On July 11th Jagannath Cultural and Educational Center (JCEC) along with the California Indian-Odia Community of the San Francisco Bay Area celebrated the auspicious Sri Jagannath paribar Ratha Jatra (Chariot Festival) at the Niles, Fremont temple in California. For JCEC it was their first Ratha Jatra and over 500 devotees attended the in-person festivity which was in an outdoor setting. The occasion started with the reverbs of mystical chanting of vedic matras of the rituals by the temple priest Viswamji, followed by the kirtan from ISKCON group captivating the mood of the atmosphere. In the Rath Yatra, the deities Sri Jagannath, Balabhadra and Maa Subhadra with Sudarshana step out on the chariot journey to visit their aunt’s house.
The JCEC Ratha Jatra had also a majestic display of Odia cultural festivities with Odissi dance, music, paintings, miniature Ratha models and devotional sangeet seva mahosthava by local Indian artists. The audience witnessed a vibrant and energetic celebration of Odisha’s culture with devotional renditions and Odissi dance which is an integral part of Jagannath culture for over thousands of years. Performing Odissi dance in front of the Ratha is an example of limitless devotion.
The JCEC volunteers made a Ratha of 24 feet tall following the traditional architectures, symbols and was decorated with unique and intricate pieces of “pattachitra” art works made by local artists. Those decorations and artistic work in the Ratha were one of the most talked topics by the devotees and guests.
The event was aptly organized by JCEC volunteers, a 501(c) nonprofit registered public charity in USA as their first mega event. The objective of JCEC is to act as a cultural hub for both the Indian Odia as well as the larger Indian America community diaspora of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is spearheading to establish our Odia identity. JCEC has a vision to promote culture and spiritual well-being among current and future generations, and it will be a legacy in fulfilling a long-standing dream for many first-generation immigrants for our descendants to connect to their roots.
This Ratha Jatra event was the conclusion of the series of Sri Jagannath mega festivities. It was in continuation from the Sri Jagannath Paribar Prāṇa pratiṣṭhā of Chaturdha Murty held on Jun 20th which was a four days long ceremony at 37270 Niles Blvd, Fremont, California. Hundreds of people from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area came under the same roof to the event which is the first in-person gathering after covid pandemic reopening. It was followed by Debasnana Purnima on Jun 23 with deities taking bath with 108 kalasas of scented water and put in Anasara.
Lord Jagannath, the universal God as meant in Sanskrit, worshiped and originating in Purusottama-kshetra (Puri), has spread all around the globe. In USA, the first sthāpana of Lord Jagannath murti was in 1992 at the Sri Ganesh Temple and Hindu Cultural Center, Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, the consecration of Lord Jagannath murti has taken place in more than 10 temples across.
True to its vision of JCEC, it provided a huge platform to many artists, budding talents of Odissi, Bharat Natyam, Kathaks from local Dance and Music schools who are spearheading in promoting Indian culture, and presented a spectacular medley of pure dance forms and storytelling though their dances.
We were honored and privileged to have many guests who graced the series of occasions and making us proud. The list includes many elected officials such as Ms. Lily Mei, Mayor of Fremont, Dr. Raj Salwan Council Member of City of Fremont, Ms. Aisha Wahab, Council Member City of Hayward, Consulate General of India at San Francisco (represented by Deputy CG Rajesh Naik), Mahesh Patel the president of Gujurat Cultural Association are few notables. Hearing their wisdom of acknowledging the strong Indian Cultural values and how beneficial it is for the future of America, and their active support in promoting our rich cultural heritage is very inspiring and touching.
JCEC is designed as a vibrant institution to showcase the unique Jagannath culture of Odisha to the world, including its myriad Odia arts & crafts, sculptures, intricate paintings, and architectural marvels. The JCEC as a cultural center will also doubles as a support system for philanthropic and charitable activities in the local community and beyond. By facilitating fundraising events, food, and clothing drives for Bay Area shelters, and providing hot lunches to devotees and underprivileged children in the Bay Area, it will work to reach out to those most in need.
At JCEC, we hope to encourage volunteers to come in and impart their skills and lessons to the younger generation and other adults from meditation to medicine. Using yoga sessions, Sanskrit camps, and cultural gatherings, JCEC can turn into a multi-purpose organization providing spiritual care, library facilities, and more.
Now, the JCEC movement has become stronger and serves the entire Odia community with its vision to work for the eternally special cause of having a Jagannath place cum cultural center at San Francisco Bay Area. We were fortunate to have the support of senior Odia community members which help JCEC what it is today. JCEC is led by a core team of dedicated and driven volunteers and working hard to fulfil the aspirations of the community with the motto of transparency, democratic values.
Finally, as a conduit for the next generation to learn, and retain our culture and traditions, JCEC will fill-in the spiritual void in the community. At the Ratha Jatra, being the first mega celebration after covid, there were so many smiles on people’s faces, that JCEC has already started fulfilling its role. We hope that for many years onward, JCEC will serve as a cornerstone of the community.