ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A chorus of upbeat song and dance reverberated through subdivisions here Sunday morning, as those who practice Hinduism celebrated Rath Yatra — a holiday in which figures of deities are brought out to the public.
Hundreds of faithful pulled a chariot carrying figures of three decorated Hindu deities from the Hindu Temple of St. Louis down Weidman Road and on to Queeny Park.
Organizers said one of the purposes of the holiday is to expose people to the religion.
“To gain connection with God, we go to a place of worship,” said Yamuna Jivana Das, an event organizer. “One of the things this festival represents is that deities, instead of staying in temple, are taken out in public for the purpose of everyone and anyone being able to see them.”
The holiday got its start in Orissa, India, according to the Krishna Balaram Temple of St. Louis. Organizers said Rath Yatra — or “Chariot Festival” — is now celebrated in cities all over the world. Lal Gopal Das, an organizer, said festivals in India can draw millions of people.
“What we have is a little peanut compared to that,” he said of the celebration in West County.
That didn’t mean participants in the local event were any less faithful. Even as devotees pulled the chariot down the road — uphill in certain areas — there was little sign of displeasure.
Devotees sang the name and praises of Krishna throughout the parade.
“We repeat the God’s name with music and dancing so that you can immerse into his heart,” said Nina Desai, of Chesterfield, “so that you don’t think of anything else — complete devotion, you know.”
Many of the devotees at the event attend the Krishna Balaram Temple of St. Louis on Lindell Boulevard. The temple espouses a “Krishna Consciousness” mantra, which is different from general Hinduism, said Yamuna Jivana Das.
“I grew up a generic Hindu, if you will,” he said, “and this is something I really resonated with about 12 years ago.”
Jivana Das said that the movement resonates with people who want to take a deeper dive into existential questions.
“Krishna Consciousness is a very education-based movement,” he said. “Education in the sense of understanding what is the self. Who am I? And who is the supreme? What does God mean? Who is God and what are the qualities of God?”
Jivana Das said that the Krishna Consciousness movement and Hinduism in general have taken root in St. Louis, and the community is growing. He attributed the growth not only to Indian immigrants taking jobs here, but also to those not of Indian descent choosing to explore the religion.
“Ten years ago we would have about 40 people show up for our weekly, flagship event,” Jivana Das said. He estimates about 100 people show for that event at the Lindell temple.
Jivana Das estimates the St. Louis-area Hindu population at 1,500 to 2,000 families.
This is the first time in five years that the Chariot Festival has been celebrated here, he said. In the past, participants celebrated on South Grand Avenue and in Tower Grove Park.
The Krishna Balaram Temple of St Louis is part of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness and has events on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at 3926 Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis.