Govardhan devi dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Govardhan: I wanted to get initiated so the letter of recommendation was sent to Srila Prabhupada, and I was waiting for it to come back. I was thinking, “I wish I could have a name that has something to do with Vrindavan.” I had heard quite a few devotees talking about their names and how a magical thing happens at initiation. I was thinking, "The name ‘Yamuna’ has already been given and is no longer available, so what else is there for women?” I didn’t even know what places there were in Vrindavan. I think that my temple president, Patita-Udharan had recommended a name for me, which was Jaya Rukmini. I thought, “Gosh, I really wish I could have a name from Vrindavan.” And then the letter came, and Prabhupada gave me the name Govardhan dasi. I could not believe that. [laughs] Even today I am so thrilled to have that name. That was very special for me. I wanted something, and I received it, which confirms what Krishna says in the scriptures, that it is His pleasure to fulfill the desires of His devotees. And Prabhupada, who is directly with Him, chose the name and thus delivered a miracle for me.

I think it was July of 1973 that I was receiving the Gayatri mantra, the second initiation, directly from Prabhupada himself. All of us were waiting outside the door and one by one we would go in. One of the men came back and said, “Oh, Prabhupada said I had long nails.” The rest of us immediately looked at our own nails. [laughs] When it was my turn to go in, I bowed down at the entrance of the room and it seemed like a very big room at that time. I reflect now how when you grow up and you go back to your old childhood places, they are just not as big as you imagined. Anyway, to me it seemed like a huge room and Prabhupada was quite a long way away. I bowed down by the door saying, “Nama om vishnu padaya krishna prestaya bhutale.” Because I loved languages and had just come from school six months before, I knew the word-for-word meaning of those words. I was extremely happy at this moment and I was smiling as I was saying my offering to Prabhupada. When someone is smiling, you can hear that in the person’s voice. So, I looked up and Prabhupada had the biggest smile on his face. I wasn’t expecting any response, but when I looked up, Prabhupada was really smiling. Then he patted the floor next to him gesturing for me to come sit down by his side. I couldn’t believe it. I started walking towards him wishing that the walk would never end. In retrospect it was really nice that there was something about me that Prabhupada could affirm or celebrate or appreciate or be pleased by. I didn’t feel myself to be like a normal devotee woman because I was very young, and I wasn’t a cook and I’m still not a cook. Cooking frightens me. Anyway, I sat down with the piece of paper with the Gayatri mantra on it. The piece of paper was from a typed copy and I don’t think photocopying machines existed at that time. They were created by typing with a manual typewriter, which meant there was a carbon paper in between each copy, and mine must have been the fourth or fifth copy. It was very faint, so Prabhupada took the paper from my hand, and still being very jolly said, “It requires transcendental eyes.” My life hangs on those words. First of all, I thought, “Wow, he’s made a joke!” Secondly, I thought I must remember these words because when things are difficult, seeing there is a purpose behind an event sometimes requires transcendental eyes. Then he taught me how to count the mantras on my fingers. That passed without any difficulty and Prabhupada was very grave at that point. Prabhupada went from somebody who was just being so emotional, loving to me, to a very grave personality. That was very instructive too because the spiritual master might love you, but he also has to teach you. He is not an ordinary person. And then I said, “Thank you, Srila Prabhupada.”

Once I was in the old temple room with all the devotees and I was quite close to Srila Prabhupada. He looked at me and it seemed as though he looked right through me. I wanted to show Prabhupada that I was sincere, but he just looked and looked and looked, and he could see what a specimen he had picked up. I thought he perhaps was seeing that I was doing something wrong or I must not have been keeping the proper etiquette and he was not happy. And then I just had to look away. When I looked back at him, he had looked away and it was like I didn’t exist. It was a very humbling and shocking experience, but it wasn’t nasty. We knew that Prabhupada loved us. He brought such a treasure, and he had to disseminate it and he had to cope with us all at the same time. He translated his books in the nighttime and traveled around the world even at his advanced age. It’s inconceivable how he could have done what he did. He wasn’t there as a guru to mess about and make friends. He had a message and with it a process that had to be followed if one wanted to achieve success.

I got to put garlands on Prabhupada three times. Sarvamangala, my friend, was always helping me push forward, encouraging me to do that service. One time I was waiting to garland Prabhupada outside at the Bhaktivedanta Manor. Prabhupada came through the temple room, and a man who was there paid his obeisances to Prabhupada, but he did it with his feet towards the Deities. Afterwards Prabhupada said to Mukunda, who is now Mukunda Maharaj, “You should instruct.” Prabhupada always wanted a standard to be kept and he wanted the devotees to be able to train the guests. So, when he came out of the temple, I thought how kind it was of him to step forward towards me. I thought, “What will I do now?” I didn’t feel worthy to be doing this service, but then he walked towards me and put his head down. He didn’t hesitate just because I was in a woman’s body. He had no false ego. Once when I was at New Mayapur in France, Krishna Bhamini, who is a lovely woman, asked me to make Prabhupada’s afternoon garland because she had something else to do. I said, “Yes, shall I make it in any particular way?” She said, “No, just put some flowers as you like.” When I asked her afterwards if it was okay, she said, “I had to redo it because it wasn’t symmetrical.” I didn’t know that it had to be symmetrical because she had said I could do it the way I liked. But even so, just not so long ago I read a verse in the Eleventh Canto where Krishna said to Uddhava, “This process is the most perfect because using the impermanent things of the material world you can attain Me, the Supreme Transcendence.” And then He adds, “…even if those things are externally useless.” I think that is amazing that externally useless things can be used for Krishna and by doing so one can still attain Krishna. I can only pray that even though I made a garland that wasn’t right, still that service went to Krishna.

At New Mayapur, France, when Prabhupada came, we were instructed to not bother him so he could just translate. But we heard that he was coming outside for a darshan, and I lived in the house that was right next to the spot where Prabhupada sat. It was a beautiful experience and recently I went back to New Mayapur and thought, “I would like to build a house there and make a plaque that would read ‘Prabhupada sat here.’” There were quite a few devotees there as well. It was nice weather, and in the distance, Prabhupada’s Krishna Meditations tape was playing. Yogesvara said to Prabhupada, “Prabhupada, it sounds like your voice is coming from the spiritual world.” I remember Prabhupada said, “That’s because it is coming from the spiritual world.” Everyone cheered, “Jaya, Srila Prabhupada!” When Prabhupada left New Mayapur, there was a huge crowd there to see him off with devotees from all over Europe. He came out surrounded by some of his confidential devotees, managers, and so it was difficult to see Prabhupada as I was towards the back holding my daughter, who was around eighteen months old at the time. Then all of a sudden, the devotees parted and I could see for the first time Prabhupada framed by his associates at the top of the stairs at the Chateau. I was thinking, “Wow, I wonder if this is the last time that I will see him,” which it ended up being. But I was so grateful, and it was also amazing that Krishna would do that for somebody so insignificant that suddenly everybody moved and I could see. I reflected on that at the Krishna-Balaram installation at New Mayapur, which happened that visit, and I also couldn’t see anything because it was so packed. Again, I thought, if my daughter starts crying, I’ll never be able to get out. I was talking recently about that dilemma with some devotees who said, “What’s the difference? You either take care of your child or you sit in on the installation. What’s the difference? It’s all devotional service. It’s all part of the same family.”

Prabhupada was giving class at the Manor and his shoes were outside the temple room. I got quite a number of flower petals and put them on his shoes. I thought that I couldn’t get near to him, but he will know that someone has put these flowers on his shoes for him. So, after class I ran up the back stairs as Prabhupada was going up the front stairs, and I threw myself on the floor paying my obeisances on the little landing. Sarvamangala said that as he walked past me Prabhupada smiled at me. The quality of Prabhupada that I like very much is his majesty. He was so majestic but not at all proud. He was extremely self-sufficient and so bold and confident. He wasn’t here to mess around but to spread the name of Krishna. He opened the door to let us out of this material world and anybody who wanted could come along. He was like a king, but there was no pride in him, and I liked his boldness. When I saw him getting up to go from the class to his room, it was like the sun and the planets were moving. It was cosmic because it was so important. Everything that he did was so important.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories - 70 Ranchor, Sarvamangala dd, Sripati, Govardhan dd

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