PORT ROYAL - The village of Spruce Hill may be an unlikely place to see hundreds of religious devotees gathering for a Hare Krishna festival.
But on July 31 the Gita Nagari Farm just outside of town will open its grounds to families from near and far who either are devoted to or just curious about the annual Ratha Yatra, or Festival of Chariots.
An annual occurrence at the farm, the Ratha Yatra is a summer festival to honor the Lord Jagannath's visit to his home community.
The parade of the chariot is the highlight of the celebration when the crowd gathers to commemorate the lord's journey. Dressed in vibrant red and yellow fabrics and strewn with colorful flowers and jewelry, the chariot carries the Lord Jagannath and deities Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra through the symbolic parade.
The crowd gathers around the chariot to sing devotional songs and make music on the drums, tambourines and trumpets.
To touch or pull the chariot is considered a pious act or penance; and devotees believe that seeing Lord Jagannath on the chariot outside of a temple is emancipating, according to a website about the festival, rathjatra.nic.in.
r What: Ratha Yatra, Festival of Chariots
r When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 31
r Where: Gita Nagari Farm, off state Route 75 in Spruce Hill
For more information, visit gitanagari.org or call 527-4101.
Originally, Ratha Yatra began in the city of Puri, India. Every summer, the city is a pilgrimage destination for hundreds of Hindus who come to march in the parade and help pull the chariot, according to the website.
In the 1960s, the Hare Krishna movement expanded the festival to communities around the world, including the one in Spruce Hill.
The local festival is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 31 at the farm, located off state Route 75 behind the Spruce Hill Lunch.
The food court and vendors will open at 10 a.m., and the procession will begin at noon. At 1 p.m., the farm staff will open the event with a welcome, and live music and dancing will follow at 1:30 p.m.
A free vegetarian feast and light bhajans, Indian devotional songs, will be at 3 p.m.
The farm will host tours of the cows and gardens at 4 p.m. including a milking demonstration. A log sawing contest also will take place at this time.
At 5:30 p.m., the group will gather for a final kirtan, or call and response chanting.
The Gita Nagari Farm is a religious 350-acre farm of about 50 people. Located on the farm is a Hare Krishna temple where those from the farm and community worship at daily services, including a Sunday feast program.
Gita Nagari also is the home to about 20 cows, some of which are milked and others that were saved from slaughter.
For more information about the festival and the farm, visit www.gitanagari.org or call 527-4101.