All Glories to His Divine Grace
Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj

21st World Tour Interviews

Soquel Seva Ashram, USA,
and Quinta Parama Karuna, Venezuela

by Vaidehi Devi Dasi

Welcome to World Tour Interviews. This is part of the Krishna conscious series in which the devotees tell us the story of how they came into Krishna consciousness. There are so many devotees who want to share their first experience with the movement, so let us listen to what they have to say.


This devotee you see is special. Disguised as a local Santa Cruz bike rider he has their Lordships on his mind twenty-four hours a day. Changing Their outfits two times or more a day, making sure Their hair is brushed, cutting the fruit for the 4pm offering, doing worship three or more time a day and even bike riding all the way across town to buy the milk for the burfy he makes every night. He is none other than the amazing multi service pujari at the Soquel Seva Ashram! Let us hear his story!

Vaidehi: What inspired you to join the Krishna conscious movement and how did you become a pujari?

Ramai Prabhu:
Once upon a time back in the late sixties and early seventies, I and the kids I was hanging out with were reading books by Richard Albert, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead and other Eastern philosophy type books. I was working at the King of Prussia mall and then one day I was there on my lunch hour and the devotees were there. They were Sripad Goswami Maharaj and Nabadwip Prabhu. Goswami Maharaj hit me up first. He said: "Hey man I am from the Krishna yoga society and we've got this book that George Harrison paid for." It was an Isopanishad and so he told me a little bit about it and gave me the line that they were feeding people in Bangladesh and stuff like that, and so I gave him five dollars for the book. He left and as I was making my way home Nabadwip Prabhu hit me up with the same book and some incense. I gave him a few dollars for that and got back home to begin reading the book.
Even from then it began to change us a little bit because my friends and I would read it every day. In Prabhupad's purports it said that if you eat meat you could not make any spiritual advancement, and that really concerned us so we stopped eating meat and some other things we were doing at that time. We were near Philadelphia at that time and we went back to Indiana where my parents lived.
Devananda Prabhu's grandmother was coming in from England one day so we went to the airport kind of looking for the devotees. We thought they would be there and we saw them! We began to talk to one of them, and another devotee came up from behind us and said that the spirit of Krishna had brought us together. We bought from them the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya and a couple of Back to Godhead magazines. We read all of those books for a while and then after a couple of months I moved to England with Devananda.
The devotees had just gotten Bhaktivedanta Manor at the time so we started going to the temple. We would sit around and wait at Piccadilly Circus for the Harinam party to come around. Gambling was legal at that time in London so the devotees would chant in front of these places and people would come out and join us. Some of them would take pictures and some people would make fun of us. We would then go back to the temple at night and they would serve hot milk. It was a novel thing for me and my friend since we had never experienced anything like that.
After some time we went back to America to find a job and Devananda started doing construction. I didn't want to follow him on this so I decided I was going to move into the temple. Devananda and all of my other friends asked me why, so I told them that Prabhupad said we needed to have association of the devotees and that was what I was going to do. I went up to Chicago to ask the devotees at the temple if I could move in and they said yes.

Vaidehi: So then I imagine you started doing service but how long was it before you became a pujari and how did you get this opportunity?

Ramai Prabhu:
I was eighteen when I moved into the temple, and it was about two years before I became the pujari. At first I did the usual stuff. Cleaning the floors, washing the pots, and that kind of stuff. When I got my first initiation there were many sankirtan parties going out, and the sankirtan leader told me: "You aren't really very good at distributing books, but you like seeing the books get distributed right?" I told him: "Well yeah...." Then he said they would make me a pujari. It was in 1973 but since I only had first initiation they let me start out polishing the Deities' crowns, flutes, shoes, washing Their plates, carrying out the offerings and stuff like that. When they would dress the Deities I would put Their clothes away and make Their bath trays ready to take to the altar. A lot of times the devotee kids didn't know how to bathe the Deities very well and they would leave the instructions laying around so I would read them and that way learned how to do a lot of the stuff before I got second initiation. There was this one kid that used to come and bathe the Deities on Sunday afternoon. I would stand at the door of the altar and tell him how to do it because he didn't know how, and I did. I would tell him to start with Prabhupad, and do this and whatnot. I would do that every week.
A year after that Prabhupad came to Chicago again and I got second initiation. Shortly after that just after the fire yajna one devotee was supposed to offer arati but he wasn't there, so I was asked to do it and I said OK. That was the first time I offered arati, in 1974. I couldn't blow the conch in those days so Satsvarupa Maharaj would do it for me. It took me a couple of weeks before I felt confident offering arati. I knew how to do it but it would make me nervous when people that knew me were watching.
One day I offered the afternoon arati and thought I was going to die but in the end it wasn't that hard because no one that I knew was there so I didn't feel so self conscious. After that it was very easy for me and every time that the devotee kids would go to India they would ask me to do their worship for them, and that is how I learned to dress the Deities and ...that's that!

Vaidehi: Jaya Ramai Prabhu! Thank you for sharing with us your story and for letting us steal some of your time. We will see you in arati.

Interview with Divyashari Devi Dasi from London, visiting Caracas Venezuela during Srila Govinda Maharaj's visit.

Divyashari Devi Dasi is a very dear and kind devotee. Despite her duties in London she was very captivated by the enthusiasm of the devotees in Venezuela and made the immediate arrangements to come and serve here. She is a very inspiring and nourishing devotee with deep insights about Krishna consciousness and the Vaisnavas. We have the honor to hear her story about her first taste of the Krishna consciousness movement. What a story!

Divyashari Devi Dasi:
I had already been practising transcendental meditation since I was eleven years old for five years and I wasn't getting any satisfaction. I had some astrologer friends tell me that if I ended my life on a particular day, I would be transferred to another planetary system. So on that specific day I was sitting on the steps of the Berkeley campus kind of saying good-bye to life, when a devotee named Vyaladas approached me and gave me a Bhagavad-gita. It was an immediate acceptance. I took the Gita and wrapped it in a cloth, he put Tulasi beads around my neck, and took me to the Berkeley temple which was three blocks from where we were. I remember Hamsaduta Maharaj was there at that time, and I moved in that same night. That is how it began. That was in 1977 after Srila Prabhupad had just left the planet and coming up was Govardhan Puja. Sometime later, within that year I had a dream. Srila Prabhupad was in the dream and he said: "Go to Nabadwip."

Vaidehi: Did you know what Nabadwip was at that time? Did you end up going to Nabadwip after that dream?

Divyashari Devi Dasi:
No. I had never heard the word before, but I didn't go there until 1981. That came about in Los Angeles in 1980 when Sripad Bhakti Sudhir Goswami Maharaj was my temple president. He came back with a tape recording of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's discourse and played it for just four of us, and we just melted. We couldn't believe what we were hearing! I thought to myself: I've found my Guru. We were all crying after listening to the tape for one hour and then walked around outside the New Dwaraka Temple. It all looked dead to us. After listening to that tape our consciousness had been altered. Later on I sent a telegram to Nabadwip. Within five minutes I ran into an Indian doctor and started talking to him about India and randomly asked him if he knew Srila Sridhar Maharaj. He told me he did! I was wowed! I told him about the recording I had just heard and expressed to him how I wanted to ask to be his disciple. He then told me he was going to Bombay this same night and he could give Srila Sridhar Maharaj a letter from me.
So I wrote him this letter and he gave it to Srila Sridhar Maharaj but it was Sridhar Maharaj from ISKCON. He told me this years later. So when that other Sridhar Maharaj received the letter he knew it was for someone else. Doctor Amiya Asthana then had to go to Nabadwip to send the letter to Srila Sridhar Maharaj and ended up becoming his disciple and sleeping in his room and contributed the money to print the first English abridged edition of Sri Sri Prapanna-jivanamritam. His name is even in that book.
A little before that though, I had sent a telegram to Nabadwip telling Srila Sridhar Maharaj that I had heard his cassette, and that I am a fallen soul, and I asked him if he could accept me as his disciple. Within forty-eight hours I got a response from Srila Govinda Maharaj who was the secretary at that time and he told me to come immediately to Nabadwip. I left Iskcon and then tried very hard to get to Nabadwip. There were many obstacles and inconveniences along the way. That is how I at last went to meet Srila Sridhar Maharaj.

Vaidehi: What was it like to meet him for the first time?

Divyashari Devi Dasi:
Meeting Srila Sridhar Maharaj for the first time was a really indescribable experience. It was like I just appeared there, walked into the Math and said that I wanted to see Srila Sridhar Maharaj, and his devotees took me to him right away. I can remember walking up the steps to his quarters. This feeling like you are returning home was such an overwhelming feeling. It was like every single step was meaningful. Every step was taking you home. As I reached his verandah he was just sitting there like he was waiting for me. I saw him there and just lost all composure. I completely lost it and he just sat there and then patted me on the head trying to calm me down.
The first feeling that I got was infinite acceptance and that is a feeling that I had always craved when I started my spiritual search at eleven years old. Even at five years old I remember I always wanted to feel accepted. Not judged. I wanted to feel accepted and to be where I belonged. Sitting at his lotus feet, this is how I felt. I didn't want to be anywhere else because this is where I belonged.
It is like that analogy where the baby is crying and is being placed in the lap of so many mothers until he finally sits in his mama's lap. Sitting there with him made me feel like this was it. I have finally reached my home. I remember Srila Govinda Maharaj was there standing by his side and they would have discourses. Srila Guru Maharaj asked me all sorts of questions about my life and I told him where I was from, who my parents were, what education I had....

Vaidehi: How long was it before you took initiation?

Divyashari Devi Dasi:
I remember he had told me to come back next year but I must have taken initiation at that time because Anuradha Devi Dasi who lived there took care of me. She took me to the Ganga so that we could bathe, and then she dressed me in a sari. We sat in front of the Deities for a while and then sat in front of Srila Sridhar Maharaj and I asked him to sign my copy of Sri Sri Prapannam-jivanmritam. He then chanted on the beads and dropped them into my hand. I remember Srila Govinda Maharaj was there.... He wasn't going to change my name at first but I asked him to, and so he changed it from Desiree to Divyashari. After I took initiation I went and sat in front of the Deities to chant.

Vaidehi: Do you have any message for the devotees around the world?

Divyashari Devi Dasi:
In the words of Antaryyami Prabhu: "Go to the market to buy vegetables for the Deities, and serve the devotees."

Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Nabadwip. | What's New