Memories of Yamuna Devi Dasi

Karunamayi Dasi:
Our beloved Yamuna Devi served as a beacon of spiritual perfection and guidance for all in our tiny little slice of Vaishnava sangha in Saranagati, BC, Canada. She and Dinatarine Prabhu opened their ashram and their hearts for all of us, far and wide, to taste the nectar of their Love for Srila Prabhupada and their beloved Sri Sri Radha Banabehari.

My personal experience, one of many deep meetings over the 10 years I knew Srimate Yamuna Prabhu, was her keen desire to share Krishna with everyone. When my husband, Kripanidhi Das, and I would enthusiastically bring new-to-Krishna friends to experience the bliss of Saranagati and would rouse our new friend to bring them to Mangal arati in Banbihari Mandir, Yamuna and Dina Prabhus were expert at making those new-to-Krishna friends feel right at home. With what appeared as great ease, but abundant grace and dedication, they would create a mood in which Krishna was completely attainable and relishable.

We could see the expertise they exemplified for people stepping into a temple for the first time and long -tanding soldiers of Lord Caitanya alike, time and time again. By her behavior, we could understand that internally, she was never apart from her beloved Srila Prabhupada, and her eagerness, along with that of our dear Dinatarine Prabhu, was lovingly imparted on all they would meet.

For this, and so much more, I am eternally grateful.

Koti Dandavats. Yamuna Devi. Sweet Krishna dreams…..

Aspiring to serve the Vaishnavas, Karunamayi Dasi (RNS) (Saranagati Village)

Rasamrita Devi Dasi:
My husband and I and our son spent most of 2010 in Saranagati, Canada. A large part of why we were inspired to do that was to take advantage of the incredible devotional sanga that Yamuna and Dinatarine Prabhus facilitated. Every morning they held a full morning program in their home, which was open to the community. They simply loved to share Krishna consciousness with everyone, especially young devotees. Yamuna Prabhu held cooking classes for the youth, Deity sewing classes, Deity worship classes, and more. She showered her love and affection on them, and shared her deep love for devotional service. Every summer she and Dinatarine Prabhu held evening Bhaktivinoda Thakura bhajans at their home. Those bhajans were from another realm. The profoundly devotional and meditative mood of those melodious bhajans was indescribable. The Saranagati youth especially were addicted to those bhajans. Everything Yamuna Prabhu did was first class. She was an ocean of devotion, and an ocean of inspiration for the people who knew her and whoever simply heard of her.

Kalakantha Dasa:
My wife Jitamitra and I became close to Yamuna and Dinatarine Prabhus over the last five years. We run a fairly intense college outreach program. Some years ago, looking for a place to get away during the summer breaks, we decided to spend some time in Saranagati, as we had lived and served in the Vancouver temple years ago and had many friends there.

Soon after arriving in Saranagati we discovered Banabehari Ashram, a strawbale house plastered in adobe covered with a green metal roof perched on a small hilltop overlooking the five-mile long Saranagati valley. There lived the servants of Radha-Banabehari, Yamuna and Dinatarine, whom Srila Prabhupada had instructed in the 1970's to open a widow's ashram. They had been doing so ever since, worshiping their beloved Lordships for over thirty years, most recently in this breathtaking ashram they had built with their own hands.

There are many wonderful devotees in the Saranagati community who have built attractive and functional houses. Here, though, we found an extraordinary degree of thoughtful devotional craftsmanship: stained-glass insets on the windows; rustic built-in bookshelves lining the walls packed with all of Srila Prabhupada's books and countless other fascinating devotional and educational texts on gardening, construction, cooking and more; hand-made (and very comfortable) furniture in the center of the large main room; an exquisite altar with a large stained-glass backdrop featuring the gopis in Vrindavan; a brilliantly designed kitchen with a wood stove that heated the entire ashram; all kinds of eco-friendly and ingenious systems for living off the grid; and nooks and shelves placed tastefully here and there displaying devotional treasures such as Srila Prabhupada's original three-tiered cooker.

Admiring the gorgeous stained-glass work, I asked Yamuna who made them.

"Yamuna devi," she replied in a curt tone that indicated nothing more was to be said on the subject.

Yamuna and Dina charmed us with their very gracious mood and inspired us with their unalloyed dedication to Srila Prabhuapda. Meeting them was a deciding factor; we decided that Saranagati was the place to spend our summers.

The two ladies were the heart of the ashram. They held a punctual morning program every day which was open to all, plus evening reading and kirtan meetings two or three times a week. During the months we were there each summer, Jita and I did not miss a morning, walking or driving the two miles from our residence to savor the sweet association.

They took turns performing the mangala arati. On her singing days Yamuna accompanied herself with a small xylophone-like instrument with a soft bell-like tone that mingled with her gentle, angelic voice singing Guruvastakam, creating a wonderfully mystical devotional atmosphere in the cool Canadian pre-dawn mountain air. Singing, as she insisted, not with call-and-response but in unison created a warm intimacy among the devotees that melted away any bodily considerations of ashram, gender or seniority, bringing everyone present together in an infectious mood of love for Srila Prabhupada and Radha Banabehari.

After kirtan everyone chanted japa for an hour. Yamuna would sometimes bring out her set of large red wooden beads dating back to her early days with Srila Prabhupada, beads he had personally chanted on for her. She would invite devotees present to chant a round on these special beads. She did not hoard her blessings from Srila Prabhupada but shared them with everyone.

After japa was Srimad Bhagavatam class. Dina began each class with an excerpt from a selected book such as Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's biography or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's writings. Then we read Srila Prabhuapda's Srimad-Bhagavatam, often several verses and purports each day, always nicely facilitated by Dina, always held in an interactive discussion format involving all present without a main speaker. Yamuna would often stir the discussion with thoughtful questions, steering the topic from the day's verses and purports into a variety of fascinating directions. Many days it was just the four of us for class, and we talked about everything: their experiences with Srila Prabhupada, the dynamics of ashram and community life, the state of Kali-yuga, India, off-grid living, cow protection, Gaudiya Math/ISKCON issues, upcoming festivals, and much more.

During the class, though she conscientiously made sure that everyone present spoke up and took part in the discussion, Yamuna would also add special little memories of Srila Prabhupada. Once, on Lord Balaram's appearance day, she told us of how she came in to Srila Prabhupada's room and found him standing before a painting of Lord Balaram killing a demon, imitating with his own transcendental body the pose struck by the Lord in the painting.

She also told us of her adventures in Srila Prabhupada's service. Once, when preparing for a festival in London, she called George Harrison to invite him, mentioning that a particular rice pudding dish he loved was on the menu. "Shall I set a plate for you?" she asked. "You'd better set two," he replied.

She described how, when recording the famous "Radha Krishna Temple" album, she and all the devotees were up late in George's studio as he and Paul McCartney worked on the mixing. Many of the devotees were asleep here and there, so she sat at the harmonium and began chanting, "Bhaja Hure Mana." She said that during the early and very difficult days in London she had learned that bhajan by listening over and over again to a recording of Srila Prabhupada singing it. "There were no songbooks," she said.

As she sang the bhajan, accompanying herself with the harmonium, she did not know that George was recording her. Much to her chagrin, he insisted on including the recording on the album, dubbing over some simple hand-clapping percussion. Later it was pointed out that the title had been transposed and sung as "Bhaja Mana Hure". "It is all right," Srila Prabhupada had said upon hearing it, "you can fix it later."

Though we wanted those classes to go on indefinitely, the ladies would end them punctually, distribute some maha-prasad, and shoo everyone out to go on with their day's service. For Dina and Yamuna the day often included writing, cooking, work on the ashram, hosting guests, weekly town runs for shopping and laundry, and doing crafts and other projects with the "milkmaids," the half-dozen teenage daughters of Saranagati families who dearly loved their sixty-something friends.

Wednesday evenings many devotees would gather at the ashram for Caitanya Caritamrta readings. Inspired by Yamuna and Dina, the group had been meeting for years each Wednesday, and by now they were on their third complete reading of the text. Friday nights were bhajans. At one point each summer the ladies would host Kartamisa from Alachua and his wife, Radha, a former "milkmaid" from the valley. Together with Yamuna and Dina they organized two- or three-week marathons of singing Bhaktivinoda Thakura bhajans each evening, completing the entire "Sarangati" and "Godruma Kalpataru" songbooks by the Thakura.

During the bhajans Yamuna always sat as if in trance, eyes closed, swaying to the music, singing vigorously in her clear and penetrating voice, fully absorbed. At the end of each bhajan she would express deep satisfaction. "Such nectar, such nectar."

Yamuna would organize the milkmaids to sing bhajans at the Saranagati festivals and play other leading roles in the community. Once, before the Saranagati Rathayatra, she took the bullhorn and made an introductory speech to the devotees standing before the cart. Pointing to the majestic forest-covered hills on each side of the valley, she proclaimed, "There are more living entities here to be blessed by the holy names than there are at the New York Rathayatra."

On special occasions Yamuna would cook for us. Whatever she prepared was unfailingly delicious and healthful. Someone once said something about a "chaunce." "The word is 'chonk,'" she replied. "'Chaunce' is a word made up by Kirtanananda, which apparently means putting spices in overheated ghee and burning them to charcoal."

Yamuna recounted the old days when a family atmosphere pervaded the temples and everyone was addressed and treated as "Prabhu." She did not care for the later stuffy formalities that evolved in ISKCON. "Mother Yamuna," I once said. "Yes, Father Kalakantha," she replied sweetly.

We took much of what we learned from Yamuna and Dina back to Gainesville and applied it. We sought to make devotees feel loved and welcomed and involved, and Krishna blessed us with many new Vaishnavas in our community. After three years we were unable to continue coming to Saranagati for the summers. We saw Yamuna and Dina again a few times, in Alachua and India and finally at their kutir in Melbourne Beach. Though Yamuna's health was in serious decline they were both always happy and upbeat in Krishna consciousness. Their steady sadhana and love for chanting had only increased.

Yamuna was always very kind and encouraging to us and to everyone she met. Just two days before her departure she sent us this letter:

Dear Kala and Jita,

Hare Krishna

Pranam Dandavats

Jaya Srila Prabhupada

Pray this meets you happy, healthy and well in ways you need.

Can literally feel the efforts of your service to Srila Prabhupada across the miles down here in Melbourne.

Thought to share these photos taken on Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura's disappearance day and Their Lordships 36th, in hopes that it might bring a smile to your faces and brighten your day.

Yamuna, you have brightened our lives and remembering you will always bring a smile. You are an irreplaceable treasure in our lives. Clearly you are an intimate eternal associate of Srila Prabhupada. You were finished with this world and Krishna has brought you back to His in the most gentle way. We pray to again be in your company in some early morning kirtan hearing your sweet voice, feeling your incredible strength of devotion, experiencing and learning from your gentle devotional charm and your love for Srila Prabhupada.

We pray too that our wonderful Godsister Dinatarine will find solace and strength to carry on with her service to Srila Prabhupada and thus continue to inspire us all.

With sadness and much appreciation, Kalakantha Dasa

Yoginatha Dasa:
It's a warm day for January. Only a trace of snow on the ground. The roads are icy and slippery. Today we will drive on those icy roads when we gather to honor the passing away of Yamuna Devi. We will meet at the home of Gosh Thakura and Girija. Just over a small hill, less than a kilometer from Gosh's house, is the Bana Bihari ashram, where Yamuna and Dina Tarine lived from 1999-2011.

As we enter Gosh's house we hear a recording of Yamuna singing. The living room has been cleared out. Around the perimeter are couches, chairs, and cushions. In one corner is a colorful, well-lit altar. On the altar are the family deities of Guara Nitai, Radha Giridhari, a murti of Srila Prabhupada and a smiling picture of Yamuna Devi. Next to the altar is a screen for a slide show.

Yamala Arjuna leads a kirtan while the room fills up with guests. A hundred men, women, and children fill the living room and kitchen area, many standing on the wooden parquet floor. At 3:15 Kalindi begins the program. She explains that Yamuna liked to begin everything with the "om ajnana" prayers. Whether it was cooking, deity worship, cleaning the house, or bhajans, everything she did began with the mangala charana. And so in unison our voices filled the house with prayers to the previous acharyas just as we had done in Yamuna's ashram 100's of times in years past.

After a few slide photos of Yamuna appear on the screen, Udarakirti begins singing Ye Anilo Prema Dana. We follow along using our printed program guides. The drum and karatala are playing very softly. Udara's voice is slow, melodic, and deliberate. The room is silent except for the song; many cannot sing in response, their voices are choking. At the end of the song there is a request for a box of tissues. Nothing can be found and eventually a jumbo sized roll of toilet tissue is passed around the room. After the devotees dry their eyes and clear their noses, Rasa Raja sings another tribute accompanied by his guitar. When Rasa Raja is finished the audience is solicited to see if anyone would like to offer a eulogy in honor of Yamuna. There is an awkward silence until one of the "milkmaids" steps forward. There are five milkmaids in all. These are the girls who were mentored by Yamuna and Dina Tarine. From age 9 up until age 15-16 they regularly associated with Yamuna. Once a month they had "sleepovers" at the Banabehari ashram. During those weekend intensives Yamuna and Dina would instruct them in the living art of bhakti yoga. Yamuna had t-shirts made for the girls, proclaiming them to be Banabehari's milkmaids. (Banabehari is the name of Yamuna's deities.) One after the other the milkmaids spoke about their feelings and memories of Yamuna. The audience was stunned by hearing the depth of sincere love expressed by these girls. The fathers were soaked with tears. One of the five girls, Hari Priya, is in Mayapur and so her offering was read via email.

After hearing the girls, more eulogies are solicited but none is forthcoming. The adults are speechless. How could these young girls have spoken with such simple and profound eloquence? Because no one is capable of speaking, a video of Yamuna singing the Govindam prayers at a recent London reunion is shown.

After the London film clip, Lilamrita sings Gauranga Bolite Habe, Sridam leads a kirtan, there are more slides, and then Kripanidhi leads the Gaura Arati kirtan. At this time everyone offers flowers to the picture of Yamuna. When the arati ceremony is finished, prasadam is served. All of the dishes are favorites of Yamuna's prepared from recipes found in her cookbook. It is similar to the feasts she occasionally organized when she lived among us in Saranagati. There is sak with paneer, ginger glazed carrots, dokra with coconut chutney, Krishna surprise, srikand and more and more. The feast is spectacular, and the mood changes from somber to light-hearted, and joyful.

After prasadam Mahidhara leads another kirtan, accompanied by more pictures on the screen. Girija then leads Madhuram, a special song in glorification of the holy name, which we sang over and over again at Yamuna's ashram just a few summers ago. While Girija sings we all take turns offering tea light candles to the picture of Yamuna. The altar becomes brilliant and alive with a hundred candles surrounding Yamuna. Again the milkmaids take stage. They sing a stylized composition of Hari Hari Biphale. Yamuna often said that this was her favorite bhajan. The girls appear to be heavenly Gandharvas. The bhajan is heartfelt, deeply emotional and without pretense.

Again the audience is crying. Bala Krishna plays a recording of Yamuna singing with Karnamrita. It is an unreleased studio composition which Yamuna spent two weeks perfecting. Kartamisa then leads the final kirtan. The kirtan begins with Bhaktivinoda Thakura's Sharagrahi poem, another favorite of Yamuna's. The poem brings to mind the gatherings we relished at the Banabehari ashram. The kirtan becomes loud. We are singing our hearts out to Yamuna Devi. When the kirtan ends there is silence; no one wants to move.

Finally Kalindi instructs us to gather in a circle for the kavacha. At the end of every program at Yamuna's ashram, it was her custom to have a kavacha. And so we squish ourselves into a circle, holding hands and shoulders. In rapid fire we go around the circle, each person saying one word describing a quality of Yamuna. Without hesitation and without repetition a hundred qualities of Yamuna fill the inner circle of the kavacha. Then as loud as possible we chant the Hare Krishna mantra three times, raising our hands in delight. We finish with an earth-shaking "Yamuna Devi ki jai!"

And then it is over. We give each other goodnight hugs and saunter out of the house. We had been together in one room for 5 hours; it seemed like 30 minutes. Outside the moon is shining on the fields of snow. A million jewels are sparkling in all directions. We scrape the frost from our windshields and drive home.

Gokulananda Dasa:
YAMUNA DEVI is one of our great saintly devotees, as an exemplary perfected disciple of Srila Prabhupada. She embodies all of the pure Vaisnava qualities that Srila Prabhupada wished to see manifest in his followers: her total devotion to guru and Krishna, her personal concern and love for all Krishna bhaktas, her deep taste for Krishna Nama and Krishna kirtan manifested in her selfless dedication to the Sankirtan Movement, as well as her joyous and affectionate demeanor and genuine loving nature that always left the most positive impressions on us all. We will sorrowfully miss her inspiring association, and we will cherish her immense legacy of pure devotion which she humbly shared with all of us fortunate to have had such a beautiful soul in our sangha.

Yamuna Mataji is the personification of Srila Prabhupada's love for all his followers. She always emanated true concern and care for all she met. And her devotion was always personal and humble, never ostentatious. Her meekness and purity of heart just radiated with genuine love for Srila Prabhupada and all his followers. Her legacy is imperishable. Thank you Yamuna Mataji for helping us better understand one of Srila Prabhupada's greatest gifts to the world: such glorious saints as you. Your grateful friend, Gokulananda Dasa ACBSP.