Nagapatni devi dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Nagapatni: Before I first joined, one thing that put me off was how devoted the devotees were to Srila Prabhupada. Because of my impersonalist conditioning and dark heart, I couldn’t understand how they could be so excited about this one person. At that time I was reading various books by Ramakrishna, and even though it was flowery, there was no real practical application. Also, even though my father taught theology at Loyola Marymount, he had no answers for me. So, I started reading Bhagavad-gita and that is where this torchlight of knowledge really lit up my heart. When I finally got to see Srila Prabhupada for the first time, I had all these questions in my mind like, “Who am I, where am I going, and what am I doing here?” However, I was overwhelmed by all the devotees and their enthusiasm and thus didn’t have the courage to raise my hand and ask any questions. But when he came out and gave the lecture, he answered every question in the order that I had in my mind. It was so amazing, and I knew then that this was why everyone was so enthusiastic and so devoted to Srila Prabhupada. That’s when I first started my spiritual life.

There was a Ratha-yatra festival in 1970 in San Francisco and everybody went there from Los Angeles. I was eight months pregnant at the time with my first daughter, so I was left in Los Angeles with seven other devotees to maintain the Deities and take care of Srila Prabhupada, who was flying up Sunday morning. On Saturday evening I was the only one at arati, when somebody threw a cherry bomb into the temple and it made a very loud noise. Basically, I was fine. I had just bowed down to offer my obeisances and I wasn’t sure what was happening. I was raised with four brothers, so commotion wasn’t totally an unusual circumstance, but Srila Prabhupada heard it. Prabhupada immediately called for Karandhar, the temple president, because he was very concerned about what caused the sound. Prabhupada asked him, “Is everybody okay?” Karandhar replied, “Well, there was a pregnant woman in the temple room, but she’s okay.” When Karandhar told me his exchange with Srila Prabhupada, I was touched by Prabhupada’s concern. The next morning after greeting the Deities, Prabhupada sat on his vyasasan and asked each person individually, “How are you doing? Is everything okay?” But I actually got overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe how compassionate and how truly concerned he was about the devotees. I was so embarrassed that I wanted literally to crawl under one of the floor tiles and hide. When Srila Prabhupada got to me, he just smiled. It was as if he knew I couldn’t talk. But then he taught us additional prayers beyond the Nrisimha prayers. Regularly we would chant, tava kara-kamala-vare nakham. But that morning he taught us the prayers of Jayadeva Goswami, I believe, Namas te narasimhaya. He told us, “You chant these mantras every day after arati and Krishna will protect you.” Through the years I’ve realized that Srila Prabhupada was teaching us not only how to live and go back to Godhead, but how to live in this material world. Srila Prabhupada, who was named Abhay Charan, was fearless. He was teaching us also to be fearless.

One evening we got to go into the garden and sit with Srila Prabhupada while Srutakirti read the Krishna Book. I didn’t want this opportunity to go by without asking Srila Prabhupada a question. Because my father was a very strong Catholic, and he was particularly challenging to talk to, I asked Srila Prabhupada how to preach to Christians. Srila Prabhupada was very quiet for a moment, and then he turned and said, “Where are the Christians at 4:30 in the morning? How are they developing love of God?” This turned out to be an excellent point when I was speaking with my father. I would ask him, “What is your process for learning love of God, developing love of God?” In that way Srila Prabhupada helped me deal with my father.

In my early years in the movement, I took care of the children at a time when book distribution was a very big issue. My parents gave me some money, and I purchased a VW van so I could take a couple of mothers with a box of books to a park or the beach and let the children play. A couple of ladies would watch the children as others would distribute books. One time a devotee came whose husband was a GBC. She felt our program was a waste of time and that we should just put the children in a room with some crayons to color so only one lady had to take care of them. I thought, “Oh, there goes our program,” because she had more access to Srila Prabhupada to plead her case. I thought, “Oh, we’re dead in the water. [laughs] It’s over.” But the next morning during the Srimad-Bhagavatam class, Srila Prabhupada was talking about Krishna and Balaram and how every day They would go to the bank of the Yamuna and play. He said, “And you also have the ocean here and every day the children can play.” In that way the issue never came up again and the program continued on for some time. From that experience, I felt a very deep connection with Srila Prabhupada even though I didn’t have a lot of access to him. When I first joined, I remember Gargamuni and Tamal Krishna saying, “You know you just can’t go into Srila Prabhupada’s room.” Their reason made perfectly good sense. Srila Prabhupada needed his time for translating his books and we couldn’t bother him. I never felt that I really needed to do that. I always felt that Srila Prabhupada has always been with me even to this day. When I have a need for some understanding, I just pray to Srila Prabhupada, and he sends me the answers one way or another, usually through his books.

Srila Prabhupada was so loving to the children. They would dance in front of Srila Prabhupada ecstatically. You could see sometimes Prabhupada would encourage them with his hand movements or his head and he would smile at them. You could see the children experiencing transcendental bliss. And then, of course, there was an exchange when Prabhupada would give them a cookie. It was so sweet. Prabhupada cared and loved the children very deeply. You saw directly that love in the exchanges between Srila Prabhupada and the children.

Srila Prabhupada was like a father to me even though I had a good relationship with my birth father. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would tell stories where he would get very animated as in the case of the story of the mouse and the sadhu. We were laughing and he was laughing. Then another time he told the same story, but this time he was in a serious mood and he didn’t want us to laugh. It was interesting how Prabhupada could control the mood in the whole temple room very easily. Everyone was so tuned into him. Another time it was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disappearance day and Srila Prabhupada had put his guru’s picture on the vyasasan. Prabhupada performed the arati and then he sat down. He gave a beautiful lecture, and at the end of the lecture, he said that he didn’t want to take sannyasa, but his Guru Maharaj was encouraging him to do it. And then he told us that his spiritual master had brought him so many sons and daughters. And then Srila Prabhupada started to cry, and when Srila Prabhupada cried, everybody in the room cried. I could feel big whelps as I was trying to hold back tears so that I could still hear what he was saying. Srila Prabhupada was very grateful. I thought at that time everybody in the temple room was crying, so grateful to have Srila Prabhupada as a father.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 61 - Badarayana, Jananivas, Jaya Jagadish, Nagapatni dasi, Surabhir Prabhu

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at