Padmanabha Prabhu’s New England Remembrances
By Gargamuni das
I cannot possibly put into words the loss I feel with the passing of Padmanbha Prabhu. Before he moved to Germany at the end of 1983, he lived on this side of the Atlantic, in a place called New England. Some 27 years after his move, his departure from this world has sent shock waves to everyone who knew and loved him. And make no mistake about it- to know him was to love him- and there are many devotees here who dearly miss him. My remembrances are just one small account, and not from the very beginning of his Krishna consciousness, but from a period between 1981 – 1983, that have left an indelible mark on my personal life. I hope the devotees in Europe enjoy hearing a little bit about this rare soul before he blessed them with his association in Germany.
Around the time I joined the temple, he used to cook the feast by himself in the Providence temple. He was made the temple president by default because all the other senior devotees had moved to other temples. Although not a managerial type, he had all the other qualifications to run a preaching center- he could cook, perform bhajans and preach very well. He was a bit messy in those days but his feasts were spectacularly big and delicious. So much bigger than what most temples serve out today. Oh my god were they ever delectable. Pakoras, curded sabjis galore, savories, fancy rice pulaos, chutneys, puris and sweet rice were generally the bare minimum.
My brother, Kesisudana and I worked in the kitchen full-time just washing the dirty pots he created. It was hard to keep up with him. He would add the ingredients with his signature horn sounds “ba-doo-boo-boo” (he was a music teacher) without ever following any recipes. Spending time with him in the kitchen for hours everyday, and hearing all his Krishna conscious stories was the consummate bhakta program. Sometimes he spoke to us kindly like a loving uncle, and sometimes joked with us with his great sense of humor like a close friend.
When we cleaned up after the feasts, he would put the leftover prasadam in transfer containers. He made sweet rice so delicious that I still dream of it today. Whatever leftover sweet rice that didn’t fit in the container, he would personally eat that night. The next day, Monday, he would always do a grapefruit juice fast, sit on the porch all day, chant japa, and answer all the philosophical questions my brother and I had. He would also preach to whatever guests came, or whatever neighbors happened to walk by. He was so laid back and so self-satisfied. He never seemed to be in anxiety about anything.
This was around 1983. He pretty much taught me to cook. He was about 37 at the time, I was 19 and my brother was 18.
Sometimes, we would chant bhajans for three or four hours at a time. He knew all of Bhaktivinode Thakur’s songs on the harmonium. I would close my eyes and be transported into another world. After stopping, he would pause with his eyes closed also- then slowly open them with a smile on his face, look around the room and just say “Awwww Krishna.” As one devotee put it, “He was always one of the good guys.” He put bhakti above all considerations.
For me, those days in his association will always be precious.
The first time I ever visited a temple was in Hartford and he was there. First my brother and I talked to the temple president Pyari, and then Padmanabha appeared. He had cooked the feast.
“I want to go to India this year,” he said “But I can’t.” “Just go in your mind then,” Pyari said jokingly. “Okay,” Padmanabha said in his happy-go-lucky fashion. Since it was my first time, I thought he was serious and speculated they were talking about astral travel. I thought he must be a mystic yogi or something. It turned out he was even better.
I remember once, he, my brother and I all went to Boston to help cook for the Ratha-yatra and the Whole Life Expo, which went on at the same time that year. In addition, I think Janmastami and Vyasa-puja were all about the same time as well. It was madness. We served thousands and thousands of plates of prasadam and were working in the kitchen for 16-hours a day for about four days.
Padmanabha burned his feet straining a gigantic pot of boiling potatoes in the back parking lot but just kept on cooking with blistered feet, unfettered.
When we got back to Providence we were totally dead for the rest of the week. We would rise and Padbanabha would lead kirtan in a very hoarse voice for about 20 minutes and then we would all crash in our various rooms upstairs. Sometimes we would wake up, look at each other, say nothing and then just go back to sleep. Other times, we would come out and chant a few rounds and then just go back in our rooms and crash again. This went on for days until we finally recovered.
We were bramacharis when I knew him. He was older and had read all of Prabhupada’s books before he finally joined the temple in his mid-30s. He was very mature compared to the young passionate bucks running around the temple in those days.
After he moved to Germany, he married and had a son.Hanuman. It just dawned on me that it was he who got me saying “Hanuman Ki jaya!” anytime I had to lift something heavy. He was in the military before he was a devotee and was especially attracted to Lord Rama’s pastimes.
I recently contacted a friend who had left the movement after living with Padmanabha for several months. He was deprogrammed when he was only 19-years old but he never forgot his older friend. Upon hearing the news, now 44, he wrote, “Is that the devotee the I lived with in Providence ? If so, it is very sad he passed away. He was like a father figure and a great Man.”
I wondered about Padmanabha’s next destination as I checked out of my hotel room after hearing the news the night before. As I left, I did the once-over, checking inside the nightstand. To my surprise, there I found Prabhupada’s Gita right next to Gidgeon’s Bible in the drawer. I picked it up with one hand and the book opened to 12.6 -7. To my delight, I read the following-
“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.”
He left us in New England suddenly at the end of 1983. My brother and I went out for the Christmas marathon and he went to his guru’s Vyasa Puja in Germany. He was requested to be president at one of the temples and he stayed there for good.
Now he has also left this world suddenly, after a brief illness. I guess that’s his style- short and sweet. I also guess Krishna has other plans for him. I feel so fortunate to have known such a great soul.