“Devotional Memories of Pisima – Srila Prabhupada’s sister”
“…Victorious moment, yet at the same time it is a matter of separation of a Vaisnava. So, for example, I just have a few things to say. You will find more details on how attached Pisima was, always assisting Srila Prabhupada in her childhood, from Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s biography. I just remember that Srila Prabhupada said that she always used to follow him around when they were children.
Of course, when Srila Prabhupada sent me to India in 1970 from Toronto, Canada, after brief stops in Chicago with Bhagavan Goswami and in Los Angeles and in London on the way— when I arrived in Calcutta I only had Acyutananda Swami as association, although there were many other people, but there was no real association. So I remember, the first time he took me, he said that, “You should meet Srila Prabhupada’s sister. She has invited us for prasada.”
And we went to her house, and there she showed us the little Deities [belonging to] Srila Prabhupada that she was worshiping. Srila Prabhupada had given his childhood Deities to his younger sister to worship. Now, we don’t worship… I mean to say, we’re not speaking mainly because Srila Prabhupada’s material sister is Pisima. Actually, she is a Godsister. She accepted initiation from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur for the Harinama. I’ll speak about that later. So actually in the real sense, she’s a Godsister.
We went to her house and saw the Deity. She was performing the worship very nicely, decorating with flowers. She offered up the prasad to the Deity, and she sat us down to take prasada. And she proceeded to do her best to bust us over our capacity with so many preparations of sukta and sak, vegetables. She knew how to make special mashed potato with mustard oil and fried cakes in pure ghee. And just like one hardly ever even finds in one’s own mother, she served us very nicely with Radha-Govinda’s prasada.
So later we found out that she was famous in the whole sampradaya of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur for feeding the sannyasis. In fact, even Sridhara Swami and so many Godbrothers of Srila Prabhupada, on different occasions— they all admit that they have taken the prasada prepared by Pisima.
She’s known as Madanera Ma because her younger son Madan was dying, and she continuously chanted and simply depended on the Lord, and in this way he was saved. And so she became famous as Madanera Ma. I don’t know the full details of that story, but she’s well known within the Gaudiya Sampradaya at Mayapura.
But her one sadness in life was that after becoming married she could not make any other children become full devotees, fully dedicated devotees. Although several of her sons have become life patron members, none of them would fully accept all the Vaisnava principles. This was a source of anxiety to her, and therefore she always wanted to live at the holy dhama.
Of course, Srila Prabhupada did not initially want her to, because she was so imposing on wanting to serve him that it became almost an imposition, that he would always say that, “No, you can just stay with your son.” And finally he agreed on her insistence, and she was allowed to stay at Mayapura where she continuously chanted. She would always like to sit on the veranda and hear the kirtan in the temple.
I remember from before that she had taken second initiation from Bhakti Saranga Goswami, and always when she was living in Calcutta she used to come out to observe the ceremonies of Bhakti Saranga Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrothers. She had only taken the first initiation from Bhaktisiddhanta. This gave me a good insight in how she simultaneously had her great faith for Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur as well as her mantra guru, seeing him as the representative of Bhaktisiddhanta, and she would always attend these functions with great faith and devotion. Thanks and appreciation from dipika.org to our sponsor and host,
It’s a very good sign, although someone who is able to fully engage in the sankirtana movement is no doubt the most glorious. Although her style was very simple, simply serving the Vaisnavas and associating with the Vaisnavas, we can see that by her special faith in Vaisnavas and her association with Srila Prabhupada, being born in a Vaisnava family, how she was always attached to this association. And this has given her that greatest opportunity of spending her last years and her last moments in the holy dhama and the association of devotees chanting Hare Krsna. What more can anyone desire in leaving this body?
Actually, the last two years— of course Srila Visnupada, he had been taking care of her in a very affectionate way— I noticed that every time we would go in the room though, Pisima would always be requesting, “You please bless me that I can have pure devotional service.”
She was always eager to get Srila Bhavananda Goswami’s mercy so that she could get more taste for chanting Hare Krsna. She, being very simple, she accepted those who were the receptacles of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy with great faith and she wanted always to get Srila Visnupada’s mercy. Very moving.
Especially, she liked to see all the devotees coming for the yearly festival, and that seemed to be her one high point. However, after Srila Prabhupada’s association was taken from her, we saw a steady decline in her desire to remain in this world. It seemed that her life had become simply empty. And in so many ways she expressed that. She was feeling very lonely without that spiritual association. Of course, her association was mainly from hearing, and even when she heard the tapes, in the end, she became very enlivened.
So we can see that actually this Vaisnava philosophy is so sublime, the culture is so deep that everyone— does not matter whether one is a great scholar or whether one is not a great scholar or whether one is a man or whether one is a woman, having a woman’s body, whether one is of any particular background, — somehow or another if one gets attached to the lotus feet of Krsna, then by serving the Vaisnavas, by that association, one reaches the highest perfection. So what to speak of someone born in a great family with great association.
We see that although living a very simple life, simply by this constant association of Vaisnavas, one is completely protected. One is completely protected. Somehow or other we have to remain very attached to the association of Vaisnavas. We have to remain very much fixed up in serving Vaisnavas. We have to remain very eager to get a taste for chanting the holy name. [indistinct] and actually at every moment we are protected, and ultimately fixing our mind on Krsna becomes very easy.
So, that we see, that Srila Prabhupada’s Godsister, our aunt—Pisima means aunt, paternal aunt—has given us an insight into this kind of spiritual desire, and therefore we’re very glorified to speak for a few minutes on her transcendental qualities, and on this glorious moment, feeling the separation from her spiritual association but knowing that she’s now gone back to Goloka Vrndavana from the holy dhama of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Bhavananda Maharaja (now Prabhu):
Gaura-bhakta-vrnda ki jai! There’s not very much I can say after the very sensitive and sweet words of Srila Acaryapada. But I was recollecting some stories about Pisima. Actually she was a very great Vaisnava. Prabhupada said, “She’s not only my sister, she’s also my Godsister. She’s a Vaisnava. No ordinary personality.”
It is no ordinary personality who can be beaten by Srila Prabhupada. When Prabhupada was a little boy, he would make her run with his kite. She always would run with his kite to get it up in the air. He would make her run with it. And if it didn’t go up in the air, he would beat her. And he told me once that, “Actually, she was always following me everywhere, and if she didn’t do what I said, I would beat her.”
He was the master of his brothers and sisters even then. And Pisima… It’s very sad, of course, it’s joyful, that we read the other day… it’s joyful and at the same time, it’s very sad, because she was part of a generation. Now that I’m getting older I can see that there are generations, and she was part of a culture. Srila Prabhupada of course was the propounder of this culture all over the world, and Pisima, in the little part that she could play, was also part of this culture, the culture of Bengal, the culture, the highest culture of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And when the members of this generation have departed, we will never see [anyone] like them again.
To think of Pisima, I’m reminded of Mother Saci, Sacimata, because we all understand what a great part prasadam plays in Caitanya-lila. Unfortunately, I think so many of us don’t understand the importance of prasadam. For whatever reasons, we’re not understanding the importance of prasadam and the importance of feeding the Vaisnavas, giving them prasada.
Just like Mother Saci— her desire was, “All right, You’ve taken sannyasa. You go to Puri and let me cook for You.” When she was brought to the house of Advaita Prabhu after her son, her beloved son, had taken sannyasa: “Yes, please, You just let me cook for You the whole time that You’re here.”
That’s no ordinary thing, to be able to cook and offer that to the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His representatives. So Pisima— she was always cooking. As Srila Jayapataka Acaryapada said, she was famous for feeding the sannyasis. And to sum up her character, she told us one story.
There was one sannyasi Godbrother of hers who came to see her in Mayapura last year. They were talking, talking, talking, and she was in ecstasy. They were talking about all the different kinds of prasadam that she had served and all the different sannyasis that she had given, offered prasadam to. And she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she said, “Ahhh, sannyasis [Bengali] sannyasis are my life and soul. What will you eat? What will you eat? What will you eat? [Bengali] What do you want? [Bengali] What will you eat?”
That’s her whole… that was her whole lila, that, “Sannyasis, the Vaisnavas, the sannyasis, they are my life and soul. What will you eat? What will you eat? What will you eat?”
This is the whole essence of Pisima. Therefore we call her… she’s the guru’s sister, Pisima. She’s our mother. This is the standard of Vaisnavi etiquette. This is our… Women in our movement— they can take a lesson from this. This is the standard of etiquette. Always the greatest respect for the sannyasis and always, “What can I serve? How can I serve you? What will you eat?” This cooking is a very great art. Srimati Radharani also— She captured Krsna by Her cooking.
And in the last days, when we were serving Srila Prabhupada here in Vrndavana, she would come in every day, though it was very difficult for her to walk because she had arthritis and was… She would come in every day to see Srila Prabhupada, and of course their relationship was very special. When he spoke to her it was a different mood altogether. And she would come in every day and say, “[Bengali] You won’t eat anything today?”
And, uh, he [apparently makes some gesture imitating Srila Prabhupada and the audience laughs] [indistinct] …no appetite.
And she, “Ohhhh.” Then she had a special Nrsimha mantra that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur had given her, and she would chant that mantra and rub Prabhupada’s chest [demonstrates how she rubbed Prabhupada’s chest, making a stroking sound] and she’d chant this mantra very softly for Nrsimhadeva to protect Srila Prabhupada. Every day she would come in and rub his chest and chant this mantra. Then just before she left, “You won’t eat anything today?”
And she would be brokenhearted that, “He won’t eat.” She’d look at me and she’d look at Tamal Krsna. “What to do? He won’t eat.” And then she’d be gone. Very sublime pastimes. These are very sublime [indistinct] were all filled with love [indistinct]. These are serious things. Because it was very serious, it cut her right to her heart. “He won’t eat.”
Then, I remember another time, when Srila Prabhupada had blood dysentery in Calcutta, nineteen-seventy… He went to the… It was Ratha-yatra time. He went to the London Ratha-yatra. When was that? 1975. Anyway, he came in from Mayapura and he was in Calcutta. He got blood dysentery, very bad blood dysentery. And they brought doctors. We brought doctors and medicines, and nothing worked.
Then Prabhupada said to me, one day, he said, “My mother, when I was a boy, the cure for blood dysentery was you take hot puri with salt and eggplant, fried eggplant.”
I said, “Oh, Srila Prabhupada.”
He said that. He said, “Make that for me.”
I said, “Srila Prabhupada.”
I was, [chuckles] I was a little presumptuous actually. I was very… I said, “You can’t take that.” I said, “You have dysentery.” I said, “You take that ghee and puri, you’ll get even worse.”
He said, “Anyway,” he said, “you make that for me. And where is…” he said, “Where is my sister?” And she was sitting right outside, just waiting. And he called her in because I wouldn’t make it. I wouldn’t make it for him. So he called her in and he said, “Make me some hot puri and fried eggplant.
Immediately she… Poom! She turned around and she left, and I was in such anxiety thinking, “Oh, this is just so terrible that Prabhupada’s going to eat this fried puri in ghee. It’s going to make him even more sick.”
And in five minutes… it was only five minutes there, Pisima came through the curtain into Prabhupada’s room with a plate filled with hot puris and fried eggplant. And how she cooked it so fast! In five minutes! I just sat there and Prabhupada ate those hot puris and that fried eggplant with salt, and immediately he was cured. Immediately he was cured.
So this being able to cook prasadam— it is a very important lesson to be learned here— that Pisima, she never cooked for herself. She never thought, “I’m cooking this for me.” She always thought, “I’m cooking this for the Vaisnavas.”
This is what made her cooking [become] prasadam. That’s also in the Upadesamrta: that when you’re cooking just for yourself, even thinking, “I’ll make a very nice offering to the Deity, and then eat”— that’s not prasadam. This is a very subtle science. That’s not prasadam because you’ve lusted over the food. You’re cooking for yourself and just utilizing the Deity in between as an agent. It doesn’t work that way.
Pisima— she never cooked for herself. She only cooked for “What would taste so good to the Vaisnavas that they’ll take more and more?” That’s why her prasadam, her hot puri and salt and fried eggplant cured Prabhupada’s disease, because her prasadam was filled with love. And after all, the whole purpose of Krsna consciousness is to develop this love. That’s what she had.
That is why she was a venerable Vaisnavi and we mourn this passing, but actually I’m very happy. I have to admit I’m very joyful. When I received the telegram I was very happy because this is what she wanted. She had told me that, “Now Prabhupada has left, I have no taste, no desire to remain here anymore.” I can understand she is one of his eternal associates. She had no desire to remain here anymore.
I’ll tell you another story. It’s a very intimate story. Don’t think badly of me. But Pisima was staying in Mayapura, and so she got very sick and her children— she has eight sons— they were concerned about her… or six sons… six sons. They were concerned about her. And she was getting sicker and sicker, and it was more and more difficult to care for her at Mayapura so they took her back to Calcutta and she was there for, oh, many months, seven, eight months.
Then, last— When did I?— last November, I came downstairs and I went around in the back of the first floor veranda, and there was Pisima sitting there. She was just sitting there taking prasadam. And she was very thin. Usually Pisima was very full, but she had become very thin and she was just taking prasada, taking prasada. And Satadhanya Maharaja told me that her son was in the reception room and he had just brought Pisima and five minutes later her son left. He just left. I didn’t even see him. And he left Pisima there. She was so thin and frail, and I was thinking— as I say, don’t think badly of me— I was thinking, from a managerial standpoint, “What is this? The sons have come and they’ve left a sick woman here, and now we have to care for her and they’re just running off.”
I was very angry, you know? She’s their responsibility. After all, she’s their mother. And they’ve come and left her here, and now I have to take the responsibility. I have to admit I was thinking it was a botheration. It was a botheration. So anyway, we set her up in her room and the women— the women who were staying there in Mayapura, the Bengali women— they were taking turns caring for her, but it was very difficult because she was very sick. And they’d have to be up all night with her. She wouldn’t sleep, and they’d have to take her… she could hardly walk, so they’d have to, you know, take her to the bathroom. It was, it was a burden.
So I was thinking like that. I kept thinking it was a burden, it was a burden, it was a burden. Then finally, she was asking… I was sitting one day in the reception room. She came by the window. She asked me, “Is anyone going to Calcutta?” Because she was thinking of her family, and she, “Is anyone going to Calcutta?”
Nitai Chand was going to Calcutta the next morning. I said, “Nitai Chand’s going in the car. I’ll send you in that car. You can go in the car.”
I thought, “This way, she’ll go back, I’ll get her… there’s a car going to Calcutta. She’ll go back to Calcutta and her family will care for her,” which I thought was proper. I thought that was proper. And it is proper that her sons should care for her.
So, the next morning she was all ready to go to Calcutta, and she was walking. I had been avoiding her, you know, because a woman’s tears, Prabhupada says, they melt your heart. When a woman cries, that’s her ultimate weapon. Pisima was walking towards the stairs to go out of the building. She was very frail. She could hardly walk. She could hardly walk. And then she looked at me. She finally got me, you know. And she looked at me and of course every time I saw Pisima… She looked so much like Srila Prabhupada. You know, it was a remarkable resemblance. Generally the brothers and sisters don’t resemble each other, but their resemblance was remarkable. The whole set of her face, the set of her jaw, the way she would… everything was so much like Prabhupada.
So she was looking at me with…and she said, uh…”When will I come back?”
And I thought, “Oh God!” [laughter] I said, “This is… Now I’m caught.” You know? “Now I’m caught.”
“When will I come back?”
“I don’t know. We’ll bring you back in a few…When the next car comes back, we’ll bring you back.”
Then she looked at me and she made this face. There’s no way to describe this face. Her… She was crying but there were no tears. It was a totally spiritual, transcendental emotion. Her jaw opened up wide like [pause] and she was sobbing. But it was like a totally spiritual experience. And then she was going. She stopped and she turned around and she looked at me again and she made that face again. I thought, “Oh boy!”
So then, she could hardly walk, so I said to Nitai… Nitai is like the… Nitai Chand, you all know, our president in Mayapura, in our Bengali family, he’s like the… Prabhupada, when he saw him in Vrndavana he called him Choto chele, “Oh, my little boy. My little boy, you were suffering so much from that attack and I was nowhere around to help you.” Oh, and they were crying. It was a whole family thing, you know, with Nitai Chand and Pisima and Prabhupada.
So I said to Nitai— he was very surprised— I said, “Pick her up and carry her down the stairs and put her in the car.”
So he picked her right up, carried her down the stairs, put her in the car. Then she turned. She whispered in Nitai’s ear. She was saying… I was leaning over the balcony. She looked up at me and she whispered something in Nitai’s ear, and I said, “Well, what?” I said. Finally I said to Nitai, “What is the use of her going all the way in there and then we have to bring her all the way back? Pick her up and bring her back upstairs.”
So he picked her up and carried her back upstairs, and she was sitting on her bed and she said to him, she said, “You tell Maharaja I know it’s a burden.” She said like that. “I know it’s a burden,” she said, “but I’m an old woman now, and I’m going to die.”
She said, “Now I just want to prepare myself to die. That’s all. I know it’s some difficulty, but I want to die. And I want to die in Mayapura.”
She said, “If I leave Mayapura, then how will I see Prabhupada’s samadhi come? If I go back to Calcutta, I’ll never be able to see Prabhupada’s samadhi. I want to die.”
Then I realized— don’t think badly of me— I realized that this is my responsibility as Prabhupada’s servant and she as Prabhupada’s sister and Godsister. It’s my responsibility to make arrangements for her so she can die in Mayapura peacefully and happily and go back to Godhead.
There is no doubt in my mind that she’s gotten her wish. That’s why I have no remorse at all. I knew that she didn’t want to live after Prabhupada’s departure, and she’s gotten her heart’s desire. She’s returned back to Prabhupada. And that was her desire. Such purity!
There’s another story about her purity. When she was— Prabhupada told me the story—when she was married, her husband turned out to be a rogue, a debauchee of sorts, woman-hunter and so many things. And the whole time, she would keep coming to Srila Prabhupada, and… “What to do? How we can stop him from his sinful life?”
So Prabhupada said, “Remember those Deities that we worshiped when we were children?” He said, “I have them here, I’ll give them to… You worship Them, Radha-Govinda, and you keep praying to Them, and They’ll help you.”
So Prabhupada said that she took those Deities, and she worshiped Them very nicely, and she never… even though her husband was a rogue of sorts, she never deviated from the principles of Krsna consciousness. Nor did she ever leave her husband even though he was a rogue… especially… uh, though maybe his habits were not— don’t appear so terrible by today’s standards— but from their standard he was a rogue. She never deviated from the principles of Krsna consciousness, Prabhupada said, and she never left her husband. She kept serving him and praying to Radha-Govinda, “Please, You save him.” And Prabhupada said the result was that her husband, after so many years, he changed all his ways, he became a devotee and he ended up worshiping her. [Audience: “Jaya!”]
He told me that. He ended up worshiping her. That “This woman is serving me so faithfully, and serving the Deities so faithfully, and she wants nothing but the best for me, and she’s praying to Krsna for me.” He acknowledged that and changed all his ways.
So she’s no ordinary personality, Pisima, and she was mother [of all of us]. That, we all felt, any of us who knew her. So we of course are very sorry, but we’re also very joyful that she got her heart’s desire, that she left her body in Mayapura and has returned back with Srila Prabhupada and back with Caitanya Mahaprabhu and back with Radha and Krsna.