The consolidated city of New York comprises five boroughs (each a county): Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Among these, the borough of Queens is blessed with The Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir, which stands in the neighborhood of Richmond Hill.
“Queens County,” we learn, “is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on earth. There are over 130 different languages spoken by its citizens, and in many neighborhoods hearing English is rare.” Richmond Hill is home to many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Sikh gurdwaras that minister to the local, twice-exiled Indian communities from Caribbean lands like Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname.
On August 2nd, a warm but stormy Sunday, Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma (Śrī Śrī Hari-Haladhārī) went out on a parade through Richmond Hill. Outside the temple at 111-14 101 Ave., devotees chanted as Hari-Haladhārī were escorted from their altar to the van that would convey them to their chariot:
For the record, our taking out large marble Deities on parade created some controversy. When the idea of this parade first occurred to Sunanda, he called to ask me, his spiritual master, whether it could be done. Was it bona fide? At once I answered “yes,” and then I recounted a conversation I had in 1974 with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself on this very topic.
That year, I talked with Prabhupāda in his quarters in New Vṛndāvana and gave him an account of our recent Philadelphia Rathayātrā, with the largest cart ever.
Prabhupāda’s response was enthusiastic. He extolled such parades as extremely important. The Deities, he said, can be taken out on parade four times a year. He mentioned Janmāṣṭamī as one such occasion. “Oh, Lord Jagannātha will go out then, too?” I asked. “No,” said Prabhupāda. “Not Jagannātha. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.”
Surprised, I exclaimed: “The big Deities?”
He paused a beat and said “Yes. They can go.”
“Isn’t that risky?” I asked.
“Just be careful.” Prabhupāda answered.
He went on to say that when Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa come out in procession, the participants in front of the Deity car hold upraised poles or standards, made of silver or gold, surmounted by lion’s heads.
Then, returning to the earlier topic about bringing out big marble Deities, he said that some temples had special replicas of the altar Deities just for going out of the temple for festivals. He called them “vijaya-vigraha.”
But, he said again, the altar Deities themselves could be taken out, but one had to be very careful.
Having heard this from me, Sunanda went ahead with the festival plans. But soon, other ISKCON authorities registered objections to the marble Deities’ being taken out. By that time, however, the plans and preperations were too far along to change. We understood the concern for the safety of the Deities and planned to have vijaya-vigraha for next year’s festival.
In the meantime, we would take Prabhupāda’s “just be careful” very seriously. That’s why Sunanda and I were thankful for the help of Maheśvara—devout, highly experienced, and strong.
Manu constructed this remarkable suspension system for the Deities’ throne. A professional in this matter, Manu said the system is used to protect highly sensitive payloads (like electronics or explosives) from shocks.
This year we’ve undergone a monsoon season in the northeast United States. The Ratha-yātrā in Purī also takes place during the rainy season.
A final note: Any pilgrimage to New York requires a visit to the Deities presiding in three boroughs:
As of now, Staten Island and The Bronx still await their Lords. . . .