Life on Krishna’s Farm in the ’70s
By Padmapani das
When I first joined the temple in the early ’70s, our main service was to go out and distribute BTG’s—or Back to Godhead magazines—in the streets of downtown Vancouver and Victoria. The devotees wore thin cotton dhotis and saris (even in cold weather), and carried sticks of incense in hand. Sometimes we traveled east to places like Calgary, Alberta in mid-winter. To stay warm we had to run from person to person in mall parking lots offering people sticks of incense in minus 30 degree weather. There were many stalwart devotees who traveled and preached in Western Canada in those days, and I feel very fortunate to have received so much good association. The atmosphere was always dynamic and exciting.
One day the temple president told me that he wanted me to become a cowherd boy. So he sent me to New Gokula in Bridesville, B.C., our newly acquired farm project in the south of the province. The living conditions were simple and austere, but the devotees were full of enthusiasm for making the new project a success. The property was quite large and the land was fertile. At the time, devotees were busy making preparations for the long Canadian winter ahead.
My main services there were milking cows, delivering calves and training bulls. There was a huge barn in the center of the farm which housed the twelve cows and two bulls (Jaya and Vijaya). A number of calves were born during the first winter, so our hands were full with service from early morning till late at night. The days were long and everyone worked hard. At night the devotees drank hot milk and tried to read Krishna Book, but soon fell asleep exhausted.
Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan were brought from the Vancouver temple and the number of devotees increased. Partha and Uttama Prabhus, a devoted householder couple, were the head pujaris and they had many obstacles to overcome in their worship of the Deities. The weather was harsh and I recall seeing them every morning in the kitchen struggling to light a fire in the wood stove and trying to keep Their Lordships warm. The brahmacaris had to walk down an icy set of stairs on the outside of the building in order to reach the simple shower room below. Quite often the pipes were frozen and there was no water available. The austere conditions must have been reported to Srila Prabhupada because he wrote the following words to Bahudak Prabhu on December 15, 1974:
“It sounds as if the living conditions there may be a little extreme. But if the devotees can learn to tolerate as you say they are determined, and can stay and work there that is very good. And I give all encouragement to them.”
At first the farm was called New Mayapur, but Srila Prabhupada changed the name as follows: “Why not call it New Gokula instead of New Mayapur. I think that is better.” The devotees were very encouraged to be working together on a project directly authorized by Srila Prabhupada himself. He further wrote: “I am very glad to hear about your new farm-ashram existing there. We want to develop many such farms all over the world.” This was ecstatic. Prabhupada had blessed New Gokula dhama.
One of the most enlivening times for me was when devotees used to lead the chanting of Hare Krishna in the barn for the pleasure of the cows. They all seemed to enjoy the chanting as they happily chewed on their bunches of hay. Milk production increased and we became overwhelmed with surplus amounts. Some cows even gave two full buckets per milking. The Deities were offered many nice milk products made with butter, ghee, curd and whey—so the devotees never went hungry. By serving the Lord and His cows, we all got a taste of what life in Vrindavan must have been like when Krishna Himself lived there 5,000 years ago. It was simple yet sublime.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.