Bonds of Love: Arundhati Devi Dasi (Part one)
In 1966, 17-year-old Arundhati was walking through Tompkins Square Park when a friend of hers said, “I want to show you something,” and brought her to Srila Prabhupada. Arundhati chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra along with Prabhupada.
I chanted and heard Srila Prabhupada speak about what the maha-mantra meant, but I didn’t feel drawn to him at the time. A few months later, when I turned 18, I moved to the East Village, just a few blocks away from Matchless Gifts, ISKCON’s first temple. I would pass there all the time and see the devotees, and I thought it all seemed really weird.
My boyfriend Randy, as it turned out, had previously met Kirtanananda. They ran into each other, and along with Hayagriva and Umapati, they would come and visit us and speak about Krishna.
Then in the spring of 1968, on the invitation of Kirtanananda, Randy, who later became Ranadhir, and I visited the land that Kirtanananda had just acquired and which was later to become New Vrindavan. We went for the weekend.
On Sunday morning, we all took acid and I started off on a bad trip, feeling very disturbed. But then I heard Kirtanananda playing the harmonium and chanting and I asked if I could play. He agreed, and as soon as I said “Hare Krishna” just once (not even the whole mantra), my mental disturbance completely dissipated and I became totally absorbed in chanting the holy name. I chanted nonstop all day. From that point onward, I chanted regularly, although I still took acid.
A few months later, I moved to Berkeley, still seeking something, but now always chanting. I used to see the devotees once a week when they would come over from San Francisco. I went to the San Francisco temple and had the most amazing prasada at the Sunday Feast. During my last acid trip I had literally sunk into an ocean of despair. I went to the sanctuary at Berkeley University and just cried out to Krishna, chanting and dancing, for hours on end. My whole life changed after that. I finally understood that Krishna, not LSD, was the answer.
I returned to New York and joined the temple. This was around September 1968. Brahmananda, the temple president, eventually suggested I go up to the Boston temple, as there was a brahmacharini ashram (of sorts) there, and I was offered the service of typing Srila Prabhupada’s edited manuscripts. Satsvarupa, who was temple president in Boston, gave me this service. Boston was extremely austere, but we were blissful, chanting and serving Prabhupada. There were just a few of us – Jadurani and Satsvarupa, Rukmini, Saradiya, Jahnava, myself, Devananda. I was initiated through the mail and given the name Arundhati Devi Dasi.
In April 1969, I went with the Boston devotees to New York to meet Prabhupada at the airport. When I offered obeisances, I stayed down for a while, as I wasn’t sure how long to bow for, and when I peeked up, everyone else was standing. Prabhupada was standing right above me, gazing at me, and he patted my head. I went into total bliss. This felt like the greatest love I had ever experienced in my life. After that all the young women walked alongside Prabhupada and stood in front of him chanting when he sat down. There is a movie, originally made by Damodara, called Gurudev that shows this airport arrival. It must have been the most blissful day of my life.
While Srila Prabhupada was in New York, we often went to his apartment just behind 26 2nd Avenue and had darshan. One day, he asked, “Would somebody like to take care of my Deities each morning?” I immediately called out, “Oh, I’ll do it, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “Come to my room tomorrow morning.”
The next morning he showed me how to polish and dress the little Radha-Krishna Deities he travelled with, and I did it every day while he was in New York and then afterward, in Boston and Columbus. The first day he rubbed the tamarind and fuller’s earth mix on Radha, sitting next to me on the floor, and then polished Her. Then he handed Krishna to me and said, “Now you do Krishna,” and went back to his seat and watched from there. I felt I couldn’t get Krishna shiny enough, but finally Srila Prabhupada said, “It is good. Now you can come every day and do this.”
Sometimes he would be there in the room as I did this service, but often he was out on his morning walk. One time he told me that Arundhati was the great star; she was married to one of the seven great sages, Vasistha Muni. Then he said, “So, Arundhati, you will marry a great sage?”
“Yes, Prabhupada, I will marry a great sage.” And he laughed.
I’m not quite sure why I answered like that, but as it turned out, I did end up marrying a very sage-like devotee. Being with Srila Prabhupada during this time in New York was full of sweetness, and I am eternally grateful for having been around at that time. From the start I saw Srila Prabhupada with reverence, but mostly as my loving father.