After a groundswell of support from ISKCON devotees and leaders, a Samadhi (mausoleum) is being constructed in the sacred land of Vrindavana, India for Srila Prabhupada’s famous early disciple Yamuna Devi.
Yamuna is well-known for singing the Govindam song played at ISKCON temples around the world every morning, for writing the award-winning cookbook Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, and for being an ISKCON pioneer in the UK. She passed away on December 20th, 2011 at the age of 69 due to heart complications.
Her Samadhi is being built at the ISKCON Goshala in Vrindavana, with Parvati Dasi—caretaker of Prabhupada’s Samadhi Mandir—heading up the project.
Located right next to the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education, the Samadhi will be just a short walk from ISKCON’s Krishna Balarama Mandir.
It will stand alongside Samadhis built for three other late disciples of Srila Prabhupada: Narmada Goswami, who worked with the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Mumbai; Purnachandra Goswami, who preached for many years in Russia; and Vibhu Chaitanya Das, a beloved member of the ISKCON Vrindavana community, who lived there since Srila Prabhupada’s passing.
Yamuna Devi’s beautiful Samadhi has a sweeping arched dome and is covered with intricate carvings of peacocks, pillars and arches. It’s a very pleasing design that, interestingly, was close to Yamuna’s heart.
“Although smaller, it is very much in the same style as the Samadhi of Vaishnava Saint Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakura,” says Visakha Dasi, a long-time friend of Yamuna’s. “Yamuna was very fond of it. Of all the Samadhis in Vrindavana, it was her favorite.”
Meanwhile on the front of Yamuna’s Samadhi a plaque will read: “Unalloyed Servant of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Yamuna Devi Dasi. May 19, 1942 – December 20, 2011. She knew the art of devotional service, lived a dedicated life of devotion, and graciously and joyfully gave the gift of Bhakti to others.”
The Samadhi will be inaugurated during a special two-day ceremony starting on January 8th, the auspicious occasion of Saphala Ekadasi. It is expected to be well-attended by hundreds of devotees, some of whom will adjust their schedules to arrive for the event from other engagements around the country.
The day will begin at 8:00am with a recorded lecture by Yamuna’s beloved guru Srila Prabhupada at the Krishna Balarama Mandir, in place of the usual Bhagavatam class.
Then, from 9 till 12, devotees will gather in the temple courtyard to recount their memories of Yamuna.
Among them will be Radhanath Swami, who met Yamuna at the 1971 Cross Maidan pandal program in Mumbai while she was traveling in India with Srila Prabhupada. Since then, they’ve had a close relationship, with Radhanath Swami visiting her and speaking at her ashram in Saranagati, Canada. And in the latter part of her life, she was treated at Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai by his doctor disciples, who developed great respect and love for her.
Also speaking at the memorial will be Dinatarine Dasi, Yamuna’s close friend who lived and served with her for 37 years; Sruti-Rupa Dasi, who cooked with Yamuna for Srila Prabhupada; and Visakha Dasi.
“Like Radhanath Swami, I met Yamuna in March 1971, when I first went to India,” says Visakha. “She was very instrumental in my becoming a devotee, and we stayed in touch throughout the next forty years. We traveled in India together and lived in Calcutta and Delhi together. She played a major role in my life.”
As part of the memorial service, youth from the Saranagati community—who, like many ISKCON youth, were greatly inspired by Yamuna—will sing the song Hari Hari Biphale by Narottam Das Thakur in her honor.
Behind the song choice is the story of one of many sweet interactions between Yamuna and Srila Prabhupada.
“She was recording Prabhupada sing that song,” says Visakha. “When Prabhupada finished, he asked her, ‘What is your favorite song?’ She replied, ‘Shiksastakam.’ Then she asked him, ‘Prabhupada, what is your favorite song?’ And he told her, ‘This song, Hari Hari Biphale.’”
After the memories, devotees will go to the ISKCON Goshala for the Samadhi ceremony, from 12pm to 1:30pm. Presided over by Mayapur priest Jananivasa Das, it will include a puja offering, placing half of Yamuna’s ashes within the Samadhi, and placing a framed photograph of her upon it.
The ceremony will be followed by an Ekadasi feast, and more memories of Yamuna.
Each devotee attending will then write a prayer or thought about Yamuna on a piece of paper, place it in a leaf cup with a ghee wick, light the small lamp on fire, and send it drifting down the river with hundreds of others.
Many, undoubtedly, will write about how much of an inspiration she was in their spiritual lives—for whomever Yamuna met, she touched deeply.
“One of my first experiences with her was watching her as she listened to Srila Prabhupada speak at the Akash Ganga building on Marine Drive in Bombay,” Visakha says. “She was sitting very erect and looking at him and just drinking in his words. As a result, her heart overflowed and tears poured down her face. She made no attempt to stop them or wipe them away. I had never seen anything like that before. It was amazing. She was the personification of what Prabhupada calls rapt attention in the Bhagavatam.”
Visakha continues, “Watching her made me wonder, ‘Well gosh, what is she hearing that I’m missing?’ It made me pay more attention to Prabhupada’s message and try to hear it with a little bit of the faith and devotion that she had. It was very overwhelming just to see her hear Prabhupada. It really woke me up.”
During her life in this world, Yamuna inspired countless devotees in this way. And now, after her passing, her Samadhi will serve as a place where devotees can go to remember her and continue to take inspiration from her life and deep devotion.