About 100 years back, Srila Prabhupada, Kolkata’s most illustrious saint, had organized the Rath Yatra festival in Kolkata when he was just 6 years old. And 70 years later he again organized this grand festival in Kolkata in 1972. Kolkatans still fondly remember that auspicious day when the Lord of the Universe, Lord Jagannath, descended on the streets of Kolkata along with his elder brother Lord Baladev and sister Subhadra Devi to bestow mercy upon millions of people.
The year was 1972, the day was 12th July, Wednesday and the time was around 2 p.m., when huge chariots carrying Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and Subhadra Devi were pulled from ISKCON Kolkata’s Radha Govinda Mandir, 3C Albert Road. The beautifully decorated huge chariot, carrying Lord Jagannath was about 30 ft high and was an exact replica of the ones in Jagannath Puri, Orissa. Just like in Jagannath Puri, where the Mula Vigraha of Jagannath is taken from temple to Gundicha, on similar lines here too the original Jagannath (Mula Vigraha) was taken.
A grand procession followed. People irrespective of their caste and creed, irrespective of their color, men, women and children of all ages were overly excited to pull the rope and be a part in this great journey. No one wanted to miss this opportunity.
The most striking highlight of this event was the presence of Western devotees (mainly from USA and UK) of Lord Krishna, who were enthusiastically participating in this event. Bhavanand Prabhu was melodiously singing the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, HH Jayapataka Swami was playing cymbals, HH Achyutananda Swami was playing drums (Mridangam), Narayani Mataji was gently fanning Lord Jagannath and Panchajanya Prabhu was offering arati to Lord Jagannath. All the people were enthusiastically dancing to the heart rendering tune of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
The chariots passed through Camac Street, Park Street, Chowringee, Chittaranjan Avenue, Mahatma Gandhi Road and finally reached the Radha Govinda Mandir of the Mallick’s Thakurbari at 12 M.G. Road. People had inundated the streets to have a glimpse of this glorious event. The emperor of the entire universe had descended on the streets of Kolkata. Although it seemed unbelievable but it was true, people were reverentially bowing down and were offering obeisances. Throughout the journey people were offering gifts to the Lord. At the crossing of M.G. Road and Chitpur a group of Rajasthani youths offered baskets of fruits and sweets to Lord Jagannath.
After 5 hrs of journey the rath reached Mallick’s Thakurbari at 7 p.m. There the Lord was garlanded and the ladies offered fruits and sweets to the Lord in silver plates. The Rath Yatra festival was celebrated for 7 days at Mallick’s Thakurbari.
Anand Baazar Patrika wrote the next day:
“Jaya Jagannath on the lips of foreign devotees. Wooden Church, many many man, pullpull. Once a Bengali clerk having got delayed in the crowd of Ratha Yatra had thus introduced the festival to his white employer. And the employer was delighted to hear this.
And today on 12th July 1972, it was for the first time, the whites themselves inched through the crowded Chowringee Road, with cries of Jaya Jagannath on their lips, in front of the wonder – struck eyes of the Bengalis.”
Since 1972 ISKCON Kolkata has organized the Rath Yatra festival every year without any break. Today it is the 2nd largest rath yatra festival of the world, the 1st being the Rath Yatra festival at Jagannath Puri.