Memories Of A Brijabasi Spirit Cover Photo

One may wonder about the significance of such a photo on the cover of the February 1979 Brijabasi Spirit. “It’s just some silos, a big building, and snow all over the ground. What’s the point?” One purpose (I cannot state definitively, as I wasn’t the editor) was what those buildings signified at the time.

February 1979. We were about 7 months away from opening Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold (although it may not have had this name then). The large building on the right in the photo was called the “Utility Building”. No, it’s not a very flowery name, but it was, as the name suggests, functional. The other structure was the “New Barn”, although it really never, ever looked “new”, even when recently built.

The goshalla was the home for our beloved herd of cows. We had an award-winning Brown Swiss bull (perhaps more than 1), and many Brown Swiss cows, among others, all housed in this ‘new’ complex. They were all diligently cared for by the cowherd boys, headed by Amburish prabhu.

If you’ve never cared for a cow, or horse, or other large animal, it’s like, well, another ‘family member’ but bigger than most. You gotta feed and water it every day; they never get ‘house-broken’, so there’s stuff to clean up there too. They need regulated servicing, daily. “I’m sorry prabhu, you gotta do it; they don’t care if it’s ekadasi, or a big festival day, or you don’t feel well, or you wanna go to Ratha yatra. You gotta stay and feed/milk/clean up after/herd the cows”.

But knowing that Krsna loves them makes that all worthwhile. And, well, there were always those milk sweets too…

The photo shows 3 silos in front of the barn- 2 metal “Harvestore” silos, and 1 made from concrete blocks. We stored the food for the cows in these 3 silos so they had something nice to eat in the winter months. (We grew all that food too, but that’s another story). This was a major improvement for us (what to speak of the cows), as we previously had bales of hay to store and use as feed. And the bales of hay were always, in a manner of speaking, an uphill struggle (“all right, take those bales off the truck in the parking lot, carry them up the hill, into the top of the old barn, then haul them upstairs to stack. And stack them properly, so they don’t ignite and burn the whole barn down”). It seems like the truck always came after lunch.

The cows were a major ‘center of attraction’ in New Vrindaban in the old days, at least indirectly. While they were cared for by relatively few devotees, everyone benefited from their service. We always had lots of milk to drink, albeit skimmed, and the Deities received lots of fresh whole milk, ghee, yogurt, srikand, condensed milk, world-famous sweet rice (the likes of which are just not known to anyone who didn’t experience it then), pera, burfy, sandesh…………….an almost endless list. Radha Vrindaban Chandra very much enjoyed the service these cows rendered, a fact that can be attested to by anyone fortunate enough to taste those maha-prasad remnants ‘back then’.

As Srila Prabhupada taught us, the cows are Krsna’ best friends, and by serving them nicely He is pleased. So the devotees sincerely tried and did their best, regardless of the circumstances, facilities, or lack there-of.

The Utility Building, at that time, housed grhasta ‘apartments’ (1-room units, 10 x 20 foot long) upstairs, along with the jewelry, woodshop, sculpting, other departments. Downstairs was the metal shop, mold and casting shop, plumbing department (Jaya Murari prabhu was always smart enough to get his quarters as near to the furnace as possible, ensuring heat during the long, cold winter days and nights).

In these different shops and departments the devotees were designing, planning and building the different components that went into Srila Prabhupada’s Palace. In the jewelry room, mother Isani made elegant crowns, necklaces, and other ornaments for the Deities and the Palace. Working with copper sheets, she and her team made shapes and forms from the copper, plated it with gold or silver, installed ‘findings’ with crystasl or stones, etc. and turned raw materials into jewelry and ornaments for the Palace.

Marudeva das pounded steel into various shapes and assembled beautiful wrought-iron gates and window grills.

Sudhanu and his team took components that were originally carved in teakwood in India and made molds of them, and reproduced them in various ways for decorating Srila Prabhupada’s palace. They also designed many of the pieces there. For making a mold, he used “Black Tuffy”, a type of flexible rubber-type material that came in components. You mixed them in proportions, and then poured it into a tall pipe that delivered it into the case of the mold. You needed the height the pipe provided, so there was pressure on the liquid black tuffy to flow over the model piece within the case. As it was pretty thick, it took some time to pour; often the time required was sufficient to allow Sudhanu to fall asleep standing up, holding a 5 gallon bucket in both hands while pouring it into the pipe- or alongside it, as often happens when you fall asleep doing such things.

Bhagavatananda prabhu had his sculpture studio upstairs; he carved the lions’ head that graces the wainscoting in the Study at the Palace, among other things.

The planning department occupied one small room upstairs; Param Brahma prabhu and other devotees “planned” for future development.

All things considered, this building was a dynamic center for devotional service, rendered by sincere yet un-trained devotees who had a desire simply to please Srila Prabhupada by building a nice home for him in New Vrindaban.

“When my Palace is ready I will come live there 6 months a year and concentrate on translating my books” Srila Prabhupada had told us. Those were words of inspiration that created a vision, a burning desire, a willingness to tolerate all the austerities, difficulties and inconveniences involved to finish Srila Prabhupada’s palace- even though he had left our vision 16 months earlier.

And dozens of dedicated, sincere, loving devotees served in these 2 seemingly plain buildings, for the sole purpose of trying to please the Lords’ pure devotee. No, these were not ordinary buildings, nor the individuals who served in them.

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Reader Comments

thank you ma-priya-Prabhuji for writing these best of remembrances–at this writing I’ve yet to complete reading your recollections for I am filled with grateful tears. After I send this I’ll doubt I can read it in it’s entirety without repeatedly being overcome with feelings of seperation . . .