Bonds of Love: Nataka-candrika Devi Dasi
In early 1974, Nataka-candrika Devi Dasi, 23, was living and working in Boulder, Colorado when a friend told her to visit the Denver temple. She didn’t really want to go, but went just to please her friend.
“I walked up to the big wooden doors of the temple and knocked. When no one came, I let myself in. The smell of incense wafted through the air, and seeing that the spacious temple room was empty, I started to leave. As I was walking to my car, a young girl in a sari ran up to me and told me not to leave. She invited me to join the other devotees in the basement (prasada room) to watch a new film called “The Hare Krishna People.”
I watched it and realized that this was “out of this world!” (I also remembered how just a few years earlier I had seen the devotees on the campus of Colorado State University, where I had been a student, and how I had purposely avoided having any contact with them. I thought they were strange, but for some reason, unknown to me at the time, I was attracted to their chanting.) Afterward, the girl that I had just met (Lila) gave me a cup of sweet rice and invited me to come back on Sunday for the “love feast.”
As I was driving back to Boulder, sipping the cold, delicious sweet rice, tears poured from my eyes. I knew what I had just encountered was “otherworldly,” but I couldn’t understand why I was so attracted to these strange people. When I got home, I found myself questioning everything I was doing and wondering if Krishna consciousness was what I had been searching for all my life.
Over the next week, devotees mailed me some giant, intoxicatingly delicious laddus. The following week, I received a BTG and some incense from the temple. I read the magazine over and over again. Then I got a call from my friend Carl, who took me to the temple for my second visit. He introduced me to the vice-president, a nice devotee named Ananda Vardhana Dasa. There in the temple lobby we sat with Ananda Vardhana Prabhu, who answered every question I could ask by quoting verses from the Bhagavad-gita. After a few hours and a box of tissues, I knew I was defeated. I knew Krishna consciousness was something I had to practice. I said goodbye to my former life, including my boyfriend, my apartment, and my job, and moved into the temple. I have never looked back nor regretted that decision to join.
That summer, the Denver devotees went to the San Francisco Ratha-yatra. We went early enough to help the local devotees prepare for the festival and to see Srila Prabhupada. Although I was not yet initiated, when I saw Srila Prabhupada for the first time I knew that this was my eternal spiritual master. From the moment he stepped out of the car at the entrance to the parade site I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Although he was shorter in stature than I had imagined him to be, he was nonetheless powerful and majestic, bathed in a golden hue.
The following year, in 1975, Srila Prabhupada came to New Badarikashram, the name he had given our Denver temple. Receiving him at the airport, we threw flower petals, offered obeisances, cried, and chanted together as one big, happy family, oblivious to the world. On his short visit he gave Srimad-Bhagavatam classes, went on morning walks, and each afternoon, he would sit in his rocking chair and read from Krsna Book in the backyard of the duplex where he was staying.
One afternoon, a few of the women suggested we go over to try to catch a glimpse of our guru. The backyard of the duplex was large, but we could see that many sannyasis, brahmacaris, and grihasta men were sitting at his lotus feet. We went around to the opposite side of the duplex and peeked around the corner. Srila Prabhupada saw us standing there and smiled, as if to say, “Come on. Why are you standing over there?” He motioned us closer. He continued speaking for a long time about Krishna, gesturing, laughing, and smiling.
At this time, my main service was to lead a small group of women who traveled around the Midwest distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. We had been on the road for months, and now we had a chance to do some personal service for our spiritual master. While some of the senior women cooked for Srila Prabhupada, a few of the rest of us made vases for his desk and washed and ironed his clothes. I remember how his silk clothing and bedding smelled of sandalwood, and I felt fortunate to be able to do this small service. I also wanted to offer him a gift before he left. I had no idea what to buy, and I spent many hours wandering through shops in downtown Denver. It was getting late, stores were closing, and I needed to get back to the temple. In the last shop I visited, I saw a delicate silver box with a peacock inlaid on the lid. I knew at once that this was the gift I should offer him. I was too shy to present the gift myself, so I asked his servant, Upendra, to give it to him. Soon after, we received this letter, dated July 2, 1975:
My dear daughters,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of the nice silver gift box which I have already put to my personal use. I thank you very much for your taking seriously to this Krishna consciousness movement by spreading this movement of Lord Caitanya’s here in Denver. I am sure that Lord Caitanya will benedict you and that this will be a great success for Krishna consciousness in Denver. I hope that this meets you in good health.
Your ever well-wisher,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
The last time I saw Srila Prabhupada in person was in 1976 in San Francisco where we had gone to help with the Ratha-yatra festival. Although I did catch a few glimpses of him, I spent most of the time doing services that needed to be done.
I was always a bit on the shy side, preferring to be in the background. When Srila Prabhupada left this world in 1977, I felt pained at the separation, numb at the thought that he would no longer be with us in his vapu form. How could we go on without him? However, over the years, I have realized that I have never been separated from him, that he is always with me, guiding me in everything I do. And he is accessible just as much today as he was when he was here on the planet. Anyone can have a connection with the pure devotee of the Lord by following his teachings, reading his books, and seeing and hearing from him on the many DVDs that are available. It has been over 39 years since I saw Srila Prabhupada, but as each year passes I feel his presence in my life growing stronger and stronger. Thank you, Srila Prabhupada for giving me a new life!