Nearly 46 years ago, when the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was planning to organize the first Rath Yatra in New York City, challenges were galore.
While the grant of parade permit at the Fifth Avenue was nothing short of a miracle, finding a huge empty site where chariots could be built was also never going to be easy. They knocked at the doors of every person possible, but in vain. It was then that the former US president Donald Trump emerged as a ray of hope for the Krishna devotees.
RECALLING THE 1976 EPISODE
After Trump's Twitter account was reinstated on Sunday, Vice-President and Spokesperson of ISKCON Kolkata, Radharamn Das took it as an opportunity to share how the first chariot procession of the Lord of the Universe Mahaprabhu Jagannath kicked off on the streets of NYC, with assistance from the then 30-year-old emerging real-estate mogul in United States of America – Donald Trump.
With ISKCON celebrating its 10th birthday in 1976, devotees in NYC were planning the first big Rath Yatra there. Discover Hare Krishna in a Facebook post mentioned, “We had permission to use the Fifth Avenue, which in fact is a big deal. But we needed an empty site close to the starting point of the parade route, to build the massive wooden carts. Everyone we asked said NO. They were concerned about insurance risks etc, which is understandable.
DONALD TRUMP'S YES
Desperation of devotees reached peak, hopes were nearly shattered. Almost all the firm owners who were approached reportedly said they were in the process of selling the property at the Pennsylvania rail yard, which was marked as the perfect location for cart making. A few days later, someone told them that Donald Trump had purchased the old railway yard. But still there were concerns as a dozen other landlords they had asked for had already said no, and ‘why would Trump be any different?
Nevertheless, the devotees went to his office with a big basket of Maha Prasadam and a presentation package. His secretary took it but warned the devotees, "He never agrees to this kind of thing. You can ask but he is going to say NO.
Have faith in Mahaprabhu they say, and the miracle was bound to happen!
Three days later, Trump’s secretary called up the devotees saying, "I don't know what happened but he read your letter, took a bit of the food you left, and immediately said Sure, why not?
The secretary then said, "Come on down and get his signed letter of permission.” Yes, Trump had signed the papers giving permission to use the open rail yards for construction of Rath Yatra carts.
APPROVAL FOR RATH YATRA PROCESSION
Receiving approval for parade permit was another daunting task that the devotees faced. On behalf of the Hare Krishna Movement, Tosan Krishna Das who was in charge of getting the permit had submitted a written proposal to the authorities. The Police department had initially said yes but again they said no as there was mayor’s edict since 1962 against allowing new parades on the Fifth Avenue. With no option left, Tosan finally approached the chief of Police in Manhattan.
Nobody had any clue about how the chief would respond to the application. But after a careful review, the police chief signed the papers with a smile. “I don’t know why I am doing this, the chief said. And then he signed it,” reveals Tosan.
Like other corporate company owners, Trump also could have easily rejected the proposal. Devotees thought the Police chief was no exception either. Why they didn’t say no, still is a question unanswered, as devotees cite it as a blessing of Lord Jagannath.