Vyasapuja offering 29/12/2012
By Madhuvrata das (brahmacari)
All glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga, all glories to Sri RadhaVinoda Biharai!
Winter in Hawaii 2006/7 with Srila Gurudeva.
Gurudeva giving darshan to devotees in Hawaii 2006.
On this second anniversary of the disappearance of my Guru padapadma Nitya Lila Om Vishnupad Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, I feel inspired within my heart to offer some tribute to his transcendental character, activities and achievements. For those who had the good fortune to meet Srila Gurudeva during his manifest pastimes, for those of us who desire to constantly remember him, and to those who are just now meeting him through his disciples, legacy and continued spiritual presence, and of course for my own purification, I write the following recollections.
My memory is actually very bad, and against the advice of many wise elders I neglected to keep a diary during my travels with Srila Gurudeva. Nevertheless I will try to recollect this magical time, which was granted to me by the causeless mercy of Srila Gurudeva.
During Badger festival 2006 I was recruited by Sripad BV Madhava Maharaja to travel with Srila Gurudeva, much to my complete astonishment and uncontainable excitement. I was to travel to Hawaii after Kartika festival and begin serving as part of Gurudeva’s entourage, my main service would be cooking. Despite my lack of any qualification, this adventure began as if preordained with Acyutananda prabhu, Vrinda dd and myself boarding the China Airlines flight via Taipei to Honolulu on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian archipelago. Vrinda dd and Acyuta prabhu were already experienced in serving Srila Gurudeva, and I was the new boy. I felt very excited, but quite nervous at the prospect. I couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to be so close to a pure devotee whilst serving him, and not commit offenses.
We finally arrived at the beautiful home of Sripad Vrndavan Prabhu after a long journey. And it was truly beautiful! Set on the Oahu North shore, Vrindavan prabhu’s house is set right at the back of a stunning strip of beach, the majestic ocean crashing on the rocks and flowering trees drinking the sunshine. It seemed to me to be paradise on earth. Acyuta Prabhu and myself immediately jumped in the clear blue ocean and began splashing around in celebration. But the true purpose of this mission was not merely to enjoy the sensory atmosphere of Hawaii, which is what most come here for. This perfect place was about to be graced by the presence of a perfect person, and the perfection of human activity, namely the intimate service of such a person, was about to begin for me.
Vrinda dd began by busily preparing the houses (without sleep or rest!). The house next to the beach was for Srila Gurudeva, his intimate sevak Sripad Madhava Maharaja and Vrndavan prabhu. The house further back in Vrndavan prabhu’s garden was for the other sevakas (servants) and the location of Gurudeva’s kitchen. Gurudeva had been here many times before, so the organization and arrangements were pretty much automatic. Vrinda dd knew where everything was, or should be, and we all set about cleaning and preparing a pure place for Gurudeva.
I surveyed my kitchen with trepidation, trying to imagine what would transpire over the next three months.
A few days later Srila Gurudeva, Sripad Madhava Maharaja and Sripad Brajanath prabhu arrived at the property after their long journey, I seem to remember that Gurudeva had stopped over one or two nights in Taipei. We all did pranam to Gurudeva and then busily began moving his suitcases around, with Madhava Maharaja preparing Gurudeva’s bed, sitting place, medicines etc. I unpacked the suitcase filled with Gurudeva’s dedicated cooking pots and spices, and then went up to Gurudeva’s house to see what was happening.
Gurudeva sitting on his bed awaiting prasadam.
Gurudeva saw me come in. I felt that after the long journey it was probably time to begin preparing a meal for him, so I looked towards Madhava Maharaja who would be my cooking mentor. It seemed that Maharaja was fast asleep on the couch, looking very comfortable! I still felt that cooking must be started urgently, so I moved towards Maharaja to rouse him from his rest, at that point Gurudeva said very sternly ‘Don’t wake him up! Let him rest!’ I think I even tried to weakly protest and mumbled something about cooking, then Gurudeva said ‘You are the cook, so cook!’ I moved out of the house quickly, internally panicking about the fact that I had no idea how to cook for Gurudeva. I went to Gurudeva’s kitchen and began moving things around not knowing what to do, then Vrinda dd came and offered me some help. We began to soak the rice, and chop certain vegetables in very specific ways. Vrinda dd had chopped Gurudeva’s vegetables for many years previously in preparation for Maharaja and Krsna das’s (Gurudeva’s cook and amazing kirtaniya in previous tours) cooking, and of course she had cooked herself many times for Gurudeva. As I was still wandering what would happen next in the cooking department, Maharaja came in looking rested and the cooking lessons began.
Gurudeva had said that Madahava Maharaja could cook stones and they would taste good, so I knew I had a good, if not the best, teacher. Gurudeva’s diet at that time in 2006 was somewhat limited. Many different health care practitioners had given many types of advice, so he had a whole list of items he could take, and whole list of things he was not allowed. Such items as sugar, wheat, fried food, potatoes amongst others were off the menu. The challenge was to cook in the style which Gurudeva loved, which is a cross between Bengali, oriyan and some items from Bihar, whilst keeping all the preparations as healthy as possible. I was soon to discover that Gurudeva was very specific about tastes, and all preparations were required to be be consistently perfect. Unfortunately I don’t think anything I had done in my life prior to this had needed to be perfect, it was a shock to the system. My prior cooking experience consisted mostly of guessing, speculating and sometimes good, sometimes bad results.
The cooking immersion began. I spent a lot of time with Maharaja in the kitchen, actually the best part of the whole two and a half months. Maharaja demonstrated and then carefully watched as I tried to emulate his style and recipes. Many of the recipes I learnt were traditional, and had been handed to Maharaja from devotees who had served Srila BV Vaman Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and so on. Maharaja himself had cooked for and satisfied many of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disciples. He himself first learnt to cook at home in his village, and after moving into the Math by Pujyapad Premanada prabhu and others. I felt like this was the Gaudiya parampara of Vaisnava cooking.
I would begin at around 9 am preparing for lunch, after consulting with Maharaja I would begin cutting vegetables, soaking rice and dahl, and Maharaja and me began cooking, with an estimated target of 11.30am. Gurudeva’s kitchen in Hawaii was abundant with many types of subzi donated by Haladara Prabhu and family.
Gurudeva inspecting the weekly subzi donation. Jackfruit in the left foreground.
There was kulmi sag (or ong choi) spinach, karela for Sukta (a Bengali bitter stew), datta (drumsticks) grown by Maharaja in the garden, eggplant, fine beans, slippery squash, lokhi, taroi and many other things I’d never seen before. Jackfruit was the number one strange fruit (or vegetable), and well known for being Gurudeva’s absolute favourite.
Madhuvarata das trying to cut Jackfruit, and not chop off a finger.
I learnt how to cut green jackfruit first, then how to cook it. In its raw state a jackfruit is somewhat like a huge spiky squash on the outside, with the inside being a mess of white liquid glue that sticks to everything, strange egg-like seeds, and many fibers holding the whole thing together. It is prepared by covering your hands, the knife and the chopping board in oil, and putting newspaper everywhere to protect against the glue. It usually resulting in a big sticky mess, with some carefully chopped pieces safely contained in a bowl of water ready for cooking.
Here is the recipe I received from Maharaja, and reputed to be a classic in parampara cooking. This recipe, if executed correctly, was much loved by Gurudeva and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. It has to be tasted to be believed, and those who are fortunate enough to live in the tropics can try it.
Ingredients: 1 unripe Jackfruit, not too mature. Around 10-12 inches long.
3-4 Tomatoes cut into 4
Potato (optional according to Gurudeva’s health but gives good flavour)
Fresh ground to a paste ginger
Whole spices cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, red chilli, cumin
Powdered hing and turmeric.
Method: Cut Jackfruit into bite size pieces and keep in water. Pressure cook jack fruit pieces and one potato until tender, but not dissolved.
For the sauce first make a chaunk (oil and spice mixture). Heat a minimal amount of oil in a heavy bottom pan, not so hot as to make it smoke. Add the whole broken cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick and whole red chilli. Saute for a few seconds before adding Cumin seeds. When they darken a few shades add hing powder and then ginger paste and turmeric in rapid succession. When the ginger is cooked into the spices add the tomatoes and salt, stir for a couple of minutes. Add some hot water and cook into a sauce, maybe about 5 minutes. Remove the tomato skins and add the cooked jackfruit and potato broken into pieces. After a few minutes more simmering the subzi is ready to be offered to Radha Krsna, Mahaprabhu and Giriraja Govardhana, finally to be tasted by Srila Gurudeva!
The Giraraja Sila who travelled with Gurudeva’s party.
The cooking was always first offered to our travelling Giriraja sila, then Gurudeva’s silver plate was made nicely with Tulasi leaves on every preparation. Gurudeva would then be presented with his lunch or dinner, and within his mind he would again offer to his Ishtadevas. When we are offering to the deities, at least speaking for myself, I am conscious that my service is faulty and Krsna may or may not accept. But when I first saw Gurudeva offering bhoga, I felt sure that Sri Radha and Krsna would definitely accept. I felt happy that something I’d had a hand in was being offered by a pure devotee. I realized that Gurudeva was always doing this, if anyone gave him anything or rendered even the slightest service he would immediately offer it to Sri Radha and Krsna.
One time after Gurudeva had honoured maha-prasadam, I went for a critique. He told me that this was good and this one ok, and he continued to do that everyday. His comments ranged from ‘not good’, to ‘so-so’ (also not so good), to ‘bhalo’ (good in Bengali), and sometimes ‘first class!’ Gurudeva told me that his own palate was very good, and that he was the favourite cook of his Guru Maharaja Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja.
Everything we cooked was tested by us before it was offered, Gurudeva told us that if you are cooking for your beloved, unless you are a complete expert, it should be tested for salt, chilli etc. Then if it is suitable it can be given. Sometimes Maharaja and myself would ask Gurudeva to guess which one of us had cooked, Gurudeva always knew that Maharaja’s cooking was much tastier than mine however and was never confused.
Gurudeva on his way to bathe in the ocean, with us following behind.
Gurudeva loved this location in Hawaii, he was able to concentrate without disturbance on writing, and it was also very good for his health. Everyday before lunch, and weather permitting, we would go for an ocean dip with Gurudeva. It was the perfect conclusion to a long morning in a very hot kitchen. We would walk behind Gurudeva down the beach to his favorite spot, and then follow him in. The warm and clean Pacific ocean providing refreshment for the pure devotee and his sevakas. Gurudeva would signal to anyone else that we should go and swim or have fun in the waves, but often we just stayed with Gurudeva, watching his pleasure and hanging onto his every comment. Sometimes on the way back to the house Gurudeva would stop to look at the giant beached turtles.
In our first darshan with Gurudeva in Hawaii, he told us that ‘here there will not be so much Hari-katha, you should read and study’. Gurudeva’s whole time was taken up with writing, he was completely absorbed in that service. Even so sometimes, especially after the morning walk, Gurudeva would take time to speak to his disciples. Sometimes he spoke on specific subjects of Hari katha, or other times just to ask if we were ok, if our services were continuing without obstacle, to discuss situations facing devotees around the world and the progress of his mission. Gurudeva was the head and last word of all decisions made about his mission throughout the world, and he effortlessly managed the whole situation himself.
Gurudeva writing indoors.
During one such darshan in Hawaii Gurudeva asked us to give the definition of a true disciple. We all tried to answer, quoting verses from sastra and previously heard definitions. Gurudeva still wasn’t satisfied however, and went on to provide an answer himself. He explained that a real disciple is one who avoids the association of those who have neglected the order of their Guru. I understood that this meant loyalty to Gurudeva was the paramount quality of a disciple, and all relationships the disciple maintains are through the Guru.
One time during this trip Gurudeva needed some help with his Jagannath Puri project, the finances needed bridging until the main sponsor, Sripad Damodara Prabhu, got his finances through. Gurudeva summoned Brajanath prabhu and told him to bring the phone and address book. Gurudeva then phoned around the sanga’s financially wealthier members and requested them to help him complete this project by giving him loans. I could hear the surprise when devotees received that phone call directly from Gurudeva(it was on speaker phone)! Most wouldn’t hear of giving a loan to Gurudeva, they insisted that it would be a donation. I realized that the whole sanga, even most of the money collection, was going on directly by Gurudeva’s activities. He was our ‘sankirtan leader’ in the purest sense.
It is difficult to think about choosing my favourite times from that period, and what I am writing is kind of random, but one service particularly impressed upon me the deep moods that Srila Gurudeva possesses, and the magnitude of the service he performs. In the evening Brajanath prabhu and Maharaja would go for an evening walk after prasadam, and Maharaja asked Acyuta prabhu or myself to sit with Gurudeva in case he needed anything. This time at the end of the day was very peaceful, only the waves could be heard lapping the shore. Gurudeva would sit on his bed and softly chant on his beads, and I would sit opposite him at some distance, trying to remain inconspicuous. I would also try to chant, being in the best of company for this. I would often then ponder where Srila Gurudeva was, and what he might be doing.
I thought that he must be simultaneously serving within the spiritual realm, both in Sri Radha and Krsna and Sriman Mahaprabhu’s lilas, and serving in this realm as the Gurudeva that I knew. In these places there is so much service, and Gurudeva is bringing pleasure to Krsna by his service everywhere. In our Guru Gayatri we see the word ‘krsna-anandaya’. It means that Gurudeva is always giving pleasure to Krsna (Srimati Radhika and Mahaprabhu), regardless of where he is or what he’s doing. I began to realize that even within this realm Gurudeva has unlimited services for Sri Radha and Krsna. His disciples are constantly praying to him throughout all time-zones, for all types of things. And due to the power of his omniscience he is reciprocating with all of those prayers, and offering them to Sri Radha Krsna, helping his disciples to advance by their service. He is even active within places of the destitute and fallen, inspiring those jivas to come out of Maya’s grip and join him (as was the case with myself. I met Gurudeva long before I actually met him if you know what I mean).
Sitting there in that perfect space with Gurudeva, my tiny mind was boggled just by the idea that Gurudeva is serving omnisciently, and I tried to consider the position of such a person who gives all of his time and energy for the service of others in this way.
After some time Gurudeva would take rest, we would make sure he was comfortable and switch his light off. Sometimes he would look at a book prior to resting, and one such time (maybe more) Acyutananda prabhu tip-toed over and retrieved the book. We both looked at the page and Acyuta prabhu read it. The verse that concluded Gurudeva’s day and would journey into his restful Samadhi with him that evening was:
What austerities must the gopīs have performed! With their eyes they always drink the nectar of Lord Kṛṣṇa's form, which is the essence of loveliness and is not to be equaled or surpassed. That loveliness is the only abode of beauty, fame and opulence. It is self-perfect, ever fresh and extremely rare.
Srimad Bhagavatam 10.44.14
Gurudeva under the ‘trumpet flower’ tree.
Srila Gurudeva was always very relaxed in Hawaii, he was free to wander within the garden whilst chanting without being descended on by many well meaning and enthusiastic disciples. The first few times I saw him like this I was thinking “Wow it’s Gurudeva walking about on his own!’ But then I soon got used to it, and I was very happy Gurudeva had this space to himself. One time desiring to take some sneaky photos, I went into the garden and Gurudeva was with Madhava Maharaja. Maharaja would often help me get good photos of Gurudeva by setting up a scene. This time we decided to take a photo of Gurudeva under a tree covered in trumpet-like flowers, Gurudeva was somewhat reluctant to pose, and I was also a bit shy with my camera having heard from other devotees about Gurudeva’s dislike for them. Maharaja then playfully tried to situate Gurudeva under the tree, and I took some photos. It seemed that Gurudeva didn’t really like this tree so I asked him if Sri Goloka Vrindavan had such trees. He replied that ‘No, there is no such tree there’. I concluded that as beautiful as it may be in Hawaii, the beauty of the spiritual world far surpasses anything, and Gurudeva was seeing it constantly.
Travelling with, but especially being in Hawaii with Gurudeva was definitely the best part of my life, and I will be most surprised if it ever reaches that point again. I felt completely nourished, both spiritually and materially. Gurudeva was always so careful to make sure everyone, but especially from my point of view his brahmacaris, had everything they needed. I felt completely like a child again, being cared for by a wealthy and benevolent parent. Gurudeva was in all ways so far advanced from my position, that although comparatively I am nothing and have nothing, he cared for me and accepted my service.
Although we may think ‘by my service Gurudeva is maintained and achieves his objectives’, really he is constantly nourishing us by mercifully engaging us in his service so that we may develop.
During this stay in Hawaii, Srila Gurudeva visited the big island for his Vyasapuja (birthday) celebrations. Devotees came from across the globe to be with him at this special time, and especially since the year before he was not well and was unable to attend. I saw how Srila Gurudeva had many different moods, in private he was often quiet and internally absorbed, writing or chanting, and in public he would manifest into the lion-like Acarya, ready to jump on and destroy all forms of untruth, yet to his disciples he was always very loving and nurturing. His presence on the Vyasasana was truly majestic, in sharp contrast but perfectly harmonious with the Gurudeva we knew in his bhajan kutir.
That winter in Hawaii I saw how Gurudeva’s service was constant, and in the same way his sevaka’s (servant’s) service was also constant. Sripad Madhava Maharaja, Brajanath Prabhu, Vrnda dd, Acyutananda prabhu and Vrndavan prabhu were always engaged in serving Gurudeva, and this was the great success of their lives. To be in sadhu sanga is indeed the greatest mercy given to any person. One time after a morning darshan I was asking Gurudeva a question, and he was patiently replying. At one point he paused and looked over to Vrndavan prabhu who was perched on the sofa listening. Gurudeva said ‘This is sadhu sanga’, and then continued with his answer.
In the two years since Srila Gurudeva disappeared, it has been difficult to experience the same type of intimacy that I felt in those days. Despite this though I am trying to connect with Srila Gurudeva internally, by the gifts of my experiences with him, and the knowledge that according to my own sincerity he is with me and protecting me always. In my recent attempts to continue his legacy and fulfill his order to propagate his teachings and movement, I have noticed that Gurudeva is still our prominent attracter and attraction. I have met people who are overwhelmingly attracted to him, through his pictures, books, recordings and spiritual presence, even though never having met him in the physical plane. They even dream of him, receiving instructions and darshan. In my limited understanding, this makes me realize that simply by keeping Gurudeva in the center of all our activities(See end note 1)., especially our preaching efforts, success in our ongoing service is assured. The current of Gurudeva’s mercy continues to flow through us all.
I pray to Srila Gurudeva and all devotees to always overlook my faults and indescretions, and please always keep me in the association of those who understand his inner moods. I also pray that he gives me strength in my sadhana, and in my service. I hope this account of my experiences was pleasing to Gurudeva, even though rambling and not in any particular sequence.
Srila Gurudeva Ki Jaya!
Puspanjali and photographs by:
Das anu Das, Madhuvarta Das (brahmacari).
Srila Gurudeva(center), Then (left to right) Vrndavan Prabhu, Madhuvrata das, Brajanath prabhu, Govinda devi dasi and Savitri devi dasi (foreground).
End note 1.
Our sister organization, Iskcon, has always kept Srila Prabhupada prominent over all others. His murti is the first thing we see upon entering an Iskcon temple, and we can understand that the whole movement of Iskcon is going on by his mercy. Despite their challenges over the years, their movement is still flourishing due to this. I was attracted to this line by Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, books and pictures, and that was 23 years after he departed from this world! I am confident that Srila Prabhupada placed me in the care of Srila Gurudeva, I have no idea how it works, but it does!