Mukunda Lal Ghosh (January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India - March 7, 1952), better known as Paramahansa Yogananda, was a Bengali yogi and guru. He is revered by his followers as a "Premavatar" or "Incarnation of Love".
Yogananda met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. After graduating from Calcutta University in 1915, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order. After founding and running a school for boys in Ranchi, India that combined modern educational techniques with yoga training and spiritual ideals, Yogananda went to the West and taught from 1920, when he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship or SRF, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, until his death in 1952. Twenty years after his vows, Giri conferred upon him the title paramahansa, which means "supreme swan." (During his lifetime he used the spelling paramhansa, but the traditional Sanskrit spelling has been preferred by SRF since shortly after his death; its modification of his signature to interpolate the extra A has drawn some criticism).
Yogananda's guru lineage was responsible for providing him with a central discipline of his teachings. Giri was the disciple of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, in turn the disciple of the guru Mahavatar Babaji, who had revived and through his disciples begun the spread of Kriya Yoga, described as a "spiritual science of spiritual realization." It was through Yogananda that Kriya Yoga was brought to the West.
Autobiography of a Yogi
In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, which was instrumental in introducing vedic philosophy to the West. It has since been translated into eighteen languages and remains a best seller. It includes Yogananda's and Giri's attempts to explain certain verses and events of the Bible such as the Garden of Eden story, and descriptions of Yogananda's encounters with leading spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann, the Hindu saint Sri Anandamoyi Ma, Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Nobel Prize winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman.
Claims of bodily incorruptibility
Some of Yogananda's followers have made claims of his bodily incorruptibility. As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, stated in a notarized letter:
The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience.... No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.... No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.... No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time....
Skeptics point to Yogananda's death certificate, which indicates his body was embalmed. They claim the full text of Rowe's letter, as included in a memorial booklet put out by the SRF, indicates his surprise at the described effect was based merely on the lack of use of special creams in addition to the embalming fluid.