Ratha Yatra Story and Activities For Children

The festival of Ratha Yatra is one of the most joyful, colorful, and enlivening Vaishnava celebrations. Children feel naturally attracted to participate in this grand event – to decorate and pull the chariot, distribute and taste many sweet prasadam, and sing and dance. To be present at the Ratha Yatra celebration is a great spiritual and cultural experience for both adults and children, even though for little ones could be quite overwhelming because of intense sensory inputs. Many times devotees organize special Ratha Yatra celebrations for children with small chariots and less crowd, as Srila Prabhupada has sown us during his own childhood. We participated in the children’s Ratha Yatra in the Vaishnava summer camp on a few occasions.

It is great if you can organize a Ratha Yatra for children in your home with small chariots, but not everybody can do it – making a chariot could be a challenge. Still, there are other ways that you can do to celebrate the Ratha Yatra in your home with your children (in the case that making a chariot is not your expertise) and have a great celebration full of spiritual meaning and fun. Here is the list of possible activities that you can do with your kids as part of the Ratha Yatra festivities:

Make a big drawing of a chariot of Lord Jagannath as a backdrop for your altar.

Make a chariot as a collage piece of art, using fiber and wooden sticks, and display it on a wall.

Make a paper diorama of a temple and chariot of Lord Jagannath and display it as a festival table scene.

Make a drawing of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev, and Subhadra Devi and place Them on a nature table beside the ocean scene (or use the dolls of Jagannath, Baladev, and Subhadra if you have Them) – make the ocean out of blue scarf or fill up a plastic container with water and add some blue color to it (don’t forget to add some shells and pebbles here and there).

Cook a feast for Lord Jagannath and include some of His favorite preparations: khaja sweet, coconut, and banana.

Narrate the story that explains why we celebrate this festival – the meaning of Ratha Yatra according to Vaishnava tradition.

Here is a short and simple story that I composed to explain to the children the reason behind this grand event and an exalted truth about a relationship of divine love between Lord Krishna and His most confidential associates.

Lord Krishna Returning Back To Vrindavana

Ever since He left them, the inhabitants of Vrndavana have constantly felt a great longing to see Lord Krishna again. Day and night they thought of Him, remembered the wonderful days spent in His company, talked about Him, and sang about His glories. One day they received the news that Krishna and His family would visit Kurukshetra, the holy place of pilgrimage, during the coming solar eclipse. It is very auspicious to spend time in a holy place and bathe in a holy river during a solar eclipse. Thus the inhabitants of Vrndavana, led by Nanda Maharaja, decided to also visit the holy place of Kurukshetra during the solar eclipse and to meet their beloved Krishna there.

When they arrived, Lord Krishna was already in the camp and His great family: His queens, children, servants, soldiers, chariots, horses, and elephants. When Nanda Maharaja and mother Yashoda saw Krishna and Balarama they started crying with happiness and put Them on their laps, even though Krishna and Balarama were now grown-up men. The cowherd boys embraced Krishna and Balarama with much affection, overjoyed to see them again. The gopis of Vrndavana also embraced Krishna in their hearts, and Krishna returned the embrace, present in their hearts as the Supersoul.

The gopis desperately wanted Krishna to visit them again in Vrndavana. However, when Krishna invited them to go with Him to Dvaraka, they refused. The gopis did not have the slightest desire to visit Krishna in Dvaraka because they wanted to enjoy His company in the forests of Vrndavana, in the same way as they did when they were children. They began to beg Krishna to go with them to their beloved Vrindavan and set out to pull His chariot in that direction. They also started pulling Balaram’s and Subhadra’s chariots, which were just there beside Krishna’s chariot.

It was the first chariot festival after which devotees continued to celebrate this event like the annual Ratha Yatra festival in Jagannath Puri. Jagannath Puri represents Dvaraka, and Gundica temple, into which the chariots of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra are drawn, represents Vrindavan. Lord Jagannath is Krishna in Dvaraka in the mood of longing to return to Vrindavan to be with His beloved devotees. When we participate in pulling the chariot with ropes, we then help the gopis to return Krishna to Vrndavana and receive their eternal blessings.

This is a festival of love filled with joy at the reunion of Krishna and His most intimate companions – the inhabitants of Vrndavana.

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