Bonds of Love: Srimati Devi Dasi (part four)
It was almost Gaura-Purnima, and many devotees began to arrive in Mayapur from around the world. There was much planning and preparation for this grand festival. Rukmini and I and one other brahmacharini were each to make a new dress for the Deities. We were quietly competitive about it, since we all wanted to do the very best service. I had previously figured out that if I asked for a set amount of money to buy what I needed, I would have to spend time justifying myself. But if I asked Bhavananda for the money for Deity clothes and let him decide how much, I always got way more than I would have asked for. So that’s what I did and I was thus able to make a very nice Deity dress. Rukmini did too. She was always very talented when it came to dressing the Deities.
After Gaura-Purnima Srila Prabhupada and most of the devotees went on to Vrindavana, which now had the beautiful Krishna-Balaram Mandir. We all gathered on the roof and stairs of that building for a group picture, which was later published on the cover of Back To Godhead.
When it was time for the devotees who lived in Mayapur to return, I moved into a small Vrindavana guesthouse. I had been daydreaming about having a women’s ashram in Jaipur. The town was so beautiful and the people loved us. It would be easy to collect the money. I knew this because Kausalya and I had had no problem collecting for the pandal we’d held there.
I began to design what I thought was a grand scheme. Surabhi, from Amsterdam, was also staying in Vrindavana at that time. He had designed the Krishna-Balaram Mandir and was a talented architect. I showed him my ideas and we discussed the form it could take. There would be a prasada restaurant in front on one side of a grand archway entrance and a retail store on the other. The store would be there to sell all the arts and crafts the brahmacharinis would make in the studios that would run along one side of the lot. The women’s personal rooms would run along the other side. There were so many crafts to learn in India, and the people were drawn to us because we loved Radha-Krishna. We could support ourselves by selling them. In the back would be a bathing ghat. In the middle of everything there would be a four-sided Radha-Krishna temple. The crafts and prasada would be offered to the Deities before then being sold as prasada. We would be self-sustaining and happy.
So once all the visiting devotees had gone home, I wrote Srila Prabhupada a letter and asked if I could develop this Jaipur ashram. But Prabhupada said he wanted me to return to Mayapur to continue with my clay work and nothing more came of that grand scheme.
The next year during Gaura-Purnima, again devotees came from around the world. By now housing in Mayapur had been developed, so many brahmacharinis could stay in one large room. Srila Prabhupada stayed in his hut at the front of the property. On this day he was meeting with his godbrothers. Devotees were onstage chanting in their L.A. or New York styles, and Srila Prabhupada sent one brahmachari to tell them to change their tune to the ones he had taught them. I guess they were a little too rocking for his godbrothers.
This time, when the devotees were gathering to fly home, I felt it was time for me to go too. I had left my three children with my mother, but I was really missing my oldest daughter especially.
I asked Srutakirti to ask Srila Prabhupada if I could return to the US. I probably knew he would forget, because as Srila Prabhupada’s servant he was busy with so many things, taking care of Srila Prabhupada and his godbrothers and the GBC – so much was going on at that time. Later, though, Srutakirti approached me and told me I could go. Still, I had a feeling this was not coming from Srila Prabhupada. And yet a devotee helped arrange my ticket and I flew back to L.A., parked my luggage at the temple there, knowing I’d be back soon, and continued home to Seattle.
Three months later, I went to the San Francisco Ratha-yatra. Srila Prabhupada was giving a lecture at the Berkeley temple. After his talk, Tamal Krishna came up to me and told me that Srila Prabhupada wanted to see me. When I arrived in his rooms, Srila Prabhupada said, “Srimati, why are you not in India?” I let him know that I was missing my children and that I felt bad I had disappointed him.
I returned to Seattle and began sculpting my own Radha-Krishna Deities. I used for reference a number of books from the library on the ancient arts in India, along with pictures and books I had brought back with me. After searching for some time, I finally found a sculpture teacher that would complement my previous training.
Deity art is different from sculpting the human form in a number of ways. I had learned ways to make eyes, mouths, fingers, and other details that were not taught in the US. My teacher (Marie Carp) focused on the human form. She had connections with a bronze caster. I made 10-inch figures of the eight gopis offering their various services to Krishna. I dipped lace into porcelain, then draped it delicately over their bodies. This looked good but was very fragile. I continued my clay practices with her until I had finished bronze-casting two sets of Radha-Krishna Deities, each about 24 inches high. They are still with me today.
I was used to making baby Krishna murtis by this time. My mother and I took a ceramics class, and I used blue porcelain to mold the murtis’ arms, hands, legs, feet, face, neck, and body. My classmates were amazed at my choice of color for what they thought a human baby, but they were more amazed when I finished all the many details of Krishna’s hair, peacock feather, dress, jewelry, flute, and markings on his hands and feet. I brought this baby Krishna murti to the temple in Vancouver for Janmastami one year and left Him under the care of a devotee family who had children who loved Him. I have not seen Him since, and no one seems to know where He is, but I would like to see Him again someday.
There is so much to say and so little space to say it in. I am so grateful for this opportunity to recall my pastimes with Srila Prabhupada. There were many opportunities to serve Srila Prabhupada, and yet he always made it clear that he was present in his books and that what he taught in his books was what was most important for us. All glories to His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.