Among the many vibrant ethnic and religious groups in Vancouver is a large population of Hare Krishnas. This Sunday, they celebrate their faith with the 37th annual Chariot Festival in Stanley Park, which features a parade of spectacularly decorated floats, live music and dancing and – of course – a free vegetarian feast of South Asian cuisine.
The parade begins at 11:30 a.m., winding its way along Beach Avenue toward Stanley Park (map of route). Fifty-foot-tall “chariots,” decorated with flowers and representations of deities, are pulled through the streets by the Hare Krishna faithful, accompanied by exuberant chanting and the steady beat of bells and drums.
The Hare Krishna movement reached North American shores in 1966, although it’s based in Hindu texts that are thousands of years old. Adherents believe – among other tenets – that repetition of the famous Hare Krishna mantra brings them closer to god. In its early days, Krishna consciousness was associated with the Hippie movement, though followers come from all different backgrounds. If past parades are any indication, this year’s will be attended by a mix of free spirits and free thinkers, as well as followers from India, who dance and clap in the streets as the chariots are towed to Stanley Park.
The festival portion of the event starts at 1 p.m. on Second Beach. Two stages will showcase live South Asian music and theatre as well as classical Bhartnatyam dancers. Inside a ring of brightly colored tents, you can also find exhibits on culture and fashion, as well as a kids’ area with facepainting, henna tatoos and the requisite bouncy castle.
And, of course, there is the feast. One of the primary goals of the Hare Krishna movement is to distribute vegetarian meals throughout the world. In fulfillment of this mission, the Free Feast tent will be serving up an estimated 20,000 free vegetarian meals to guests at the festival.
Anyone been to the Chariot Festival before? Any tips for people planning to go?