Racitambara devi dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 09

Racitambara: The first time I saw Srila Prabhupada was in the L.A. airport. I think it must have been about 200 devotees went to greet him. We were a huge crowd and the loud kirtan and everyone was pushing forward, and there was a space above the partition where the passengers were coming out and you were able to see if it was a tall person. I remember a Stetson hat came by and something else came by, and then we could understand…“Is that…? No, that’s not Prabhupada.” We kept pushing forward more and more, and the kirtan was bigger and bigger. And then I felt someone pushing behind me and I thought that’s odd because I’m at the back of the crowd, I was a very new devotee. So then I turned to look and there were two businessmen behind me, mid-20s, suits and briefcases and everything else, but they were looking and looking to see who we were waiting for. Then suddenly we saw a danda raised above the partition and we knew, “Oh, Prabhupada must be coming.” So then Prabhupada came out and we all paid our obeisances, and there was the most amazing feeling like a tidal wave rushing through me from the very depths of my being and pouring out and I cried and cried and cried. Then finally when I stood up to go and follow the devotees who were following Srila Prabhupada, I turned and these two businessmen were standing there with tears pouring down their faces. That was such an amazing experience to see how they were touched just by a moment’s association with Srila Prabhupada.

I stayed in L.A. from ’73 till ’76. Whenever Srila Prabhupada was visiting, I would rise very early, sometimes at one o’clock, one-thirty was normal, and I would go behind the temple. And there was an alleyway behind the L.A. temple, there was a laundromat that the devotees use, and it was dark and creepy at night. But anyhow, I went there and standing behind the temple you could look up at Srila Prabhupada’s quarters, his darshan room window, and he was always there no matter how early I got up. He was always already sitting there, and sometimes I could hear him softly chanting japa – it’s mostly summer there and the windows were open – or quite often I would hear him translating. And I would chant my japa softly down there and think that I was protecting Srila Prabhupada because it was a dark alley and he was silhouetted in the window, you could see him, and I was always afraid someone would come. It was the time of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and these people had been shot, so I used to get up early and chant there and protect Prabhupada. But it was nice because I felt like it was a little time with him. I could hear him translating or hear him chanting.

One time Ramesvara prabhu called us all into the temple room for an emergency isthagosthi one evening and told us that Srila Prabhupada was in Hawaii but he was very, very ill and he was coming to Los Angeles that night. But no one should go to the airport and greet him, we should be very quiet around the temple, and no one should try to ask for darshans or anything like that. Prabhupada was ill and he was coming to rest, we wouldn’t see him at all. So at the end he asked for questions. My only service to Srila Prabhupada, a direct service, was to make these cookies that he gave out to the children. So I raised my hand and asked, “Should I make the cookies?” And he immediately said, “Cookies! I’ve just been telling everybody that Srila Prabhupada is so ill. You think Prabhupada is going to give cookies to the children?” And I felt so bad. So then I went home and I was crying like anything, telling my husband, “But it’s my only service to Srila Prabhupada.” And I guess to pacify me he said, “Never mind, service is absolute. So you go ahead and make the cookies and bring them over just as you usually do, bring them to Guru Puja, and later you could offer them to a picture of Srila Prabhupada and distribute them in the playground to the children.” So that pacified me. And the next morning I got up early and I very carefully made the cookies and I set them out on a beautiful silver plate, and I brought them over and tucked them behind the vyasasana. Nobody expected Srila Prabhupada to show up for Guru Puja. We knew he had arrived in the night, but we knew he was very ill. And just before the curtains were to open, suddenly the door to Srila Prabhupada’s quarters opened and there was Srila Prabhupada looking so ill, and he was being held up by two people. The curtains opened, and they laid him down to pay full dandavats in front of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai. Then they had to pick him up again, he was so weak, and they helped him again in front of Rukmini-Dwarakadisa and laid him down again. Up and again in front of Lord Jagannatha. And by that time, they were back at his door to go back to his quarters and Srila Prabhupada said, “No, there should be Guru Puja.” So they helped him up to his vyasasana, and so we had a very short Guru Puja. Then they climbed up to help him down and Srila Prabhupada said, “No, there should be class.” So then Srila Prabhupada gave class, and I remember that even though he was speaking into the microphone you could hardly hear him because he was so weak. And he was sitting with his head all fallen forward, he was so weak. So then again after a short class, they went to help him down again and Srila Prabhupada said very audibly into the microphone, “No. Where are the cookies? The children are waiting for their cookies.” And I said, “Oh, I’ve got the cookies!” And I ran and brought the cookies, I was so happy. Srila Prabhupada remembered the children. He was so ill, but he had that heart for the children. And ill as he was, he waited till every last child he had given each one personally a cookie, and then he broke up the rest. By that time there was a huge kirtan, and he threw the rest of the cookies out into the crowd of all the dancing brahmacaris and everybody just went wild.

Interview DVD 11

Racitambara: My husband, Chaitanya Simha, they had been working on the building of the L.A. temple, and then it was finished. Then one day Srila Prabhupada called him up to his quarters and he said, “We’ve purchased a 13-story building in New York.” And he was explaining to my husband that it was an old nursing home and it was just a very old broken-down building, and the whole bottom floor needed to be gutted and made into a temple room. And all the floors had to be repainted and scraped and sanded and it was just a tremendous amount of work, and he was asking my husband how long that would take. So my husband was working it all out, and he was about to open his mouth to say, “Possibly we could do it within a year.” But just before he got that out, Srila Prabhupada looked at him and smiled and he said, “I am due to be in New York in six weeks.” And the next thing I knew, my husband came home and said, “Pack, we’re moving to New York in the morning.” And we did. We started work immediately, and honestly in the six weeks I don’t remember sleeping. I guess we must have. It was a 24-hour marathon for six weeks, and we did it. I don’t know how it manifested, only by Prabhupada’s mercy. But then there’s a sweet little end to this. When Srila Prabhupada was arriving, we were lining the walk from the front door to the car and everybody was standing there with beautiful gifts and so many things to offer to Srila Prabhupada. And then I saw my husband come rushing out from doing the last-minute things, and I could see him looking. Everybody had something to give Srila Prabhupada, and he felt he had nothing. So he rushed back in and he went into the pujari area, the flower room, but every last flower had been used and all he could find was one rose, kind of dead and blackened. So he just grabbed it and ran back out, and he was holding that. Then Srila Prabhupada came out of his car, and he just kind of floated along swan-like. Everyone was giving him gifts and his arms would pile up, and then he’d hand them back to his servant. Then my husband was watching all these gifts, and finally he put this old rotten rose behind his back. Srila Prabhupada was looking straight ahead the whole time, and then he came to my husband and he stopped and he held his hand out. My husband didn’t do anything for a minute, and Prabhupada moved his hand like “Give it to me.” So he brought this old wilted rose out from behind his back and put it in Srila Prabhupada’s hand, and Prabhupada held the rose between his two hands in a pranam and turned to my husband and said, “Thank you very much.” He is just such an amazing soul. The most wonderful thing about Srila Prabhupada is he just knew everything, he just knew your heart.

Shortly before Srila Prabhupada left, we were in Hyderabad farm. We heard that Srila Prabhupada was very ill in Vrindavan and might be leaving us very soon, and we wanted so badly to go. But we couldn’t leave the temple alone, there was nobody else there. And then one brahmacari came and kindly agreed to stay just for a very few days and let us go to Vrindavan. We had very little money, but somehow we booked on the most basic tickets all the way from South India up to Mathura. It took a long time, and we had to sit on our suitcases with the chickens and the goats. It was a big austerity to get there. And then when we got to Mathura, we only had enough time to go and take one darshan of Srila Prabhupada and get back to Mathura for the train back down south again, which was a two or three-day ride. So we took a tonga and we rushed to Vrindavan temple, and we knocked on the door of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters and we were told, “Srila Prabhupada is not seeing anybody, only a few sannyasis. There’s no way.” And we tried to explain, “But we’ve come all the way from Hyderabad, and it’s our last chance to see Srila Prabhupada.” “No.” It was Bhavananda Prabhu who was telling us, “No, I’m really sorry.” He was very kind about it, but it’s just not happening. So then we were so sad. So we came out, and then we were standing on that path outside the rose garden. And then there’s French windows, French doors, and then there was the bed where Srila Prabhupada was lying. So we were standing on that path and just saying our last prayers to Srila Prabhupada and knowing that he was just on the other side of those doors and curtains but we couldn’t see him. And suddenly the curtains opened and the doors opened and there was nobody else around on the path, there was only us, and we said our last goodbyes to Srila Prabhupada. We paid our obeisances and we saw Srila Prabhupada lying there so ill and we could take a last darshan, and Prabhupada gave us quite a darshan. And then the curtains closed and the windows closed. Then Bhavananda came out and he said, “Those curtains and doors haven’t been opened in months and suddenly Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Open the curtains, open the doors.’” So, again, Srila Prabhupada just knew. He knew that we were there. He knew that we’d gone through quite some austerity to take a last darshan. He knew what was in our hearts and we just wanted to see him one last time, and he granted that.