Puri, also known as Jagannath Puri, is one of the holiest places of pilgrimages in India. It is famous for the Ratha Yatra — “festival of chariots,” an annual festival when the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra, are brought out of the temple and placed in a chariot procession, allowing the public to have Darshan.
One of the most special events associated with the Lord Jagannath, is Nabakalebar, which literally means the “New Body” (Naba = New, Kalebar = Body). The event involves installation of new images in the temple and burial of the old ones in the temple premises. The previous idols were installed in the year 1996. More than two million pilgrims visited Puri from all over India and the world to witness the grand event this year, making it one of the most visited festivals in the world.
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri the guru of our beloved Gurudeva Paramahansa Yoganandaji had a seaside hermitage in Puri. It is here that Paramahansaji experienced “The Cauliflower Robbery” which he describes in Autobiography of a Yogi. During Paramahansaji’s visit to India in 1935 – 36 he visited Puri when his Guru took mahasamadhi. Sri Daya Mata, third president of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India and Self-Realization Fellowship had also visited Puri during her first visit to India in 1958. She was one of the first Westerner to be permitted to enter the holy shrine of the Jagannath Temple, and in that temple she had an overwhelming experience of the presence of God.
For the Ratha Yatra this year, the state government made special arrangements in and around Puri for accommodation, and sought help from various organizations. YSS has been performing service activities in Puri, and also every year during the Ratha Yatra. This year we participated on a much larger scale, for four days from July 16 to 19. The service camp was centrally located on the sea beach about one km from the YSS Puri Dhyana Kendra. Around 2,500 people (including 250 YSS devotees and friends) were accommodated in the lodging facility managed by us.
YSS also accepted the responsibility of offering meals to the pilgrims. Our kitchen served delicious hot meals for 16 hours every day. A total of around 22,000 pilgrims were fed in the course of four days. In addition to providing food, drinking water, arrangements for sanitation, regular spraying of mosquito repellents, security, we provided free medical aid to the pilgrims. YSS publications were also available. The enthusiasm and dedication of Gurudeva’s volunteers, coming from all over India, in serving the pilgrims in spite of the hot and humid conditions was most inspiring.