Growing up in Kolkata, India, Paramhansa Yogananda was influenced by the life of the great saint and Master Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was the priest of the nearby Dakshineswar Kali temple.
Even though Yogananda was born after Ramakrishna’s passing, he often visited the Dakshineshwar temple grounds made sacred by Ramakrishna’s devotion and sadhana. Yogananda himself had a divine experience at that temple, in which the image of Kali came to life before his eyes, described in Autobiography of a Yogi in the chapter The Heart of a Stone Image.
The Dakshineswar Kali Temple was established in 1855. Ramakrishna took over the duties of temple priest the following year after the passing of the first priest, his brother Ramkumar. Ramakrishna spent the remaining thirty years of his life there, blessing it with his sadhana (spiritual practices) and many spiritual experiences.
The main statue of Kali at the temple frequently came to life for Ramakrishna. Due to his holiness and the sacredness of the temple, many saints and holy men visited the Dakshineswar grounds, including Ramakrishna’s disciple, Swami Vivekananda, Yogananda, and many other Bengali saints.
Ramakrishna described some of the early visitors there, which gives one an idea of the spiritual attraction of the place that drew Yogananda many times:
“At certain times,” said Sri Ramakrishna, “particular kinds of sadhus gathered in large numbers in Dakshineswar. At one time, the sannyasins, at another the paramahamsas. Once a sadhu stayed here who had a beautiful glow on his face. He used to sit and smile. He came out of his room once in the morning and once in the evening, gazed on everything—the trees, the plants, the sky, the Ganga—and then beside himself with joy, he danced with both his arms raised. He sometimes rolled with laughter and said, “How wonderful is Maya.” That was his worship. He had the realization of bliss.
“On another occasion, a sadhu came who was inebriated with divine knowledge. He looked like a ghoul. He was nude, with dust all over his body and head, and he had long nails and long hair. On the upper part of his body he wore a wrapper of shreds that looked like he had picked them up where dead bodies are burnt. Standing before the Kali Temple, he looked at the image and then recited a hymn with such power that the whole temple seemed to shake. Mother Kali looked pleased and smiled.” *
* from Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar by Elizabeth U. Harding