Rath Yatra New York 1976, ISKCON and Donald Trump

  • By Chaitanya Chinchlikar
  • June 18, 2024
NY’s first Rath Yatra in 1976 was enabled by Donald Trump.
  • Yes, while it’s highly odd to have the words Rath Yatra, Trump & ISKCON mentioned in the same sentence. Here is a true story of how Donald Trump enabled New York’s first ever Rath Yatra…

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava organisation. ISKCON was founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra is an important annual festival held in India. As per the Hindu calendar Vikram Samvat, the Rath Yatra begins on the Dwitiya Tithi in Ashadha, Shukla Paksha. Currently, it falls in the month of June or July in the Gregorian calendar.

The first Rath Yatra of Mahaprabhu Jagannath kicked off on the streets of NYC in 1976, on the 10th anniversary of ISKCON, with assistance from the then unlikeliest of places – from the office of the then-emerging American real-estate businessman – Donald Trump.

This is how the story goes…

About 47 years ago, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was planning to organise the first ever Rath Yatra in New York City.

However, challenges were aplenty. The two primary ones being, permission to use Fifth Avenue and the location near Fifth Avenue where the Raths could be built.

On behalf of the Hare Krishna Movement, Tosan Krishna Das who was in charge of getting the permit had submitted a written proposal to the authorities. The Police department had initially said yes but again they said no as there was mayor’s edict since 1962 against allowing new parades on the Fifth Avenue. 

With no option left, Tosan finally approached the Chief of Police in Manhattan with a special request. Nobody had any clue about how the chief would respond to the application. But after a careful review, the police chief signed the papers with a smile. “I don’t know why I am doing this, the chief said. And then he signed it.” revealed Tosan.

While the grant of parade permit at the Fifth Avenue was secured, which was nothing short of a miracle, a second miracle was needed – of finding a huge empty site close to the starting point of the parade route, where the Raths / Chariots could be built. It was not going to be easy.

The best option was the Pennsylvania Rail Yard nearby. So they knocked at the doors of every person possible who owned a piece of the yard, but in vain. They explained to everyone the requirements they had to build the massive wooden Raths/Chariots. Everyone said No. They were concerned about legal issues, insurance risks etc. Many of the firm owners who were approached reportedly said they were in the process of selling the property at the Pennsylvania rail yard and didn’t want to take a chance. 

Desperation of devotees reached peak, hopes were nearly shattered.

A few days later, someone told them that the then ‘upcoming’ real-estate businessman Donald Trump had purchased a major piece of the old railway yard.

There were concerns approaching him firstly as a dozen other landlords they had asked for had already said no, so “Why would Trump be any different?” as well as his flashy, high profile lifestyle.

Nevertheless, the devotees went to his office with a big basket of Maha Prasadam and a presentation package. His secretary took it but warned the devotees, “He never agrees to this kind of thing. You can ask but he is going to say NO.” But the devotees kept their faith in Mahaprabhu as they say, and the miracle happened.

Three days later, Trump’s secretary called up the devotees saying, “I don’t know what happened but he read your letter, had a bit of the food you left, and immediately said – “Sure, why not?””

The secretary then said, “Come on down and get his signed letter of permission.” Yes, Trump had signed the papers giving permission to use the open rail yards for construction of Rath Yatra carts.

Like others, Trump also could have easily rejected the proposal. Devotees thought the Police chief was no exception either. Why both of them agreed is still a question unanswered.

Devotees cite it as a blessing of Mahaprabhu Jagannath.

Rath Yatra Puri 


First Published Here


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