Festival of Chariots: Annual Hare Krishna Celebration August 5

Image courtesy of festivalofchariots.com

On Sunday, August 5, the annual Hare Krishna tradition, Festival of Chariots, will take place.

New Dvaraka Temple, on Watseka (just across Venice from Culver City) is the Western World Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, informally known as the Hare Krishna movement). It is also the North American office of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publisher and the site of Govinda’s vegetarian buffet and gift shop.

Once a regular presence in airports and public spaces such as Third Street Promenade, followers now keep a lower profile, although approximately three hundred devotees live near the temple and continue to sport their distinctive hairstyles and robes.

A notable exception to this low profile is the annual Festival of Chariots, in which three large decorated chariots, more like parade floats, representing three divinities, are pulled from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium down Venice Beach by worshipers. This year’s festival will be Sunday, August 5, starting at 10 am. At the end of the parade route singers and dancers perform and a free feast is served.

The musical signature of the Hare Krishna movement is their namesake chant, sixteen words: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” sung to a melody just as symmetrical, up and down the first half of a scale. The Sanskrit words resist literal translation: they are both names of gods and their attributes.

As a mantra, it is intended more of a prayer or meditation than a musical work: its simplicity and symmetry help it loop in the minds of followers and bystanders alike. This may be the most frequently performed piece of music in west LA, excluding iPhone ringtones.

Its simplicity has not stopped musicians from taking it as inspiration. The 1967 musical Hair combined it with funk bass, theremin, and other elements to accompany an acid trip sequence.

George Harrison supported the Hare Krishna movement in England, produced a recording of the chant for the Beatles’ Apple label, overdubbing his own guitar and bass playing, and worked versions into “My Sweet Lord” and several of his other solo songs. His bandmate John Lennon referred to the movement more critically in The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” and “I Found Out” and “God” on his first solo album.

Punk power trio Husker Du mixed the mantra with a noisy jam based on The Strangeloves’ garage-rock hit “I Want Candy” on their 1984 epic Zen Arcadeand jazz musicians Tony Scott (in 1965) and Alice Coltrane (1971) both drew on it to explore the Indian-influenced modal improvising pioneered by Alice’s husband John in the early ’60s.

While the Indian classical music which inspired the Coltranes featured extended virtuosic improvisation, many westsiders may have encountered the Hare Krishna mantra through kirtan, a much more accessible spiritual music featuring call and response singing and incorporating elements of Indian and US popular music.

A new documentary on the Hare Krishna movement, including interviews with George Harrison and Allen Ginsberg and a score by LA kirtan musicians, will be available on DVD and streaming services August 28.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.