Cold Weather Brrrings Back Memories

by Mother Rupa

WOW does this weather bring up memories. I think it was the winter after Mt. St. Helen’s blew up in Washington State that we had the so far all time hardest winter I can recall. It was almost nuclear in intensity involving wind chills of -40 to -70 some nights.

I can’t sort out the dates, but remember walking down the road from Vrindavan Farm to Bahulaban and having the condensation from my totally covered face turning to ice on my eyelashes very rapidly. There was enough of it to actually weigh down my eyelids and threaten to seal my eyes shut by freezing to my cheeks.

Even though there was a wood furnace for the temple up top (Vrindaban farm), the wood was so poor and the building so non-air tight several times my sleeping bag froze to the floor and I’d swear my core body temperature dropped a degree or two.

The creosote build-up in the aluminum flashing pipe that ran from the basement furnace outside the building and up past the roof was astronomical, even though I’d go up on the roof with a chain and rattle it down the pipe to try to break it up. This in turn resulted in a constant back up of creosote smoke filling the building 24/7. I am quite sure it was one of the contributing factors to that bad bout of pneumonia Hladini had up there.

It was during this winter that Hladini wrote that little poem, “The Fire of Devotional Service”, that ran in one of the old attempts at Brijabasi Spirit. Actually, it didn’t have a title. She had never meant to publish it, Bhavisyat submitted it.

The very first winter I spent up top the kitchen was behind the altar that used to project outwards into the temple room. It would get so cold in there even with the wood stove for cooking, that the tile floor would freeze over literally into an ice rink. Devotees, trying to not wear shoes in Krishna’s kitchen would periodically put their frozen feet into the front of the fire box on the stove to decrease the painfully near frostbiting conditions.

At Bahulaban we mostly congregated in the temple building prasadam room for japa cause the unheated marble floor in the temple room could suck your body heat out through your feet in record time.

But even there, there were dangers. The heating vents coming up from the basement furnace room were flat on the floor along the edges of the room. You could almost hear an audible sigh ripple through the room whenever one of our resident bigfoots decided they needed to stand on top of the vent for a round or two to warm up.

No one would say anything. No one could blame anyone for needing a little warmth, but it could noticeably lessen the room temperature whenever Garga Risi covered a vent for a significant amount of time.

Everybody but everybody knew the Bhagavad-Gita verse about the non-permanent appearance of heat and cold, happiness and distress by heart. You could hear it recited frequently from outside the bathhouses as the water poured.

Many devotees had a system to help them through the first yajna of the day.

One Godsister would consistently contemplate the bucket of ice water in terror for about 5 solid minutes then resolve it with one to two solutions. She might shudderingly quote “Three drops purify” in a rather strained voice and sprinkle water on her head. Or she would sometimes take a deep breath, take the bucket in a white knuckled grip and with an energetic heave hoist and throw the icy cascade—clear over her shoulder. Ya never really wanted to be situated behind her in case she chose that method. One ice water douse before Mangala Arotike was enough.

The very coldest morning bath I had was in the little light green block building that used to be in front of what used to be the barn at Bahulaban.(that was all torn down to make the Utility Building and the prasadam hall/1st guest house) By the time the bucket of water got all the way from my head to my feet, my feet had literally frozen solid by a layer of ice to the slats of the skids we used to stand on to keep directly off the concrete floor and help with drainage.

On one of his trips to India, Kirtanananda brought back these four big square carpets to roll out on the temple floor for winters. Certainly the freezing temple room was at the very least one of the factors encouraging the chanting and dancing-as it helped to keep you a little warmer: what to speak of the overall appreciation of Krishna’s ghee lamps.

Then there was winter in general here in New Vrindavan when even the simplest thing became encumbered. Saris would get wet and frozen solid from below the knee down. If you didn’t have boots, the knife-like hem edge cutting into your ankles. If you did have boots it was invariably the green rubber tie-up ones(that everyone left loose to lessen down time in service) The top edges of the boots would rub your legs raw and bleeding in a perfect circle around your calves in no time. It felt like you were trying to slowly saw your leg off below the knee.

Just going from point A to point B could become a major endeavor.

CediSatru’s plastic bags were used by many to try to insulate and waterproof leaky footwear, though mostly not so spectacularly as Cedi.

And as tough as winter weather could be, it used to be that the worst day for weather was very often Gaura Purnima itself. The Deity cooks of those days can tell some real hair raisers about trying to cook feasts for each offering while fasting and freezing all day both in the kitchen and in the outdoor pits.

There was that one winter when the Deity kitchen was in the prasadam hall building with its doorway just above a driveway coming up the embankment from the front parking lot. A LOT of devotees carrying preps to offer Radha Vrindavan Chandra were helplessly tumbled down the hill because of the extremely icy conditions outside the kitchen door and along the walkway to the temple building.

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The warmest place in the temple during mangala arotik was on the altar! There was 1 spotlight that was behind the pujari, and you could back right up to it, and get some nice heat on your spine……..

Those green boots would MAKE your feet cold, even if it wasn’t cold outside!

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Breaking the ice at the bathing ghat with a plastic gal. milk container, scooping out some muddy water, and quickly dumping in over your back, then running back to the temple, and claiming we had “bathed”–who can forget? Ouchhhh!!!!!!!!!!! Hare Bolllllllll !!!!!!!!!