Bonds of Love: Ananta Devi Dasi
In 1972, Ananta Devi Dasi began seeing devotees on harinama in downtown Chicago. Their karatalas and drums sparked her curiosity, and one day she asked one of them what this was about.
One friendly devotee woman had a bag full of magazines on her arm and was trying to stop people. I asked her my question, and she was pleased to answer. She looked at me with intense, bright eyes and, with an accent, told me how we’re not these bodies and how Krishna consciousness was a way to love and serve God. I had never experienced a person looking at me and speaking to me like that before. Her name was Labangalatika, and before I knew it she had a BTG in my hand and I was giving her donations until I had to stop myself. Due to her friendliness and the way she looked past my body to me, the spirit soul, when she invited me to a Love Feast the next day I agreed to go.
I went to the temple in Evanston with my two children. The pleasant smell of incense hit me, the devotees welcomed us, sat us down, and served us prasada. Afterward, on the L train back to the south side of Chicago, my children and I chanted Hare Krishna. After that, we came to the temple as many Sundays as we could. But my husband at the time was unfavorable. He didn’t like me going to a strange place, hanging out with strange people, and chanting a strange mantra. My home situation was becoming more and more intense.
One Sunday in 1973, when my son Shyamasundar was 3 months old, I had left the temple feeling distressed because I wanted to move in, but I didn’t know if it was proper to leave my husband. I prayed to Krishna to send me a sign. I was tearfully holding Shyamasundar when out of nowhere I heard “Krishna!” My infant Shyamasundar said “Krishna” clearly, and that decided it. A week or two later I made the difficult decision to leave my husband and move into the temple.
I really wanted to see Prabhupada, the great soul who was answering all the questions I had ever had in my life, questions that my mother or even the Christian pastors or the Bible could not answer. When Prabhupada came, in July 1974, I was initiated at a huge initiation. Prabhupada asked me if I knew the four regulative principles. I was nervous, thinking that Prabhupada could see my low qualities. The apprehension must have showed on my face, because Prabhupada said, “It’s OK,” and chuckled. He reassured me. I told Prabhupada the four regulative principles and he asked if I knew the requirement of chanting sixteen rounds. After I said yes, Prabhupada handed me my beads, but as I reached for them I touched his hand. I was frightened that I’d done something wrong, but Prabhupada was tickled at me and again laughed and said, “It’s OK.” I’ll never forget his deep, resounding voice when he said, “Your name will be Ananta Devi Dasi,” and all the devotees said, “Jaya Ananta Prabhu!” That was wonderful.
The second time Prabhupada came he looked more somber. When he was leaving he was waving at everybody. I wanted Prabhupada to look at me. I thought, “Prabhupada, just look at me. Just look at me, Prabhupada.” He seemed to be looking at everyone else but me. Then I thought, “With all these great sankirtana devotees and pujaris here, why would Prabhupada look at me? You’re just cleaning bathrooms.” As if Prabhupada could hear me, the instant I thought this, he and I locked eyes. And then I, the spirit soul, shimmered. It was the most brilliantly lit situation. Tears burst from my eyes and I experienced a love of such intensity that I could hardly bear it, a love I had never felt from anyone, not even my mother. I felt Prabhupada loved me so much that I could not even hold his glance; I had to look away. As I did so I was crying, saying, “Prabhupada loves me. He loves me. He doesn’t even know me, but he loves me.”
After some time I wanted to tell Labangalatika how much I appreciated the gift of Krishna consciousness that she’d given me. When I saw her years later in L.A. I said to her, “Prabhu, I know you don’t remember me, but you saved my life. You gave me my first BTG. I want to thank you so much.” And we both ended up sobbing.