July 17, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Metro Detroit Hindu community to celebrate Festival of Chariots

Volunteers Barbara Gasser, 24, of Sarnia, Ontario, Anna Singaraju of Novi and Komal Patel of Northville prepare dough for the making of more than 100 pizzas for the Festival of Chariots this Saturday in Novi. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Novi — For the Hindu community in Metro Detroit, there is no more exciting time than Rath Yatra.

“It only happens once a year,” said Komal Patel of Northville. “It’s the only time our deities come out.”

On Saturday, the roads near Novi’s civic center and public library will become the 2½-mile parade route for the Rath Yatra, or the Festival of Chariots, the annual journey of the divinities Lord Jagannath (Krishna), his brother Lord Balabhadra and his sister Devi Subhadra.

The celebration in Novi is a scaled-down version of what took place in India at the end of June. Three chariots, each four times as high as the one in Novi, are pulled through the streets with close to a million attendees watching. Each deity gets its own chariot.

The festival in Novi includes one 40-foot tall chariot, a collapsible and easily transportable cart created by Abhay Charan Das.

Das, who is from Quebec, joined the faith in 1981 and immediately began helping work on the old chariots. In 1993, he decided to use his skills as a machinist and welder to build three new chariots.

“I decided to build my own carts would be more practical,” said Das, who was in Toronto last weekend for the festival there and travels all across the country with the chariots. “I knew I had to do something for the divinity.”

Volunteers said they expect between 7,000 and 8,000 people to attend the 29th annual festival Saturday. They were hard at work, cooking food for the festival, Thursday at the ISKCON Temple of Detroit.

Come Saturday, the chariot will be decorated with red and blue drapery and colorful details, with a cloth top that collapses like a giant umbrella to fit under traffic lights. The wheels are taller than most of the participants.

In front of the chariot, hundreds of men, women and children — many of them barefoot — will pull ropes attached to the front axle, together propelling the chariot forward on its trek and delivering the deities.

Afterward, participants can eat traditional foods, practice yoga and peruse tents with clothing, art, music and educational displays.

“It reminds you of home,” said Patel, who was volunteering Thursday at the temple. “You’re not that far away.”

Sachi Das cuts carrots for Khichadi Achaar, a pickle rice with lentil dish. (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)
Festival of Chariots participants dance and sing and pull a huge chariot ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)