch were delivered to the site on hand pushed flatbed rickshaws, which was the most common way much of the daily commerce moved through Calcutta. What didn’t show up was the life member who had repeatedly promised to come install the brakes. Now I was really concerned. Everything else was coming together nicely but the cart still didn’t have any brakes and neither had I made any effort to install the “Just-for-looks” model of levered brakes like we had used in New York. Here we were a week before the big parade and there was still no way to stop the rath cart once it got rolling. I took my concerns to the temple management and stressed upon them that they somehow needed to get the life member to come to the Rath site immediately. He was crutially needed to install the brakes he had repeatedly reassured me would be “No Problem” and custom designed to stop the huge rath chariot with 7ft wheels.
Episode 11: Malaria!
(This is how the Nivaquine tablets I purchased from the local pharmacy were packaged in India. They spared me from the severe pain caused by the reoccurring malaria attacks that I fell victim to on several occasions when I wore my body down too much.)
“Canakya Pandita has advised that fire and disease and debt, don’t neglect. You must clear.” – Audio Transcript, “The Nectar of Devotion” – January 28, 1973, Calcutta
The days crept closer to Friday July 7th, and on Wednesday July 5th the life member finally showed up to see what he needed to do to put brakes on what was now the freshly painted chariot. He was totally unprepared and did not instill any confidence in me regarding what he was doing. After looking around a bit he went away saying he needed to get his tools and come back with parts on the next day, which he did. I watched him install the hydraulic lines but when he hooked up a traditional brake pedal I understood that all he was doing was installing a standard brake system from an old Ambassador automobile. It was then that I realized we were in trouble. I was now facing the same dilemma Jayananda prabhu told me emphatically to avoid. We had a brake system to point at if anyone asked, but I knew it would be useless, especially when the cart was being enthusiastically pulled by Jagannatha Bhaktas. So following in the footsteps of what Jayananda prabhu did, I arranged for ropes to be attached to the rear axle and let the temple know that a team of devotees needed to be assigned to act as brakes by tending to the ropes which would be in the back.
On top of the fact that the sun was unbearably hot, having to devise a makeshift solution to stop the new Rath cart at the last minute started to make me physically sick. I literally began to melt down from the inside, which I at first attempted to ignore, something I was in the habit of doing, but it got worse. A few minutes later, even though the afternoon sun was still blazing down, I started getting cold shivers and I realized that I had run myself down so much that the Malaria hibernating in my blood stream had overcome my compromised immune system. My body was under attack again from the Malaria parasite.
In 1976, after getting initiated in the courtyard of the Krishna Balaram Mandir I contracted Malaria. Not realizing what was wrong I ignored it for nearly a week and by the time I got back to NY I had become so deadly ill that I ended up in Roosevelt hospital on 60th street with a temperature of 107°. I had started to lose my eyesight which was what happens right before your body completely loses the battle and if not for the remarkable skills of the doctors that took care of me that first night I would not be here to tell this story now. It seems like Krishna wanted me to stay on this project. So when I knew I wanted to return to India I went to the health clinics in N.Y. and got all the appropriate shots and learned as much as I could about how to combat Malaria. I knew what the symptoms were so this time when that little nasty parasite waged war on my body I did not waste any time. The cart was ready to go but I was not. I had to get back to the temple and swallow down some Nivaquine tablets then promptly lay down and pray that Lord Jagannatha make me whole again by the next day.
I was in the habit of chanting my rounds before Mangal Arati and so I got up at about 2am to feel if Nivaquine worked. I knew it would be a very long day and the first thing I had to do when the sun came up was to move the chariot from the construction site to where the parade would commence at the 3 Albert Road temple. The soft chanting at that early time in the morning brought me back into functioning mode. The Nivaquine appeared to have worked but because it does so by destroying the blood forms after their release from tissue schizonts. (Skiz-onts) What that meant is the fever and chills were gone but my stomach was all messed up and it would take a while before I got my full strength back. By the time the sun was popping up I still felt nauseous but I was strong enough to walk back to the Rath site with Venkata to get the Chariot. We rolled it back to the temple so it could be decorated and everything seemed to be working well on the maiden voyage.
(The 1977 New York parade was well managed, polite and had the mood of a proverbial Sunday walk in the park. Everything was nicely arranged and in this photo you can see maybe 3-4 police officers just casually strolling along appreciating the beauty of the carts and the melodies of the chants.)
(This was the turn out I encountered the day of the parade. Even the side streets were jam packed with thousands of people pushing towards the cart to see what the Hare Krishna devotees had built for Lord Jagannatha. Subhag Swami Maharaj and the late Tamal Krishna Maharaja are the two devotees seen in the photo on the right. )
(While working on the Samadhi project Bhavananda asked me to come up with a suggestion for how to better use the open space between the buildings in Mayapur. I responded with a complete set of plans for the Mayapura “Lotus” fountain garden. Caitanya Simha prabhu actually managed the construction of the fountain but I had a chance to go see when I returned to Calcutta for either Gaura Purnima or the Rathayatra festival in 1981. I asked these three gurukula children to pose on the bench that was an integral part of the fountain design. This photo captures how ridiculous it was to expect children of this size to “Work the Brakes” on the back side of the Rath cart! (The Lotus fountain was torn down circa 1995 to make way for the construction of the huge Temple of Vedic Planetarium.))
(On one side there appeared to be the whole city of Calcutta very enthusiastic to pull Lord Jagannatha through the streets. On the other side were this group of gurukula children, recruited at the last minute to pull on the rear ropes if we needed to stop! Just the thought of it is chilling and that was what I saw as I came out onto the street to start the parade!)
Let the Parade Begin !
“One old devotee said, “My dear Lord, when we are away from You we become so anxious to see You again, and there is great misery in our lives. But then when we do see You, there immediately comes the fear of separation. Under the circumstances, both when we see You and when we do not see You, we are subjected to different kinds of tribulation.” This is an instance of a contradictory mixture of ecstatic love for Krsna. Such ecstatic love is palatable, and expert critics have compared such ecstatic love to a mixture of yogurt, sugar candy and a little black pepper. The combined taste is very palatable.” – “The Nectar of Devotion” Chapter 33, Indirect Expressions of Ecstatic Love, Dread
At that point my job was done until about 1p.m. when the parade was scheduled to start. I took the opportunity to go back to where the bramacharis slept on the roof of the temple and get some more rest. Someone brought me a little fruit and mahaprasadam, which was all my stomach, could process at that time but it was enough. About three hours later it was time to get back up and go meet the people who had come to escort Lord Jagannatha from our temple to the reception pandal more than three miles away on the North side of the city.
As I came down the stairs and through the shower-room that had been built right in the middle of the hall en-root back to the main temple, I could tell a lot was going on. Even before I came around the corner my ears told me that the temple was packed more than I had ever seen it before. I had to wedge myself thru the crowd to get to the veranda where the rath
cart from the street below was now popping up. Everyone had told me several times to expect a lot of people to show up, but there were so many people on the street below you could not even see the asphalt. People had climbed on top of walls and cars and anything they could to watch as the deities had been lovingly escorted onto the carts. I began to realize I was not in New York anymore!
Jayapataka Maharaja had been calling for me because it was time to start the parade. Despite the untimely Malaria attack from the day before all of the activity was energizing me to get the Rath cart rolling. All we needed to do now was get everyone in place and let the ropes out.
Jayapataka, myself, and the other temple devotees not already engaged outside descended the stairs together and as I came through the door the first thing I checked for safety reasons was to see who would be working the back ropes as the last minute arrangement I made for stopping the cart. To my chilling consternation the devotees struggling to even hold the thick ropes in their little hands were the very young Mayapur gurukula children! My first reaction was to say something but as I attempted to gather my thoughts it was impossible. Everything was moving too fast as the raw energy of the crowd pulsated everywhere. Jayapataka Maharaja ascended the chariot with several other devotees and I pushed my way to the parallel steering bars in the front of the cart so we could begin. When I finally managed to wedge my way to the front I discovered there were at least a dozen enthusiastic young men who were all competing among themselves to be Lord Jagannatha’s designated driver. I attempted to tell them that it was my job to steer the chariot but they spoke several different languages and few understood English. I appealed to the police who I assumed were there to help keep order but they made it quite clear that although they had the khaki uniform of a peace-officer, this was ISKCON’s parade and therefore the onus was on me and my cronies to make this festival a success.
While the kirtan played on everyone else was shouting something to someone in his or her native tongue. Jayapataka Maharaja was enlivening the crowd by bellowing “Hari Bolo” while throwing up his hands. The pujaris were shouting between themselves about how to receive all the gifts people were coming to hand up to them for the deities. I finally managed to elbow my way into position using broken Bengali “Isme amar Kaj koro/That’s my job!” My heart was thumping and I really had no idea how serious this situation was that I had gotten myself into this time. On the front side of the cart was what seemed like the entire city of Calcutta and on the back were about 35 children not more than four feet tall who looked just as frazzled and bewildered by everything as I felt. Although I knew I was not ultimately in charge of anything, I had hoped that I would at least have some false confidence that everything was going to be all right. I had attempted to encourage some adults in my immediate vicinity to go help on the back ropes but everyone looked at me like I was asking them to commit a terrible sin. “No! So sorry sir!” they exclaimed. “Bhakti means pull murti forward, not to try and hold him back!”
Aye yai yai? NY did not have a crowd like this. In fact I had never been at an event where so many people were packed together for one common cause and the irony was also overwhelming. In one sense everyone was waiting for me to give the word to begin the parade as if I somehow had everything under control. The fact was that right at that crucial moment I had been working three months towards, I had absolutely no idea how this was going to work out.
This crowd was way beyond anything I could have ever anticipated despite how many times people told me it was going to be huge! Oh my God Jagannatha Swami. The ropes were still tucked under the cart as a safety precaution. What was going to happen when I gave the instruction to let them out? About 100 yards down at the end of Albert road the cart would have to turn right onto Camac Street and there were still cars parked along each side. How would I ever manage to make the turn with all these young hyper-bhaktis ready to launch the Rath cart into orbit as soon as the ropes were released? There were people everywhere and no place for them to get out of the way. Woahha…. All I could envision was the cart crashing into cars and rolling over body parts while I frantically attempted to make what was an equivalent to a hair pin turn with a three ton chariot and a 12 foot wheel base rolling way too fast! Hare Krishna! Hare Rama! Oh Jagannatha! Please protect all of your dedicated devotees!
Episode 13: Totally Out of Control – The Chaos Demon Strikes!
“The pullers of the carts were known as gaudas, and they pulled with great pleasure. However, the cart sometimes went very fast and sometimes very slow.28 Sometimes the cart would stand still and not move, even though it was pulled very vigorously. The chariot therefore moved by the will of the Lord, not by the strength of any ordinary person.29” – Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya Lila Chapter 13 “The Ecstatic Dancing of the Lord At Ratha-yatra, Text28-29
As the cacophony got louder I realized everyone was simply waiting for me to give the word to start. I also knew I was at the point of no return. There was no turning back. Jayapataka was rallying the crowds and the energy was high-voltage-electrified. My mind was reeling and it was time to go but I could only see disaster about to happen. There were people everywhere but nobody I could go to approach to assuage my concerns. Krishna what a mess!
Despite all my mental objections and gut feeling that this was not going to work out well I knew we had to go… so I had to force myself to proceed and reluctantly gave the motion with my hands to let out the ropes. I held on to the steering bars with all the other men who refused to turn the controls over to me exclusively. The cart leaped forward with a thrust that nearly toppled the pujaris and we were rolling, faster and then faster and then even faster yet.
I wanted to get the cart more in the center of the road but there were so many self-appointed vernal Bengal men who were also holding onto the steering bars my efforts were futile. Oh Great I thought! We not only don’t have breaks, but even the steering of the cart was now dependent on these enthusiastic young men who had absolutely no idea what they were dealing with. It’s actually quite amazing how many thoughts can race through a person’s brain in such a small instant in time. I had been in India long enough to know that it was probably unlikely that any of these sons of Bengal had any experience even driving a very small Ambassador car, what to speak of a parade float that was 16 ft. wide, 24 ft. long and nearly 50 ft. tall carrying a payload of up to three tons!
Even if by some strange odds some of these un-requested assistants could afford a car, or were employed as a hired driver, my mind then raced to a conversation I had with a devotee about how people got their drivers license in Calcutta. I never confirmed if it was true but at that time I was told that in Bengal candidates seeking drivers license report with their car to the person administering the driving test. They are then told to follow that first vehicle as it moves through the city traffic etc. Those who succeed in following the lead around the city without getting lost, crashing, breaking down or hitting someone pass the test. Oh boy! Knowing that further undermined any confidence I may have had that things would be OK. I kept wrestling with the question: “Just who would be driving Lord Jagannatha’s cart?” I didn’t have an answer to that but I did know that I certainly wasn’t!
All my efforts to direct the cart by leaning into the steering bars were unresponsive. Yep. My heart was pacing faster than ever as the cart continued to pick up speed. I wanted to run and hide, get far away and shut my eyes, because out of the thousands of people who were all cheering us on, I knew something NOBODY else knew. The raw terrifying truth was that based on everything that had occurred up to that critical moment Lord Jagannatha’s cart was now completely out of control. It was just surging forward like a break away trailer on the freeway. Disaster was eminent!
The cart was heading in the wrong direction and going forward way too fast. My heart was crying out.. No! No! This is all terribly wrong! Jagannatha what should I do! Hare Krishna!
Episode 14: Maya’s Attack! Feeling Helpless & Thoroughly Defeated!
Episode 15: Reactionary Response From My Mind: Cynicism
“In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the word dainya (humility) is explained as follows: “When unhappiness, fearfulness and the sense of having offended combine, one feels condemned. This sense of condemnation is described as dinata, humility. When one is subjected to such humility, he feels physically inactive, he apologizes, and his consciousness is disturbed. His mind is also restless, and many other symptoms are visible.” The word nirveda is also explained in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu: “One may feel unhappiness and separation, as well as jealousy and lamentation, due to not discharging one’s duties. The despondency that results is called nirveda. When one is captured by this despondency, thoughts, tears, loss of bodily luster, humility and heavy breathing result.” Visada is also explained in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu: “When one fails to achieve his desired goal of life and repents for all his offenses, there is a state of regret called visada.” The symptoms of avasada are also explained: “One hankers to revive his original condition and inquires how to do so. There are also deep thought, heavy breathing, crying and lamentation, as well as a changing of the bodily color and drying up of the tongue.” – Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya Lila, Chapter 2, The Ecstatic Manifestations of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Text 35.
I had watched the destruction done in less than two minutes with astonishment and disbelief and I simply had no idea what to do next. I felt like a complete failure and was so traumatized with what had just occurred, I started telling all those who were asking me what to do: “Tell everyone to go home. There isn’t going to be a parade!” I began to work my way through the crowd and eventually got back into the temple and headed straight back to the roof, which was the only place where I knew I could get some privacy and cry. I had let everyone down. Lord Jagannatha wasn’t going anywhere, and it seemed quite obvious that I was worse than a useless disciple to Srila Prabhupada because I really messed things up this time. I also felt like I had personally let down Jayananda prabhu, as well as Jayapataka Maharaja, all the currently assembled devotees as well as all three million native residents to the city of Calcutta. I mechanically put my hand in my bead bag hoping for relieve and then laid back down on the roof of the temple to try and get the world to stop spinning, but I already knew it would be an impossible task.
I don’t know quite how long I lay there but it felt like eternity and eventually a stream of embassies started seeking me out from the rest of the world down in the temple and streets below. Everyone wanted to get my opinion on what we should do next which was really upsetting because I didn’t have any magic fairy dust or special mantras and I did not see any happy story ending to this completely unanticipated dilemma! So I kept saying the same line I had been saying all along: “The cart is no longer capable of bringing the deities to the reception and Ratha-yatra was now officially declared over for Calcutta 1978. Tell everyone to go home and chew some betel nut!” This got rid of the first few messengers but eventually it was clear that Jayapataka Maharaja had been asking for me and I simply could not continue to hide on the roof like a coward. So I reluctantly went back down and virtually collapsed at his feet in shame and exhaustion. He told me to pull it together and reminded me that: “Every endeavor is covered by some type of fault” so stand up and put my thinking cap back on. He made it clear that I was now in Bengal and that one time in Jagannatha Puri the people had to wait three days for the parade to start. He emphasized that the Bengal people simply would not go home until Lord Jagannatha completed his trip through the city of Calcutta and arrived successfully at Shyam Park all the way on the other side of town. Failure was simply NOT an option.
I was still trying to wrap my head around everything that continued to go on with even greater intensity as time crept forward. “So” I wondered… “What did Jayapataka Maharaja expect me to do? I am just a sudra brahmacari who never went to the evening program and felt completely unqualified to give class or lead a kirtan and I most certainly did not have any powers to chant some powerful mystical mantra and make everything right at a moment like this.”
Episode 16: Brain Storming
“Krsna is giving you chance because you want to serve. It is all Krsna’s grace. Krsna says “tesam satatam yuktanam . . .” Anyone who is sincerely engaged in My service I give him the intelligence. So if Krsna gives the intelligence who can compete with you? Krsna is the most intelligent.” -Letter to: Madhavananda: Vrindaban 16 September, 1974
Almost as if he was reading my mind Jayapataka Maharaja then said that he had been brainstorming with the devotees for a variety of solutions and he wanted my input with that process. For example someone had asked if it would be possible to unbend the axel back to its original shape so we could try starting the parade again. Someone else had the idea of extending a long pipe under the two main chassis beams through the front wheel spokes and then rest each end through the windows of two ambassador cars who could then limp the cart along. Some devotees knew about how we rallied enough strong men to pick a car up that was in the path of the Rath cart and put it on the sidewalk when had to get around it at Washington Square Park in N.Y. a few years earlier. They were proposing we heave-ho the cart up onto a big flatbed four-wheel harvest trailer so it could roll again independently. The range of wild ideas were bewildering and it took me awhile to sort through them all to determine which at least made a little sense and which were realistically feasible given the situation we were in.
I responded by first appreciating all these creative solutions then methodically began to point out why each one of them would not work. Given our circumstances it was unreasonable to think we could straighten the axle again and even if we could there was the very possible risk it might bend again. The long pipe idea was not only extremely dangerous but it would also destroy the doors on the car. That idea wasn’t even practical because the streets simply were not wide enough to accommodate the rath flanked by two cars. When I arrived the consensus was to try and put the cart on an agricultural trolley, but they did not look at the underside of the cart to realize that it was not flat. The telescope hung way down in the middle by several feet so the flatbed trolley was not an option either.
What all this brainstorming did however was spark my problem solving circuits. I soon realized that Lord Jagannatha was leading me to the solution as I repeatedly hear everyone refer to the Rath cart as having “Broken down.” I then posed the rhetorical question to Jayapataka Swami: “Well what does one normally do when their vehicle breaks down?” Everyone was now thinking as well as listening which was a mini victory in itself considering the cacophony of many thousands of people surrounding the temple waiting for the parade to start had not ceased. I then answered my own question: “We get a tow truck!”
As I explained it further it was evident that we had finally landed on a tangible plan to rescue the situation. I stressed that we needed to get a heavy-duty tow truck capable of lifting a large vehicle like a bus or a big rig. Within moments someone was on the phone calling to make the arrangement. I went down to the street and waited anxiously on the top of the Rath cart while looking over the ocean of heads bobbing around. About forty-five minutes later I finally noticed at the end of Albert road a tow truck approaching from Camden Street. It took another 15 minutes to make its way thru the crowd. By then I collected the few tools that I had on board and I was ready to do whatever needed to be done to make this arrangement work. As the tow truck slowly backed into position it was evident that we would have to smash a big hole right through the center of the deck directly in front of the deities. That was necessary for the winch boom to properly connect directly over the front chariot axle recessed from the front of the cart by approximately five feet. Remember there were NO power tools so there was no way to keep the required surgery from getting very messy. All we had to work with was a big crow bar and a hammer. Splinters went flying everywhere as we literally beat our way through the ¾ inch plywood deck as if we were conducting a jailbreak. As we got closer the chanting of Hari Bolo echoed off the walls of the temple building and eventually we had a hole big enough to drop the heave wire rope through and hook it up to what was left of the twisted axle. I then instructed the Pujaris to steady the deities, to secure their own footing, hold on and pray. I held my breath as I gave the word to the tow truck operator to engage the hoist and slowly the whole front end of the rath was magically raised off the ground. It was almost as if the demigods were personally reaching out of hidden dimension to mystically raise the cart off the ground in a way I could have never imagined.
As that got done I began to realize that we couldn’t just have the tow truck deliver the cart to Shyam Park. After all this was Ratha-yatra and all the Jagannatha Bhaktas had come to participate in the auspicious service of pulling the Lord on His chariot. So I climbed down under the cart and got some help from the crowd to collect the now useless ropes. We then collectively pushed our way to the front of the tow truck to tie the ropes to the front bumper. I was thinking to myself in a somewhat vengeful way… “Ok… You want to pull so much, well go ahead! Now the price to pull Lord Jagannatha is you will also have to pull this very heavy tow truck as well – so there! Don’t quit on me now!” I then worked my way back to the running board on the driver’s side of the Tow truck to instruct the man sitting there to keep the engine off but keep his foot on the brake. I spent a few moments speaking mostly English with him punctuated by as many Bengali words I knew to communicate that his service was to steer Lord Jagannatha through the streets of Calcutta safely so nobody got hurt. I pointed out to him that the brake pedal under his foot was the only way to stop this unstoppable force and that we should both pray that Lord Jagannath will empower him to know when it was necessary to use it. Teek hay? (OK?) Tum Bahut Acha! (Everything good for you?)
Episode 17: Let the Parade Begin… Plan B!
“There is no harm. If one could not proceed, it doesn’t matter. Failure is the pillar of success. Then try. Again you will try.” – Room Conversation with Madhudvisa and others — August 17, 1977, Vrndavana
By then the ropes attached to the back of the cart had been retracted and the Gurukula kids dispersed into the crowds, hopefully under the supervision of their respective teachers. Jayapataka Maharaj had been waiting on the top of the deck with the deities and was waiting for my signal so I stuck my big thumb way into the air indicating we were now ready to go again. He confirmed it with the same gesture and with that I gave the driver a pat on the back and shouted out to the crowd. Chalo! (Lets Go!)
The ropes got tight and the tow truck along with the Rath cart behind all began rolling… this time however a lot slower. I continued to ride on the sideboard as we got underway and when we got to the end of Albert Street, I instructed the tow man to make a wide turn to allow for the large wheel base on the Rath. I coached him about looking out for over-hanging trees and told him that if he was unsure about anything he should simply stop and I would provide further instructions. I could appreciate that the driver was actually quite attentive having probably hauled long buses and other challenging things during his career so I jumped back down to the road and as the Rath approached I checked to see that everything appeared to be working okay under the unusual conditions despite our bad start.
I perceived the usual bump and rattle that was to be expected but for the most part it looked like everything would continue to hold up fine. I did notice that the ¼” non-belted rubber which I had put on the wheels the way we did it in N.Y. was coming off in the back. I was unable to get the more durable material and the only glue I could find was equivalent to the rubber cement I was familiar with from grade school in little glass bottles used on paper. The end result was that my attempt to put tires on the Rath literally rolled off the back wheels as they rotated leaving a 20 foot long strip of rubber behind somewhere in the streets of Calcutta. Now it was cold steel against the cement which gave me chills to think what would happen if someone’s foot got caught under it. I had already provided wheel guards to prevent that so I continued to be vigilant about watching for anything else that could go wrong. The further we rolled without incident the more I was able to relax. Yes… I was finally starting to feel better. I was beginning to realize that we could do this as I listened to the kirtan, which now sounded like it was coming directly down from Vaikuntha.
By the time we got to Park Street where the next major turn was I began to really appreciate just how miraculous everything was working out. Despite the fact that we were nearly three hours late yet nobody seemed to care and people were running out of shops and leaning out of windows to see what Srila Prabhupada’s followers had done. There was an endless stream of people bringing offerings up to the deities as they rolled by. All was well as the afternoon sun lit up the huge red and yellow canopy. Yes live was now good again and the demons that had haunted me earlier seemed to have gone away.
Just as I was beginning to get comfortable with this newfound spirit my ears heard all sorts of hysterical shouting. People were running around waving their arms frantically and I knew something was wrong especially when the cart stopped rolling. My Jagannatha? What could it be this time as I began to fear the worst considering the odds we were up against! I could distinctly hear the words “Rook Jao” and “Tram-a-lina” being repeated from all directions and the expression on everyone’s face showed grave concern. Now what? Ugg… Some new problem had apparently come up.
I soon discovered that what was alarming everyone was that we had reached the intersection of Dharmatla Street where an electric commuter tram was powered by overhead-electrified wires that were about 15 feet off the ground. The Calcutta Transportation Company had sent a crew to raise the tram wires in anticipation of our arrival, but even the guys on that assignment were baffled at what to do. Okay! They knew how to lift the wires perhaps 3 to 5 feet for large trucks, but Lord Jagannatha’s Chariot stood more than 40 feet high and they could see that was completely out of the question. It was quite evident that nobody realized that we had actually anticipated this problem and specifically designed the cart so it could duck as low as 18ft and go under the tram wires. The top had been equipped with what I affectionately referred to as the 20th Century telescope that made it easy to lower the towering canopy down very quickly with a simple man powered winch. After getting their attention I gave word to the crew on the top to lower the canopy the way I had instructed them to do so before we got started. As they did, some people gasped and some people roared but everyone was mesmerized. Calcutta had never seen anything like this before. Judging by the comments of the DurDarshan (TV) news hosts what the city saw was completely magical. We repeated the same routine at several places through the city where we encountered overhead wires and our efforts were received with the same reactions of astonishment every time. As we crossed each challenge, it seemed like the kirtan roared even louder and more ecstatic then ever before! The whole city was cheering us on now!
Episode 18: Oh My Yantra-Deva*! Now What?
“Lord Sri Krsna encouraged Arjuna outwardly just to test Arjuna’s sense of duty. It is not that Arjuna was incomplete in the sense of his duty, nor was Lord Sri Krsna unaware of Arjuna’s sense of duty. But Lord Sri Krsna puts many of His pure devotees to the test just to magnify their sense of duty. The gopis were put to such tests as well. Prahlada Maharaja also was put to such a test. All pure devotees come out successful in the respective tests by the Lord.” – Srimad Bhagavat Purana Canto 1“Creation”, Chapter 7, “Son of Drona Punished”, Text 40p.
Several hours later it was starting to get dark and where the electricity was being rationed, people lit up their Coleman lanterns while the parade rolled on. It seemed we were getting close to the pandal program and I was again feeling confident that we would make it to our destination with no further incident when the cart started to make a very loud horrible sound. We slowed down and did not stop but it was quite clear that something was very wrong. The cart didn’t feel like it was rolling. I knew something wasn’t right especially when we did finally come to a stop.
What could it be this time I thought with exasperation and in trepidation? Again people were yelling in all different languages and what I could understand was that something was now apparently wrong with the rear wheel on Jagannatha’s side of the cart although it looked fine to me when I examined it. Nothing was dragging and everything looked like it was in place so I called out for the crowd to pull the cart some more so I could see what the commotion was all about. When they did I learned, the 7ft tall wheel was no longer rolling but had completely locked up and was now just being dragged along the surface of the street leaving a terrible trail scratched into the tarmac like huge bear claws in raw flesh. NOT GOOD!
As others observed the same thing I did, several people suggested that if we had to we could requisition a nearby car to get the deities from where the cart had stopped to the park, which was just a few blocks away. Apparently this was now okay after delivering a six hour parade which was now three hours late at getting to the Pandal program. I felt a little solace in that fact but wasn’t ready to give up so easily. It was my job to have Lord Jagannath ride into the pandal on his chariot and by golly I was going to make sure I did everything I could to try and make that happen!
I knew we couldn’t just drag the cart the last few blocks in this condition and that a locked rear wheel was now a very big problem. As I diagnosed what had occurred I realized that I had provided way too small of a clearance for the wheels to rotate on the axle. After turning all day the thin film of grease had literally burned off and now the inside of the steel wheel hub was ripping against the steel axle. The metal eventually built up and literally locked itself in place on the inside of the wheel making it impossible to turn. What a mess. We were almost at our destination but I was determined to do something to get the cart rolling again.
I sent someone out into the city to get a container of heavy motor oil. I had a plan but had no idea if it would work considering the extent of the damage that had been done. It seemed that I had hardly made my request before someone thrust a new quart can of oil in my hands as if it had literally dropped out of the skies as soon as I had requested it. I then coordinated an effort with the tow-truck driver and everyone holding the ropes to push the cart backwards a bit to dislodge the jam. Fortunately that appeared to work, although I am sure those who weren’t in that immediate area couldn’t begin to phantom why we were pushing the cart in reverse.
As it rolled backward I poured the can of oil we had punched open with a screwdriver all over the axle on both sides of hub while it turned. I then did the same thing to the other rear wheel as a preventative measure. After there was oil everywhere I had everyone stop pushing the cart backward and prayed in my heart to Lord Jagannatha that He would allow the wheel to roll forward again so we could get Him to the park. I gave the word for everyone to now go forward and to my great relief the wheel went around once, then twice then three times and it looked like we might actually be able to get to the pandal on our own. I continued to pour the oil all over the axle periodically as we made our way to the pandal, which was now fully lit up. It was filled with more humanity than I had ever seen in one place. The kirtan was more vibrant than ever as thousands participated and the stars seemed to sparkle brighter than I ever noticed before. The hot day was starting to finally cool off and it felt like the city of Calcutta was offering me a soothing hug. Jayapataka Maharaja eventually found his way on to the stage and the crowds received him with great affection. While I sat on the cart observing the sea of humanity I felt both relieved and very blessed. We had done it. Despite all the setbacks my duty was now finally completed for the day and I would sleep very well that night.
Episode 19: The Return Parade – Back to Albert Street
“Perfect accounts means every information regarding financial and stock situation must be ready for immediate reference and not a single farthing should be wasted.” – Letter to: Rupanuga — Gorakhpur 19 February, 1971
“Also I want that all centers follow the following procedure for handling the money. Whatever income is there, every cent must be given to the treasurer. Immediately he recorded it in the book. Then daily he deposited everything in the bank. For the expenditures, he withdrew from the bank the petty cash by check signed by himself and the President. Then the expenditures were checked by the President to see how the money was being spent. The important thing is that all monies must be given to the treasurer and he recorded it and every day deposited everything in the bank. And whatever was spent that also was withdrawn from the bank. This would stop the embezzling that was going on. Please arrange for this and inform me.” Letter to: Satsvarupa: Vrindaban 9 September, 1975
Emulating the same procedure followed in Jagannatha Puri, eight days later it had been scheduled that Lord Jagannatha would ride his chariot back to the Calcutta temple. During that interim Jayapataka Maharaja had asked if I could make all the necessary repairs on the rath so the cart would look fully restored and the return trip would not be so embarrasing. At first I was almost crazy enough to agree to try, but fortunately I knew in my heart that attempting to do so would probably kill me and I would still fail. The minimal that would have to be done was:
1. Scout out a new axle
2. Draw what needed to be changed
3. Ship the axle to the Pikhana industrial shop on the other side of the Hugli
4. Contract them to do an overnight rush job
5. Get it back in time to fit it to the cart
6. Repair the entire front end of the chariot that looked like a bomb hit the deck.
7. Pray hard every day that nothing goes wrong along any step in the process.
Even if all of that got done properly I would still have to address the fact that it still would not have any brakes. What kept coming up for me was that I couldn’t think of anything that got done quickly in India. As I discussed it with Jayapataka Maharaja he understood what he was asking for was more than anyone could deliver under the circumstances we faced.
I suggested that we rehire the same tow truck guy to escort us back to 3 Albert Road and Jayapataka Maharaja graciously agreed. With that I promised when I got back to Mayapur I would completely rethink the entire chariot for the 1979 parade with the intent of making it as strong as a tank, as maneuverable as a baby carriage, more majestic than ever and capable of stopping reliably on demand. I wasn’t sure at the time how I would do all that, but I was recalling the mantra I shared with Jayananda prabhu and trusted it. “Lord Jagannath would give me the intelligence to do it.”
Before returning to Mayapur I gathered up all the receipts I had carefully recorded into a green accounting ledger showing the exact detail of what was spent for every part of the cart. I turned it all in to the temple accountants along with the few rupees I had left over to balance the books right to the exact paisa. I thought nothing of it as it seemed to me that was the only proper way to handle the Laxmi that I had been entrusted with. Several weeks later when I returned to Calcutta for other business the accountants went out of their way to find me, and share that in all the years since the Mandira opened in 1971, nobody had ever accounted for temple funds with that type of vigilant accuracy. They were absolutely astonished that I had even broken down the expenses in various categories for accounting purposes and provided not only the totals for each of them but even all the 7 paisa tram tickets that I had handed to them in the envelope titled “Transportation Expenses.”
Episode 20: New & Improved 1979 Chariot
“Now you must all three, along with the other sannyasis, GBC members, and other leaders become very serious to actually give the human kind the greatest welfare, namely, this Krsna consciousness movement. Your task ahead is very huge, but it will be quite simple and easy if you simply do as I am doing. You must become conversant in every feature wherever it is needed throughout the society. Our first business is to preach to the devotees and to maintain the highest standard of Vaisnava education. Management must be there as well, just as I am preaching daily from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-Gita, but I am also going to the bank, making investments, seeing the trial balance making letters, seeing how things are going on, like that. So you must become expert in all these matters, just as I am giving you example.” – (Letter to Hrdayananda, 9th July, 1972)
That next year I studied the problems we encountered and recalled the miracle that made it possible for the Rath Yatra to proceed safely through the streets of Calcutta. Had Lord Jagannatha not intervened by immediately destroying the front axle there would have been no way to control the two-ton chariot. Property would surely have gotten damaged and someone could have easily been hurt. I realized that it was time to retire the parallel pipe steering system, which simply would not work in Calcutta. That led to the idea of putting a big ship steering wheel up on the deck where the driver could navigate the cart gracefully without being consumed by all the pandemonium that went on using the steering bar concept that occurred at street level.
I had the rear axle shipped to Mayapur because the one wheel was so torn up on the inside of the hub that a huge burr had made it impossible to pull the wheel off. After trying everything I could to remove it I ended up asking the garden crew to dig a 13 foot hole in the ground leaving all the other residents at Sri Mayapur Chandradoya Mandir who was watching me thinking I was digging a well. I was actually struggling with how to get the wheel off the end of the inch steel axle and I finally decided to suspended the wheel over the hole so the axle hung down into Mother Bhumi. Then with the help of a large block of wood to protect the end I pounded on it with a 10lb sledgehammer like Bheema pounded the thighs of Duryodhana. It sounded like hell and everyone thought I had gone mad but after battling with the axle for several days the wheel finally came off. I then cut two very deep opposite spiraling grease grooves on both sides of the axle to ensure the wheels would never lock up again.
When I searched for a new front axle I got one that was designed for a much heavier truck and I discovered that it was equipped with big air calipers to activate the brakes. In this way I understood that Lord Jagannatha was telling me that if I equipped the cart with air brakes I would solve all the problems related to stopping the cart. I did exactly that and the results were remarkable!
With the addition of an air tank to drive the air brakes, I realized I had a pressured air supply that could easily move one of those extremely loud air horns big tractor trailer trucks are equipped with. So I purchased one and mounted a switch on the steering triangle that was used to hold up the big eight handled round wooden steering wheel, which was now mounted off to the side on the top of the cart. This was a huge improvement because it gave the driver full view of the road and full control of the cart. The air breaks made it possible to stop the cart on demand, and whenever we needed to get the attention of the crowd a quick tap on the switch that controlled the air horn immediately got everyone’s attention.
The next year Chaitanya Jivan came to help me rebuild the cart with all the “New and Improved Features” that I had worked out. When it was time for Lord Jagannatha to make his annual visit to Shyam Park the chariot had been completely rebuilt with several innovations that had never been done before. In 1979 I was ready with high-pressure air brakes and a very loud air horn to blast for both safety and celebratory reasons. The steering wheel on the deck worked marvelously and all the driver had to do to stop the cart was turn a simple lever which expanded the air brake calipers and stopped the rotation of the wheels regardless of how many exuberant devotees pulled on the ropes.
The public was further protected by two paper mache wheel guards that sat on a deck that I had extended out and in front of the huge wheels on each side of the cart. They worked like a cowcatcher on a train. The idea was that as the chariot rolled forward the leading extra decks forced people out of the way from the danger of the approaching steel wheels as the rath rolled forward.
Episode 21: Aftermath; A Short Harbinger
Prabhupada: “Expert means whatever he is doing, he must do it very nicely That’s all. Suppose you are sweeping this room. You can do it very nicely, to your best knowledge. That is expert. Then people will say, “Oh, you have very nicely done.” Any work you do, do it very nicely. That is expert. Don’t do it haphazardly. To your best talent, to your best capacity, try to finish it very nicely, whatever it may be. You are entrusted with some work. Do it nicely. That is expert. If you think that you are unable to do that work, then whatever work you can do, you take. But do it nicely. That is expert. Don’t imitate. “Oh, I have no capacity to work in that way, but I want to imitate. Oh, he is doing that. I shall do that.” Don’t do that. That is not expert. You take up what you can do very nicely and do it nicely.” – Room Conversation — July 16, 1968, Montreal
The media loved us. We were all over the radio and the relatively new “Durdarshan”, Indian television. The people were entranced. The public marveled about how the ISKCON Rath would magically go up and down and duck under low-lying overhead obstacles. Every time we had to do it they applauded and cheered because that was something they had never seen the carts in Jagannatha Puri do. I also marveled at how nobody seemed to care that there was a huge ugly tow truck hooked up to the front of the rath. When it was decided that we would again rely on the tow truck to get the deities back to the temple for the return parade eight days later the Rath and the tow- truck got covered with flower garlands as if it was all part of the original Rath design! The tow-truck was clearly accepted as part of Lord Jagannatha’s plan and the people joyfully pulled both it and the Rath as if that was how the chariot was intended to work!
Contrary to my skepticism, which limited my thinking to an expectation of perhaps a thousand people or so, it was reported that several hundreds of thousands of people participated in these parades. With the success of the parade in 1979 I conceived of an additional float that would carry 12ft tall murtis of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda. I thought this would be particularly well received in Bengal and the magical catch would be that the base of the deities would be tied into the differential of the rear axle in such a way that as the cart was pulled, the two figures would turn and rock in such a way that they would appear to be dancing! Because of my commitments with getting the Vrindaban Samadhi project underway I simply did not have the time to actually build the “Dancing Gaur-Nitai” cart.
However in the follow up years two other chariots were introduced along with several smaller floats portraying the heroic pastimes told in the Bhagavad Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Caitanya Caritamrita. Dance troupes, dramatic actors, exhibits, and wonderful discourses have all been integrated into this extraordinary celebration which of course also includes serving out thousands of gallons of khitchri to the tens of thousands of people who attend the pandal program!
For several years I received invitations to return to India for two reasons. One was to help push forward the Vrindaban Samadhi project when progress dropped off after I had to leave for Visa reasons. The other invitations that came to me were from Calcutta management who wanted me to help be part of the team to help make that yatra grow. I had already made too many commitments here in America to accept those invitations but I was thrilled to know how much the public had responded to the success of the Ratha-yatra parade. At one point I was even sent copies of the artistic renderings for a “Sea World” like temple that was proposed to be built in the Pukur located across the street from the 3 Albert Road because at one time Srila Prabhupada apparently said that would be a splendid idea.
The enthusiasm I felt from Lord Jagannatha and his devotees in Calcutta was so compelling that it inspired me to research and draw up the initial plans for making a Maha Garuda balloon. It would function much like the ones used annually in the Macy’s Day Parade. There is a company called “Larger than Life” right here in Southern California where it could be easily made. I envisioned the Maha Garuda would float out in front leading the parade as their Lordships glided through the streets of Calcutta on their magnificent chariots. I was convinced that if we actually invested in this addition to our normal parade chariots, the photos of such an extraordinary sight would be reported in the evening news throughout all of Bengal and might even find it’s way onto the front page of newspapers all over India! This project never got a chance to happen due to several administrative changes that the Calcutta yatra spent the mid 1980’s working through.
I was later told that the parade grew so much that many of the Calcutta Jagannatha bhaktas who were accustomed to going to Jagannath Puri now only attend the Kolkata Ratha-yatra parade instead. I marvelled about all of it, how the whole thing was orchestrated by the divine will of the Supreme Lord and how a misdirected kid like myself who was raised in a meleccha culture had the blessings of Jayananda prabhu’s kindness and the opportunity of a lifetime. All of this would have never happened had it not been for the extraordinary determination of His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, had Jagat Guru Srila Prabhupada not come to the Western world! It was because of both his tremendous personal sacrifice and extraordinary visionary and wisdom that we now have such wonderful celebrations every year, not only in the city of Kolkata, but also in many of the biggest cities all over the world! Jaya Jagannatha! Jaya Srila Prabhupada!
Episode 23: The Advent of the Modern Rath Chariot
“I wanted that you Americans use your talents in spreading this cult, and I can see that you are doing that. In all departments you can use your talents and thus do the greatest benefit for the entire world.” – Letter to: Danavir, Mayapur 17 October, 1974
2003 Los Angeles, Ca. USA · MLK Steel Rath Cart:
The last carts Jayananda prabhu worked on were built in Los Angeles with the help of a crew of carpenters in 1977. For nearly 3 decades they endured the ocean air albeit with much maintenance and annual repair. Mahamantra prabhu is one of Lord Jagannatha’s dedicated devotees and for 30 years he sacrificed the vacation time he had off from work to resurrect the carts so they would be repaired and made beautiful again for the annual parade along the boardwalk at Venice beach. This was not only a very tedious and difficult task, it was costly and the prices for the storage and annual repairs were always increasing. When I understood the rigor MahaMantra went through to prepare the carts for the annual parade, I began suggesting that LA built new carts using high tech materials with the objective of eliminating the maintenance expenses that were spiraling out of control. Just the cost for parking the oversize chariots in the vicinity of the high-traffic, high-demand neighborhood of Venice/Muscle Beach was escalating so much that it was becoming obnoxiously expensive! [Figure each cart required about nine parking spots that had to be rented all day for the entire year at say $10 per spot. (And that would be a bargain!) Well when you do the maths it looks like this: (((3carts x 9spots) x 360 days) x $10 a day) = $98,550 per year!]
In 2003 Ratnabushan prabhu approached me with the proposal that we built a small chariot to demonstrate on a small scale how we could use alternative materials to make a durable transportable rath cart. That led to the design of Gosth-A-Rath III. I did not draw any formal plans for this adventure. Instead Rathabushan prabhu came up to my home for a weekend and fueled by pizza, seven-up, halava, subji, mashed potatoes and hot milk in the evenings we spun out a whole series of thumbnail sketches for the first AL-steel rath cart. Sunday evening Ratnabushan went back to LA with a hand full of rough sketches we had worked out in late November. By the third week in January Ratnabushna had taken those scraps of paper and completed a super mini rath that folded up so it could fit into a horse trailer he was using to transport and store Bhagavad Gita exhibits. That cart was first entered into the 2003 Martin Luther King Day Parade and has been watched by an estimated two million viewers every year since then!
2007-2010 Los Angeles, Ca. USA · 3X Folding Aluminum Raths:
It took the LA temple about four years of more escalating costs to give serious consideration to my proposal to build three new Jumbo-Collapsing Rathayatra Chariots out of aluminum.
The high rent for parking the carts has become a very tight noose around the temple budget and the challenge now was to transition the carts that Jayananda was inspired to manifest during the last few months of his life, into super carts made from indestructible aluminum without sacrificing any part of the Ratha-yatra pageantry. Borrowing from many of the techniques masterminded and worked out by Abhay Charan Prabhu, a professional machine shop craftsman from Montreal, I built a working model and delivered a full set of very exacting engineering drawings for the Gosth-A-Rath IV to be approved for construction by the LA temple president Swavas prabhu and the Pujaris at New Dwarka. By 2011 Ratnabushan, Mahamantra and several other surrendered souls took the drawings I provided them and built three new chariots with the most extraordinary craftsmanship that was absolutely necessary for these jumbo carts to function properly.
Some have said that the LA Rath Carts are the most sophisticated, efficient, and visually esthetic parade floats ever built. They are constructed entirely out of aluminum and because they are housed in a single 53ft tractor trailer where they are not only protected from corrosive elements, they can be easily transported out to the California desert where it cost only a nominal amount to store the trailer at a competitively priced commercial parking location for the trucking industry.
In 2010, a young cinematographer from New Zealand by the name of Prananatha Dasa (BSDS) made an excellent 12-minute video that captures how these new carts collapse down in all three dimensions and fit into the transport trailer. It can be seen at:
All the devotees who helped in the process of translating the plans for these carts into a physical reality marveled at how much we have reduced the maintenance requirements for these hi-tech chariots down to almost nothing. All they require to keep functioning in top performance is a little routine grease on the moving parts. A new canopy will be required when it wears out, but with some of the extraordinary outdoor awning material that is now available, even that may only be required every 15 or 20 years depending on how many times the carts canopies are exposed to the sun. In fact, we are all expecting that these new super Raths will continue to serve Lord Jagannatha for well over 100 years… long after our own physical bodies have gone up in smoke!
2014 Ojai, Ca. USA · The Sastra Rath:
Perhaps it is a lack of faith, maturity or personal calling but I must confess here that even though I did book distribution for nearly a year while serving the Radha Damodara party, I have never been comfortable interrupting individuals in the middle of their day to sell them a book. However, I can also say with equal honesty that I have absolutely no problem selling transcendental literature to interested parties when I am stationed at a booth at a street fair or public event. With that in mind Krishna inspired me to use the Rath cart technology that I have been blessed to learn in this life to design a unique and efficient vending booth that has the visual appeal of a huge rath canopy for attracting interested parties.
What came from that meditation was the birth of the Sastra-Rath. When fully unfolded it features 8sq.ft. of showcase, 8sq.ft. of counter space, and 96 cubic feet of cargo space for books, prasadam, theater supplies or whatever one wishes to transport in it. When all folded up it looks like a big dog house which I can then easily pull with my 1998 Grand Marquis car fitted with an after market tow ball. The Sastra Rath also has a place for deities to ride and in this way it can morph into a multi function low cost parade ready Rathayatra chariot! This feature was inspired by the 2015 San Francisco Rathayatra festival. At one point Jagannatha Swami prabhu, who has been the driving force behind that event for the last 50 years, was not sure he could requisition three chariots for the parade that year so he asked me to bring the Sastra Rath as a backup chariot. Well… the other three chariots did show up making that the first four cart parade I am aware of! Those who closely examine the photos from the 2015 San Francisco Ratha-yatra parade will notice a 4th Ratha-yatra chariot. The one with the widest canopy is the Sastra Rath!
2015 Ojai, Ca. USA · “The Ultimate Rath”:
By the Spring of 2015 the Rath cart Ratnabushan had built in 2003 from a handful of very rough sketches had proven to be a tremendous success because it was extremely portable yet still quite visually impressive. The list below shows just how many parades it was used in cities all over the Southwest United States for the glorification of Lord Jagannatha.
Nevada: Carson City: Nevada Day Parade
Idaho: Boise: July 4th parade. Used four consecutive years. .
Arizona: Phoenix: Rathayatra
Mexico: Tijuana: Ten consecutive years of Rathayatra parades south of the border!.
Pasadena: Entered into Doo Dha Parade on numerous occasions.
Hollywood: Multicultural Parade. Traveled right down Hollywood Blvd.
Palmdale: for a parade sponsored by local devotees.
Victorville: Use for three different parades.
Ojai: The biggest entry in July 4th Independence Day parade winning awards nearly every year since 2009!
San Francisco: Used on numerous occasions in this historic city where Rathayatra originated in the US.
Berkley California: Special Street procession.
LA. Martin Luther King Day Parade:
Used every year since 2003 & won trophies twice in this huge mega-media event.
Pusta Krishna prabhu from San Francisco had intimated to Ratnabushan that he was willing to purchase the 2003 steel rath he built so he could donate it to the San Francisco yatra. That opened up the door for me to again pool all our collective years of experience together and collaborate with Ratnabushan prabhu on building what we began to refer to as the Ultimate Rath (Gosth-A-Rath V). It was quite clear that there was a demand for an affordable traveling Rathayatra cart that could be rented and dispatched especially by smaller temples with a limited budget and manpower.
We staged the construction at my home in Ojai to avoid the complications of attempting to build it in LA which is so congested and difficult to get anything done there. We approached the project like aircraft engineers striving to trim any excess weight off the finished project and for that reason we also chose to make the cart from aluminum. We contracted for a custom horse trailer to be built and designed the new Rath to fit into it with one inch clearances on both sides. Many devotees came forward to donate towards this project and I would like to take this time here to thank all of those who did. This cart is a gem and it had it’s maiden voyage at the 2015 Ojai Independence day parade!
Proposed… Ojai, Ca. USA · 1:12 Rath Cart Scale Model:
Time is taking it’s toll on all of us. Before too long those who pioneered the development of Rathayatra chariots in the Western hemisphere will all have moved on hopefully to our next service in a different place. As Lord Chaitanyas mission continues to grow the need for younger devotees to step forward to fill the positions that open as Srila Prabhupadas disciples move on. In this case that means learning all about how to operate these hi-tech Rathayatra chariots safely. These chariots are going to be around for a long time and the demand for more parades will continue to escalate as the tidal wave of Bhakti yoga finds it’s way into the heart of millions.
My strength continues to decline with age but I remain inspired to share what I can to help those intent on building a Rolling Temple to get it done as efficiently as possible. Having had many years to consider how to best do that has brought me to yet another inspiring idea. As each generation of improved Rath was produced I shared the plans with various requesting parties but have observed that handing off a set of drawings had not been the most effective way to move an idea into action. What I did notice in 2007 was when I made the model for the new proposed aluminum rathayatra chariots many people were very attracted to the model. In fact several individuals inquired to find out if the working model was available for sale. This experience has sat with me now for several years and has led me to explore the feasibility for designing, producing and marketing a fully functional 1:12 scale Rath Cart Model of the Ultimate Rath. The value for making such a model would be to serve two completely different purposes.
Unlike the Ultimate Rath itself the model would be crafted from precision laser cut wooden parts intended to snap together. When assembled, the model would roll and included moving parts to raise and lift the colorful canopy that would extend more than 30 inches off the ground. The act of assembling the kit would be a wonderful way a new father could bond with his son on a Saturday morning. The end result would be a fantastic little Rath cart model that would inspire children in the same way Srila Prabhupada was inspired when he built a cart with his father at the very young age. The finished model could even be used as an altar for small Jagannatha deities for those who wished to make a place for it in their home.
The second potential use for an accurately designed Rathayatra chariot model would be for the purpose of helping temples understand how to build their own highly efficient, fully functional, easily transported Ratha-yatra parade float. Unlike a role of technical drawings, the beauty of a functional model is that once it is assembled, it is relatively easy for anyone to see just how the decks fold-up, slide, or tuck under each other. Along with instructions for building the kit, a second set of instructions can be provided that would explain in more detail how to construct each respective part of the kit in full size in the process of building a full scale working Rath chariot. Those instructions would include the option for making a modified Ultimate Rath out of wood for those temples that don’t have the financial resources to purchase a Metal Inert Gas (MIG) aluminum welder or the in-house skills for how to use it.
It may seem counter-intuitive but designing a Rath cart kit where the parts will be cut with a precision laser cutting tool is more challenging than in actually building a full scale Rath Cart. That is because the parts required for a kit must fit together perfectly so the actual task of building the model will be an easy and pleasurable experience. The advantage for myself however is that I wouldn’t have to pound on any huge wooden beams or lift heavy pieces of steel to built the Chota (Small) Gosth-A-Rath VI!
Episode 24: Thus Ends…
Thank you for sharing this journey with me along the path to the Advent of the modern fully transportable Rathayatra chariot. Comments, suggestions, or inquiries about any aspect of this documentary are welcomed and appreciated. I can be reached via my website at: Jagannatha.com or directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.orgI beg to remain yours in the service of Lord Jagannatha, mayesvara dasa ACBSP AKA: William Roberts MBA/MIS, CCP 687 Villanova RoadOjai, California 93023
For more about the author see the link: Who Is mayesvara dasa?Director: American Vedic Association “Destroy the Darkness of Ignorance With the Torchlight of Knowledge.” – Bg 10.11Proprietor: Jagannatha Enterprises Distributing the Smile of Your Dear-Most Friend “One Who Knows Me Will Become Wise & His Endeavors will know Perfection.” -Bg 15.20
Want More…?Check out a unique line of devotional products at: jagannatha.com (805) 640-0405 email@example.com & Jagannatha.com“A learned man is honored by the people. A learned man commands respect everywhere for his learning. Indeed, learning is honored everywhere.” – Chanakya Niti Sastra 8.20“Bhaktivinode Thakur and Srila Prabhupada wanted that American and European Vaisnavas should come to India and join with dancing our Vaisnavas there,..” – Letter to: Puri Maharaj — Los Angeles 26 May, 1972“I am very glad to learn that you are all working peacefully together. This is the most favorable atmosphere for cultivating our Krishna consciousness. And if people see us working together nicely, they cannot criticize anything against our Krishna consciousness movement.” -Letter to: Prabhavisnu: – Bombay 3 December, 1974