The Glorious Passing of Gandiva Devi Dasi
Posted July 10, 2009
Dear Maharaja's and Prabhu's,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The other day, my godsister, my old friend, Gandiva prabhu, left her body in Canada in a wonderful way. It was Shayana Ekadasi right after mangal aroti. I am writing this, because her passing should not go unnoticed.
I was not personally there, but I was able to telephone from Vrndavana a few times to communicate with her. A few of us internationally, her old friends, did this to encourage her in her final hours. Many from the Winnipeg community came to make sure she and her family had everything they needed, and to perform kirtan. Her children, stalwart devotees, stayed with her at the hospital for weeks making sure she had Prabhupada's tape going 24 hours and was surrounded by pictures of Prabhupada and her favorite Deities. She remained without food and water and without intravenous for nine days, unable to speak, but able to hear and see for most of that time. She was nourished by the holy names and pastimes of the Lord and by the sincere devotion of the devotees.
Gandiva was a simple young South Indian teenaged girl who lived with her mother and brother down the street from the Juhu Bombay temple in 1972, completely drawn to Srila Prabhupada when he got the land there. Basically she was the first Indian young lady to join up in India. She was so enthusiastic, and was completely supported by all her family members except her father, who was so disturbed he actually deserted the family and was never seen again. Her mother used to cook idlis/sambar for the devotees every Sunday, and much later even rallied the neighborhood women to physically protect the Deities when the municipal authority tried to destroy the temple. Prabhupada got Gandiva initiated quickly and married to Jagat Guru das at the Cross Maidan Pandal program downtown, so she could move into the temple. She cooked for and dressed the Deities and helped with puja also. Aditya devi dasi remembers dressing the Deities with Gandiva-one day one of them would dress Rasabihari and the other would dress Radharani, and the next day they would change. In those days only the girls were available for the Deity worship, although a couple of times Gandiva also dressed the Deities with Lokanath das brahmacari, alternating one with the big Deities and another with the small Deities.
One day Gandiva revealed to Aditya that she had received a letter from Srila Prabhupada. She begged her to let her see it, but it was in Hindi. Gandiva always wrote to him in Hindi so he would read it personally, as none of the servants could read Hindi in those days. Though she begged her to also write a letter for her to Prabhupada in Hindi, but she wouldn't do it. But whenever she got a letter, she would translate it out to her. It was always exciting when Gandiva would get a letter, because it was written in person by Srila Prabhupada in own hand.
One day Prabhupada noticed Gandiva did not have any bangles and called her husband over to chastise him. He said that all newly married girls must have gold bangles, and said that wearing gold helps to curb the sex desire. So it was very essential she have gold bangles. Being a simple ISKCON grhastha, her husband had no private money to buy gold bangles, so he was in anxiety how to fulfill Prabhupada's order. Somehow he got one bangle.
One time Srila Prabhupada came to Juhu and Gandiva brought her newborn baby to get his blessings though the prescribed waiting period for bringing the baby out of the house was not over yet. It was raining too. But she was afraid Prabhupada was going to leave Bombay too soon, and she wouldn't be able to take him the baby for his blessings. So she wrapped her up very carefully and took her to Srila Prabhupada. When he opened the door, he chastised her for taking the baby out so early and taking a chance on her health and life.
After Srila Prabhupada left Bombay to travel, she used to go preaching with her husband. One time they visited Mr. Bachhan, the father of Amitabh, the movie star. He told them about his days in Allahabad where he used to visit Prabhupada at his medical shop. They became good friends and Prabhupada often visited his home where they would talk at length about spiritual topics.
I came to Bombay in 1976 and was cooking mangal aroti sweets while she cooked the Raj Bhog offering every day in that little shack of a kitchen infested with rats the size of rabbits. From her I learned many simple South Indian preparations. After the offering was transferred, Prabhupada's servants would come and take most of it up to his rooms. So she was feeding the Deities, the spiritual master and his servants. After Prabhupada left the planet, Gandiva continued her service in the new temple. Every morning after mangal aroti, I would sit with her and chant japa, baby Rasa Priya draped over our two laps until it was time to drop her off at her mother's house for the day so she could do her service. She was very regulated and quite determined to manage her packed devotional schedule. She even tried her hand at book distribution at the local train stations.
In 1981, she was called to San Fransisco to cook at The Higher Taste, one of the Bay area's 7 restaurants. She also did pujari work. In addition, she was teaching cooking classes upstairs almost every day. She had quite a following. People would attend her cooking classes for months. Manjari devi dasi assisted her because she was too shy to speak to everyone in the class. So she would demonstrate the preparation itself and whisper the directions to Manjari, who would announce the instructions to the class as she went along. After a year, there was another South Indian lady who could demonstrate some new recipes but only spoke Konkani, which Gandiva would translate softly and Manjari would present to the class. She was also quite knowledgeable about Indian classical music and dance, and taught Bharat Natyam to the ladies in the ashram.
After her husband went his own way, she remained steadfast in her service in San Fransisco, then St. Louis, then Dallas, then the Colorado farm, and back to the Bay area, where she eventually took shelter of another marriage and moved to Winnipeg. There she had two more children and did a variety of service, along with her home Deity worship. Whenever there was a festival she would perform abhishek, cook and distribute mountains of sweets. She would often visit the local Farmers Market where she would collect "Holy Basil" which someone was selling publicly. She wanted to save as many Tulasi as she could from some unholy fate, like being made into tea, etc.
The devotees in Winnipeg always held her in the highest esteem and valued her wonderful firsthand stories and instructions from Srila Prabhuapda. When she was preparing to leave her body, many devotees came to the hospital to make sure everything was taken care of. Daily devotees would come to chant and help read Bhagavad Gita and KRSNA Book to her. Prabhupada's tape was going 24 hours a day. The night before she left, her eldest daughter Rasa Priya completed reading her the KRSNA Book first part. In the morning, she sang the Samsara prayers with her mother just before her departure. Gandiva's final ekadasi was nirjala! Later, all the devotees came and helped prepare the body, taking her around the hospital with a grand kirtan procession. They also held a magnificent kirtan, doing parikrama around the crematorium itself after she was consigned to the flames. She was loved by all and trained her devotee children so well they were all able to help her successfully to her final destination. These kids are to be congratulated. All glories to Gandiva devi dasi. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and the simple and effective process of devotional service he gave us.
I hope this meets you all well.
Parvati devi dasi