A team of women from around the world meet the king-sized challenge
of sewing outfits for Sri Panca-tattva in time for their installation.
A group of bubbly, chatting women, their colorful saris rustling as they walk, make their way down the path that runs alongside the temple. Towards the end of the path, they disappear into a doorway and, removing their shoes, climb a flight of stairs. At the top they reach a screen door. To the left, terrazzo floors lead to arched balconies, ornate balustrades, and spectacular views of the lush countryside, thick with the bright green of rice crops. To the right is a screen door. One woman enters through the door, and the others follow her into absolute bedlam.
This is the deity sewing room, and right now it's chaos. The women call their greetings, but they're barely heard above the hum of several machines and the loud chattering of around twenty other women. At the center of it all, brow creased with anxiety, sits a Scottish woman. Her name is Ramadevi, and she's the head seamstress for Radha-Madhava and Panca-tattva.
Her task is huge literally: the Panca-tattva deities are over eight feet tall. But their size isn't her only obstacle in completing the outfits in time for their installation. The sewing didn't start until mid-January. Ramadevi was awaiting the arrival of the deities before she started sewing, but after several delays until their arrival in February, she couldn't wait any longer. Although an experienced seamstress who sewed for the London deities under Prabhupada's guidance, and who has continued to do so for over thirty years, this was a whole new ballgame for Ramadevi.
"The size of these deities changes everything," she says. "Nothing is the same when you're talking nine feet! The fabric, the way it falls everything is different. Taking that into consideration, we really couldn't begin until the forms were here and I could measure them properly. This is God we're dressing, after all it has to fit!"
Each deity requires around seventeen meters of fabric for one outfit, and since Ramadevi is also the fabric buyer, that meant countless days spent in the narrow, ancient streets of Boro Bazaar in Calcutta, where the sound volume is high, the pace is fast, and the bickering over price even faster. But for Ramadevi, the most amazing thing was finding the fabric she wanted in the quantities required. She explains that for Radha-Madhava, it takes her around a month to gather the fabric, trims, and accessories required to complete just one outfit.
"For Sri Panca-tattva, I found fabric for eleven outfits, plus trim and all the accessories, in three weeks. That's nothing short of a miracle. Anyone who has been shopping in Calcutta should be able to appreciate that."
Once the fabric was bought and transported 135 km back to Mayapur, the task of sewing all the outfits presented a fundamental problem: manpower. Or in this case, girlpower.
"All I can say is, all glories to China!" says Ramadevi. "If not for those twenty women, I don't know what we'd have done. The Chinese ladies sat up for three days and nights sewing the curtains for the altar, all by hand. It was incredible. But all the devotees who helped were amazing, and it was definitely an international effort. We had devotees from everywhere: China, Russia, Poland, Croatia, England, Scotland, South America, Australia, New Zealand, India you name it, they were here."
The fabrics are glorious: rich silks in a rainbow of colors, embroidered and studded with pearls; classic South Indian dhotis; elegant wraps, fringed with tassels sewn by hand.
"We have Esther and her team to thank for that," Ramadevi says. "The results are unique and beautiful you can't buy this kind of devotion from a tailor."
Ramadevi is still sewing: There are several sets outstanding, and new sets required for upcoming festivals.
"Those festivals will always come," she say, "and sets will always be required, but these last few weeks have shown me once more what is possible when everyone works together for the one purpose of pleasing Krsna. With a group mentality like this, I'm seeing that anything is possible."