By Hari Narayana Das
Located to the north of Sumatra Island, Batam is one of the largest islands in the Riau Archipelago of Indonesia. Because of its strategic location close to Malaysia and Singapore, Batam is one of the favorite tourist destinations among others in Indonesia.The native people of Batam are Malay in origin, but the population can be said to be multi-cultural and multi-ethnic comprising of people from different parts of Indonesia. The devotees in Batam headed by His Grace SamudraSenaPrabhu and his wife DevakiMataji (disciples of His HolinesssSubhag Swami) established a small preaching centre there, NitaiGaura Centre in 2008 continuing SrilaPrabhupada's preaching programs till date. SrilaPrabhupada wrote in a letter that "It doesn't matter if you can or cannot establish a temple there, but if you can introduce the Ratha-yatra, surely it will be agreat success. So try to execute this will as far as possible." (SPL to Yamuna, 27th May 1969).To the happiness of all the devotees in Batam, Lord Jagannath decided to visit Batam along with His elder brother Sri Balaramji and Sister Subhadra Devi and go around the city in a wonderfully decorated ratha and thus mark the first RathaYatra Festival in Batam The history behind BatamRathaYatra began on the last visit of H.H. Subhag Swami Maharaj to Indonesia in June 2013. Deeply contemplating on how to spread Mahaprabhu's message of Sankirtan as established by SrilaPrabhupada during a small discussion with devotees, Maharaj expressed his desire to have Ratha-yatra in Batam. All the devotees present then, including SamudraSena, became overjoyed to envision the First ever Ratha-yatra in Batam. As Srilaprbhupada mentioned in his another letter that "....Make the Ratha-yatrafestivsal very great success. This will be great introduction in your city and people will appreciate it"(SPL to Syamasundara, 4th May, 1967). Devotees from all over Indonesia helped in making the festival successful beyond imagination.
Just a day before leaving Bali, Maharaj consolidated the devotees to start the work at the earliest possible opportunity, which meant, immediately from that very point of time. SrimanVisvarupaprabhu, an Architect and lecturer and lecturer in the Udayana University, Denpasar submitted his assistance to prepare the blueprint of the chariot. Within the next two days, when the blue print was ready, Sriman Maharasikaprabhu, a multi-talented engineer with Sriman Brajanagarprabhu, an expert wood carver arrived upon the scence and the next day they were in Batam.
Maharaj told the devotees that "this is Lord Jagannath himself call and He give His mercy right now. You must take this right now because we don't know when we are finished." Within three month the chariot was ready. For the finishing of the chariot with wonderful paintings was the Sriman Sadhu Jivanprabhu arrived in Batams. Sriman Svikramaprabhu and his family and other devotees who are residents of Batam also give a great support for the festival.
SrilaPrabupada wrote in his letter that " For the present you endevour should be to make rathayatra festival grand and successful. You should arrange the procession and procedure so nicely that all the neighborhood people may be attracted to join the procession." (SPL to Upendra, 1stJune, 1968). The devotees in Batam went to government house and met with the authority of Batam to seek permission and assistance for the festival. Surprisingly, the mayor of Batam, Drs. Mr. Ahmad Dahlan, responded with great joy. He expressed that this a good festival and should be done annually in Batam. He suggested to the devotee to have the festival in the centre of Batam, where there many offices, market places and tourists. Mr. Dahlan also said "it will add one cultural icon to Batam that will attract many visitors". He gave his word that he would extend all possible help from the government side including security, banners to announce the festival, pandal and media coverage. He added that he would personally come and take part in the festival. The authority's response injected optimistic and fresh energy to the festival committee to work with all enthusiasm to prepare a nice festival to offer to Srila Prabhupada as he is the pioneer to start Ratha-yatra festivals outside the boundary of India. Further to enhance the mood of the festival, Subhag Maharaj inspired the devotees to have the first Cida-dahi Festival in Batam, which was held with much joy by the devotees a day before the Rathayatra on the disappearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada.
H.H. Subhag Swami Maharaj personally came to Batam to attend the festival. Maharaj arrived on December 18, 2013, four days before the festival to check the progress of the festival.
December 22, 2013 was the day of Ratha-yatra festival. In the morning Maharajwas invited for a live interactive talk on the radio, RRI. Maharaj explained the meaning of Rathayatra and how this is a harbinger of peace and prosperity for all.
The Rathayatra started at 12.00 noon local time. For the last many days it had been raining every now and then and this was causing concern for the devotees. The weather changed completely on the day of the festival, the sun shining brightly with mild breeze from the sea, it was as if everything had been adjusted so nicely to welcome the Lord of the Universe. True to the words of the Mayor, all arrangements for the festival had been wonderfully made by the government itself. It was given a massive media coverage starting from newspapers to the TV channels. The guest who came on the to the festival were the Mayor of Batam, AdiPurusha Das- the leader of SAKKHI (representative of ISKCON in Indonesia), Head of Batam tourism department, head priest of Hindu Parishad of Indonesia -Ida Pedanda Gede Ketut Sebali Tianyar Arembawa, Indonesia Hotel and restaurant Association, head of Batam Educational Department, Buddhist leader in Batam, representatives from Gita Reading Society, Singapore and leader of Hindu society of Batam, Mr. Drs. I. Wayan Catrayasa, MM. A Balinese dance and Malay Dance were offered to the Lord for His pleasure. The organizing committee presented a copy of Bhagavad-gita as it is to the honored guests. Many devotees from other countries also came to participate in the Ratha-yatra festival.
After Lord Jagannath, Balarama, and Subradra Devi sat on the chariot, They were offered bhogas and arati. After the arati the guest were given coconut with camphor light to offer to the Lord. H.H. Subhag Swami Maharaj was then requested to play role as representative of Pratapa Rudra Maharaja and sweep the path of the chariot. The mayor, Mr. Dahlan also came up to honour the rare and special opportunity to sweep in front of the Lord's chariot.Then the chariot was pulled by the devotees with tumultuous kirtan and everyone chanting 'Jay Jaganntha, Jay Baladeva, JaySubhadra". Maharaj and the guests were given first opportunity to pull the chariot. They were so joyful. The kirtan party sang the Hare Krishna mahamatra melodiously all throughout the procession.
As Lord of Universe, Sri Jagannath called all fallen souls to join in the hour of happiness and bliss. Many visitors who were non devotees danced in front of the Lord. They forgot all their differences, they forgot their designations, religions, all of them held hand in hand and danced in ecstasy.
The festival was reported by local and national media. Some National media put the Rathayatra festival in their headlines. On the festival devotees also did book distribution and prasadam distribution. We hope that Prabhupad is pleased and bless the devotees who organize such a wonderful Ratha-yatra. Srilaprabhupada mentioned in his letter that " I thank you all very much for making the rathayatra festival so successful. Please convey my gratitude to all the boys and girls who participated in this great transcendental service."(SPL to Upendra, 4th July 1968).