Written by Vasanti dd
Arrival – 18 December
The air was buzzing with activity at the ISKCON Cape Town Temple of Sri Sri Nitai Mayapurchandra. Devotees had flown in from various parts to visit Their Lordships Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra during Their appearance for Cape Town’s annual Ratha Yatra festival.
A few days before the official festivities were to begin, Kadamba Kanana Swami arrived and was warmly greeted by an excited group of disciples and well-wishers at the airport. Maharaj enjoyed a nicely balanced stay in the Mother City of Africa, giving nectarian morning and evening programs every alternate day and also taking well deserved days of rest in‑between.
During the Sunday morning Caitanya Caritamrta lecture of 20 December, Maharaj took us on a journey through the different moods of the devotees of Krsna in Dwarka and Vrindavan. Maharaj concluded by saying that we may have very little capacity to understand the feelings of separation of the Vrindavan devotees, or even the feelings of Lord Caitanya for that matter, and that we should instead turn to the mercy of Lord Caitanya. Maharaj said that we should deeply meditate on that mercy and that when we deeply meditate on that mercy, amazement would surely awaken in our hearts.
These meditations on the separation from and the mercy of the Lord were certainly setting the tone for the upcoming two festivals of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subhadra where oceans of mercy would soon be flooding the streets of Sea Point, Cape Town.
Snana Yatra – 20 December
Sunday evening rolled in like a royal red carpet upon which Their Lordships finally made a graceful appearance to the Cape Town congregation. The day of Snana Yatra had come and the opulent abhishek ceremony truly was magnificent, magical and very intimate. The congregation was blessed with the opportunity to bathe Their Lordships while Kadamba Kanana Swami lovingly bathed Them in the melodious chanting of Their holy names.
Their Lordships were happily on the altar and there was one week to go before the actual Ratha Yatra. Maharaj used this week to immerse us in many classes about the glorious devotees of the Lord such as King Prataparuda who, out of his own free will, went from the status of regal ruler of a kingdom to a humble sweeper of the street before Lord Jagannatha’s cart, rendering this service in a mood of great humility.
On Christmas day Maharaj visited the home of Radhasharana Prabhu and Radharani Mataji. The class was shared between Maharaj and His Grace Medhavi Prabhu (ACBSP). The devotees were kept in stitches of laughter at the mischievous mood of Maharaj who kept stealing Medhavi Prabhu’s water remnants (and vice versa). The kirtan was extra magical and Maharaj kept singing and playing his harmonium while the devotees relished the prasadam prepared by the hosts.
Maha-harinama – 26 December
On Saturday, the devotees decided to warm up the Sea Point grounds by assembling for a maha-harinama led by Kadamba Kanana Swami and Bhakti Caitanya Swami which was absolutely off the hinges!! It was a perfectly sunny day and a public holiday (Boxing Day) and all the grass patches dotted along the picturesque Beach Road were jam‑packed with picnicking families. As the harinama party passed by, most of the families got to their feet and started dancing along with a rhythm and enthusiasm that only Africa can truly boast.
Children left their snacks and ice-creams and ran to join the roaring harinama. Some sang and danced all the way, while others spontaneously grabbed some kartalas and played their hearts out for the pleasure of the smiling face of Lord Jagannatha (who had accompanied the harinama in the form of a big yellow flag). Oh – what a harinam it was indeed!!
The devotees eventually settled down on their own patch of grass for a lovely prasadam picnic and spent the rest of the day winding down from the day’s excitement.
Initiation ceremony – 27 December
Sunday was a momentous day for mother Tianni (affectionately known as “Tannie Tianni”), who received initiation. She is now even more affectionately known as Tanumadhya dd. Her husband, Mr Brand, was there for moral support and her two children – Hari Vilasa das (KKS) and Kamala Sita dd (IDS) – had sent their support and blessings by providing her with new japa mala and kunti mala for the ceremony as they were both away in Mayapur at the time. What a special family!
Ratha Yatra – 28 December
Monday had finally arrived and the hype was bigger than ever. Straight after the morning program, devotees were rushing all over trying to get ready for the big day that lay ahead. Upon arriving at the site, it was clear that Lord Indra was in a good mood. The weather was absolutely perfect with a cloudless and windless sky. The tents were ready and eagerly awaiting the arrival of all the guests that would soon grace their walls and the main attraction, the Rath cart, stood tall and proud in all its splendid glory.
The harinama crew cranked up the speakers and fired up some kirtan and the crowd grew as we all waited with baited breath for the guests of honor… They arrived in a convoy of cars and were greeted by the tumultuous sounds of ecstatic chanting devotees. Dressed in beautiful candy-yellow outfits fit for kings (and a queen), They greeted the crowds with wide smiles and lovingly outstretched arms.
After an address to the crowd by both Swamis, the festivities began! Kadamba Kanana Maharaj descended into the core group of harinama enthusiasts and flew full-swing into a powerful kirtan. People of all walks, builds, colors, creeds and nations became attracted and joined in pulling the ropes of Lord Jagannatha’s chariot through the streets. It was a whirlwind of color and transcendental sound as the ecstasy grew from strength to strength. Maha sweets were flying off the chariot in every direction and people were hanging out their windows from tall buildings just to get a glimpse of what was going on (and surely lamenting that they weren’t directly in on the action)!
Later, Bhakti Caitanya Swami took the microphone and pushed the ecstasy even further. The rope pullers were sweating profusely but completely undeterred, the harinama was exploding and Kadamba Kanana Swami could not stop dancing for a minute and was seen gliding from side to side like a graceful swan throughout the remainder of the procession.
In this material world, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and so too did the otherworldly procession of Lord Jagannatha and His associates who were then transported home for some rest after the wild party.
Festivities carried on at the site until sunset where guests immersed themselves in all the nectar of the various tents and got caught up in lectures, interviews, kirtans, stage productions, gopi dots, henna and prasadam.
Maharaj was mainly involved in giving lectures, on-stage interviews and personal chats to all the guests who eagerly drank in the nectar. I even saw him doing some spontaneous book distribution from the main stage to anyone who could shout the loudest (or in one man’s case, jump the highest).
Departure – 30 December
Hearts grew heavy as the time had come for Maharaj to depart for a short trip to Germany before returning to Durban on 02 January. Until next time, Cape Town will be praying for the day to be blessed with the association of this pure devotee again who nourishes our faith with his deep knowledge and keeps our spiritual sparks alive with fiery kirtans.
Ratha Yatra photos were taken by Bipin Prag