HOUSTON (TIP): Two Ratha Yatras (Hindu Festival of Chariots) have been planned in Houston (Texas) during this month.

It is like getting a taste of India and Hinduism without leaving Houston.

“Greater Houston Rath Yatra” at Discovery Green on July 11, besides a procession of hand-pulled chariots bearing Hindu deities, will also include vegan dinner, traditional dance performances, multicultural entertainment and activities for children.

“8th Annual Chariot Festival” on Bellfort Village Drive on July 18, besides pulling the chariot, will also include live musical performance by Pandit Jasraj and troupe and a free health fair.

Meanwhile, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, July 9, applauded efforts of the organizers and Houston community to realize these wonderful festivals, exhibiting the richness of Hinduism.

Rath Yatra is said to be the oldest known parade in the world and it is believed that pullers of this Lord Jagannatha’s chariot receive immense spiritual benefit. Popularized outside India by International Society for Krishna Consciousness founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, this annual parade festival has reportedly been held annually in over 50 major cities in USA, Canada, Europe, etc., since 1960s.

The original Ratha Jatra is held on a grand scale in Puri (Odisha, India), where the presiding deities of Sri Mandira—Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra—with celestial wheel Sudarshana are driven on the chariots to about two miles north Gundicha temple in an elaborate ritual procession, where the huge colorfully decorated chariots are drawn by thousands of devotees. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode in Sri Mandira. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be highly auspicious and even a touch of the chariot is believed to yield benefits equivalent to several pious deeds. Many poets have written its glories. This year, it will be held on July 18.

Rajan Zed points out that ancient Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad talks about the concept of chariot, where soul is the deity, body is the chariot, and intellect the charioteer. Skanda Purana glorifies Rath Jatra’s sanctity.