Participants in the 2021 Festival of Chariots celebrate as the chariot is pulled from the Novi Civic Center to Fuerst Park.

Participants in the 2021 Festival of Chariots celebrate as the chariot is pulled from the Novi Civic Center to Fuerst Park.

Photo provided by Madhu Mahadevan and Ambarish Patel

Festival of Chariots returns to Novi July 17

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published July 14, 2022


NOVI — The 37th annual Festival of Chariots, a 1,000 year-old spiritual festival from India, which is celebrated around the world, will take place in Novi July 17.

“It’s a spiritual festival coming from the roots of India, but it carries sort of a broad cultural awareness,” said festival organizer Naimish Patel. “It’s a festival really of happiness, and it’s a festival of pulling happiness into our hearts.”

The Festival of Chariots, or the “Ratha Yatra,” which has been held in Novi for 13 years, will begin at the Novi Civic Center, 45175 W. 10 Mile Road, at 11 a.m. A 40-foot-tall chariot, carrying the Lord Jagannath, his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra, will be hand-pulled for 3 miles to Fuerst Park, following some addresses by dignitaries such as Novi Mayor Bob Gatt, Patel said.

Thousands of people of varied faiths are expected to help pull the chariot while playing songs with drums, tambourines and trumpets, according to a press release. According to event spokesman Madhu Mahadevan, the chariot can be pulled by anyone who wants to do so. He said that pulling the chariot signifies all the people pulling love back into their hearts.

“By pulling the chariot, you’ll feel that love come back to you,” said Mahadevan. “It’s really, really a magical experience. ... There is definitely a feeling of peace and love that just rolls through you when you are in that festival.”

Patel elaborated on the theme.

“Every single person on this planet is bound by a common thread: We all want to be happy,” said Patel. “Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to be unhappy today.’ We all are searching for the same thing, and that is to find peace and happiness. We all ultimately have this spirit within us. When we engage in any sort of activity like this, that spirit is what’s being nourished. Yes, we may have different colors of skin, we may have different genders, we may have different inclinations of whatever it might be political or what not, but we all have that spirit, that when it’s engaged it finds bliss and happiness. So this chariot and the lord is the main experience. ... Ultimately, we are all in this boat together to find this peace and happiness.”

The parade route will go west on 10 Mile Road to Taft Road, take Taft to Nine Mile Road, make a U-turn and come back north on Taft and enter the parking lot at Novi High School and end back at Fuerst Park. The procession is expected to take about two and a half hours.

Upon arrival at the park, the deities will be taken out of the chariot and placed on a stand for all to see. The celebration will continue until 5 p.m. with over 20 different tents and activities including: yoga, live music, cooking demonstrations, dancing, a magic show, a theatrical production, shopping, crafts, children’s activities and a free lunch.

The festival is considered to be one of the most important yearly events in the Vaishnava Hindu faith, according to Mahadevan. He said more than 10,000 people of varying beliefs are expected to attend.

“It’s really a cultural festival that engages all the senses. I mean, you’ll see amazing things. You’ll hear amazing things. You’ll taste amazing things, You’ll smell amazing things,” said Patel. “All your senses are engaged in a wonderful way. I really call it a cultural festival with spiritual roots, because a lot of times when people think of religious festivals, they think of more somber and more stoic — this is anything but that. It is truly a festival of happiness, and that is why we draw people from really all walks of life, from all different backgrounds and experiences.”

Patel said organizers make about 6,000 plates of food to bring to the festival. Patel said because it is a unique cultural experience, they have a lot of people there to help guide people, with not only directions, but suggestions as to where to go to get the full cultural experience. Over 200 volunteers help with the planning and orchestration of the event. He said they start planning for the event at least nine months in advance.

“The city of Novi has really embraced different cultures and bringing awareness for all of us of the different experiences people have,” said Patel. “It really is an all-inclusive event. (People) regardless of their background, regardless of their spiritual inclination, they just find a way to have a great time at this festival.”