By Madhava Smullen
So far, ISKCON Dallas’ Rath Yatra has been a small scale internal affair, with Lord Jagannath’s chariot pulled through the local neighborhood.
But this year, Kalachandji’s restaurant and TKG Academy are partnering with the Crow Collection of Asian Art to create a cultural event for the entire Dallas area, called ‘Festival of Joy.’
The Festival, to be held on Saturday April 7th at Klyde Warren Park, will be an official part of Dallas Arts Month, launched by Mayor Mike Rawlings.
As an official Dallas Arts District event, Festival of Joy will be advertised on all Arts District websites, email lists, newsletters and Facebook pages. The Festival is also partnering with Fun Asia radio, which reaches 200,000 people, as well as with a number of local yoga centers and businesses.
On the day, Festival of Joy will focus on fun hands-on activities for the whole family to give people the full cultural experience, such as try-on-a-sari, and try-on-a-turban.
The Rath Yatra parade, which will go through the heart of the Dallas Arts District, is billed as a chance to “take part in a re-enactment of the original procession that brought Krishna home.”
In keeping with the arts theme, visitors will be able to create their own block-print, learn to write their name in Sanskrit, get gopi dot face-painting, and have mehndi designs drawn on their hand. Through these, they will also learn much about the tradition.
For entertainment there will be kirtan and traditional dance performances, featuring the Mayapuris, Gaura Vani and more.
A free prasadam feast, as well as many food sales booths, will be offered as “authentically prepared Indian food.”
Meanwhile a quieter section of the park, dubbed “The Meditation Zone,” will offer a more spiritually-focused experience. In ‘Ask A Monk,’ visitors will be able to ask questions of guru Rtadhvaja Swami. In an open area on the lawn, a guided meditation using the maha-mantra will be offered every half hour.
A Prayer Walk, led by TKG Academy principal Nryta Kishori Dasi, has just been sponsored by Lowe’s. This sanctuary will feature 108 steps where visitors can practice japa meditation with mantra cards.
To make the experience relatable to a public familiar with contemporary meditation practices, there will be signs along the way reminding people to put away their cell phone, and giving them tips on how to breathe properly and de-stress. There will also be quotes from different faith scriptures such as the Bible and Koran about how the Holy Name is chanted in different traditions.
Around three to five thousand people are expected, with the festival being marketed to both the Indian community and Westerners, including the large local Latino comunity.
“There is definitely a focus on reaching a Western audience as Srila Prabhupada intended when he established Krishna consciousness in America,” says project leader Gopi-Gita Schomaker. “It’s time to start bringing Krishna consciousness to the mainstream of North America and of Dallas.”
This focus is reflected in the Festival’s accessible marketing and terminology, presenting it as a cultural experience, a “taste of India,” and using words like “guided meditation” and “prayer walk” instead of “japa.” Spanish-speaking devotee staff will also welcome Latino visitors.
“Our goal is for people to feel comfortable, and excited to come back year after year,” says Gopi-Gita. “We hope they’ll think, ‘This is a really cool tradition and culture that can help me in my day-to-day life, with practices I can pick up, like meditation and kirtan, without changing my own religion.”
Festival of Joy is led by project manager Padma Dasi, the manager of Kalachandji’s restaurant, and efficiently organized by a team primarily made of second generation devotees, including Gopi-Gita, who is the Vice Principal of TKG Academy. Other gurukuli team leaders are Haridas Chan, Sri Rupa and Radha Kunda Tansey, Caitya Guru and Vedapriya Radha Patel, and Kapil and Kalindi Patel.
The Festival has been made possible due to community members Atul and Ritika Vohra’s friendships and connections to the Trammel-Crow family.
The Festival’s cost of around $100,000 is all being raised by the Kalachandji Dham community, headed up by Dwarka Das and Sarvajaya Madhava Das.
The local community outside of ISKCON is also involved, with around sixty high school and university students from the area signing up to volunteer.
“The most exciting part of the Festival of Joy for all of us is how it has completely unified the whole community,” says Gopi-Gita. “Lord Jagannath has brought everyone together.”
For more information, please visit http://fojdallas.com/