My Vyasa-puja Offering to Srila Prabhupada.
By Giriraj Swami
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble, prostrated obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to Your Divine Grace, to your powerful love, mercy, and Krishna consciousness.
Last month your spiritual granddaughter Smriti “Baby” Warrier (now Sravana Dasi) lost her son in a tragic accident at the railroad. When I wrote to offer my condolences, I was wonderstruck by her reply:
“Thank you for your kind blessings and prayers for our son Nrsimha Guru. Due to the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, we are all blessed with our journey in Krishna consciousness. In such a situation all we can see is Krishna’s hand and how He orchestrated the whole incident. Though it is the most horrific thing I have experienced, I am at peace, as I see the Lord in it.
“Twenty-two years ago Srimati Radharani put two beautiful Vaishnavas in my lap, and now She has asked for one back. I can only be thankful for those twenty-two years with him. I am proud that he was strong on his devotional path. He had just finished his Disciples Course and gotten his recommendation letter and was chanting a chapter of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. The morning of the accident he had been chanting his japa, so by Srila Prabhupada’s grace he was in good consciousness. I am proud of all his accomplishments, and now that his karma here is over, he has progressed to serving Srila Prabhupada elsewhere.”
I was touched and moved by her beautiful letter—by her Krishna consciousness and her sublime realizations of your glorious, powerful mercy. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 19.132) states, “When the personal associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu would hear of the activities of Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis, they would say, ‘What is wonderful for a person who has been granted the Lord’s mercy?’ ” And that is how I feel about her: What is beyond a person who has been given so much mercy from you?
Smriti was born on December 28, 1965, and thus she experienced your personal presence from around the age of six to the age of twelve. What happened during those years—how did you enter so deeply into her heart that even now, forty years later, she is totally absorbed in you, your love and mercy and Krishna consciousness?
Smriti’s parents, Shankar and Jayalakshmi Warrier, were tenants on Hare Krishna Land. “I grew up on Hare Krishna Land,” she recalls. “I was there before Srila Prabhupada and the devotees came. I was one of the fortunate ones who got a lot of mercy from Prabhupada and the devotees, because my mother and father did a lot of service. For some time the devotees had only a hut to live in, or were living on the rooftops, and many came to our house for prasada or for our fan. On school days they would come in and lie down and have the whole house to themselves. And when the devotees came when there was no school, it was like a big festival in our house.
“My mother was a good cook, and Prabhupada would have her make South Indian dishes; he liked idlis, dosas, vadas, and sambar. So every morning I would get a message to take the prasada over to him. And rascal as I am, I used to wait for something in return. I had given idlis, but I wanted a sweet back. And he would tease me. He would give me back idlis, and I would say, ‘No, I get lots of that at home; I want a sweet.’ So very early in life I started grabbing all the mercy I could. He would tease me and offer me a piece of idli or vada, and I would say, ‘No, I want the sweet on your plate,’ and wait there until he gave it to me. Still, he would pick up the idli and offer it to me with an amused look in his eye, like ‘Are you going to take it?’ But I was stubborn; I wanted that sweet, and that was it. Sometimes he would tease me to the extent that he would eat all his prasada while I was still waiting for my sweet—I would wait twenty minutes or more and never leave without it—and begin to put the last sweet in his mouth, and only then would he would hand it to me and let me go. And he would laugh.
“Every evening my mother would make a garland for him for the lecture, and I used to feel embarrassed because the devotees would come with beautiful thick garlands. They would buy flowers and make these beautiful garlands, and I would offer him this thin little thing that my mom had made with fragrant champak or mogra flowers from the garden. But eventually I saw that Prabhupada would take the big, heavy ones off and leave the thin ones on, and he’d smell them from time to time.
“There were times when his servants weren’t around and I would get to pick up his shoes and help him slip his feet into them.
“In the temporary temple, Prabhupada would distribute prasada after his lectures, but after he gave me some, I would remain standing there. He would say, ‘Go away,’ but I would still stand there with my hands out, wanting more. My dad would go for mangala-arati and evening arati and definitely for Prabhupada’s evening lecture. I used to tag along, but only for the sweet. Sometimes I would have to sit through the whole program to get my sweet. But sometimes Prabhupada would tell a devotee, ‘Give her the sweet so she can go home and play.’
“Malati Devi’s daughter Sarasvati and I used to play all day, and we would give Prabhupada a lot of trouble. Because Malati was cooking, she would basically dump Sarasvati at our house and we were supposed to babysit her. But she and I would take off and do all kinds of nonsense and get into trouble. We used to play upstairs. Prabhupada might have been resting, writing, or talking, but we were always up there doing something, and Prabhupada never took offense. He would always say, ‘Come sit down.’ And Sarasvati would sit on one side of his lap and I would sit on the other side.
“One time we were up in Prabhupada’s quarters running around and playing tag or somehow just making a lot of noise. He called both of us and said, ‘Sit down.’ And he kind of hit us lightly on our heads, to chastise us a bit, and then he told us to go downstairs and stop disturbing him. Sarasvati was much bolder than I was, because she was traveling with him, and she was allowed to get away with all kinds of things.
“Sometimes when I took his breakfast up to his room, there were no servants around—everybody would be gone. I would look at his plate, and he would give me my sweet. But I would linger, just in case something would be left over—maybe some more sweets—and so I would be there. Then if Prabhupada called for his servants and no one came, he’d say, “Get me my shoes.” So I would get the opportunity to help him with his shoes, and he would pat me with his cane. I was six or seven years old—a little rascal. “Prabhupada’s arrival in Bombay was a most beautiful time. Well before his arrival, the devotees would go to the airport and have a fantastic kirtan. It would be very loud and ecstatic, and we would be jumping and dancing, waiting for Prabhupada to come. I was so small I couldn’t see Prabhupada when he walked into the terminal. I only knew he was there because all the devotees went down to offer obeisances, and I went down too.
“One Diwali, Mother Kanta was in the women’s ashram above our flat and we were outside setting off fireworks. It was around 9:00, and I guess she wanted to take rest, but we weren’t finished playing. So she started throwing buckets of water down on us. My brothers and I marched up to Srila Prabhupada’s room. Caitya-guru caught us and said, ‘You can’t go in there—he’s resting.’ We must have made a lot of noise, because Prabhupada called, ‘Let them in.’ My brothers went in and pleaded that we wanted to do fireworks, but Prabhupada said, ‘No, it’s too noisy.’ So my brothers gave up and walked out. But I, the youngest, stood there and said, ‘But it’s Diwali—we’ve got to break some firecrackers.’ Then Prabhupada said, ‘All right, until 10:00—but after that, no more.’ So we got permission and broke firecrackers. The next day, Mother Kanta came with a plate of maha-prasada and apologized for throwing water on us.
“Being so close to Srila Prabhupada, at Hare Krishna Land, we got to associate with him in a different light.
“Sometimes in the afternoon we children would go up to the terrace when Srila Prabhupada was giving darsana and give him garlands we had made and perform for him, doing some devotional dance. Our parents would dress us up, and my mom would put together some dance for us to perform. It was like a festival, and we were all very excited, but we were anxious too, because we wanted to please Srila Prabhupada.
“My father did a lot of service, and seeing him do all that also inspired me to be a devotee and take shelter of Prabhupada’s lotus feet. In 1975, he passed away from cancer. Six months before, the doctor said that he didn’t have much time to live. So he gave up going to work. He said, ‘There’s no use working for another six months.’ He just stayed home and chanted. During the last four months of his life he chanted sixty-four rounds a day.
“He would wait every evening for Giriraj Prabhu to return from preaching. No matter how late it was, Giriraj never missed coming to see him. He would bring a garland from the Deities and a plate of maha-prasada (which the devotees must have kept for him, knowing he would be out late). His generosity and inspiration made Daddy chant more rounds, so he could tell Giriraj how many he had chanted that day, and when Giriraj expressed his pleasure, Daddy’s enthusiasm to chant more increased. In his last month he sometimes chanted eighty rounds or more.
“When he passed away, the devotees came and did kirtan. I think it was all Prabhupada’s mercy that my father took the essence of what Prabhupada had come for, to take us back to Godhead. He took that essence and realized that material things were not worth living for, so he just gave up everything and changed.
“Before he got sick, Daddy was at the temple like clockwork. He used to go to mangala-arati and guru-puja, and then he’d go to work. And he would go for the evening arati too. First we had pictures on our altar, and then Navayogendra Prabhu gave us Chaturbhuj Krishna. So we used to have aratis, and every day the evening arati was my job. I was the pujari at home. That was one thing Daddy had started at home, to have the evening arati. By six o’clock I had to be home and take a shower, and at seven I had to do the arati.
“The night before my father passed away, he was really sick and had to go to the hospital. But he said, ‘No, until Baby finishes the arati I’m not going.’ So I came and did the arati, and he was breathing heavily; he was really sick. After the arati, he left for the hospital, and the next morning, at ten o’clock, he passed away. That was the last time I saw my dad. After I did the arati, he gave me a big hug, and then he went, and that was it. If it weren’t for Prabhupada, we wouldn’t have been doing that arati. He taught us everything we knew.
“After my father passed away, Srila Prabhupada told my mother to surrender everything and join the temple, but she didn’t do it. She said, ‘No, let my children decide what they want to do, what their careers will be, and if they grow up and carry on, then I’ll come.’ But she never did.
“That year the devotees booked a whole train bogey to Vrindavan for the grand opening, and we were invited to come. The trip was wonderful, and when we got there Prabhupada personally took my mom and our family around the whole temple, which was so beautiful. It was wonderful walking with him as he told us what was in there and what was going on. He was so merciful towards my mom and all of us; I can only be thankful for all the time and all the wonderful mercy he gave us. At that time I didn’t know it was mercy—I was just having a good time—but now I can realize I must have done something in my past life to have been so close to Prabhupada and to receive the nectar of his mercy.
“When I looked at Prabhupada, I didn’t see him as a guru or sannyasi or swami. I didn’t understand that aspect of Prabhupada. All I knew was that he was very kind. I looked at him as a father, because I wasn’t afraid of him, to go and ask him something or do something. Because I would take him his breakfast every morning, I’d see him every day. Sometimes he would take a stick and tap me on the head with it, blessing me. If I helped him with his shoes, he would pat me on the head or do something like that.
“He was always very kind, especially with the children, and he always had a smile, no matter whom he was talking to. If he’d see you coming, he would smile and acknowledge you. Although you were a child, you were also a person. He would see you as a person, even though you were tiny—not that you didn’t exist. At the airport, everyone was there, but he would notice you. He might not say anything, but he would be with you. He would look at you and smile at you.
“When Prabhupada came to Juhu, I would always spend time in his quarters. Sometimes he would tell me to go and get Tamal, or he’d tell me, Okay, go and do this, or go do that. So many times he made me run here and there to do things. I would hang out there, because when Prabhupada came, that was the place to be, that’s where all the action was. So I would always be there. Something or the other was going on at all times. His cooks or other devotees would always be around. And all the devotees were also very kind and merciful. ‘Go do this for Prabhupada,’ they would tell me. ‘Go to this place, go give this to Prabhupada.’ A lady devotee would give me a rose to run up to him, so I would run up, and so I’d be there. And then the prasada distribution would come. Prabhupada would give out a big plate of prasada. Often it was fruit. I would get in line to get my fruit. The devotees would let me be at the front of the line, but I’d go back and back and back.
“I never really got chastised or reprimanded for anything—Prabhupada was always very kind to me. I think that’s what helped me love him more and do more.
“When Prabhupada was sick and came back to Bombay in 1977, the devotees would hardly let anyone into his quarters; he was really ill. But I was not used to that; I was used to walking in at any time. So, I came one evening, and they would not let me in. I had been bringing Prabhupada his breakfast, and he had been there for many days, but I still hadn’t been allowed in to see him. So I just stood there crying. When Tamal Krishna came in and saw me, he understood the situation and said, ‘Okay, go ahead.’ He let me in and said, ‘Be very quiet; he’s taking rest. Just go in and come out.’ So I went in, and Prabhupada was sleeping, and I stood there for a few moments. I was just standing there and looking at him. He was just lying there, and I didn’t see him feeling the pain. He had been saying that he was very sick and his stomach hurt, but I didn’t see that. I saw him very calm and peaceful. So, I grasped his feet and then ran. I don’t know if I woke him up or not, but I just grasped his feet and ran out; I just grabbed the mercy. And that was the last time I saw Prabhupada.”
Srila Prabhupada, you entered a child’s heart, took up residence there, and never left. Even today you sit there, causing her to think, feel, act, and speak in many wonderful ways.
“What is wonderful for a person who has been granted the Lord’s mercy?” And what is beyond a person who has been given so much mercy from you?
Your wonderstruck aspiring servant,