I will finish this small attempt at appreciation of Yamuna devi’s unlimited qualities and character with a few photos and recollection of the last time I saw her personally in 2010 at Saranagati farm in Canada.

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Akrura prabhu, the Vancouver temple president invited me over in late May 2010. I hadn’t been there since 1994 so I was overdue for a visit and looking forward to it. But high on my agenda was a trip to Saranagati, a well-known but remote outpost of Krsna consciousness and home to some distinguished residents.

Apart from fulfilling a long standing curiosity about the farm, I was excited because I would be seeing Yamuna. In fact I had written to my wife Sitala “I am only going because Yamuna is there.”

We had had the immense pleasure of hosting Yamuna in Mayapur for two months in the flat next to ours during the winter of 2009 so my visit to Saranagati was a kind of reciprocation.

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Here’s the report I sent to Sitala on May 30th 2010, two days after. It sums up nicely the visit:

“The trip to Saranagati was well worth it although I was only there half a day and one night. Its a long drive of 4 hrs. I stayed at Kala and Yasomati’s house for Lord Nrsimhadeva’s appearance. They invited friends and relatives and about a dozen people turned up. It was low key but still very enjoyable.”

“Next day we drove up to Sarangati with Krsnadas, Kala’s son, and his Iranian girl friend Asadah. It was a long drive through continuous mountains, with very impressive country side of mainly pine and fir forests and deep river gorges. The area where the farm is doesn’t look very good, a kind of high desert region, but once you climb the dirt road up the mountain side, you come to a plateau and about 3,000 acres of land and forest owned by ISKCON and the devotees. Its quite like a shangrila.”

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“There are about 20+ private houses scattered within 2-3 kilometers of each other. We had lunch with a very nice devotee Yoginatha prabhu and Vishakha came to join us. Yadubara is down in LA for the Prabhupada festival.”

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  “Then we visited the school. Kar and Radha have had a beautiful little boy just three weeks ago, and they run the school.”

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“For convenience they have moved into a large room in the school building. They have about a dozen girls and one boy currently in the school and a few couples with children are about to move there. It was a nice set up, very Krsna conscious, and all the kids, who range from about 5-16 yrs. are very sweet, innocent and eager to hear about Srila Prabhupada. I spoke for about 15 mins.”

“Then we went off to Yamuna’s. I was surprised to see a modern looking bungalow.

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“I had heard about its straw bale construction and was expecting something a little crude, but its a well designed attractive house. And the interior is exceptionally beautiful, not so much because of its architecture but more because every inch of it oozes bhakti.”

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“Yamuna and Dina (who arrived back from Florida just as we were leaving)

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have decorated every nook and cranny with beautiful expressions of their love for Sri Sri Radha Banabihari. Yamuna is such an artistic and thoughtful person, and her attention to every little detail comes shining through.”

“We spent a couple of hours with her, it was a delight. She is such a deep, sober and good hearted devotee. She was very happy to see me and we had an extremely enjoyable meet. It was worth the trip just to see her.”

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That was the last time we met personally. Late in 2010 she became seriously ill, had to go to Mumbai for treatment and ended up leaving Saranagati, never to  return. She and Dina moved south to Melbourne Beach Florida. In mid-August this year while I was on tour in Spain, I was thinking about her a lot and wrote to ask her how she was faring. I received this letter in response on Lord Balarama’s appearance day, my last communication with her:

Dear Hari Sauri Prabhu,
Pranam Dandavats
Sree Balaram Mahotsava keejay

How auspicious to hear from you on this sacred eve. Thank You for thinking
of me at all, what to speak of lately. Truth be told, think of all three of
you often–I have many photos Rama Devi gave me of you, your daughter’s
initiation, and 1500 photos of archa vigrahah in Mayapur dham on my screen
saver. So you are never far out of mind.

Well the free fall that began nearly a year ago ended two months ago
tomorrow, when on June 13th we moved into our eighth floor. furnished beach
front condo rental. We have named the place Melbourne Beach-Puri-by-the-Sea.
It’s a year rental for now. No sale of our Saranagati ashram. In the last
decade, only two families moved there, but more moved out. Time will reveal
that one. Cannot even consider our next move until we sell that ashram.

At any rate, here we are in a clean environment with running water and
enough electricity and we feel blessed to be here. Krsna so very kindly gave
us a swift kick to remove us from Saranagati and place us elsewhere. This
particular dham is most conducive to healing and rejuvenation, and we are
deeply grateful for it.

Taken time to settle in, and so far, engaged almost exclusively chanting and
reading and physical rejuvenation and serving Their Lordships. Here is a
photo of Radha Banabehari taken this morning in the small alter environment
we made for Them in a smallish temple room; 

Resize of Radha Vanabihari

Srila Prabhupada;

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a snap Dina took this morning of ‘turtle tracks heading seaward’ and her friend the blue
heron crane on the steps to the beach,

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and a snap I took of sunrise from our porch.

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Think you get a peek into our peace and opulence in our lives.

My health: Exercise in the pool daily at dawn (Dina on her beach japa walk)
before morning Bhagavatam class; too good for words. Starting a two week
liver cleanse day after tomorrow as pre-op for a minor laproscopy surgery
August 29th. So in between Janmastami-Vyasa puja next weekend, heading up to
Gainsville three times for doctor appointments and tests. All in all, my
health is slowly but very surely improving for the better, gaining mobility
and strength, as is Dina.

Got my research materials sent down here from Saranagati, and plan to begin
writing in September. Dina will soon begin editing a book from the Radhanath
Swami camp.

Back at you: how are all of you? Health? Any new book volumes out from you?
Sitala still in Poland giving KC as only she can do? Your daughter? Saw an
ecstatic Kirtan online with Madhava at Woodstock.

Your always aspiring servants.
Yamuna and Dinatarine

I don’t know if Yamuna did start writing again. Her book was the one most devotees were looking forward to reading. Now she’s gone, heading off into the sunset of Melbourne Beach and into the eternal sunshine of Goloka Vrndavana to serve her beloved Radha Banavihari and Srila Prabhupada. She will be sorely missed.

I  hope to have the privilege to see you again sometime Yamuna devi.




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:

Read the rest of this entry »




Yamuna in London

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Its seven days since the departure of one of the most beloved disciples of Srila Prabhupada, Her Grace Srimati Yamuna devi dasi on December 20 2011 in Melbourne Florida, Saphala Ekadasi. I have been musing on what to write, thinking that I could never say enough to properly glorify and appreciate such a great soul. There aren’t enough superlatives to adequately convey the respect and deep loving regard that Yamuna devi commanded by her purity, humility, deep devotion, personalism and precise absorption in the mellows of transcendental dealings.

Aside from Srila Prabhupada himself, it’s hard to think of anyone I have met who was as Krsna conscious as she.

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I have read over the last week a great outpouring of appreciation and love from all sectors of the Vaisnava community-men, women, sannyasis, new and old devotees. She touched the lives of millions directly and indirectly by her service and devotion. She was not an ordinary person nor indeed an ordinary devotee.

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One of the things that comes strikingly through from the offerings and eulogies is her unique ability to make everyone she met feel special. Her dealings were such that even a brief meeting with her left you feeling as if you had known her all your life. She was kind, attentive, appreciative, wise and completely present with whoever she was with. Even in seemingly casual conversation she had that deep and fathomless quality that only the very advanced  possess.  When you met her you felt that you had a special relationship with her; and that’s what made her special. She was a true daughter of Srila Prabhupada.

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I hope I can add to the portrayal of our dear Yamuna devi with a few anecdotes which may highlight her special relationship with Srila Prabhupada and with all of us.

My own first indirect contact with her started on the very first day I started doing service at the Sydney temple in February 1972. I was engaged with another bhakta in renovating a small storefront next door to the temple in Glebe. For a week I would walk over to the temple in the early morning and spend the day painting and decorating. We had a small record player and one record, the Radha Krsna Temple album.

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All day long we repeatedly played it, listening over and over again to music and singing that transported us to an otherworldly, mystical state  of consciousness.

Predominant was the slightly nasal, indescribably attractive Vaikuntha voice of Yamuna. I had never heard anything like it. The way she sang ‘Bhaja Mana Hure’ and ‘Govinda Jaya Jaya’ was totally captivating.

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And every morning we heard her lead the Brahma-samhita prayers “Govindam adi purusham tam aham bhajami” as we greeted the newly-dressed forms of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha

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It was a great introduction to Krsna consciousness. When I asked one of the senior devotees, Baibhavi dasi, who the singer was, she replied in awed tones, “That’s Yamuna. Prabhupada said she is already on the stage of bhava.” I didn’t know what bhava was, but I could understand it was something very special from Yamuna’s singing.

The playing of the Govindam prayers each morning to greet the Deities became an ISKCON standard from the moment the recording was made. Srila Prabhupada had been sent some copies by Shyamasundara prabhu immediately after it was recorded by George Harrison:

Govindam record

Februrary 16 1970 – London

Dearest Prabhupada,

Please accept my most humble obeisances, though I am so unworthy even to accept crumbs from the plates of your devotees. Please find enclosed the first copy of “Govindam” which you have taught us, and which we, quite badly, have rendered for the glorification of your Guru Maharaj in the world at large.

Yamuna, myself, Mukunda and Janaki are singing, with everyone joining on the chorus. George plays guitar, Mukunda plays organ, a new boy, Hamper (an Armenian boy), plays “oud” (an Arabian stringed instrument), I play esraj, Gurudas and I play khartals and there is an orchestra of 6 violins, 6 violas, 2 double-bass, 2 tubas, 3 cellos, and one harp. Please accept this record as our humble offering unto your divine Lotus Feet.

As you can see by enclosure, we are very popular also in Yugoslavia, a communist country. Two weeks ago we were #1, now we are #5. George has received letters from young people in Yugoslavia asking him to send someone there to start a temple. I will xerox these and send them in due course to you. .

When the record is released here March 6 there will be a flurry of publicity and we shall have many occasions to mention the book [note: ‘Krsna’]. I will be with George all day Thursday walking on the grounds of his new monastery to asses the work he wants me to supervise and I shall discuss the foreword with him. I am pretty sure he will do it. Shall I ask him to say anything in particular?

Your idea of a small booklet is supreme, and I shall try to get that foreword from George as soon as possible. If Boston prints it, I can work out details with them (such as English spelling, English prices etc.) and begin taking orders. I may have to travel around Britain to sell Krsna book but the record publicity should make this easier. Since the record will not be released in U.S. til about first of May perhaps the U.S. centers can plan a double campaign (book and record).

RK Temple album cover   Krsna

I have just come from the cutting room where this record was made, it is late at night in Trafalgar Square post office so I shall write a longer letter tomorrow to clarify some points. Your servant and friend forever, Shyamasundar.”

Srila Prabhupada sent a long reply, opening with an appreciation of the record:

Letter to: Syamasundara — Los Angeles 21 February, 1970

My Dear Syamasundara,
Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 16 February, 1970, along with “Govindam” record. I have heard it played on a record player and, although the machine was not very good, still I enjoyed the transcendental vibration very much. .”

And in a subsequent letter on February 25 1970 Prabhupada commented:

“I have already acknowledged that the “Govindam” record is very nice, and I am sure it will be appreciated. Devananda also has liked it and says that the sound will be very attractive to the young people especially.
Regarding the presentation of “Govindam” as well as other mantras, the vibration is always pure. I will give the theme and if the sound is Westernized that does not matter.”

It was reported that when Srila Prabhupada heard the Govindam prayers he had tears in his eyes. And as he installed more and more Deities in his rapidly expanding ISKCON movement and standardized the sadhana and routines of temple life, the playing of the Govindam prayers at the greeting of the Deities became an integral and well-loved feature, giving transcendental pleasure to tens of thousands the world over.

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Later on, just after I joined Srila Prabhupada’s party in December 1975, a letter arrived addressed to His Divine Grace from some brahmacaris in Los Angeles. They were objecting to the playing of the London recording of the Govindam prayers, and particularly the fact that a woman, Yamuna devi, was singing them:

[TD1] December 12 1975 – Vrndavana-dhama

During his massage Prabhupada heard a letter from Jayasacinandana dasa in Los Angeles written on behalf of a group of brahmacaris. In every ISKCON temple in the world the assembled devotees offer their obeisances to the Deities in the morning as the Govindam prayers loudly play. George Harrison recorded it and Yamuna dasi sings the mantras.
Disturbed by this custom, Jayasacinandana quoted Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (as well as Srila Prabhupada) that if a brahmacari hears and is attracted to a woman singing, it is a subtle falldown. “In light of this,” he wrote, “many of the brahmacaris approached the temple president to see if it would be possible that when the Deities are greeted in the morning that instead of listening to Gurudasa Maharaja’s former wife singing the Brahma-samhita prayers, we could listen to Your Divine Grace rather than hear a woman sing. He did not want to change the tape because it had been a standard thing in ISKCON since 1970. So requested by many devotees, I am enquiring from Your Divine Grace if we could play a tape recording of you singing instead of a woman when the Deities of Rukmini-Dvarakadisa are greeted in the morning. I am sure that all the devotees would be enlivened to hear you instead of electric guitars, the London symphonic orchestra, etc. etc.”
“Srila Prabhupada was not pleased. He said that constantly changing things is “our Western disease.” His reply was short and direct. “No! You have made some discovery. All along you have been hearing the recording of Yamuna dasi, and now you want to change. It is not ordinary singing, it is concert. Many people are singing, so it is not bad. Just like sankirtana, many voices are there — men and women; so it is the same thing, sankirtana. I approve of it. Here in the Krishna-Balaram temple we are hearing the same recording every morning. So if it is good here, why not there?”

Yamuna’s transcendental rendering of the Govindam prayers continues as a firmly established ISKCON tradition, and has been heard by millions over the last forty+ years. Let us hope that it continues to inspire hundreds of millions more for the millennia to come. As long as it is played, Yamuna devi remains firmly in our midst and in our hearts.

Yamuna devotees and George



Mayapur TOVP update
6 October 2011

Yesterday, October 5 2011, was Durga puja, the biggest festival in Bengal. Since everyone is on holiday and I am back in Mayapur I thought it was a good opportunity to take a few shots of the TOVP site.

The construction, as you can see from the photos, is progressing at an amazing rate. When I left in July on my Eurotour, the temple room floor had just been completed. Now two levels above that are done, with columns for the third and final level before the work on the main dome begins, are nearly done. Check it out!

From the north side (between the Long building and the TOVP. Its looking big:

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From the temple room floor looking up at the ring beam support for the main dome

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These next shots show the length from front to back; and various angles of the floors above the temple room. These floors encircle the temple room, form the base of the main dome, and will house various exhibits on three levels. Devotees will be able to look across and see the planetary chandelier hanging down from the peak of the dome 200 feet above

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this is looking from where the Vyasasana will be just inside the main entrance, to where the Deity rooms will be

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Apparently now in India they have started to worry about work saffety

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And from the temple room floor its up the stairs we goes, up up up, up

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and when we gets to the top, precious – what a view!

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I had a quick visit to Bratislava this year in response to a request from Raghunatha-priya prabhu the temple president who also doubles up as the head pujari, cook, temple treasurer etc. 

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Its not a  big yatra but its always a pleasure to visit. The temple is a nice rented house on the outskirts of the city with a long grassy back garden growing flowers for the Deities of Gaura Nitai as well as a few veges and grapes. The weather was sunny and it was a pleasure to sit out in the garden, take prasadam and chant a few rounds of japa.

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Each evening of my three day visit a small but enthusiastic group of devotees gathered to hear about Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental pastimes

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and in the mornings we drove into the city to Govinda’s restaurant. Since most of the temple devotees work and serve there it was the only practical place to give the class. The basement level facility is right on one of the main streets and is a successful preaching center

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One other purpose of my trip was to meet up with Krsna-lila dasi. She holds a doctorate and was the chief of public relations for ISKCON Hungary for many years. Her special talent is film documentaries and liaisons with television companies. She has produced over twenty broadcast quality films and we met to discuss her involvement with the development of exhibits for the Mayapur Temple  of the Vedic Planetarium. I am currently the coordinator for exhibit development at the TOVP and we are now gearing up ready to start production within the next year or so. Krsnalila’s experience will make her a valuable contributor to the TOVP.

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She doesn’t live in Slovakia but she is from Hungary and she and her husband Mark drove several hours from Hungary for our highly productive afternoon meeting. Mark is a professional script writer and teaches it at a college in New York. As Krsna-lila and I talked he was busy completing a script for one of the Hollywood film companies. Although not a full time devotee Mark has volunteered his services if and when we need it.

After a worthwhile visit to Bratislava I headed off on August 17 for my first visit to Espanol (or is it Espanyol?) (oh well, anyway, Spain Smile!)



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