TORONTO — With 300 people in attendance, Hindu Students Council (HSC) chapter leaders and members at Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD) and the University of Toronto (UofT) united to organise the first-ever Ratha Yatra, run exclusively by students. The event was held at OCAD University on September 30, 2023.
The HSC orchestrated an artist market with over 40 local vendors, providing a platform for small businesses. Attendees, including students and community members, enthusiastically participated in the continuous five-hour Kirtan, showcasing their devotion and enthusiasm for the celebration. All age groups found something enjoyable during the event, contributing to a lively and inclusive atmosphere.
The event featured a vibrant procession from the UofT Campus Mandir to OCAD University, commemorating Shri Jagannath and siblings Shri Balaram and Shri Subhadra, accompanied by the enchanting Hare Krishna Mahamantra Kirtan. The event also showcased captivating performances by UofT Jhalak, Shivraya Pathak Dhol Tasha, and Nrithya Pravisha Kathak Dance School.
“With the chanting of mahamantra and the procession of Shri Jagannath, I was thrilled to see non-Hindus pay their respects,” said Aaditya Karthik, President HSC UofT St. George Chapter.
For over fifty years, the Ratha Yatra festivals in Toronto, Vancouver (with the motto of “Feel the Bliss”), Montreal, Halifax and several big and small towns across Canada have brought together Hindus and other communities in spiritual bliss, joyful celebration and family fun.
Hindu Students Council worked with various community organisations, including the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), Canadian Organization for Hindu Heritage Education (CoHHE), International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Bhakti Yoga Club, Toronto Jain Mandir, Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishwavidya Pratishthanam (SGVP Gurukul), Hindu Federation, Sai Dham Food Bank, Sewa Canada, Canadians Hindus for Harmony, Global Organization of Divinity, and Hindu Canadian Foundation, to make this event happen.
OCAD University and UofT are acknowledged for providing the platform to showcase Hindu dharmic culture and traditions and fostering understanding and appreciation within the community. The Campus Security team and Toronto Police were also present to ensure the safety of all attendees and create a secure space for everyone.
Two days before the event, the students were made aware of a petition signed by a few academics and many anonymous individuals, deeming this festive religious procession as a symbol of “…mass violence against Muslims [and Sikhs] and the oppression of Dalits by Hindu nationalists in India and in the diaspora.” It called upon the University of Toronto and OCAD to deny the students their rights to practise their religion freely on campus and dictate how Hindu should practise their religious traditions.
“With this petition opposing the Ratha Yatra, we not only feel disheartened but also apprehensive about openly embracing our Hindu identity on the OCAD University campus. Our Ratha Yatra aims to provide a sense of belonging to new Hindu students, while also promoting artists and small businesses,” said Khushi Jetley, President HSC’s OCAD University Chapter and fourth year Integrated Media Student.
“Regrettably, as students, we find ourselves grappling with the misconception that our Hindu values equate to extremism once again. Our regular interactions and celebrations of our culture are consistently politicised, and we face unfounded bigotry, prejudice and animosity,” Jetley added.
Hindu students had already been fearful and anxious due to the current political situations in Canada and the pervasive xenophobic atmosphere on social media, and this petition added to the trauma. They were very concerned about their safety and of those attending the event, considering the public nature of it.
Despite the anti-Hindu rhetoric, Hindu students from OCAD and UofT played a central role in planning and executing the entire event. With the support of the university administrators, extra security measures were taken and the event turned out to be a huge success with more than 300 people in attendance.
“It was an incredible experience to see how the [wider] community came out and supported everyone who was participating in this event,” said Vishwa Patel, Director of Operations at HSC OCAD University, third year student studying Drawing and Painting.
Founded in 1990, Hindu Students Council is North America’s largest pan-Hindu youth organisation. HSC is a 501(c)3 non-profit providing a safe space for Hindus on campuses all over, and is a platform for young Hindu leaders to learn, grow and engage in advocacy, empowerment and seva. Over 200,000 students of various backgrounds have attended HSC’s programs since its founding. For more information, please visit HinduStudentsCouncil.org or email HSC at [email protected]. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
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