Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Sunday, 22 June 2008 17:39 UK

Krishna carnival lights up London

Rathayatra chariot
The chariots were pulled by rope through the streets of central London
Londoners are used to seeing juggernauts rumbling through their streets, but this was a very different kind of heavy traffic.

It was a riot of colour in the heart of the capital - three 40-foot-high wooden chariots pulled from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, accompanied by a colourful crowd singing, chanting and dancing their way along the route.

Britain's Hare Krishnas were holding their 40th annual Rathayatra Carnival of Chariots, a street festival which brings together a mixture of devotees and bemused onlookers.

The ancient ceremony originates in Jagannatha Puri in India - giving British colonial forces a new word to describe a huge, lumbering vehicle.

'Everyone's happy'

The UK Hare Krishna movement hopes the day brings a touch of fun and celebration to London's thoroughfares.

But organiser Varsana Devi Dasi said the worshippers who used ropes to pull the three chariots - one each for the deities of Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Balarama - did not face an easy task.

Praghosa Das
We just want everyone to have a good time
Praghosa Das

"It's quite an effort to pull them - the chariots are huge," he added.

"The wheels are made by the same wheelsmiths who make the Queen's carriages.

"But everyone's happy to help out - it's a lot of fun and you always end up having a good time."

When the procession reached its destination at Trafalgar Square, organisers had laid on entertainment, face-painting, information about Indian culture and enough vegetarian food for 35,000.

Praghosa Das, leader of the UK's Hare Krishnas, said he hoped passers-by would have their days brightened up by the carnival.

The 47-year-old Dubliner - born Paul Murphy - first became interested in the movement when he landed a job working in a Hare Krishna-run vegetarian restaurant in 1980.

Bhuta Bhavana Das
Bhuta Bhavana Das became interested in eastern philosophy at university

"I'm glad the sun's shining today. It's meant to be a celebration and we just want everyone to have a good time," he said.

"Our founder Srila Prabhupada said our way of life is simply 'chanting, dancing and feasting', and that's what we're giving everyone here today."

Other converts to the faith said they enjoyed the festival's openness and inclusiveness.

Bhuta Bhavana Das, a 32-year-old youth worker, became interested in the movement while he was studying philosophy at the London School of Economics.

"The great thing about today is that you have loads of Christians, Muslims, people of all faiths and none.

"The whole point of Hare Krishna is that there are many different paths to enlightenment - it's not about saying 'My God is better than your God.'"

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