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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Grand Pilgrimage of Devotion: The historic Shri Ram Rath Yatra in North America

Vishwa Hindu Parishads of America and Canada jointly embark on a mission to weave a unified spiritual network across North America.

The Shri Ram Rath Yatra marks a historic venture across North America, initiated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and its Canadian counterpart. This ambitious 60-day journey aims to connect over a thousand Hindu temples throughout the United States and Canada. The Yatra is set to traverse more than 16,000 miles, visiting over 850 temples in the U.S. and 150 in Canada, in a grand effort to bring together Hindu communities and traditions that span the continent. This mission is not just about geographical reach; it’s about weaving a tapestry of Hindu worship traditions, or Sampradayas, and sharing the spiritual wealth of the Shri Ram Lalla Pran Pratishtha ceremony held in Bharat on January 22, 2024. This ceremony’s Akshat, Prasad, and blessings are central to the Yatra’s purpose.

The journey involves three special Raths (chariots), each emblazoned with imagery of Shri Ram Lalla, to carry the divine presence of Lord Ram, Goddess Sita, Lord Lakshman, and Lord Hanuman across North America. These chariots, one for the U.S. route and two for the Canadian, are more than vehicles; they are moving shrines, bringing the essence of the Pran Pratishtha ceremony from Ayodhya to the doorsteps of the Hindu diaspora. Through this grand pilgrimage, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad aims to unify and spiritually enrich Hindu communities across the vast landscapes of North America.

Inaugural of Rath Yatra

The U.S. leg of the Yatra began on the vibrant festival of Holi, March 23, 2024, at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America’s headquarters in Sugar Grove, a suburb of Chicago. The start was celebrated with traditional Hindu rituals, including the Shankh Naad (blowing of the conch shell) and puja ceremonies, setting a reverent tone for the journey. On its very first day, the Yatra ambitiously covered over 500 miles, visiting 9 temples, demonstrating its commitment to connecting Hindu communities across the country.

In Canada, the Yatra’s journey commenced on March 25th, starting with meaningful ceremonies at the Vishnu Temple in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Canadian inauguration was distinguished by the Pran Pratishtha ceremony, a holy ritual that blessed the images of three deities, infusing the Yatra with spiritual significance. This was followed by a puja specifically for the Rath, including a Havan ceremony, seeking divine guidance and protection for the journey ahead on Canadian soil. The event drew attention and praise from civic leaders and cultural groups, celebrating the Yatra’s role in fostering unity and honoring Hindu traditions within Canada’s diverse society. The involvement of mayors and community leaders, such as those from the Hakka Canadian Association and the Yin Hua Association, showcased the Yatra’s broad impact on community cohesion and cultural celebration, highlighting its contribution to Canada’s rich multicultural fabric.

Progress to date – US

By March 31, the American component of the Ram Rath Yatra had completed its ninth day, charting an eventful journey through nearly 100 temples across Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and parts of Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. This remarkable expedition covered around 4,000 miles, a pace suggesting that the final tally might well surpass the initially projected 8,000 miles for the U.S. leg of the journey.

Each visit, albeit brief—lasting less than 30 minutes— is deeply ceremonial and adheres to a precise protocol. The sacred idol of Shri Ram Lalla is reverently installed at each temple visited, if only for the brief duration of the stop. The rituals conducted follow the stringent guidelines provided by the Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi Trustees in Bharat, ensuring each puja is carried out with meticulous attention to detail. Following these rituals, the Akshat and Prasad from the ceremony are distributed among the devotees present, fostering a sense of communal blessing. In recognition of their participation, each temple is honored with an official certificate and a 2’x3’ size portrait of Shri Ram Lalla, after which the Yatra swiftly moves on to its next destination.

ISKCON New Vrindavan, Moundsville, West Virginia

The response from the Hindu community to this spiritual caravan has been overwhelmingly positive. At every temple the Yatra graces, it is met with warmth and enthusiasm by the local temple trustees, pujaris, and a growing number of devotees, sometimes numbering in several hundreds. The increasing turnout at each stop speaks volumes of the excitement and spiritual hunger the Yatra is satisfying.

Hindu Temple of New Hampshire, Nashua, New Hampshire

Amitabh Mittal, the general secretary of the VHPA and a pivotal figure behind this initiative, captured the sentiment surrounding the Yatra: “The Ram Rath Yatra has sparked an unparalleled sense of spiritual unity among Hindus in North America. It is more than a pilgrimage; it’s a historic event that is bringing the core of our traditions and the sacred blessings of Shri Ram Lalla right to the communities’ doorsteps.” This sentiment echoes the deep impact the Yatra is making, bridging distances and hearts, as it weaves its path across the American landscape, uniting Hindu communities in a shared spiritual journey.

Progress to date – Canada

The Canadian contingent of the Yatra has adopted a slightly different strategy for their temple visits, concentrating their initial efforts within the Greater Toronto area over the past week. During this period, they’ve made stops at approximately twelve temples and journeyed around 900 miles (about 1500 kilometers). What stands out at each location is not just the visit itself but the grand scale of the celebrations. At many of these stops, the number of attendees has soared to over a thousand, with the events being further enriched by cultural performances, dance, and the singing of bhajans.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario

One of the most memorable parts of the Canadian journey was a visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, a landmark event that saw Shri Ram Lalla being honored at the seat of Canada’s government for the first time. This significant occasion featured a Dharmic puja and drew a large crowd of Hindu devotees, marking a significant moment of cultural and spiritual acknowledgment. The resonance of this visit was enhanced by a special event in the parliament, facilitated by MP Chandra Arya under the theme “Sharing Hindu Heritage with Diversified Faith and Cultural Communities.” This session brought together leaders from various faiths to discuss the universal tenets of Hinduism and its enriching impact on diverse religious traditions, centering on the ethos of Vasudevam Kutumbakam. Distinguished speakers, including Swami Vigyananand ji, participated remotely in the event and underscored the pivotal role of Hindu principles in promoting a genuinely multicultural and inclusive society, further elevating the Yatra’s influence and its message of unity and cultural heritage.

Bharat Mata Mandir, Brampton, Ontario

“The Shri Ram Rath Yatra has ignited unparalleled enthusiasm across Canada, from Toronto’s Vishnu Mandir to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa to Brampton’s Triveni Mandir,” said Mahendra Bhandari of VHP Canada, “Thousands of devotees and dignitaries have taken part in a remarkable fusion of faith and community, showcasing the vibrant spirit of Hindu unity.”

Looking ahead

From April 1, 2024, the U.S. team embarks on its most hectic phase of the Yatra, covering the states of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. These states are not only home to the largest Hindu populations in the U.S. but also boast a high concentration of mandirs. The team plans to dedicate at least five days to this region before heading to the Philadelphia metro area, followed by visits to Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., and beyond.

Simultaneously, the Canadian team will divide into two parts, with one group heading east towards Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and the other going west to British Columbia, touching other provinces along the way. Upon their return, they’ll focus extensively on the Greater Toronto Area, marking the culmination of their journey with visits to numerous temples there, further strengthening the bonds within the Hindu community across North America.

Media contact: Dr. Jai Bansal, VP of Education – VHP of America

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