In my first offering in praise of and to Yamuna devi I focused a little on her chanting.

Another devotional art she was famous for (among many) was cooking.

It was in 1976 that I finally got to meet Yamuna-ji in person. By that time she had started a small asrama in Oregon with her close friend Dina Tarine dasi.

At the beginning of the year she had written to Srila Prabhupada to seek his blessings for their project. They had installed beautiful Deities of Sri Sri Radha Vanabhari

and she outlined their plans for preaching in typical ISKCON style. But Srila Prabhupada’s initial reaction was a little negative, at least to his secretary Tamal Krishna Goswami and her local GBC, Jayatirtha. To Yamuna however, he offered encouragement while instructing her to keep her program simple and concentrate on chanting and Deity worship rather than what he called a “grotesque” program.

Yamuna had of course been one of the first devotees, along with Silavati dasi, to be personally trained by Srila Prabhupada in the art of Deity worship. She was the first pujari of the first large set of Deities in ISKCON Sri Sri Radha Londonisvara

[Who, Srila Prabhupada personally told me on several occasions were his favorites].

[TD1] January 10, 1976 – Bombay

During the massage Tamal Krishna Goswami went over the day’s mail. He read out a letter from Yamuna dasi. She and Dinatarini dasi have a small farm in Oregon. On Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disappearance day Jayatirtha installed Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Vanabihari there.
They are hoping to start an asrama for senior women, and they requested financial assistance from the BBT to buy a place. Their idea is to have about twelve women and gradually begin a preaching program. Yamuna, however, did express some apprehension, admitting, “Generally women are mad after sense gratification, to dip and gossip, so thus we feel to proceed with careful attention.” In a separate letter Jayatirtha also inquired whether a BBT loan could be given for the ladies’ project. He said the property they are looking at costs $100,000, requiring a down payment of $25,000. He wanted to know what priority Prabhupada gives to this kind of project, suggesting that he might help oversee managerial and financial matters. He also suggested that Yamuna and other asrama members could earn some income and help support themselves by sewing Deity clothes for the sannyasis’ traveling parties.
Prabhupada’s personal opinion is that women should not live independently. “Why don’t they go to L.A.?” he asked Tamal Krishna. Nevertheless, since they are eager to begin the project, he encouraged them. “You can attract the fair sex community. Most of them are frustrated being without any home or husband. If you can organize all these girls they will get transcendental engagement and may not be allured to the frustration of life. Your engagement should be chanting and worship of the Deity.”
He also tactfully laid down strict guidelines for the ladies to follow, stressing that as single women they should live very humbly and not “dress nicely to attract men” nor attempt to start any large program. “In bhakti there is no grotesque program. A humble program is better. We are doing all these grotesque programs to allure the masses. My Guru Maharaja used to say that no one hears from a person coming from a humble, simple life. You remain always very humble.”
To Jayatirtha prabhu, however, he spoke more candidly, describing their desire to be independent as a “defect.” He further elaborated on this by saying that according to Vedic culture a woman cannot live independently. He decided that if they wanted this badly enough, he would allow it. But they must function managerially and financially independent of ISKCON, although he conceded that Jayatirtha could check on them now and then to see if they were chanting and following the rules of the Society. He also made it clear there could be no connection whatsoever with sannyasis.”

He gave further instructions in reply to another letter on February 21 1976 which, in retrospect, became a template for Yamuna’s devotional practice:

Another letter arrived from Yamuna dasi, indicating that she would like to develop a cow-protection program. The impression given was that they wanted to run their women’s asrama along the lines of a big temple.
Prabhupada said in his reply that it is too difficult for women to engage in large-scale cow protection. He recommended that they keep the program small and manageable, with just a few cows for offering milk and sweets to the Deities. He explained that expansion means they will have to take help from men. Therefore he reiterated instructions he had given them previously, “Simply keep yourself aloof from men — chanting, many more times as possible, read books, worship the Deity…. A widow is forbidden to use ornaments, nice sari, decoration, combing the hair nicely. These are forbidden for a woman who is not with husband.”

Srila Prabhupada’s high regard for Yamuna came out later in the year as he began his world tour. Beginning from Melbourne Australia and commencing to Auckland New Zealand and then Fiji, His Divine Grace then camped in Honolulu for the whole month of May. Yamuna wrote to him there in mid-month:

[TD2] May 16 1976 – Honolulu

Yamuna and Dinatarini dasis sent some beautiful photos of their Deities, Sri Sri Radha-Vanabehari, taken at their Gaura-purnima and Chandana-yatra festivals. Their letter enthusiastically expressed their satisfaction in living according to Srila Prabhupada’s recent instructions to them. “We have taken your instructions very seriously and live in such a way as to have virtually no association with men, living a pure simple life in the full fire of Krsna Consciousness. We think this is most beneficial and are factually tasting the results of this simple life. You know what is the proper engagement for each individual by dint of your complete purity. This is your special mercy.” They also mentioned their desire to come and see Prabhupada when he visits Los Angeles, but their inability to do so, due to lack of funds.
Prabhupada thanked them for the photos of the Deities, which he said appeared nicely cared for. As for their coming to see him, Prabhupada was more than happy at the prospect. He was very glad they are taking his suggestions seriously and wants to encourage them. “I am scheduled to be in Los Angeles from June 1 to June 11. I am even contemplating coming to see you there on your farm if you are unable to come to see me. Please continue to develop things there for women devotees as previously instructed.”

As it happened Yamuna was able to come to Los Angeles and with Palika dasi, cook for Srila Prabhupada during his ten day stay. Srila Prabhupada was exceedingly happy to receive her service and dine on first class, devotionally surcharged prasadam. I was also very happy because I was not a cook and had several times proved to be a complete failure at the art. I didn’t mind the slight inconvenience caused by the servant’s room being converted into Yamuna’s kitchen if it meant Srila Prabhupada would get excellent meals:

[TD2] June 2, 1976 – Los Angeles

There is no servant’s room, the old one having been converted into a temporary kitchen, to be used exclusively for the preparation of Srila Prabhupada’s prasadam. Fortunately both Yamuna dasi and Palika dasi, who both learned to cook in India and from Srila Prabhupada personally, will cater for His Divine Grace while we are here. So that is a headache I am relieved of. I sleep on the stairway landing just outside Prabhupada’s bathroom door and keep my luggage in the closet. Pusta Krsna Swami is in the building next door.”

I don’t remember having much association with Yamuna during that visit because she was almost always in the kitchen, but I do remember putting in a request to the managers at the end of our stay for Yamuna to be added to Srila Prabhupada’s party as cook, at least for the duration of his seven week tour in America. Unfortunately she was not able to stay away from her asrama for that long and so Palika devi travelled with us instead.

[TD2] June 11, 1976 – Los Angeles

Since Prabhupada’s arrival here Yamuna and Palika prabhus have been cooking wonderful meals for him, and Srila Prabhupada has been appreciating their service very much. Both are expert and so the prasadam has been to his full satisfaction. I also found out that despite his rejection of avocado in Melbourne, he does like a yogurt and avocado whip called guacamole that they have been giving him.
With Srila Prabhupada’s agreement and after conferring with Ramesvara Swami, it was decided that Palika will join our party for the rest of the American tour in order to ensure a consistently high standard of cooking for Srila Prabhupada. Visakha dasi, photographer and writer from Back to Godhead, will also accompany Prabhupada on his travels, recording his tour for an eventual article in the magazine. Hayagriva prabhu’s interview work is completed and he will remain here.

As for Yamuna’s project, the new GBC for Los Angeles, Ramesvara Swami, had heard that privately Srila Prabhupada had been a little critical of the ladies starting their own project. So he approached him about it:

[TD2] June 5, 1976 – Los Angeles

Since Yamuna has been here, Ramesvara discussed her farm program with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada suggested that some brahmacarinis could be sent to her for training. This morning Ramesvara asked if perhaps she could come down to Los Angeles instead because it would be cheaper. There was some suggestion by Tamal Krishna that devotees going there may develop a bit of a separatist mentality from ISKCON but Srila Prabhupada didn’t take it seriously. He simply said he had no objection if Ramesvara wanted to make that arrangement. But when Ramesvara told him that Yamuna objected and that her idea is to make their farm a little bigger, with more women living with them, Prabhupada told him, “I like that idea.”
Ramesvara said there would be no men involved. Prabhupada approved. “Just like in Vrndavana there is bhajan-asrama, they’re only women.”
“So that’s a good idea?” Ramesvara asked.
“With man is dangerous for both,” Prabhupada told him. “I have given that: man is good, woman is good, when they come together — bad. Both of them bad.”

On July 26 1976 Srila Prabhupada met with George Harrison in England for the last time. George came to the Manor and dined on first class prasadam as Prabhupada entertained him in his bedroom. George’s old friends Mukunda and Gurudasa were both there. Gurudasa of course had been Yamuna’s husband when they had first started ISKCON in the UK but now he was a sannyasi. When at one point George referred fondly to him, it elicited a response from Srila Prabhupada equally praising Yamuna as a renunciate:

George expressed pleasure at seeing his old friends. “They are looking better and better all the time. It’s nice for me to see Gurudasa. He’s turning into a mountain!”
Prabhupada smiled. Then, referring to Yamuna dasi, he said, “His wife has also [become] sannyasi, renounced. Have you seen her lately? She has cut hair and white dress,

living alone in the temple. Vairagya-vidya-nija-bhakti-yoga. This bhakti-yoga means vairagya-vidya, means detachment. That is the perfection of life. If we remain attached, that is conditional. Maya has made so many things attractive so that we have to remain attached. And to come out of this attachment is called bhakti.

The next time I saw Yamuna was in Vrndavana. She was intimately connected with the project there, and instrumental in many ways in the development of Krishna Balarama Mandir but had returned to America before the opening on Ramnavami 1975.

On October 22 1976 she returned and was immediately honored by Srila Prabhupada:

[TD4]

Srila Prabhupada was surprised and pleased to receive Yamuna dasi today. She arrived from America just as he was taking his lunch. Normally he doesn’t receive guests while eating, but he immediately invited her to sit with him and offered her a small plate of his prasadam. After eating, they sat together in his darsana room and chatted. She showed him photos of their asrama in Southern Oregon and their worshipable Deities, Sri Sri Radha Vanabehari.
Yamuna has come to ask for Srila Prabhupada’s formal blessings and approval to write a cookbook, something he suggested to her in 1967 but which she didn’t feel competent to do until now, although she has previously written and calligraphed a book entitled
Krsna Prasadam but this has not been published. She told him that she intends to remain in Vrndavana for about a week and then go to Calcutta to stay with Mr. C.L. Bajoria, one of our prominent life members. Mr. Bajoria has a first-class cook with whom Yamuna has studied, and she wants to learn more from him about Bengali cooking. She is also planning further research and interviews with Pishima, Prabhupada’s sister.
Srila Prabhupada was most happy with her proposal and gave her his full encouragement.

October 31 1976 –Vrndavana-dhama

Yamuna has prepared Srila Prabhupada’s breakfast several times during her stay and also cooked his lunch a couple of times. Now today she left for Calcutta to take up her cooking research. Srutirupa dasi, who often helps Palika with Prabhupada’s cooking, decided that she wanted to accompany her, and since the two of them were going, Palika decided she also wanted to go. Palika currently has a bad case of weeping eczema on her hands, and this is interfering with her service to Srila Prabhupada. She took permission from Srila Prabhupada after giving assurances that Arundhati would cover her cooking duties, although Arundhati is not as experienced and expert in the art. Last night when Prabhupada called Arundhati in and asked her to prepare iddli for his breakfast, she was quite nervous about it because she hasn’t made them before.

After a couple of weeks in Calcutta Yamuna returned to the west. It wasn’t until 1987 that she finally got her cook book into print. I guess that was reflective of the precision and perfection that she applied to everything she did. When it hit the stores it was a blockbuster and she won numerous awards including the International Association of Culinary Professionals ‘Cookbook of the Year.’

She became a regular columnist in several top newspapers and I remember seeing her in Los Angeles in the early nineties during a national book tour she was doing. She enthusiastically greeted me and I her, as old friends and fellow servants of Srila Prabhupada. I felt privileged that she saw me in that light.

Again this is just a glimpse. I hope by it to show how dear Yamuna was to Srila Prabhupada and how she pleased him by her expertise in cooking, the very first devotional service he engaged her in when she first met him in 1966.



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