The colorful Festival of the Chariots brings an Eastern tradition to the west end of the world

By Michael Aushenker

The annual procession of towering chariots is a spectacle that delights and amazes

The annual procession of towering chariots is a spectacle that delights and amazes

It isn’t quite Lord Krishna’s legendary return to his birthplace, but it is nonetheless an amazing sight.

On Sunday, local Hare Krishna once again re-enact Krishna’s journey as celebrants in traditional saris and dhotis pull three colorful, 40-foot-tall chariots along a trek down Main Street from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to Windward Plaza in Venice.

The 38th annual Festival of the Chariots, sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, culminates with a free vegetarian feast on the Venice boardwalk.

“At the festival site, we serve free food to about 10,000 people,” said event spokeswoman Janice Gunn.

Last summer, International Society for Krishna Consciousness leader Svavasa Das said that as many as 30,000 take part in the parade at some point along the route. Das’ 2,000-plus member religious center at 3764 Watseka Ave. has been a Westside fixture since 1969.

The Festival of the Chariots draws its origins from the Vedas, ancient Indian scriptures recounting the story of Krishna, who, while a king, had his grand chariot pulled to his cowherd-village birthplace.

The menu for the feast that follows includes chidwa (fried garbanzo bean noodles with peanuts and raisins), a cold pasta salad with artichoke and dried tomato, homemade peanut butter and chocolate candy and Hibiscus tea.

“All of our food is a loving offering to God,” Gunn said.

Booths also sell Indian cuisine, curd steak and pizza, while educational exhibits inform about vegetarianism and reincarnation.  An entertainment stage showcases Eastern/Western rock fusion, classical Indian music and Viji Prekash’s dance troupe.

For Gunn, her personal highlight remains the festival’s lead-in.

“For me, it’s the parade. It’s really a panoramic scene! It’s really colorful. There are lots of flowers and balloons. Even the public who are not involved in Hare Krishna at all come out, standing and gawking at it!”

Festival of the Chariots begins at 10 a.m. Sunday outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, with activities at Windward Plaza running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit festivalofchariots.com for more information.

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