Bonds of Love: Madira Devi Dasi
In July of 1971 when she was 17 years old, Madira went to New York City with all the other Buffalo devotees. She had been waiting for two years to get initiated, so received both first and second initiation.
During the initiation, Prabhupada was joking with the initiates. Many of the names he gave were hilarious. There was one devotee from Buffalo named Peter, who became Kushakrata Dasa. He was a translator in L.A. for years. Prabhupada asked him what the four principles were, and Peter only remembered three. Prabhupada said, “Which one do you like the most?” Peter said, “Oh, intoxication, Srila Prabhupada.” Everyone was responding to Prabhupada’s good mood and humor. When he handed me my beads, Prabhupada said, “Your name is Madira. This means intoxicated.” I said, “Oh, boy.” Then he smiled and said, “By chanting Hare Krishna.” I was young when I came to the movement and had never taken intoxication, but I loved to chant in kirtan, so when he said that I could understand my name was appropriate.
Later, when I went to receive Gayatri from Srila Prabhupada, I felt inept. I couldn’t figure out the finger movements Prabhupada showed me. Finally, Prabhupada took my thumb and put it in the right place, and then I understood. It wasn’t really difficult, but in Srila Prabhupada’s presence I was awestruck. His presence was “state changing”; it was like stepping into Vaikuntha.
Just before I was initiated, I married Tejiyas and moved into the Buffalo temple. Tejiyas and I promised my parents that we would stay in Buffalo, but I was initiated in July and Tejiyas and I moved in September.
Tejiyas and I served in Delhi, and when Srila Prabhupada came I’d be doing Deity worship, cleaning the temple, cleaning Prabhupada’s room, and cooking for Him. It was wonderfully intimate to bring Srila Prabhupada his prasada. Once at an evening kirtan in Delhi, I thought, “Well, there’s nobody here,” so I sat next to Srila Prabhupada and played the drum while he played the kartals and led the kirtan. When devotees heard the kirtan they started coming. Prabhupada, seated on the vyasasana, looked at me and sped up. I sped up. Then he sped up more and I kept up. By then the room was full of devotees. Prabhupada closed his eyes, completely immersed in the kirtan. He was OK with my drum playing.
Once, when I was 19, Tejiyas told Prabhupada that he wanted to take sannyasa. Prabhupada said, “Why?” Tejiyas said, “She doesn’t do what I tell her to do.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Well, you have an intelligent wife. If she doesn’t do what you tell her to do, then you do what she says to do.” I felt good about that answer, but it didn’t happen and Tejiyas didn’t take sannyasa!
When we had a daughter, Prabhupada said, “Tejiyas has had a daughter, so her name is Tejasini,” and laughed. He was kind to the children and would often play with Tejasini. Once we were on the rooftop of the Delhi ashram when my daughter had measles and was crying. Srila Prabhupada was about to come for his massage, and Hari Sauri saw us there and dramatically pointed at me and pointed at the door. I got Tejasini packed up, left, and saw Srila Prabhupada coming up the stairs. He looked at us and said, “Where are you going?” I said, “We’re going to go to the temple, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “You don’t have to leave.” He was exuding kindness.
Once, in Vrindavan, the Radha-Syamasundara Deities had just arrived from Jaipur and Prabhupada wanted to see Them. When They were uncovered, Prabhupada looked at Radharani and then at Yamuna Devi and said, “She looks like you. You’ve been going to Jaipur and the carvers saw you and made Her face look like yours.” We laughed, and then Prabhupada looked at me and said, “No, She looks like you.” It was a beautiful loving exchange.
One evening we were at the Radha-Damodara temple, when a very pious man, Brijmohan Chandiwala, came from Delhi to Vrindavan to have Prabhupada’s darshan. They were speaking in Hindi, and after a while Prabhupada started playing the harmonium and chanting a bhajan. It was one of those absolutely wonderful, rare experiences where Prabhupada swept the whole room away to Goloka.
Once in Vrindavan he asked me if I was taking good care of my husband. I did take care of Tejiyas in sickness and health, but inside I didn’t care for him. I didn’t like him much and didn’t get along well with him, so I didn’t know how to answer Prabhupada’s question honestly. I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada,” but with that element of not deeply caring.
During the Delhi pandal at the LIC Grounds in Connaught Circle, Yamuna had jaundice. We were all staying in a Delhi dharmshala, and Prabhupada came to see Yamuna and also to see how she was being cared for. Prabhupada was concerned that the devotees had proper prasada and that they had a clean place to stay.
Prabhupada took us to visit the holy places in Vrindavan and afterward, when we went back to Delhi, Pakistan and India were at war. Every night we blacked out the windows, used candles, and while warplanes flew overhead, Prabhupada spoke. He told us how during the Second World War everybody was leaving the city, but he stayed. They also had blackouts and all the lights would be off except for the one he had so he could make kachoris for his little Deities. He said, “The bombs were dropping, and I was making kachoris for Radha-Govinda.”
In Jaipur Prabhupada did the sannyasa ceremony for Tamal Krishna Goswami. Prabhupada seemed serious and the event was somber and shocking to me. Our crew of women was small and tight, and my heart went out to Madri, Tamal Krishna Maharaja’s former wife.
Once in Delhi, Mrs. Bakshi, a generous donor, invited Srila Prabhupada and all the devotees to her home. We were sitting in a long row taking prasada, when a few of us realized the chickpea dish had onions. Disturbed, we turned to Srila Prabhupada. Rather than embarrass the hostess, Prabhupada commented, “I am not eating onions, I am eating chickpeas.” In that way we learned the proper etiquette for this particular moment. This woman was gentle and a genuine well-wisher of the devotees. Prabhupada didn’t want to hurt her feelings. We tended to be dogmatic and zealous.
At different places in India Prabhupada would often call on Yamuna and some other disciples to speak. He appreciated how the devotees spoke from their hearts as well as the philosophy they conveyed. Srila Prabhupada accepted our service so graciously. His kindness always struck me.