One of Knsna's most intimate servants comes in a special form to bless us with extraordinary fortune.By Govinda Dasi
Devotees of Krsna worship a little tree.But she's not an ordinary tree.She's Tulasi Devi, krsna's favorite plant.
Tulasi has delicate purple and green leaves,flower tassels like miniature temple spires,and an arresting,sweet fragrance famous for attracting the minds of yogis tokrsna's servise. Tulasi's wood is carved into japabeads on which devotees chant krisna name.Devotees wear strands ofTulasi beads around their necks.Herleaves and flowers decorate the Deity of krsna in the temple and are placedon food offered to Him.She has taken the form of a tree so that everyone,even the poore st person,can offer something wonderful to Krsna.
MY FASCINATION with Tulasi Devi began very soon after meeting Srila Prabhupada in 1967.I searched Indian stores all over New York City to find a set of Tulasi japa beads.One clever man sold me rosewood beads,assuring me they were Tulasi.When I presented them to Srila Prabhupada,he held them and looked at them with scrutiny,then simply said,"No,not Tulasi." But he chanted on them anyway. Later,in 1968,as I was cleaning Srila Prabhupada's room I found his Tulasi japa beads lying near his bead bag on his cushion.As I carefully put them back into their bag,I was mesmerized by their smooth touch and golden glow.They were large, round beads,shiny from years of use,with a mystical quality that still sticks in my mind. In 1969,Srila Prabhupada sent me to Honolulu to open a temple.I spent much time at t he research library of the University of Hawaii's East-West Center.I found many ancient texts from India,some by Srila Prabhupada's guru and other vaisnava saints.And I found information on Tulasi Devi-her bo tanical names,her history,and ways to grow her.My desire to grow Tulasi became an obsession,and somehow I got seeds from India.
The first set of seeds did not grow.I daily worshiped a thin green sprout until it became painfully evident that it was a blade of grass.The second batch of seeds proved fruitful however,and tiny heart- shaped seedlings spread their delicate leaves in our Honolulu home.That was the beginning.
I still didn't know why growing Tulasi was important to Srila Prabhupada or his mission.But when I later presented two small Tulasi plants to him in Los Angeles,he was delighted.He held one The Author of the small pots in his hand for a long time,gazing at the seven-inch seedling,noting that she was indeed srimati Tulasi Devi.
Prabhupada talked on and on about the glones of Tulasi Devi,and he was in such joyful spirits! Srila Prabhupada's servant,Kartikeya Dasa,was astonished.He later told me that he had not seen Srila Prabhupada so light-hearted and happy in over a year.
At one point,Srila Prabhupada told us that Tulasi Devi was a great devotee of Lord Krsna and that her husband,a demon,was killed by Krsna Then Prabhupada stopped short and became thoughtful. My intuition was that he had given us as much as we could then understand.
So my understanding became quite basic:somehow,growing Tulasi made Srila Prabhupada very,very pleased.that was enough.I proceeded to cultivate Tulasi plants on a large scale.I wrote a booklet entitled How to Grow Tulasi Devi,sent seeds and booklets to every temple,and tried to offer advice and assistance to devotees in their efforts to cultivate Tulasi.
Later,I came across the following purport by Srila Prabhupada in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.8.55):It is specifically mentioned herein that T ulasl leaves are very dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and devotees should take particular care to have Tulasi leaves in every temple and center of worship.In the Westerncountries,while engaged in propagating the Krsna consciousness movement,we were brought great unhappiness because we could not find Tulasi.leaves.We are very much obliged,therefore, to our disciple Srimati Govinda Dasi because she has taken much care to grow Tulasi plants from seeds,and she has been successful by the grace of Krsna.Now Tulasi plants are growing in almost every center of our movement.
Only then did I become truly aware of the importance of cultivating Tulasi plants.I realized that my initial attraction to Tulasi and my obsessive desire to grow Tulasi plants,though not inspired by a direct instruction from Srila Prabhupada,were communicated from within the heart by the Lord to please and assist Srila Prabhupada in his mission.I felt humbled and joyful that even in my ignorance I had been given an opportunity to serve him in this way.
LEARNING RESPECT FOR TULASI
In 1968,before Tulasi made her appearance in the West,Srila Prabhupada sometimes talked about her.I recall him saying that in India every-one considers Tulasi plants sacred,and no one will cut or uproot them.Even non-Hindus,he said,will not destroy Tulasi to build a house on a spot where she is growing-they'll look for a place not inhabited by Tulasi. When Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered the birthplace of Lord Caitanya,it was so overgrown with Tulasi that no one had settled there,thinking it to be a sacred place.Even nonHindus considered that disturbing Tulasi plants would bring ill fortune.
When Prabhupada came to Hawaii in 1971,he admired our lush Tulasi garden in front of the entrance to the temple.Because these tulasis had grown far larger than we had expected (some nearly seven feet tall and with stalks two inches in diameter)' we had a problem.The Tulasi branches were beginning to cover the entrance,and people unavoidably brushed up against her.We pointed this out to Srila Prabhupada and asked his permission to trim some of the branches.He became alarmed and exclaimed,"You cannot cut Tulasi -that is the greatest offense! You must never cut her.But you can tie back the branches obstructing the entrance."
Even after tying back the branches,Tulasi kept growing,and the problem continued.When we told Srila Prabhupada that people had to bend down when passing through the Tulasi archway on the way into the temple,he was delighted.He smiled,his eyes sparkled,and he said,"That's good.It is good that they have to bow to Tulasi before entering Krsna's temple."
When Srila Prabhupada came for a later visit,he carefully entered the Tulasi archway by go ing through sideways to avoid brushing against her leaves and branches.and while walking along the walkway to the temple,which was lined with more Tulasi plants,he told his secretary,Syamasundara,"Don' t step on her shadow." In these ways Srila Prabhupada showed great respect for tulasi Devi.
In his books,too,Srila Prabhupada called attention to the exalted position of Tulasi Devi.He writes in a purport to the SrimadBhdgavatam (3.16.20): The goddess of fortune,Laksmi,is sometimes envious of the Tulasi leaves which are placed at the lotus feet of the Lord,for they remain fixed there and do not move,whereas Laksmiji,although stationed by the chest of the Lord,sometimes has to please other devotees who pray for her favor. Laksmiji sometimes has to go to satisfy her numerous devotees,but Tulasl leaves never forsake their position,and the Lord therefore appreciates the service of Tulasi more than the service of Laksmi.
In The Nectar of Devotion,Srila Prabhupada quotes from the Skanda Purana: Tulasi is auspicious in all respects.Simply by seeing,simply by touching,simply by remembering,simply by praying to,simply by bowing before,simply by hearing about,or simply by sowing this tree,there is always auspiciousness.Anyone who comes in touch with the Tulasi tree in the abovementioned ways lives eternally in the Vaikuntha world.
Srila Prabhupada taught us never to think of Tulasi as an ordinary plant.She is a great devotee standing before us in the form of a small tree.She appears as a delicate tree in this world to serve the Lord and uplift human society. Tulasi Devi can be used in many ways to please the Supreme Lord,but never for gratifying one's senses.To offer Tulasi Devi with a material incentive-to destroy one's enemies,to remove anxieties, to make medicine-will be the bridge by which one enters the hellish regions.
Tulasi Devi has come to the West to give us the opportunity to serve her for our benefit.If we care for her nicely,she can grant us love for Krsna.
SERVING TULASI'S HOME
In November 1989,I met "Vrnda Kunda Baba,"or Madhava Dasa,a ren owned scholar and Vaisnava saint,and a great devotee of Srimati Tulasi Devi.He had spent years in Vrndavana working to restore and develop Vrnda Kunda,the eternal home of Vrnda Devi,the cowherd-girl form of Tulasi Devi.Madhava Baba's knowledge of the scriptures,especially those relating to the glories of Tulasi Devi,was vast.Not surprisingly,I felt an immediate connection.
Because Baba had become old and ill,he wanted to leave his work to reliable people who were a lso devoted to Tulasi Devi.Somehow,by the divine arrangement of the Lord,he ended up at ISKCON's Krsna-Balaram temple.
On meeting him,I felt a strong urge ro assist him and began by helping with his medical expenses.Later,when he became bedridden in February and March of 1990,I worked with Vidya DevI DasI, MuralI-dhara Dasa,and Mohana Dasa rohelp provide nursing and medical care for him in his final days.
At that time,I was inspired to paint a picture of Vrnda DevI.Madhava Baba knew all the scriptural references to Vrnda DevI,and he carefully supervised the tiniest details of this painting.The scriptures describe V rnda Devi as having a beautiful complexion like molten gold,a shimmering golden effulgence,and an enchanting pearl on her nose.A gentle smile decorates her lips.
She wears blue garments and is decorated with pearls and flowers.Her right hand is raised in blessing the devotees,and on her left hand she holds her yellow parrot,Daksa, who has thousands of parrot disciples of various colors:red,green, yellow,blue,white.The parrots serve Vrnda Devi by carrying messages to various parts of Vrndavana.
Vrnda Devi is in charge of the Vrndavana lila-the pastimes of Radha and Krsna.She decides which flowers will bloom,which birds will sing,which songs will be sung,which breezes will blow, which food will be served,which games will be played,which musical instruments will be played.
Lord Krsna and Srimati Radharani have given Vrnda Devi her role as queen of Vrndavana. Vrnda DevI may be likened to a grand director or choreographer of the Vrndavana lila and her parrots are her communication service.She always stays in Vrndavana,absorbed in love for Radha and Krsna.Her great yearning is to expertly arrange Their meeting,and by doing this she feels the greatest joy.
When the painting was finished,I would hold it up before Baba daily,and he would chant his prayers to Vrnda DevI,his worshipable deity. Often he would cry when he saw her.
Once he looked up at me and very humbly said,"Thank you,Mataji.You have made just the exact replica of Vrnda DevI.
"I told him,"Baba,because you are now unable to walk and go see your beloved deity,Vrnda DevI has arranged to come to see you.
"We pressed Baba to tell us his life story so we could tape it for future publication.He was reluctant.
"No Mataji,I don't want name and fame.
"We persisted,imploring him that it would be a necessary part of continuing the development of vranda kunda.We pleaded that name and fame would come after he had left this world.He finally agreed,for the service of Vrnda Devi,and we began documenting his life story and the story of the development of Vrnda Kunda
Srila Prabhupada had told us that Vrndavana is named after Vrnda Devi.It means "forest of Tulasi.
"Baba explained,"This Vrndavana-dhama belongs to Sri Krsna It is the shining crest jewel of all the Vaikunthas,and Srimati Radharani,the daughter of King Vrsabhanu,has made Vrnda Devi the ruling monarch of Lord Krsna's opulent and auspicious abode of Vrndavana.
"Every day Baba talked to us of the glories of Vrnda DevI as described in the Skanda Purana,Brahma-vaivarta Purana,padma Purana Garuda Purana,Narada Purana and other Vedic texts.He carefully translated the VrndadevyaHakam by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura,and he told us about the mercy of Lord Caitanya. We learned that the Lord would have a Tulasi tree carried before him in His sankirtana party.
During this time,I visited Vrnda Kunda.There is a small,simple temple there,and a lovely pond lined with Tulasi trees. the atmosphere was surcharged with a unique spiritual essence.I sat quietly and chanted and meditated beside Tulasi Devi.In my mind I had a fleeting "glimpse" of a beautiful palace,with winding crystal staircases and shimmering decor.I wondered at this, and when I saw Baba I asked him about it.He began to describe such a palace from various scriptural quotations.I was stunned.
In a miraculous way that only Lord Krsna could have designed,this aged saint,who was born in a highly situated brahmana family and who had spent his entire life as a sadhu,was now being cared for by a small crew of American and European disciples of Srila Prabhupada.Witnessing his love and devotion for Vrnda Devi was our greatest gift.It was as if Srila Prabhupada had arranged for us to receive further instruction and opportunity to serve Srimati Tulasi Devi by sending Baba into our midst.
A DIVINE SOUL DEPARTS
Baba's passing away was glorious.It was early,just after mangala-arati,on March 27,1990.Vidya and I were in the temple making Tulasi garlands when Baba's nurse rushed in,telling us to come quickly.On the way to his room I grabbed the painting of V rnda Devi to take to him.
As I entered the room,I was a bit shaken by the hanging presence of impending death.Death is a powerful,compelling force,hard to describe,yet almost tangible.
I held the painting for Baba to see and said,"Vrnda Devi has come.
"He focused on the beautiful form of Vrnda Devi and tried to say his Sanskrit prayers to her.His last audible words were "Krsna krsna!
We sat beside his bed and chanted Hare Krsna our beads.Dinabandhu Dasa arrived and began playing the harmonium and singing.It was a soft and gentle kirtana,penetratingly sweet and melodious.The whole room was filled with a golden glow.Baba's eyes were fixed on Vrnda Devi,and when he could no longer see externally,his eyes were shining in ecstasy and focused on some other world.It was as if he was clearly seeing Krsna and his beloved Vrnda Devi.
A beautiful smile was on his lips.His breath came in tiny gasps,and with each breath his ecstasy increased. His face shone with a remarkable radiance.Then he was gone.It was a moment of incredible awe and ecstasy! We were seeing a divine soul depart for the realm of Goloka,and we cried for joy.
Baba's departure left on indelible imprint on my mind.I saw the energy of death in action-compelling,relentless,moving forward like a bulldozer,pushing the soul out of the body.It was fierce and final,frightening and overwhelmingly real.This was the essence and inner meaning of time.I tasted the divine words of the Gita"I come as death."
Then I saw the devotee's response ro death:full surrender at the Lord's lotus feet with pure love and trust.And I witnessed the Lord's divine protection of His devotee.What may be fearful and horrible for others was for Baba a joyous reunion with his beloved Lord.Krsna came and filled the room with His love and radiance,and Baba left with Him to eternally serve Vrnda Devi at her home in Vrnda Kunda.
Baba's work at Vrnda Kunda was left unfinished.I believe it was his gift to us,Srila Prabhupada's generations of disciples.Because of Srila Prabhupada's efforts in spreading the glories of Tulasi Devi all over the world,Vrnda Deviled Baba Madhava Dasa rochoose ISKCON ro continue her service at Vrnda Kunda.
The small crew of us who cared for Baba all feel deeply committed to carrying on his work at Vrnda Kundla.By Krsna's grace,the daily worship of Vrnda Devi is still going on.We promised Baba that a compound wall will be built around Vrnda Kunda and other improvements will be made.Through this work,our spiritual strength will be increased and our understanding of krsna-bhakti will become mature.There is great spiritual merit accrued from caring for holy places.And of all holy places,Vrnda Kunda is one of the most auspicious.
Govinda Disi became a disciple of Srila Prabhupada in 1967 in SanFrancisco.She now lives in Hawaii. Our thanks to Manjarl Devi Dilsi of Oakland,California,for her help in putting together this article.