Interview with Keshavi Mataji about Radharani Devi Dasi
KESHAVI: Just a few days. In 1986 I met her, and I saw that she is so nice. I thought, “Next time, I want to stay with her.” When I came back in 1988, the guesthouse was all booked up, and I didn’t have any place to stay. They didn’t know what I was thinking, but the guesthouse man said, “Okay, you can stay with Didima for a few days until festival is over”.
She was staying in the Long building then. I was so new. Everything was so strange, and I was feeling so hot, even then. On Janmastami, after the aroti, at like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, I had noticed that there was a big mess everywhere, and everyone just left. I started cleaning. I didn’t know how long it would take when I started. Then I noticed that it was mangala-aroti time. Then I ended the cleaning and went back to Didima’s place. Actually, I had forgotten that I was staying with Didima. When I got back, Didima was mad! She had complained to the manager that this girl didn’t come back the whole night. Even though I was only cleaning 2 hours, from 2:00-4:00 A.M. I said to her, “I was not out doing anything bad. I was cleaning!”
I was feeling really hot, so I used to keep myself cool by wearing wet cholis. Then Didima said, “This is not good.” (Wet kapar bhalo na.) And I said, “But it’s so hot!” But she said, “It is not good,” and she complained to the manager. Because I was so new to India, and I was feeling so hot Didima would complain to the manager about everything. He knew how Didima used to complain about anything like that. She was so motherly with her complaints though, nothing political. She had motherly concern, and she wanted to communicate with me, but I could hardly speak English and she spoke Bengali. It was very nice though.
Then in spring, I was going to Bhagavatam Class, just before Darshan Aarti. There used to be class before Darshan Aarti, then the Aarti and then Prasadam. I really wanted to go to class and I was walking past where Didima would be getting ready to cook bhoga. Anytime Didima would see me, she would always call, “Hey, Keshavi!” I didn’t want her to call me, so I was walking fast. There were almost no foreigners here then, just me and maybe two others. So she said, “Hey Keshavi” and I said, “Oh, no.” She gave me a basket and told me to go bring bhoga, all the subji. The bhoga then used to be in the Lotus Building, in front of the Radha Madhava’s altar. I returned and she took whatever subjis she needed. Then she told me to take the basket back with the rest of the subjis. So I had to take it all the way back, missing class.
And she was burned once, really badly, did you hear?
K: She was boiling either hot milk or rice, I don’t know. It was mangala-aroti announcement time. Guru Maharaja (H.H. Jayapataka Swami) was making announcements, and all of the sudden, he disappeared. So, I wondered what happened. He was called to go check because Didima was burned. Guru Maharaja said, “Why!!? Didima is so old. Why does she have to do this? Why can’t these young boys do this?” He was so upset with what happened. I went to visit Didima after the burn, and she was just sitting on the bed. She couldn’t move or lie down. Almost the whole body was burned, except her face. The skin was blistering. She was on strong medicine. Do you know what happened after a week? She was back in the kitchen! Everything was cured. It was amazing. With her age, even. There was nothing on her body, no marks. She was acting as if nothing happened, cooking again.
Then there was the flood. She was staying in the Long Building and she demanded that she had to go to the kitchen. She made the brahmacharis to come to get her by boat. Four or 5 brahmacharis had to hold her so that she could get into the boat, then go by boat, as well as help her out of the boat.
MK: Then pick her up after?
K: Yes. After, they had to go get her, and bring her back. I remember the brahmacharis were saying, “No Didima, why don’t you stay in your room, just relax,” and Didima said, “No! This is my kitchen. I have to go and help cook.” She was so determined.
Didima had two sons, one named Haridas, and another one died in an accident. Then Didima was so mad at Radha-Madhava. She said, “Who are You to take my son away? How do You dare take my son away? I am not going to cook for You.” So she tried, and she wanted to not go for service for a while. She would be restless and would walk along the Long Building. She would look this way, and look the other way, all except stare into the other corner, which was Radha Madhava’s kitchen.
MK: How long did the strike last?
K: I don’t know how long. But she came back.
When I had a baby, my oldest daughter. I was a little fanatical. I was coming to Mangal Aarti every day. It was so cold at that time, I would just put like 10 layers on my daughter. And Didima was also kind of fanatical about Mangal Aarti. She is old, I was thinking, she shouldn’t come. But she said, “Keshavi, don’t come to Mangal Aarti with the baby—it’s so cold.” She said, “Keshavi, Mangal Aarti ashben na ki.” Then I stopped.
MK: You stopped coming then?
K: Yes, because Didima had said, and there is no way I could go against her.
Everyday she was on time. She never missed any program. She always came to Mangal Aarti. She chanted next to Srila Prabhupada, next to the column. The floor was cold. I used to bring her a cushion. One day, I couldn’t find a cushion. So, I took my chadar, and put it on the floor, and Didima came, and she looked at it with angry eyes. So, I thought, “Oh no, she doesn’t accept it because it’s contaminated”. I was so nervous. She looked at the chadar, she looked at me with angry eyes. Then she looked at the chadar again, and then looked at me with a big smile. I was so happy.
I used to paint Radha-Madhava’s backdrop, when I had a small baby. I used to put the backdrop in the flower garden and paint and Didima was sitting there, chanting with Srila Prabhupada and looking at Radha Madhava. She used to come out where I was painting and she used to always look at my baby [demonstrates baby’s sleeping position on back with hands up beside the head] and she would wake my baby up, talking. She would always say that sleeping in that position, the baby is doing a “Haribol.” I could only paint when my baby was asleep. But Didima would always make sure to come, wake up the baby, and then go. (laughs) Every day. I didn’t need any alarm to let me know what time it was, she always came and woke the baby up.
One day, Didima got so angry with me. I didn’t know why she was angry. She didn’t look at me. She didn’t smile. She didn’t say anything. At that time, I felt really strange, because she would always say something. So, I had to do something. I had a picture, laminated, medium size, of Didima’s big smile while cooking. I really liked this picture, and I wanted to give something to Didima. So took that photo, and I went to Didima’s room and paid obeisances and gave that picture to Didima and she was so happy. She had such a big smile, and from that time, Didima would talk to me.
On the last day, because Ramadevi announced that she wasn’t doing well, I was there holding her feet, and they were warm. She was moving her hands, kind of let me know that she was there. Then my son was there. He is so small that he wanted to go home. I went home, but my daughter came, so she took care of him, and I came back about 5:00. I was holding her hands and feet—she wasn’t moving them anymore. They were cold, but after I held them a long time, they started to warm up. I asked Atma Tattva Prabhu if he could come. Atma Tattva Prabhu is a Prabhupada disciple. He has been here for a long time in Mayapur and he knows Didima. So I asked him if he would like to come see Didima, because it looks like she is going to leave her body. He came about 5:30. Then Sharon came with Mahaprabhu’s garland from Panca Tattva, and she gave it to me, and I gave it to Atma Tattva, and he put it on Didima. Then he left, and after, Jananivasa Prabhu and Pankajanghri Prabhu came about 6:00. Jananivasa Prabhu had Nityananda Prabhu’s garland. Then everyone was talking, “Oh, maybe we should call her daughter in Calcutta.” How we can contact them. Then one Mataji said about the pulse, I can’t see anymore, but someone else came and found it and started counting. One minute was over and she said “25”. We said, “25? That is too low.” She said, “No, it is too fast, I hear her heart pounding very fast.” Then she realized, “Oh, I forgot to say 100.” 125 was pulse actually. That is very fast. Everyone was like, “What will we do next?” Then Jananivasa Prabhu came, and they explained to him everything, how Didima had stopped eating, yesterday she took apple juice, but today we can only give her by spoon, and even that she can’t always accept. Ramadevi Mataji said that since the day earlier her face had become darker. She said that she didn’t think that Didima had more than 2 days, on the day that Didima left. Then Jananivasa Prabhu started to chant. Srila Prabhupada’s Japa Tape was on. Jananivasa Prabhu started to chant along with Srila Prabhupada and the whole mood changed. Everyone just stopped the talking, “What we will do? What will we do?” It just stopped. At that time, Didima had been holding her own hand tightly [closed.] She just relaxed. Jananivasa Prabhu said that it’s a good sign that she has let go, relaxed. So Jananivasa Prabhu just started to chant and everyone started chanting. She wouldn’t have left the body with us all talking and planning like how we will call her daughter. She was ready to go. There was only ‘Hare Krsna.’ No more talking about how much she had eaten, etc. Only Hare Krsna.
Then I was so stupid, I had to go. Because Atma Tattva Prabhu was leaving, I had to go get something for him. So I left for 10 minutes. And she left then. I couldn’t believe because she was there only 10 minutes before. I went back and devotees told me that just after you left, 10 minutes after you left, she opened her mouth three times, very clearly, as if to say, “Jay Radha-Madhav.” They couldn’t hear, but she opened her mouth just like that. They saw that she clearly opened her mouth three times, and they thought, “Oh, good, she is starting to be active.” Before she was not moving. They thought that she had become more strong and they were happy. Then they realized that she was not breathing, and they started to panic, like what’s happened? She wasn’t moving, but before she was breathing heavily. They couldn’t realize. She was so peaceful, like sleeping in deep sleep.
They called Ramadevi and after 10 minutes she came with the stethoscope and checked and saw that Didima was not there. I came and touched the feet, held her hand, so soft just as before. I was thinking that if I hold her hand, it will come back to life again.
I couldn’t believe it. I was still thinking it is not her. Someone said she left, but that is not her! Maybe it is someone else. When I came back, Sankarasan Nitai, Ahladini and some managers were talking, “Didima left at 7:15, so we have to arrange for tomorrow,” and I was there at 7:05. I was so angry. I gave Ramadevi Mataji a piece of chandan and she put it in the mouth, and Krsna Madhuri gave her Ganga water, mixed with chandan and put the chandan on her forehead.
So, Jananivas Prabhu told Ramadevi that someone should stay with her. Everyone was staying there and doing kirtan until about 10:00 or 11:00, then devotees started slowly leaving. Me and Sri Kari, and Ganga Mataji were there. They were a little tired from being there the whole day, but I was so wide-awake. I stayed up. Then at 1:00, her daughters came. Didima has four daughters and two of them came. They were informed when Didima was close to the end. They hadn’t been informed that she left. They came and they were stunned. They just came, saw Didima with the garlands, and looking like she was sleeping, but they could see that she wasn’t there. They just grabbed her… “Oh Ma!!!” - one daughter at the feet, one at the chest. We explained to them she was so peaceful. She didn’t express any pain. Then we explain what would be the next morning, that we would be taking her to the Ganga. The daughters stayed the whole night with her, and then the next morning we went to Ganga.
A few of the lady devotees washed Didima’s body with chandan, then combed the hair, put tilak, and chandan Holy Names on the forehead, and Tulasi on the eyes. I brought Chandan from Madhava, because I thought she would live through Chandan Yatra, and I had wanted to give her when she was still alive.
At approximately 7:28 in the evening, Friday, April 28th, 2006, Radharani Devi Dasi, affectionately known as “Didima” to all the Mayapur devotees, left her body. She left while in the loving company of vaishnavas and her caregivers while hearing Srila Prabhupada chanting Hare Krsna.
The next morning, Saturday April 29th, at 6:00, devotees began to converge to her room to offer their final respects to this honorable vaisnavi. I can honestly say that I had never seen Didima so beautiful, especially in comparison to how I saw her last a few hours before. Gone were any traces of pain or suffering. Her body looked pristine in a new white sari draped modestly in local Bengali style, and devotees had covered her petite body with many fragrant MahaGarlands.
Devotees offered flowers and garlands to her feet, then took the dust from them with reverence upon their heads. A kirtan group came inside the building and sang sweetly, beginning with Srila Prabhupada’s Pranam mantras, which is very appropriate since Didima, (who took diksa from Gaudiya Matha), took shelter of Srila Prabhupada as her siksa guru, and served Srila Prabhupada’s Mayapur ISKCON for at least 30 years. Ramadevi Mataji finished arranging Didima’s body for her last trip to the Ganga, and then the prabhus carefully took her outside, where many devotees had gathered for the procession.
In the procession first came water and fire-carriers, followed by Didima’s covered body on the padded palanquin, next came the ecstatic kirtan group and in the rear were the many assembled devotees. The procession leaving the Senior Ladies Ashram took Didima around the front of the temple property, to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhajan kutir, where Their Lordships Sri Sri Gaura Nitai took note of our ceremony and blessed us with their all-auspicious darshan. The time was Their Darshan Aarti time, so a pujari was fanning Them with a chamara whisk as we passed.
Next, the procession continued with a parikrama of Srila Prabhuapada’s Samadhi. Then we took Didima to the Prabhupada Ghat. The matajis carefully took charge of preparing Didima’s body for cremation by smearing her with ghee, then re-dressing her in another pure white sari. At the same time, prabhus were skillfully arranging the fire by first digging a shallow pit to enable her body to burn fully with the help of air circulation, and then deftly they arranged fire-wood on top. After the matajis finished preparing Didima’s body for this last samskara, the prabhus placed her on top of the pyre, and a few brahmacharis arranged for the lighting of the fire, a service traditionally preformed by the eldest son. Sadly, it seems that Didima’s son Haridas das was unable to come to participate in the ceremony, so the devotees took care of all the final details.
After the burning started, most devotees took their bath in the Ganga. Dayarama prabhu took this time to change his sacred thread, which is traditionally done by the sons after their mother leaves the body. Hari Sauri Prabhu, although scheduled to give the morning’s Srimad Bhagavatam class, paid his respects to Didima by being at the ceremony. Actually I saw that everyone was sincerely mourning her loss, helping during her illness, and participating during her cremation as they would for their own mother or grand-mother. The entire ceremony was performed in a celebratory mood, with beautiful kirtan the whole time but quite a few eyes were moist with tears, especially from the ladies, as they remembered their beloved Didima. I felt deeply touched to see how nicely the devotees took care of Didima with such love and respect.
Radharani Devi Dasi, Didima, will be missed by all of the Mayapur Devotees who were blessed to know her. Srila Prabhupada, who gave Mataji shelter and seva, in Mayapur Dham, is surely pleased with her.
Radharani Devi Dasi ki Jaya!
It is nice to remember Didima, sitting on her bench in the Long building chanting and looking to the park and all that's happening.
I remember the young brahmacari boys sitting with her, telling what's in their heart, and joking with her. She was the only Mataji who they were allowed to associate with.
Thank you Didima for the person you were and all the nice association you gave me.
When I got up and started the computer, I was surprised to see that you had sent me already the nice video about Didi Ma leaving her body. It touched me very much, that I could see her.
She, like Jayapataka Maharaj said, was like our mother, always caring and inquiring how we were doing.
Didima was a very dear devotee. She was Srila Prabhupada's personal cook.
Once Srila Prabhupada said three Mayapur Mataji's, of which Didima was one, were the best cooks in ISKCON. She did her devotional service with dedication for all these years. When her health interfered with her service her desire to remain in this world seemed to be reduced. She was always talking about devotees, her devotional service and transcendental topics.
She was very kind to me and I will miss her very much. She leaves behind her son [Budo] Haridas who does the media TV shows in Mumbai. I don't know how many other children she has. We are all like her children. She would take care of us and feed Radha-Madhava and we would get the remnants.
All glories to Didi Ma!