Interview with Rasalila

Where is your hometown?
I am a New Yorker by birth. I was born in Brooklyn and brought up in the rural area of Rockland county, near very small town called Spring Valley. At the age of ten, I moved back to NY and lived in Queens.

What initially attracted you to Krishna Consciousness?
I was in high school when Srila Prabhupada was setting up the first ISKCON temple in the East Village. I was initially attracted to the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness. After reading some Buddhist writings called the Diamond Sutra, which I found to be interesting but not that enlightening, my reading created further questions without producing much in the way of answers.

In early 1973, I received a copy of the Back to Godhead (BTG) magazine from a very kind monk who was distributing them in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After reading only two paragraphs of Srila Prabhupada’s lecture, I felt very sure that this was it – the real thing! I knew I needed to find out more.

When did you first meet Srila Prabhupada, and take initiation?
I didn’t have the opportunity to follow up until the November of 1973 when I realized there was a temple in Coconut Grove/Miami. I was staying with my friends in Fort Lauderdale and upon request, they agreed to take me to the temple. I went there with a hope of meeting the person whose lecture I had read in the BTG. I was unsure about whether or not this would be possible but it seemed like the most important thing. I went there with this goal in mind and without any idea of what to expect. As it turned out, I never left, and I met his Divine Grace for the first time in July of 1974 – when he gave me initiation in New Vrindaban.

Can you please tell us something more about your first initiation?

Sure. My first initiation was, of course, wonderful. Whenever and wherever Srila Prabhupada visited on his US tours, there were usually large-scale initiations at that point in time -Advaita, Nirmala, and myself. We all received 1st initiation, and I believe Varsana Swami, and Kasyapa das, received second initiation.

I want to say that many, if not most of the initiates, were from other temples. His Divine Grace presided over the ceremony from a Vyasasan which had been placed on the stone steps above the “driveway”/road which ran between the temple and the hill.

Brahmananda Prabhu gave the lecture and performed the fire sacrifice. I was extremely nervous and unnerved by the thought of having to approach Srila Prabhupada in order to receive my beads- this would be my first close encounter. I was pretty shy, this was a very large group of people when you consider that so many were in New Vrindaban to see His Divine Grace- the largest devotee gathering I had ever been in. I was still quite new and easily intimidated. The walk up to the Vyasasan from my place in the arena seemed endless and climbing those few steps leading up to the Vyasasan, seemed like ascending a great mountain! It may sound dramatic but that is how it felt to me.

Once in front of Srila Prabhupada, I could see his mouth moving but really could barely understand the words he spoke (partly due to the reverberation in the sound system). And, when Prabhupada announced my new name, I was unsure of what he had said. All I could hear was the oohs and aahs from the audience.

When he was uttering my name, I flashed on that passage from the Krsna Book, “Description of the Rasa Dance” where Srila Prabhupada describes that the attractive features of Krsna and the Gopis combined together to appear “…like thunder, clouds, snow and lightning” so, it was quite mystical and I was transported to another realm. Being dazed and delighted, somehow or other, I made it back to my seat. In order to have confirmation of the name I had just received, I had to ask someone sitting next to me.

Also, when did you get 2nd initiation?
I was given the option to receive second initiation along with first initiation, but I declined it due to not feeling ready. My letter of acceptance for 2nd initiation is dated for 11/24/74, however, the fire sacrifice did not take place until a few months later- I want to say February of 1975. I believe that Bimbadhara received 1st initiation at that time.

When did you get married?
I got married to Narada Muni in May of 1974 in Miami. We moved up there in June of 1974, within a month of being married.

When/where did you hear about New Vrindaban?

I was not so aware of New Vrindaban or what was happening there. I had heard of it from the other devotees, who tended to speak about it in a sort of romantic way – open spaces, cows, beautiful deities. So that made me curious to know more about New Vrindaban. Narada on the other hand, was well acquainted with the project and the devotees there – he had previously worked with both Kirtananda swami and Kuladri during the roadshow days. He was an older devotee who knew a lot of people in the movement and was himself, very well known.

When did you move to New Vrindaban?
The Miami temple was in chaos at that moment and Narada wanted to go to New Vrindaban in hopes of finding spiritual stability and I basically agreed! It seemed like a good idea and Miami was becoming unbearably hot!

What were your main services in each decade, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and currently?
In the very beginning, I was assigned to serve breakfast prasadam and then afterwards, clean the prasadam room. In those early months, after initiation, I went on to do things like rolling chapatis and then cooking them on the old wood stoves, dressing chota Gaura Nitai. I was assigned to help Kutila to prepare for Srila Prabhupada’s upcoming visit – to re-do the Vyasasan decorations and to also decorate the Deity srngasana which, at that time, was made of wicker. You can, of course, see it in some of the older Deity photos from Bahulaban.

At one point, I was in charge of picking ALL the flowers and making ALL the garlands for ALL the farms. Amrita Prada was just very new and she was my only helper – and it was summer, so no store-bought flowers!!! We had only wild flowers and whatever was available in the rather small garden of the day.

In the fall of 1974, Narada and I started traveling for raising money by wholesaling Spiritual Sky incense. Later we would sell a jewelry line (Jagannatha Jewelry ) that was produced in Pittsburgh. I believe this continued for the next several years, primarily in the summertime.  This was the main service until the end of ’77.

Then later on, Narada was asked to be Temple President of the Columbus center and he opened a very successful Govinda’s restaurant. I became the baker for all the bread and also prepped some other basic menu items – was staying up all night to do this. I would then chant, attend mangal arotik, bathe and dress big Gaura Nitai, and take rest until it was time to start over and go to the restaurant!

The next major service change came when I was summoned to become part of the Palace crew. Myself and Mother Rupa were the only two women on the crew at that time. We started out working with Sudhanu in the casting department, helping prepare the models for casting. These were carved pieces that were going to be installed in the interior of the Palace as baseboards, cornices, window and door frames, etc.  Once these were put in place in the interior rooms of the Palace, I was engaged in “touch-up” finishing work – filing in seams and repairing any broken and damaged areas. The idea was to make them look perfect as possible and prepare them for the next step of gold leafing, which I went on to do – EVEN ON THE MAIN DOME (myself, Bhaktiniddhi, and Kuladri). That was pretty crazy, but seemed perfectly normal at the time, OMG!!!

Initially, it was just myself doing this work, then I had one helper and later as the marathon to finish Prabhupada’s Palace progressed, I was organizing the crews of dedicated souls who would come up to the Palace in the evenings, after putting in a full day of service. We had evening crews doing mostly gold leafing or preparing surfaces and mouldings on the exterior of the Palace.

I loved this service best of all. It was a wonderful and sublime meditation on His Divine Grace! I was able to connect with him in very intensely focused manner.

After a bit of a break (and a breakdown from exhaustion), I returned to full-time Palace service to work on the portico, the terrace walls, and all the things that were manifested in the years following the Palace opening.

There was still some traveling sales work going on intermittently as well until spring of 1981 when Narada was diagnosed with cancer and I was simultaneously expecting a child. My main service became taking care of my husband and then the newborn child!

As every New Vrindaban mother can tell you, if you had a baby you would probably end up working in the nursery if you did not wish to surrender to putting your child in there. So I had nursery service for a few years and then came out of retirement to work on the construction of the Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra temple in the months before the temple opening in 1983.

Also during that time period, Narada was in charge of life membership and started overseeing the guesthouse and was involved with development of the guest cabins as a timeshare program WOW! I almost forgot about that.

There was so much going on during this period of explosive growth and development! It was phenomenal, and you may want to consider Narada to be honored at some point – he was such a powerhouse.

So, I was charged with buying all the curtains and accessories for the cabins. I was responsible for hiring and supervising the cleaning staff for the Temple opening event – that is ALL the cleaning, and set-up of ALL the rooms in the new Temple building. EVERY ROOM, including the prasadam rooms, was set up to accommodate guests with either foam mats, cots or both. And there were about 15 janitors/cleaners working day and night over that festival weekend!

Every guest room in the lodge, every cabin, every room in the new temple building – every room, everywhere was full and I think there were also some tents set up outside. The guesthouse service continued until we ended up leaving the community at the end of 1985. This was originally meant to be a sabbatical, a period recuperation for Narada who had never fully recovered from his bout of cancer. But sadly, things started getting weird in New Vrindaban, Narada fell out of favor with management and we did not return.

In 2001 or 2002, I began attending Festival of Inspiration, helping out with registration and started reviving my New Vrindaban connection then in the next year or so. Gauranga Kishore, our son who took initiation from Radhnatha Swami, returned there to live and serve as a bramachari so I continued to visit more regularly. My major connection with New Vrindaban was revived in 2013 when I came to work for the summer in the guest services department – I was assisting Vasudeva in various ways but mainly as cleaning supervisor. Then I returned for the 2014, and 2015 guest seasons.

Anything specific you’d like to mention about your family? (spouse, children, siblings, parents, etc.) 
Gaura Kishore das is my only son and he has a daughter, Rati Keli, who is 7 years old. They now live in Athens, Ohio, and for this reason I am currently living there as well. He is teaching various courses in Philosophy and Ethics at 3 different colleges in the area.

Anything in particular you’d like us to highlight not yet covered? 
..I would really like to emphasize that I could only accept any “service award” on behalf of my god brothers and god sisters who were all part of an amazing community effort to make Srila Prabhupada’s vision for New Vrindaban a reality.

I felt like I was just trying to keep up. I felt I was part of something so much bigger than myself and being in the company of so many extraordinary, dedicated souls provided the inspiration that powered (and empowered) us – we were the inmates of New Vrindaban! And the community was everything for us, at that time.

Any advice to newer and future residents? (super important!)
It is important to never take anything for granted such as our service and association with devotees, to remember that this place is not ordinary, and the opportunity to perform service in the holy dhama is something very rare and special.

Keep in mind that, Krsna – Sri Sri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra, is the actual in-charge here, and He will always be the one in control! Even when it may seem otherwise. Please take care of the Deities and They will take care of you. Take care of one another and also take care of yourself – try to maintain a healthy balance between body, mind, and spirit.


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