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How Jagannatha’s Discovery In A Store Led To America’s First Ever Ratha Yatra: Part 1

Syama Allard

Shyamasundar noticed it one mid-February day situated on the mantelpiece of the old iron fireplace in their apartment: a brightly painted wooden figurine standing roughly 3 inches in height. Black in complexion, with a wide euphoric smile, large beaming eyes, and no arms or legs, the object held an other-worldly look, sparking in him an immediate curiosity. What was it? he wondered.

It was, his wife Malati explained, something she had found while browsing the local import shop. There were three wooden barrels near the cash register filled with such figurines of different colors. Particularly attracted to the black one, she had become especially compelled to bring it home when she saw the “Made in India” label attached on the bottom. India, after all, was where the Swami had come from.

The year was 1967, and the Swami, more specifically known today as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was their guru. Just two years earlier he was still in India, living the life of an ascetic in Vrindavan (the sacred town of Krishna’s birth), painstakingly translating ancient Hindu texts into English.

Though it would have been easy for him to spend the remainder of his retired life there, immersed in his spiritual practice, it was his own guru’s wish that he share the wisdom of their tradition — centered around Krishna 
bhakti, or devotion to Krishna — with the Western world.

When the removal of national quotas by America’s 1965 Immigration Act thus paved the way for him to enter the country, it didn’t matter that he was a 70-year-old renunciate with virtually no money to his name. Quickly securing free passage on a cargo steamship, he packed his translations into a steel trunk and boarded the vessel, leaving behind his home to voyage into the unknown.

The journey was arduous, as he suffered intense sea sickness, dizziness, vomiting, and two heart attacks. When he arrived in New York City 37 days later, however, his resolve still 
had not wavered. Though he had no funds, no friends, no support, and weak health, he had a most powerful spiritual message, one he believed would transform the lives of any if they just gave it a chance.

(https://www.hinduamerican.org/blog/how-jagannathas-discovery-in-a-store-led-to-americas-first-ever-ratha-yatra-part-1 )

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