I was at the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party on Saturday, and, unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really conducive to getting my bbq love on. It fluctuated between rain and clouds, the air bearing a faint chill. But what was remarkable, unexpected, and so very New York, was a parade of Hare Krishnas and other assorted Radha/Govinda devotees down 5th Avenue, right past Madison Square Park. Desi, black, Latin, white… clad in saris and lehengas and panjabis. They were celebrating Rath Yatra, a huge Indian festival for Jaganath, a very specific version of Krishna.
It was so surreal. To be standing there, the taint of beef brisket on my tongue, reveling in meat and Americana, as the parade thundered by. I spied the rath with the Jaganath/Subudra/Balarama murthis, though I was too dumbstruck to get a picture of it. And then I found a relatively quiet patch of sidewalk and called my mother, who told me that Jaganath must have wanted me to see him, to receive that blessing. “At a barbecue festival? While I’m eating beef and pork?” I scoffed. She laughed, paraphrasing Sri Ramakrishna — a sentiment about good deeds and good intentions outweighing one’s diet.
I’ve never been a particularly religious person… at least as an adult. As a child, I was a huge Krishna fan. I had a calendar from New Vrindavan up on my wall, with a luminous picture of the baby Krishna, and I used to offer him sugar cubes and raisins and dutifully recite my prayers. Faith was so simple then, something achieved by rote and ritual, something I never questioned. The older I’ve gotten, the more of an atheist I’ve become. Too cynical, too bitter, for God and too horrified by things done in his name.
And yet… I do feel lucky to have seen the rath go by. Maybe, just maybe, I do feel a little bit blessed.