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Tampa's Indian community celebrates Hindu 'festival of chariots'

TAMPA

It's supposed to look like a vision from another world.

It's a chariot bursting with color that has the big wheels of a prairie schooner. The faithful pull it along with thick ropes while others sing and dance in its wake. Swans, lotus flowers and flags adorn it. Three Hindu deities ride the chariot. It's their time to get out among the people.

"Anyone who sees the chariot is eligible to go back to the spiritual world," said Vivasvan Das, a Hare Krishna devotee and one of the spiritual leaders of the Shri Radha Krsna temple in Tampa.

Members of Florida and Tampa Bay's Indian community gathered Sunday to celebrate Rath Yatra, the festival of chariots, at the Indian Cultural Center on Lynn Road in North Tampa. The festival drew several hundred people and included classical Indian music, dance, a vegetarian feast and a short parade centered on the chariot.

Organizers said the chariot "symbolizes the humanization of God. All rituals associated with the festival … attempt to bring God down from His pedestal of glory, the temple, to a more human level in public."

Tampa Bay's Indian-American community of more than 23,000 is one of the largest in Florida. And in recent days, it has basked in the news that an event known as the Bollywood Oscars will be held in Tampa in June 2014.

It's the first time the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards are being held in the United States.

Some of those at Tampa's Rath Yatra celebration said they were thrilled.

"It's real big news it's going to be here," said Sunsit Pathak of Palm Harbor, who attended the festival with his wife, Koruna. "To have that kind of function here, it's a sign of the strength of our community."

Some said they worried about Tampa being able to handle the stars who will be attending the Bollywood awards.

"We're surprised it's coming to Tampa," said Sree Reddy of Wesley Chapel. He said some in the community worried about Tampa's ability to host such a star-studded event.

But he noted that if Tampa successfully hosted Super Bowls, it can probably handle Bollywood.

The Rath Yatra festival was sponsored by several groups, including the Hindu Temple of Florida, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON Alachua and the Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay.

Venkatesan Dharmarajan of Tampa said the festival allowed American children to experience the diverse cultures and peoples of India.

"You can learn mathematics and physics in school," he said. "But the culture, you cannot always learn in school."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com

Tampa's Indian community celebrates Hindu 'festival of chariots' 07/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 15, 2013 10:05am]
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