April 9, 2006
The picture shows Vipramukhya with Gulab Kali as a baby in 1984.
Some say Gulab Kali had a special relationship with me. I don't know. I do know that she recognized me every year when I visited Mayapur. She would become happy to see me, as she became happy to see all of the devotees. But somehow, over the years, she and I seemed to grow close.
I first met Gulab in the early eighties, just as I was preparing to accept sannyasa in Mayapur. She was very fond of sannyasis, and especially Bhavananda. Gulab used to follow him around wherever he went. I thought that was pretty cool, and so I used to go and play with her, too. As with many devotees, she'd latch onto my hand and go for walks with me. People used to criticize me for spending too much time with the elephant, unbecoming, they said, of a sannyasi. I didn't see it that way. I saw her as a devotee in an elephant body, who loved to play with devotees.
I'd frequently spend an hour or so a day with her when she was just a baby. I didn't really treat her as a elephant. I just treated her as a friend. I'd play games with her. Sometimes I'd hide behind a tree and jump out and say, "Gauranga!" She'd get so excited by this game, that she would roar. That was the first time I ever heard an elephant roar, but it would not be the last.
As the years went by she seemed especially happy to see me whenever I'd visit Mayapur. Even though she was getting bigger every year, I'd still take her out alone within the ISKCON compound. Sometimes I'd take her up the road all the way to Lord Chaitanya's birthplace and back. Sometimes I'd run ahead and hide behind a tree, or a rickshaw, and she'd get very excited trying to find me. Finally, I'd jump out and shout "Gauranga" and she'd roar.
I discovered she loved to follow me. If I'd walk with her out in a field, she'd follow behind as if she was a little puppy. If I walked in a figure 8, she'd follow right behind. Then I discovered that I could shout "Gauranga" from a long distance away, and she would hear me and respond with a loud roar that could be heard for miles.
Once I stood with Kaliyaphani Prabhu and other devotees from the United Kingdom some distance away from the elephant barn, looking at Gulab from afar. I shouted "Gauranga" loudly, and Gulab replied with a loud roar. Then others took their turn loudly shouting "Gauranga" but she did not reply. Then I would shout again, and she would roar again. We repeated this four or five times and each time she roared only when she heard my voice. It was amazing how she was able to identify my voice.
Once Gulab Kali followed a procession of devotees to the Ganga, all the while holding my hand with her trunk. When we reached the river I boarded a boat along with the other devotees and pushed off shore, leaving Gulab with the Mahut, the elephant trainer. This greatly agitated Gulab, and she began entering the Ganga trying to follow the boats, greatly distressing the Mahut. The only way that Gulab could be calmed down is when I jumped in the water, swam back to the shore, and let the devotees go without me. Gulab simply wanted to go wherever I was going, it seemed.
As she grew into her teens, I'd often walk over to the elephant barn to see Gulab in the early morning around sunrise, just after I performed my Salagram puja. At that time of morning, the Mahut and his family would be sleeping or just getting up. They knew me well enough, and trusted that I knew how to handle Gulab. I'd unchain her leg and take her out all by myself, borrowing the elephant goad just in case, though I think I never needed to use it.
Quite often I'd take Gulab out the front gate of ISKCON Mayapur and walk her up and down the road. Sometimes shop keepers would come forward and offer her treats, expressing surprise how the elephant followed dutifully behind me wherever I went. After sometime they all came to know me as "Hati Maharaja" (the elephant Swami). To play with her, I'd sometimes run and hide behind some of the shops, or the parked rickshaws, and she'd run here and there trying to find where I was hiding.
Once in awhile I'd ride on Gulab's back, but mostly I'd walk with her just behind, or at my side.
Originally there were two ISKCON elephants, you know. Sundar Kali and Gulab Kali. Both elephants were female. Sundar Kali was a mature, older elephant. She was not Gulab's mother, but Gulab looked to her as a mother. Sundar Kali's job used to be to carry the temple deities during the weekly procession, and Gulab would follow behind, usually holding Bhavananda's hand, and in later years, holding my hand.
After Sundar Kali passed away, Gulab inherited the sacred duty of carrying the deities during the weekly procession. Usually, during those processions, if I would be near the front of the parade, she'd reach out, grab my hand with her trunk, and walk the entire way holding my hand.
Four years have passed since I last played with Gulab Kali. I'm very sorry to learn that she passed away. I used to know exactly how old she was, but I've lost track. I'm sure someone will be able to say more authoritatively than I. I do know she was around 3 years old when she was acquired by ISKCON. I met her around 1982 when she was four. So that would put her age somewhere around 28 years old. That's too young for an elephant to die. Elephant's are like humans, and can live up to about 80 years old. She was just a young lady when she passed away. But she will be remembered by thousands of devotees all over the world, and she was surrounded by hundreds of loving friends at the time of her passing. She passed away in Mayapur, the holy land of Lord Chaitanya. Gulab Kali, therefore, is now forever blissful in the eternal land of Gauranga.
I pray that she will one day remember me once again.
Your fallen servant,
Although we know that everyone's existence in the material nature is temporary, yet when someone who is close to us dies we can't avoid feeling the agony of separation.
I remember when Gulab was brought to Mayapur in early eighties. Sundar-kali, the grown up female elephant, was already there in Mayapur and it was felt that she needed a companion. So Bhavananda Prabhu asked Radhajivan to arrange for another elephant, and he suggested that this one should be a baby. Radhajivan went to a big animal fare in Uttar Pradesh and brought Gulab. She was just a little baby at that time, may be just about a few months old. She was so sweet and cute. I remember in the evenings, when we used to sit on a bench in the lawn in front of the Lotus Building, Gulab used to come and receive everyone's affection in her own childish way, practically jumping in ecstasy. She used to specially enjoy when we used to caress her lower lip and a rub under her neck. Sometimes she would grab our hands with her trunk and drag it to induce us to caress her under her neck.
She naturally attracted everyone with her sweetness and conquered their hearts.
We saw her grow up in front of our eyes. The "mahut" (caretaker of the elephants) used to take Gulab-Kali and Sunder-Kali for an evening walk and on the way out when Gulab saw us she would just come running. She recognized those who had special affection for her. Sometimes even when we were traveling by car and she met us on the way she would start trumpeting and stop the car expressing her delight in meeting someone whom she loved.
She loved to eat bananas and bundi-laddoos and it was our evening program to feed her. And in this way our friendship grew. Elephants are well known for their memory and I practically experienced that with Gulab. Whenever I would go back to Mayapur and meet her there was a clear and distinct expression in her that would indicate that she recognized me. Just as little baby she used to wrap her trunk around my right hand and drag it to her lower neck asking me to caress her.
She was undoubtedly a part of our life in Mayapur and Mayapur will not be
the same without her.
When we first moved to Mayapur 10 years ago, Mahamaya Mataji told me that they had Elephant Processions in Mayapur. "What, you are kidding me?! What have I been doing all these years in the West, when they have Elephant Processions in Mayapur?!" I exclaimed. My sons were equally exited. Later on some of them got to sit on her back during the Procession.
Back then we used to live in the "Expo house", near the Elephant shed.
My boys used to go over to her shed and pet her.
During Gulab Kali's daily walks, she would come by my house and put her trunk up my window to ask for a treat. She was very found of Mangoes.
She also learned how to play with a green coconut by throwing it between her front legs and kicking it with her hind legs and than again catch it with her trunk.
Gulab Kali was a very tame Elephant. A few years ago it was decided that she did not need to be chained any more. This might have been a good decision, however she needed a little more service than that.
We all are missing her very much.
Gandharvika: So I had to go paint gopi dots on Gulab for the Procession. So I went there on Saturday and asked if I could paint gopi dots, and the elephant keeper said, “no problem.” But I was a little afraid, how to go so close to Gulab, so I asked him to be near. Gulab was so peaceful, she didn’t move, she was just standing there. And then I finished everything, and I was thinking, “Oh, so this was easy. Okay, I will come next time”. And then every Saturday I was coming to paint Gulab’s gopi dots. But then Gulab got used to me, so she would start moving - to the left and to the right, she would start eating while I paint… and when she eats, she moves the mouth down, and it’s very difficult to paint. I used to give her a maha-prasadam cake. So then after one day, Asta Sakhi was waiting there for me, because she wanted to talk. So I finished everything, I painted the gopi dots and I went to Gulab to give her cake, but she was completely ignoring me. She just turned her head to the other side. I was like, “Hey, Gulab, this is Maha-prasadam.” She would not take any notice. So then Asta Sakhi said, “Okay, if she doesn’t want it, you can give it to me.” So, I gave it to Asta Sakhi - and as soon as I gave it to Asta Sakhi, Gulab turned and stuck out her trunk. I said to her, “Sorry Gulab, now I gave it to Asta Sakhi. You should have taken it the first time”. Then Gulab took her trunk and just smashed off all of the gopi dots on one side. I went, “Hey! What are you doing?” She was showing to me that she was going to win. I said, “Asta Sakhi, please give me back the cake so I can give it to Gulab Kali.”
MK: Did she give?
MK: Did you paint the gopi-dots again?
G: No, she just messed them up on one side, so I didn’t repaint. I said to her, “Now, because you smashed your gopi-dots, you are going to go like this.”
MK: But she got her cake?
G: Yes, she got her cake.
I always remember her to be extremely smart, jolly and optimistic. She could figure out after few times seeing me with camera that it has a certain purpose. I am not sure how exactly she explained it to herself, but after while I noticed that she started to pose whenever she saw me, even at times when I didn't have a camera with me. She sometimes roll her nose and lift her foot up or cross her front feet in a casual manner or she will do a 'cattle' stand by stretching her nose in a cattle shape and playfully lifting her back foot up... She was a bundle of fun, always. And very personal too.
Like one time I came by her shed late at night, she looked bored and bothered with some thoughts. Then she noticed me and decided to have a little play - she grabbed my sari and started to pull hard until she managed to pull it off me completely. And she would not give up until sari came off. Then she threw the sari in the air quite high. As sari was coming down it got straitening in the air into one long strip of cloth and Gulab went under it in the middle, so sari fall on her head coming down evenly on both sides - so she was wearing my sari now and I was hiding in her shed hoping no one would see me like that... it was late and no one was around anyway.
She was enjoying wearing sari for some time, she moved around in it and looked just like a regular lady trying on new clothes. She was delighted and shook her head gently side to side. When I was attempting to pull onto one side of the sari, trying to make it slip from her, she would detect that and move away, then turn and look at me as a winner. After sometime she let me to take my sari back. I wished I had camera with me then, but... I did not. She looked very fine in a blue sari that was covering her ears and forehead coming down about 1.5 foot off the floor on both sides, she looked like a real lady.
When she was lying down, on the third day (the day she died) I came close due course of helping to clean and to see if she would take some water to wash her mouth (she could not swallow even water, so she was rinsing her mouth when she was given the chance) - and in such condition she suddenly grabbed my sari again! Just like that time. This time there was plenty of people around and I did not allow her to do the same trick, I pulled my sari away and up, then she reached out and grabbed me by the toes... I used to sit with her holding the end of her nose, which is in many ways like a hand. It is actually quite fine in the end and she can pick up even small things with those 2 splits on the end of the trunk, which are acting as her 'fingers'. She was able to hold individual fingers on my hand with it and even capture my toe and hold onto it.
She was so overwhelmingly PERSONAL. She wanted association of devotees. She WAS NOT just a dying animal, NOT at all. Dying animals want to be alone. She did NOT want to be alone, she appreciated devotees coming, touching her, talking to her, chanting for her - appreciated very much.
The night before she left I could not get any sleep, so I went to her shed to sit with her and chant my japa. She was not just lying there - she was constantly trying to move herself and making very conscious efforts to get up. She would put her trunk around corner and try to pull herself just as a human being would try to catch onto some wall corner or handle for support to get up... I was praying that she would make it... Her spirit was to figure out how to live, she was NOT a dying animal by any means... She was very much attached to her service to Radha-Madhava - to carry Them on her back. She was very conscious that this is her SERVICE and she was doing it with appropriate concentration and love.
She understood that to offer a ride on her back is the top most service she can offer. When she wanted to express her special appreciation for someone she would lift her knee on the front foot, which meant that she is inviting you to come and sit on her back. Pujaris used to step on her knee and grab her ear to get onto her back - that was the system of getting up there. And she made this offer to those she liked.
Another expression of love was that she would blow in your face by putting the end of her trunk right next to it. Gentle warm breeze was very comforting and full of feelings. It literally felt like she was pouring her feelings all over you.
And she had a real humble devotee nature, very forgiving. Even she was obviously aware of some mistreats, she would not get angry (like a spoiled elephant) - no, she was just accepting whatever devotees were willing to offer her as a treat. She was not keeping evil feelings for anyone, at least not in the form of anger (usual for elephants) - but sometimes when she did not like something she would cry with real streaming tears... And she would remember every littlest insignificant good deed someone done for her. It looked like she consciously was trying to remember or exhibit the remembrance of only good things someone had done for her, even though elephants do remember everything.
Well, as you already know, Madhava came to ride Gulab back to Godhead at 5.40pm on the 1st of April. Her feet had been bad but nobody realized how bad they were or, more importantly, how ill she was. I had been seeing her spending all her time leaning on the walls or the bars in her house but thought she was being taken care of.
Then on Monday, the 27th of March, something made me go see her and I could tell she was in a far worse state than anybody imagined. She was leaning on her back legs trying to take her weight off the front ones. She was so dehydrated her skin was like paper and she had a high fever. She was nearly keeling over.
However, she was very polite to me. She took an apple, put it in her mouth then, when she thought I wasn't looking, took it out and put it on the floor. Then, in a very dignified way, she very slowly and painfully moved away from me. I felt she was saying "Thanks for coming but I'm not really up to being social right now".
I started making noise immediately. Told all the powers that be. Told Naru he had to put thatch on her roof to keep her cool. Asked where the expert doctors were etc. I was just waiting for her to fall over. She did at 2am the next morning.
The doctors did come 2 days later but, apart from giving her IV fluids and vitamin supplements, were not of much practical help. The following day, the chief expert doctor came. He was a little more practical, telling us that if we got her up we would solve 75% of the problem but added if we were able to get her up it would be unique. Anyways, over the next few days we managed to
turn her a couple of times and were building a structure whereby we could lift her back on to her feet with a sling round her belly.
In the meantime, Hrmati and I were trying to figure out how to get Gulab rehydrated. She couldn't drink so well while lying down and was getting drier by the minute. After she had the intravenous fluid she would perk up a lot and try to get up. For days before she hadn't been having her baths because of the infection in her feet. They had just been hosing her down.
Neither did she have free access to drinking water because the mahout and the doctors said she had to keep her feet dry. If buckets were left near her she had a habit of knocking them over. So the mahout would just bring her water from time to time.
Now it was critical to get fluid into her. Hrmati contacted a really nice elephant expert over the internet. She told us to forget about antibiotics and foot dressings and whatever. The most important thing was to get fluid into Gulab. She said if we could rehydrate her sufficiently she may even be able to get herself back up. She told us we could give it to her rectally. Unfortunately neither of us are elephant experts. I could do this procedure for an adult or even a newborn baby because I know human anatomy but for an elephant .....
On the last day almost everything was in place and the lifting was planned for late that evening or early next morning. We tried to turn her that day - 3 or 4 times - but she just wasn't in the right position and we failed.
While this was going on Hrmati had found a suitable tube and was preparing it so Nanda Krishna Prabhu could give water rectally. We had been given the go ahead by the chief expert doctor to do this.
On the last attempt to turn her I could see she was breathing very fast and hard and told them to stop and let her rest. I was standing right by her head watching her because I was really worried. I felt her time was coming to an end. She started to show signs of distress and I knew she was leaving.
I told everybody. Sadbhuj Prabhu was standing almost frozen saying "I can't believe it, I can't believe it." I was actually saying Gulab's name over and over. Then I realized I had to chant. I urged everybody to chant but it took a few "requests" before they realized I was not just being dramatic.
She threw back her head, raised her trunk, opened her mouth wide and trembled all over. She did this twice and 1 or 2 minutes later she left. It seemed like she left through her mouth.
Two little gurukula girls, Nayika and Srinath, had been there for the last 2 hours singing every song and half song and half verse and odd words of songs that they had ever learned, mixed up with maha mantras. They were devastated when Gulab left. They have grown up with Gulab and she was very much a part of their lives. They were so distraught that I had to think of a way to calm them down before they became hysterical. I told them that Gulab had seen Madhav coming for her and had thrown her head back and trunk up to greet Him. Then when he sat on her shoulders to ride her back to Godhead she was trembling in ecstasy. They both started to calm down and Nayika was saying between sobs, "That's good. Yes, that's good." So that's how I will try to remember that day ......
We covered Gulab with cloth and her old procession blanket then everybody came for last darshan. The next morning many of the ladies and gurukula girls bathed and decorated her for her journey to her samadhi - behind her house. The girls did really lovely designs all over her face and shoulder.
Then devotees began to write Hare Krishna in different languages all over her body. A bathing ceremony was offered to her trunk instead of her feet because of the heavy infection in them. Her trunk was bathed with holy waters, milk, ghee and tumeric. I got to rub in the last of the water at the end. One devotee bathed on behalf of the vaisnavas, one on behalf of Radha Madhav, I think one on behalf of the demigods as well as a few others. I couldn't really take everything in.
She was pulled very gently to the samadhi site The samadhi pit was dug the night before. Gaurahari, the Goshalla in charge, was taking care of the moving and was very sensitive and caring about it. When I saw her inside I thought, "Such a big hole for such a small elephant!". It was at least 25 feet deep and 20 feet square. She was covered with new cloth then salt and then earth.
Needless to say everybody is very sad but at least she's not suffering any