Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Ratha Yatra: The Festival of the Chariots – Lucky for Spain?

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The wonder of living in the south of Tenerife is not just the exposure to Canarian or to Spanish culture, but also to the art, traditions and ideas of a host of other nationalities who have gravitated to this island in the sun.

Ratha Yatra is an Indian festival,  my reading tells me that the Hindu religion has a whole host of these, each one more colorful than the previous!  It might have been a happy coincidence, or it might have been auspicious that the dominant colors of this festival are yellow and red………. as are the colors of the Spanish soccer team – or it might be that there was some sort of karma in the air, because, as the world knows, they won!

In the traditional ceremony in Puri in India, where this Festival of Chariots originated, there are three chariots, one for Lord Jagannath (who, so far as I can make out is the same being as Lord Krishna, a name which we, in the West recognize) and one each for his siblings Lord Balaram and Lady Subhadra.  Each has their own color Lord Jagannath’s is yellow, Lord Balaram is blue and Lady Subhardra is black, and their colors are draped over the red canopy of the chariot.  However, in Playa de las Americas on Sunday they had to share, and so red and yellow it was.

It was a shame for the organizers  that it clashed with the World Cup, but, then, it wasn’t the only event to suffer for that! On Saturday afternoon I went down with some friends to find out what it was all about, but arrived a little early, although it was publicized as starting at around 3.15pm.  We did nibble some wonderful samosas, kebabs and other tasty treats, but then retreated in the face of around 30º heat to find a cool place to wait  until the real celebrations which were scheduled for 6 o’clock.   For me that meant about a half hour of mantras before I had to leave to babysit the most neurotic dog in the world – as some of my neighbours are Uruguayan I knew it was going to get noisy around here regardless of who won!!

In Puri, once a year the three dignitaries are taken in their heavily decorated chariots from one temple to another.  There seems to be a long and complex history surrounding the tradition, but since we had the shortened version of the celebration we also have here the shortened version of the explanation :=)   The chariots, or carts, are pulled through the streets by hand, and it is auspicious and pious to be able to help pull the carts, or even just touch the ropes.  In India thousands vie for the privilege, but here, of course, there were a few dozen, so no-one was fighting over the honor.  This journey is the only occasion on which many people may get to see the deities, foreigners and non-Hindus are not allowed into the temples in which they reside.

The feeling of the festival, however, was far from exclusive.  The atmosphere was warm, informal and very friendly.   We arrived just a bit late to see the transfer of the deities to the cart, but were offered pieces of fresh coconut for good fortune as the procession set off.  Apparently, the celebration has spread since the mid-sixties, when our own “gods”, the Beatles, returned from India and people began to take an interest in the religion and culture.  The festival is now celebrated in New York, London, Dallas and San Francisco amongst others – and now Tenerife.

Interesting historical note – the English word juggernaut comes from the name of Lord Jagannath and the chariots used in this procession, which, in the original are enormous, and English colonists were so amazed by their size that the word was coined and passed into use.  In another of those coincidences which make you wonder about the nature of the fate and such stuff, read this definition of the word juggernaut from


any large, overpowering, destructive force or object, as war, a giant battleship, or a powerful football team.
It is typical of the Indian community in Tenerife that they reach out and share, and the chariot was proceeded by a Canrian folk music group, who had also performed the previous evening, talk about having the best of both worlds!
Even this group was something of an oddity to see in the streets of Playa de las Americas, and the gawping faces of some of the tourists were a wonder to behold, more accumstomed as they are to frying on the beach all day, and seeing only their own breed around the streets of town.
As the chariot and its attendents moved slowly through the heat of the afternoon on the wide tourist boulevards, the children on atop the cart threw bags, containing nuts and sweets, eagle-eyed, they seemed determined that no-one should miss out, and I thought of the pictures I’d seen on the internet of this festival in its home town of Puri, where thousands of people crowd around, anxious for at least a touch of the ropes or a glimpse of the deities.  It doesn’t take an awful lot to stoke the fires of my desire to travel, and this was more than enough.  One thing I do know -next year it will not clash with the World Cup, so even if I can’t make it to Puri, at least I can spend more time in Playa de las Americas, making time to see more of the music, drama and dance which are part of the fiesta.
The Indian community of South Tenerife deserve a huge thank you for bringing us this colorful event, and for reaching out to share their culture – something not all other cultures here do!

Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

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