Experiencing the eternal residence of Srila Prabhupada
After a year of heart aching wait, I was on my way to Sri Radha Damodar temple. Climbing onto a waiting cycle rickshaw, we rolled through the narrow roads of Raman Reti and Loi Baazar. A bumpy ride, may I add. Gazing at the monkeys up above with their own set of matching spectacles, avoiding the non-stop honking 2-wheelers, slithering through the congested traffic jam, taking in the smell of freshly boiled milk from the food stalls and contemplating on “Why can’t Vrindhavana be a lot cleaner?”, I reached the temple. I was excited. And nervous for no reason at all.
Although I was paying my obeisances to the deities of the temple, my thought was centered at a room on my right. I was longing to get there. This one room has had an immense effect on my relationship with Srila Prabhupada and helped me so much in my baby steps in Krishna Consciousness.
That’s the room above. Prabhupad’s bed is on the left and his study area on the right. That door on the wall is actually a window and it opens to the entrance of the temple. It’s fenced so that no monkeys can come in. In 1959, Prabhupad first moved into this one room where he performed his bhajana and wrote the English tranlation of Srimad Bhagavatam. Directly opposite to this room, was another room, pretty much the same size where he prepared his food and looked across the courtyard at the samadhi and bhajana-kutir of Srila Rupa Gosvami. It was here that he received the blessings of Rupa and Jiva Gosvamis, and was inspired to take the teachings of Lord Chaitanya outside of India.
One day while honoring mahaprasadam, Srila Prabhupada was looking out of the window at the samadhi of Sri Rupa Gosvami. Suddenly, Sri Rupa Gosvami appeared before Srila Prabhupad and spoke these most encouraging words:
“Maharaja, don’t worry about anything. Go ahead and travel to the West and preach. Just preach the message of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the chanting of the Hare Krishna. You’ll be successful. I guarantee because I will be right with you all the time.”
The table was well decorated with fruits, flowers and dry eatables. Although, the room was well kept away from the wandering monkeys, there was a boy who crept in with much confidence and happiness. He looked at me (sitting in the corner finishing my japa), looked at the table, looked at me again, placed his hand on an apple, looked at me again and ran away with the fruit in his hand ! So quick ! I just sat there going, “Oh Oh”.Later on, I found out that boy was the 14th generation of the family that maintains the temple and next in line to take over the ancient temple. You can see him running around the temple with a japa mala in his hand. No, I didn’t see him do his rounds but he would rotate it in his hand like a propellor.
Next to Prabhupad was a small table that had some nice incense burning. Because the room was small with all windows closed, the entire area had a thick aroma from the incense. I wondered what flowers they were? I was planning to buy few to take it back with me.
On 17th September, 1959 while staying at Radha Damodar temple, Srila Prabhupad accepted the sannyasa order of life. Last week was the 50 year anniversary! All the photos were beautifully garlanded. It had lotus flowers, roses and other bright flower varieties. The black and white photos assumed the role of deities and many people who stepped inside touched the photo to their forehead.
Prabhupad comes back to Radha Damodar in the photo above! In 1965, he had left this dear temple with Rs.40 and 1 crate of Srimad Bhagavatam and sailed on a ship on rough seas to bring the rest of the world here.
As I was sitting there, chanting and gazing at visitor’s gestures of devotion, the above group came in. And I have never seen the look of surprise in someone’s face on seeing Prabhupad murti like the way that lady in red did. It was incredible. You won’t believe it even if I told you. It was like she saw God. She had hurriedly walked into the room and immediately paid her obeisance without looking anywhere. She must have known from the flowers decorating the door that it was some place of worship. When she moved her head up from the floor, she took one look at Prabhupad and gave a loud gasp. She looked a bit frightened and respectful. She must have felt the murti looked so real and enigmatic. Or maybe she was recollecting something from a previous lifetime. I don’t know. I didn’t ask. The others also became immediately quiet seeing the frozen state of their friend or relative. You can see her state in the above photo. That’s how she stayed in the room for about 15 minutes. Hands folded, looking at Prabhupad without moving.
My japa was going well. No distractions. As I continued with concentration, one of the caretakers came in and started to clean the desk. He looked at me, walked over and gave me this gigantic tulasi mala which had adorned Prabhupad for the Sri Krishna Janmasthami day. Now it was mine !!!! Maha maha maha prasad !
The courtyard is supercharged with spiritual energy. A good part of the compound is filled with Samadhis of the most intimate followers of Lord Chaitanya. I, personally found that chanting is all the more better at such locations. Probably, because you keep thinking that there are many senior vaishnavas watching your chanting performance. The previous night’s rain really cooled the entire surroundings and the monkey’s on the high walls looked a bit lazy. There was ample silence and the heat was just right.
One of the books that I carried with me to the samadhis was “Gaudiya Vaishnava Samadhis in Vrindhavana by Mahanidi Swami“. An excellent book and something that I held onto for almost a year without reading. I wanted to go through it only in Vrindhavan and mainly at the Samadhi areas. The previous day I had started to read it and I was only a few pages into it, when I saw these lines :
“By Visiting samadhis, offering obeisances, circumbulating them, offering prayers of submission, and articles of worship such as sweets, incense, ghee lamp, flowers, and Yamuna water, a sincere devotee will receive mercy from these eternal associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
Although I forgot to bring along most of the items, I was armed with some very fresh roses that I bought from the flower sellers outside Prabhupad’s samadhi. Carefully, I removed them from the paper bag and placed them at the step leading to the samadhi of Srila Jiva Gosvami. I was delighted. After I offered the roses, I peeped into the dark room inside and took a note of its contents. Then I sat back, not knowing what to pray for. I wished I had learnt some bhajans. Since I was there, I had to say something to Srila Jiva Gosvami. So, a quick speech was composed and delivered. This is how it went :
Hare Krishna. Please accept my humble obeisances.
I just wanted to say “Thank you” for giving me an opportunity to come back here again and see you all. I am doing the best I can at this point to progress well in Krishna Consciousness. Many of my devotee friends also send their regards. They are working extremely hard to spread the news of Lord Krishna’s, Mahaprabhu’s and Prabhupad’s activities to many people overseas. We hope that we give everything we have got to continue the wonderful steps you have all taken to help people be devotional. I am sincerely hoping that I won’t let you down. I have offered some flowers today and I hope that I get a chance to do this for many many years to come. I am planning to place similar flowers at other Vaishnava samadhis that I may visit over the next few days. That’s all. Please help me progress further in Krishna Consciousness. Hope Prabhupad’s pleased.”
Last year when I visited Sri Radha Damodar temple, the Hare Krishna caretaker of the place, enquired if I could get him some South Indian seeds for the temple. My friend who had accompanied me and I, had just bought from him a book titled, “In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life“, by His Divine Grace A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It is likely to be the very first literary work of Prabhupad after taking sannyasa.
Me : Sure…If I get a chance to come back to this temple and if I remember, I will surely bring it. Was there any type?
Devotee : No..you can get any kinds of flower seeds you want…but it must be South Indian. The soil there is good and the seeds come out well.
Without making a note of it anywhere, I left the temple, the country and a year passed. And this year, I went directly to the India without the seeds in hand. Shortly before reaching India, I realized what I had forgotten. What am I going to tell if I see him again? A few days before I arrived in Vrindhavan, I got a phone call. It was my friend who had joined me last year.
Friend: Manoj…are you going to Vrindhavan this year too?
Me : Yes, I am. I wish you could have joined me like last time. You should have taken days off. My another friend is with me this year.
Friend : Yeah…I know…I wish I had come…maybe in the next few months
Me : Make sure you come during Kartika…it will be great then too…bring your parents along
Friend : Sure…by the way..do you remember that priest at that room in the temple who asked for some seeds?
Me : Oh my God ! Yes…I was just thinking about the same few hours ago !!!! What a coincidence !
Friend: Really? Anyways, I didn’t forget his request so I bought some seeds from the South for him. Can I courier them over to Vrindhavana? It will reach in a day or two and you can present it to that man.
That’s the courier parcel (photo above) on Srila Prabhupad’s desk with the seeds within it. Can you believe it? I still can’t.
The caretaker did not recognize me at first. But when I had told him that we had met last year and that he had requested us to bring some South Indian seeds, his eyes lit up ! A huge smile rushed to his face and he said with an American accent :
Devotee: Ooooohhh!! Yes..I remember…I thought if I would ever see you again
Me : Yes..I have been lucky again..I am here
Devotee : It’s great to see you at Prabhupad’s eternal residence
Me : It sure is…I remember so well what you told me last year.
Devotee : What did I say?
Me : You said, “this room belongs to all of us and here we could sit with Prabhupad so closely. It’s yours too!”. It was a special moment for me.
Devotee : I am glad you are glad.
Me : You also asked us to bring us some seeds from South India. My friend who had joined me last year made sure that we brought those seeds out to you. Here it is !!!
After first offering the parcel to Prabhupad, we went to the other room and opened the parcel. And from it fell sachets and sachets of seeds of all kinds. From Sunflowers to Roses to Jasmine. Like an expert gardener, he began to talk about the features of the different types of seeds. It was like a botany class.
Devotee : Now..I have so many ! I just wanted one. You choose what seeds we should plant at the temple. Remember, in years to come, when devotees and pilgrims see a wonderful garden here with flowers, it is because of these seeds that you have given.
Me: WoW…thank you ! A historic occasion, I see.
Then, going through the many packets, I settled on one that said, “COSMOS”.
I had no idea what COSMOS was, how it would grow, look and smell. But later a quick Google search tells me that :
Native from Mexico to Brazil, COSMOS means – Orderly, Beautiful and Ornamental in Greek. Cosmos are used as background plants or as cut flowers. They bloom in the early summer to frost. They disperse readily through seed.
Anyways, we planted the seeds into many pots on top of Prabhupad’s room and watered it. This is my second step in gardening ! 3 years ago, I planted Tulasi plants at my grandma’s house and now, I was planting a seed in Vrindhavan ! How wonderful. I felt that all these little incidents was a motivating factor for me to push on in Krishna Consciousness.
After the planting the seeds, the devotee asked me to follow him back to Prabhupad’s room. There he moved towards a shelf and picked something. He turned and said, “This is for you!”
Me : Oh…what is it?
In my hand was a small glass bottle with earth in it. I knew it must be special. I was getting excited.
Devotee: Over there in that spot, near Rupa’s samadhi…Srila Jiva Gosvami used to wash his feet many times during the day. That is the soil from that spot. It’s from many meters below the ground. I figured that whenever Jiva Gosvami washed his feet, the water would have seeped deep into the ground, making all the layers of soil spiritual. So, I dug into the ground, collected that soil and placed them in this bottle. So, this is from Srila Jiva Gosvami to you !! Take care of it.
Can you believe that? I felt that Srila Jiva Gosvami responded to my prayer earlier outside his samadhi. One can never go wrong with a rose. I was stunned and happy. I felt I won a prize or something.
“The dust of the feet of a devotee, the water that has washed the feet of a devotee and the remnants of food left by a devotee are the 3 very powerful substances. By rendering service to these three, one attains the supreme goal of ecstatic love for Krishna. In all the revealed scriptures, this is loudly declared again and again.”
– Caitanya-caritamrta Antya 16.60-61
I felt so honoured. I thanked the devotee and went quickly back to Jiva Gosvami’s samadhi again. I offered a full dandavats and sat crouched in front of the door.
“Prabhu…Thank you so much !!! That was very very special. I hope I cherish it for ever”
I felt I had so much responsibility towards this mission. There was so much to do. But I am such a neophyte. I still can’t remember a single verse from the Bhagavad Gita. I was even finding it tough to understand the first 2 cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam. I had less association with devotees. I can’t sing. I can’t play any musical instrument. Of what use can I be? Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted. The American devotee caretaker had come to the spot.
He : I thought so you would be here. I wanted to give you something else too.
Me : Oh..you shouldn’t….it was only seeds…nothing big…I already have the holy soil
He: Its ok..this is a locket…it has “Jaya Nrsimha Deva” written on it for all protection
Me : Thank you
I gave a quick glance towards Jiva Gosvami. Another prayer answered.
He : But wait…there’s more…inside that locket is a small piece of the floor tile that broke off when we were renovating the room.
Me : Which room?
He: That room…where Prabhupad sat and gazed at the samadhi and bhajana kutir of Rupa Gosvami.
Standing there, I looked into the book I was carrying. I opened a page and there was a prayer waiting to be taken.
The only thing worth praying for is that our mind may be more and more attracted towards Lord Sri Krishna. We don’t want riches or followers, nor do we desire to be saved from the misery of birth and death. We do not pray either for the cure of disease or for liberation. Rather, we approach the great souls and say, “May you bless us that our minds may be directed to Krishna.”
– Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravasvati Thakura