Puri was a big draw for medieval saints from across the country. The most notable among them were Shankaracharya, Shri Chaitanya, Ramanujacharya, Ballabhacharya, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Tulsi Das and Swami Ramdas. These saints not only visited Srikhetra to get a glimpse of the Lord, they left their footmarks here by establishing famous mathas.
According to Madalapanji, the Holy Trinity had left Srimandir and were hidden (Patali) for long 144 years. Shankar took the onerous task upon himself to reinstate the deities back in the Ratna Singhasana. He sent a disciple to Hindu king Shankar Dev of Nepal to fetch Brahmasila. He is also credited to have introduced the Mahaprasad Seba in the temple, He established Gobardhana Pitha in Puri. Padmapada, one of his favourite disciples, led the efforts to retrieve the Trinity from Patali in Sonepur and re-established them in Ratna Singhasana.
Shri Chaitanya started the Bhakti movement through Shankirtana. He chose Puri as the place to spread his message. Chaitanya was probably the most famous saint and devotee to have visited Puri. Rituals like Sadabhuja Gouranga, Gobardhana worship, Kaliadalana Besa and Rasalila were introduced in Srimandir under the influence of Shri Chaitanya.
Ramanujacharya was the pioneer of Vishistadaityavada. He persuaded the then king of Puri to change the rituals of Srimandir according to Vaidik ways. However, he soon realised that Jagannatha cannot be confined to only Vedas. He is beyond any system of rituals and is the Lord of the Universe. The sheer established 50 mathas in Srikhetra including the famous Emara Matha.
Kabir visited Puri after accepting the invitation of his disciple Maluk Das. The servitors of Puri thought Kabir to be a Muslim after seeing his skull cap and didn’t allow him inside Srimandir. But a miracle happened. The servitors got an order from the Lord in their dreams that Kabir was a great devotee and he be allowed to visit him. In memory of the great saint, Kabir Choura Matha was established.
Tulasi Das visited Puri and worshipped Lord Jagannath as Lord Rama and the Lord also obliged him. The traditions of Ballabha Badasrungara and Danda Chhatra are still prevalent in Srimandir to honour the saint. He established Badachhata Matha.
Guru Nanak Dev
Guru Nanak Dev visited Puri in 1507. He was greatly influenced by Shri Chaitanya and Ramanand. He sent his disciple Mardana to bring Maha Prasad from the temple. But the servitors refused the latter entry into the temple as he was a Muslim. However, in a miracle the ‘aarti’ plate of the Lord came flying near Nanak and all servitors along with the king himself followed the plate and reached Nanak. The saint then told them that Jagannath was not only the God of the Hindus, he is beyond this and the Lord of the Universe. Nanak’s adobe at that time was the famous Bauli Matha.