By HG Gunaavatara Dasa
It was a historical day on September 20, 2017. Cambodia witnessed its first ever Jagannath Ratha Yatra in Siem Reap. Without much funds and small congregation we were successful in conducting this Ratha Yatra. We were inspired by our Cambodian Bhakta Khia Prabhu, who had a very strong desire to do this Ratha Yatra at the village where our Yasodapura Eco Village is located. Khia Prabhu felt that because we already favorably knew all the people in that area, it was conducive to organize the Ratha Yatra. He felt it was possible to take permission from the authority to conduct this Ratha Yatra. Khia Prabhu persisted to hold the Ratha Yatra in Phcum Ben on 20 September 2017.
Pchum Ben is the annual national Buddhist festival in Cambodia. During that festival people go to Pagoda to pray to Buddha for their ancestors. So on that day all the villagers were expected to have free time, not like the usual days when they are busy working at the farm. In order to collaborate with the local tradition we decided to also bring Lord Buddha along with Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra mayi on the chariot. We announced this festival in Khmer word -Hay Preah, which means the parade honoring the Lords on to the streets. This is one of the ancient Cambodian traditions where they usually bring Lord Buddha out and the monks take Him from one pagoda to another pagoda.
By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada within a month we prepared everything for this festival. Devotees from Indonesia under the banner of Jagannath Ratha Yatra Nusantara (which has conducted 30 Ratha Yatras in Indonesia), came forward to help us in different ways- like donation, sending an expert devotee who knew about Ratha Yatra, and also helping us design a poster. Also we got some donation from Gopinath Prabhu from Phnom Phen.
Our small congregation in Siem Reap also had been working very hard. They began with making and painting of Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra deities, making the chariot and also stitching deities’ dresses. The deities’ making was sponsored by Jerry Prabhu. Vishnuratha Prabhu and his wife with other grihastha couple from Russia had to travel back and forth for several days from town to the village to give finishing touches to the deities and Their chariot. For the chariot we combined two bullock carts, we put it together with a wooden belt around it and readied one umbrella as the canopy, some villagers also helped us make this. Khia Prabhu along with one of the villagers went door to door inviting all the villagers for the program. Before that we also went to the commune office, police office and to the pagoda to confirm the date of program.
On the day of the festival, our Indian devotees Jay Bharath Prabhu and his friends came to cook bhoga. Jay Barath Prabhu along with all of his cooking staff from the town reached the place a day before the festival. They cooked puris, two subjis and rice. Early in the morning it was cloudy and raining, we could also see a rainbow in the sky. We thought this to be an auspicious sign from Lord Jagannath. Then we set to ready the pandal and stage. At 10 am the chariot was to be brought to the pagoda. Devotees started arriving in different groups, one group came from Siem Reap by Tuk Tuk, there were also devotee from America who had come with Jerry Prabhu and then from Canada with Revati Prabhu.
The Ratha Yatra started at 1 pm from the Pagoda, first we took Lord Buddha from the temple. Kumudaksa Prabhu as the Pujari performed the arati, while we sang the kirtan. All the people in the pagoda looked enthusiastic. The conch was blown loud, and we started to move the chariot to the road. The rope was given to the villagers so they could start pulling the chariot. Khia Prabhu guided people how to pull. Slowly more and more people started coming out from their houses to follow the chariot. Devotees continued to do kirtan in front of the chariot; many villagers also join us in dancing. Vishnuratha Prabhu and Khia Prabhu led enthusiastic kirtan until we arrived at the pandal. It was encouraging to see about 300 people participate in the very first Jagannath Ratha Yatra in Cambodia.
We distributed orange prasadam on the streets and after reaching the pandal we distributed some more of it. The devotees continued to kirtan and the villagers also followed us singing the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra. During the speech, Khia Prabhu mentioned the universal applicability of the Maha Mantra, no matter what the religion, nationality or gender. He explained how the maha mantra is helpful to our ancestor, thus how it was good for this Phcum Ben Day, and also other days as it gave peace to our mind and also in the society. At the end of the wonderful day we honored the prasadam, sponsored by Jay Radhika Mataji as Food for Life (Cambodia program). Many people took prasadam home, the prasadam was distributed widely ensuring that nothing was left. The Indian community also bought some fruits for distribution to the villagers. Villagers later helped us in cleaning the plates, pots and even the pandal.
Hope this entire village here gets the mercy of Lord Jagannath, so that they have a better life – chanting Maha Mantra for the satisfaction of Lord Buddha and Lord Krishna. Our future goal is to bring them to the association of devotees so that they can take part in the development of our 108 acre land of Yasodapura Eco Village. This land is actually meant to bring all the villagers into leading a better life by following congregational chanting of Hare Krishna Maha Mantra and following varnasrama dharma.
I wish to thank all the devotees who helped us allowing this dream of Ratha Yatra tomanifest itself. Hare Krishna!