Devotees a Unique Presence at Florida Homecoming Parade
This year’s University of Florida Homecoming Parade in Gainesville was a slightly more down-tempo affair than in previous years—only half the 80,000 people expected turned up, possibly due to a diminished enthusiasm after the Gator football team’s two straight losses.
Perhaps the lower turnout was even in some sort of precognition of the Gators’ upcoming third straight loss, which they were to suffer the next night at the hands of Mississippi State.
Still, October 15th was a beautiful day, with blue skies and temperatures in the seventies, and the thousands of onlookers who did arrive lined the streets to watch the parade. And for one of the parade’s 150 participating groups—the Hare Krishnas—even the Gator’s losses didn’t matter all that much.
Starting at the football stadium at 1:30pm, about 300 devotees from the Alachua and Gainesville ISKCON communities, joined by UF students and other friends of Krishna, danced and chanted blissfully in the one-hour parade all the way to downtown Gainesville.
The group’s “float” was a smaller replica of the colorful red and yellow chariots used nationwide by Festival of India, or Rathayatra. Upon it sat the broadly smiling Jagannatha, Lord of the Universe, flanked by his brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra.
Unlike the other motorized floats, devotees pulled the cart with thick ropes, as is the tradition for this ancient festival, which originated in Puri, India.
In front of the cart, children carried a large banner reading “Krishna House: Serving Gators Since 1971”—a reference to the delicious vegetarian “Krishna Lunch” that devotees are well-known for dishing out on the University of Florida campus.
Meanwhile, ISKCON youth dressed in colorful saris—some the orange and blue of the Gator team—danced energetically, as the amplified names of Krishna pumped out over a sound system.
Adding to the spiritual carnival atmosphere were ISKCON actor Kaliyaphani Dasa wearing a turban and waving to the crowd from his lofty position on a pair of stilts, and another devotee who swept the road in front of the cart with a golden broom, as King Prataparudra of Puri did 500 years ago.
“Although we’re only one of so many floats in the parade, we always get a smile from the crowd because our presentation is so refreshing, sponataneous and unique,” says Kalakantha Dasa, president of Gainesville’s Krishna House.
Along with other members of his Krishna conscious men’s group from the Alachua community, Kalakantha helped organize ISKCON’s first official participation in the Homecoming Parade in 1995, securing a permit and introducing the Rathayatra cart. Lord Jagannath has been a mainstay of the Parade ever since.
And people are certainly still enjoying the presence of the Lord and his devotees.
Many followed the Rathayatra when it broke off from the Homecoming Parade at University and Main and headed off on its own mini-parade to a nearby park.
There the devotees served one of their most popular Krishna Lunch Menus—pasta with deluxe tomato sauce, fried curd, and artichoke hearts; salad topped with the famous Krishna Lunch “secret recipe” dressing; blueberry cheesecake halava for dessert; and herbal tea.
A kirtan and class was then held at the Krishna House, which offers a Bhakti Academy program to UF students, for all who were interested.
The following night—from 10pm to 11:30pm on October 16th—twenty-five devotees held a public kirtan by the UF campus, hoping to cheer up Gator fans whose team had just lost.
“About 10% of UF’s 50,000-strong student population eats lunch with us quite regularly,” Kalakantha says. “We have kirtan on campus every day. And we have an excellent relationship with the University—we’re an accepted member of their Campus Ministry Cooperative.”
He adds: “I would say that the University of Florida is more acquainted with Hare Krishna devotees than any other major university in North America—perhaps in the world.”