Colorful festival evokes images of India in St. Augustine

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If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting colorful, exotic India, you’ll want to be at the Plaza de la Constitucion on Saturday.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors can get a taste of India without leaving Florida at the 11th annual Festival of the Chariots and Ratha Yatra Parade. St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver will inaugurate the procession at 10:15 a.m.

The Indian multicultural parade and festival provides entertainment for the whole family.

There will be live music, theater, classical dance, books and free vegetarian food starting at 11 a.m.

The procession route is about 2 miles long and can be easily walked by all age groups. The parade begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Plaza and returns to the same location.

The parade will move in a leisurely fashion, stopping here and there along the route, giving way to song and dance.

The Ratha Yatra Parade is the oldest known parade in the world.

The procession’s unique feature is a huge chariot with a blue, red and yellow canopy decorated with swans, lotus flowers, flags, Hanuman and a brass chakra on top.

This chariot has two very thick ropes attached to it that are over 100 feet long. The ropes are pulled by the paradegoers, propelling the chariot along the parade route.

Riding on the Chariot are the deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, decorated with silk outfits and real flowers. Accompanying the procession is lively Indian music and dancing, backed by double-headed mrdanga drums and karatala hand cymbals.

The festival is sponsored by ISKCON Alachua, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness whose founder/acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, came to America from India 50 years ago and introduced the tradition of the Festival of the Chariot (called Ratha Yatra in India).

Since the ’60s, the festival has been held yearly in more than 50 major cities in the United States, Canada and all over the world. Eight Ratha Yatras are held yearly in Florida: Clearwater, Jacksonville Beach, Tallahassee, University of Central Florida, Tampa, University of Florida, Daytona Beach and St. Augustine.

All are invited to attend this joyous, colorful festival, free of charge.

For information, call Bhadra das at 352-316-4560 or go to festivalofchariots.org.