Kiwi history and an orthodox strain of Hinduism have been combined in the centrepiece of a Hare Krishna festival that will be celebrated in Nelson for the first time this Friday.
The Jagannatha Ratha Yatra festival has been celebrated in Puri, India, for thousands of years.
It marks a journey across India made by Lord Jagannatha in a chariot, and every year millions of devotees gather at Puri for a re-enactment, where even to touch the chariot is considered a holy act.
Since 1967, when the first Ratha Yatra festival in the West was celebrated in San Francisco, the festival has spread throughout the world.
The Hare Krishna community based in the Motueka Valley for the past three years found the basis for their chariot in a century-old bullock cart from Tapawera that was sitting in pieces in Lester Rowntree’s Motueka collection.
A member of the community called Alpha Zen took on the project of transforming it into the devotional chariot.
“It is designed to replicate a traditional Vedic temple, so this is like a mobile temple”, said community member Gokul Chandra.
The colourful canopy was commissioned from Puri and only arrived on Monday, so it has been a scramble for the community to make the chariot.
It includes an old organ transformed into a silver coloured altar and an ingenious compressed air hydraulic system so the canopy can be raised and lowered to avoid Trafalgar St trees.
For the procession on Friday, the chariot will be decorated with garlands of marigolds and balloons.
The festival begins at 4.30pm at 1903 Square at the top of Trafalgar St, where Hare Krishna children will sing traditional songs called bhajans, a sitar player will perform and a drama will be performed.
Gokul explained that Hare Krishna is a nickname that devotees of Vishnu, correctly known as Vaishnaiva, have come to embrace.
It comes from the mantra made famous in the West by the George Harrison song My Sweet Lord.
A key point of the festival is “giving the best of this world to God. We take the best of nature, a flower to give to God,” said Gokul.
It is also a chance to celebrate the name of God “being chanted with ecstasy” and Gokul said the student monks who have come from Singapore to be part of the festival are accomplished drummers who “will make a thunderous sound and the whole of Nelson will shake and quake with the holy name of Krishna”.
The festival will include a free Vedic vegetarian feast for everyone who attends, to be served at 5.30pm in 1903 Square.
That will be followed by the procession down Trafalgar St, the highlight of the festival that is all about “uniting all people, old and young, men and women, all races and all religions,” said Sundar Gopal, a monk from Singapore.
He organised the Ratha Yatra festival in Singapore that attracted 10,000 people last year as well as the first ever Hare Krishna festival allowed in China last year.