Manmohini devi dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Manmohini: I joined at 61 Second Avenue. It was an all brahmachari temple. My brother, Swarup, was there, but he wouldn’t speak to me because I’m a girl. But Brahmananda and Jayadvaita found out that I was his sister so Brahmananda gave me my first sari. Jayadvaita showed me how to put on tilak. They sent me to Boston where Satsvarupa was a social worker at the time. It was October of 1969. The first time I saw Prabhupada was that Christmas right after I came to the temple. I know that for a fact because one of the brahmacharis kept singing, “He knows if you’ve been chanting…” It was pretty whacked. I just remember when he was coming into the temple everybody yelled “Prabhupada!” Saradiya ran past me with a mridanga and actually knocked me over. It was frantic. I went and hid downstairs behind a pillar where the press was going to be. I just stood there and hid. I couldn’t make up my mind if I was actually going to join this movement. Before I knew it the devotees were showing Prabhupada the downstairs where the BBT was going to go. They walked around and all of a sudden I was exposed standing there behind a pillar. I don’t know if I gave a “namaste”. I don’t know what I did because I was brand new and terrified. Later on when I got initiated Brahmananda told me that he explained to Prabhupada who I was and that Prabhupada said, “Ah yes, I remember her face.” I was so touched that Prabhupada would remember who I was. Such mercy. Unbelievable.

I was married to a devotee named Sridham who was Prabhupada’s personal servant in the late 1960s. It was during the time of the socalled “moon landing”. Sridham told me that while he was massaging Srila Prabhupada, he said that when he was a small child his father took him to the cinema to see a movie about a “big go-rilla.” Sridham said, “King Kong, Prabhupada?” Prabhupada’s eyes got real big and he said, “You have seen? You know about?” Sridham said, “Oh yes, yes. Everybody knows about King Kong, Srila Prabhupada. It’s a very famous movie and everybody knows about that gorilla.” Prabhupada nodded, “Ah.” He said, “Well in this movie it looked like the gorilla was climbing the Empire State Building and swatting airplanes. But we know that that’s not true. The clouds are probably cotton and it was toy airplanes and a toy Empire State Building and not even a real go-rilla. So in this way they can very easily make it look like they had landed on the moon, but in actuality we know that they didn’t.” Then he went on to explain the motivations behind this. It was due to the government wanting to instill a feeling of patriotism and national pride in the public because they would soon be raising taxes substantially on the American people. And sure enough, Sridham told me that a few weeks later spread all over the newspapers were articles about a giant tax increase. Prabhupada said, “Yes, this is why they have said they have landed on the moon.”

I was the first widow in the movement and because of that I was called in for a personal darshan with Srila Prabhupada. Now, I have to give some background information for this to make sense. I joined the movement in my teens with my younger brother, got married after eight months, opened different temples with my then husband, and had a daughter. Then my husband fell away from devotional service, left the movement, and then left his body. I wanted to know if I was prohibited to ever remarry and have more children. My daughter was about two years old and I was just in my early twenties. I didn’t know what was expected of me, so I asked. Nobody wanted to be the person who told Srila Prabhupada what happened. But finally his servant, Srutakirti, did tell Srila Prabhupada that the widow wants to remarry. It didn’t look very good for me, but before I knew it, I was called in for a darshan in Srila Prabhupada’s quarters in Los Angeles. I was terrified. I said, “I’m not going.” My brother said, “I’ll go with you.” We formulated a plan while running around finding a babysitter for my daughter Nimai. The plan was that if things were looking bleak for me, I would give him a nudge or a sign and he would explain to Srila Prabhupada, “My sister feels like she needs to remarry for protection.” This was our plan, like we were thinking we could control the situation or possibly manipulate it. We went running upstairs, and before we even got into his quarters, standing at his doorway, Prabhupada said, “So you wish to remarry?” I was terrified. I said in a voice I could barely recognize, “Not right away, Srila Prabhupada. I just wanted to know if I would be forbidden.” He said, “Forbidden? I will not forbid you. But you are asking my opinion?” What could I say to that? “No thanks, I’ll pass.” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” He said, “Don’t do it.” By this time we all sat down. He began to say, “What is your guarantee the next one will be any different? In this age the women aren’t trained in chastity, the men aren’t trained in dharma. What is your guarantee the next one will be different?” Jokingly he said, “Can he give you a written guarantee?” Then he said, “Krishna has already given you one child. Marriage is for union for children. You already have one child. Give all your love to that child.” He said a lot of other things and I don’t remember exactly, but at some point I must have given my brother the nudge, because he said, “Srila Prabhupada, my sister feels like she needs to remarry for protection.” Prabhupada’s eyes got really big and he said, “You are not protected?” To me, “You are not protected?” To my brother, “You are not protected?” To Srutakirti, “You are not protected?” He said, “Just see, there is no faith.” And he went on to explain how in relation to Krishna we are all prakrirti. Krishna is the only purusha. A man cannot actually protect his wife. He can’t protect her from old age, disease, or death. Krishna is our only protection. He was speaking the philosophy. It was a little lofty because we were new devotees. I could see in the eyes of the other two it was some deep philosophy. Then my brother recited some Sanskrit and he said, “Srila Prabhupada, I will protect her. I am her brother.” Srila Prabhupada said, “Very nice.” During this time I really didn’t look up much because I was so terrified. I looked down most of the time. I looked up once and I remember Prabhupada was sitting behind his desk and the sun was shining in the window and his beautiful, round soft head was effulgent and golden. His voice was as if it was coming from ages ago. I felt like a fly. I felt so insignificant and soiled. I was absolutely terrified. Prabhupada didn’t say much to me because I didn’t look up. But as we were leaving he said something and all three of us turned around. Prabhupada only looked at and spoke to me. He said, “Read the books. I have written so many books. All day long, I read, I write, I chant, I take bath. You do like this.” He said it with such compassion and love. I said, “Yes Srila Prabhupada.” And that was the end of it and we walked down the stairs. Since I became the first widow, other people were speculating you can’t do that, you should do this; but after my time with Prabhupada I could say, “Oh no, no, no. Prabhupada didn’t tell me that. Prabhupada told me this.” Really nobody knew what was said, but I had the personal darshan.

There were a lot of women that didn’t have husbands. For some reason the husbands left and they had children, and most of the women were hoping to remarry because we were all pretty young at the time. Like myself, the women wanted sons and they wanted a fixed up husband. So one time I was listening to his class from the balcony in Los Angeles, and he said, “If a woman remarries in the presence of a child, she becomes the enemy of that child.” I saw four or five hands go up. Without looking up, Prabhupada said, “Son or daughter.” The hands went down because all of these women, including myself, had daughters. I already knew the answer, but some of the women were hoping.

One morning in Los Angeles I was about to cross the street with two little gurukula boys, about age 4 and 6. We looked up and Srila Prabhupada was coming right at us with Ramesvara on one side and Radhaballabha on the other side. They seemed to be in a rush. The rumors were that there were deadline problems, money problems, problems with the artwork. There was a lot going on to get these books out and things were intense. Prabhupada came across the street, and I assumed going towards the BBT, but he started walking straight towards us. I thought, “No, it couldn’t be.” He kept coming closer and closer and my knees started buckling. Sure enough, he came right in front of us and he pointed to one of the boys, named Gopal, and said, “He is not wearing neck beads. You can take care of this?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.” Before I could even get that out, he was gone. He was quick, as he never wasted a second. I thought how wonderful that he engaged me, but also it was instructive how every facet of Krishna consciousness was important and was noticed by him. No matter what was going on with deadlines, money problems, book distribution, he noticed that one little boy didn’t have neck beads. Of course I became a neck bead fanatic after that incident and made sure all the children had neck beads. I thought how every aspect is equally important in Krishna consciousness.

Brahmananda said in a class in Vrindavan two years ago that in the beginning we were like Prabhupada’s guinea pigs, or better still, like his laboratory rats. I can think of so many instances, even in my own life, where this is true. After I got married with a fire sacrifice, we also got married legally. I called my mother to tell her I was now a married woman. My mother said, “Really? What’s his name?” I said, “Hold on, I’ll ask him,” because I didn’t know his birth name. My mother said, “Hold on, I’ll ask him? You’re nuts!” Bang! She hung up the phone. And I thought that’s pretty far out and revolutionary even for me. But marrying someone you didn’t know, dancing on the street in sheets – we would do a lot for Prabhupada because look what he did for us. I am so proud and grateful to be among Prabhupada’s laboratory rats. I would gladly be one again and again, many, many lifetimes over.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 50 - Patita Pavana, Ramesvara, Soma, Manmohini, Kiba Jaya, Girindra M, Omkara

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 03

Manmohini: I think I was the first devotee widow, the first widow in the movement. And somebody told me that in India you can tell a person’s status by how they’re dressed and it was important what you’re wearing, and so it would please Srila Prabhupada if I put on all white. So I went to Culver Center and bought tons of white fabric and began wearing white, but I wasn’t sure if that was correct. We were new at everything. Nobody knew much about Vedic culture. So I wanted to go before Prabhupada, have him see me in white, and then I felt like I would be able to tell by his reaction. Maybe he would say something or give me a nod or something, make a comment. So I was determined that Prabhupada see me wearing a white sari. Every time Prabhupada would come to LAX Airport, as soon as he walked through the terminal, if you said your obeisances and you really said the full prayer, by the time you stood up you didn’t even get a glimpse of him, especially if you were in a female body because all the guys would stand in front of you and you didn’t get to see Srila Prabhupada. So I formulated a plan, and I didn’t tell anyone – it was my big dream, my big secret – that the next time he was coming to LAX, I would wait at the bottom of the escalator with my daughter and all the way down the escalator he might only see me and he might say something. So that’s what I did. I dreamt about it, I planned it, I couldn’t wait. And sure enough, I heard he was coming to Los Angeles again. So I did exactly that. I dressed up my daughter, we waited at the bottom of the escalator. It was difficult because the big tumult was upstairs, the big kirtan, but I stood there. And just as it went in my dreams, he came down the escalator and there was me and Nimai and he stopped at the bottom of the escalator. He leaned forward, he took the little bouquet of flowers that we made for him, he looked at me, he saw the white sari, and I got a definite nod of approval. Without a shadow of a doubt, I got the nod of approval, a very pleased nod. And that one nod, the power of Prabhupada’s nod kept me in white for 18½ years because of that nod. Meanwhile, what was humorous is the escalator kept going, and so all the sannyasis that were right behind him were getting squished like an accordion.