Rasajna devi dasi Remembers Srila Prabhupada

Prabhupada Memories

Interview 01

Rasajna: When I moved into the Brooklyn temple, we gradually started doing a little theater. We helped direct the plays in a more so-called professional manner. I hadn’t met Srila Prabhupada yet, but when he was about to come, we prepared the play, “Krishna Kidnaps Rukmini.” I played the part of Rukmini, and my husband, Loitaksha, played Krishna. When it was time for the performance, the curtains opened, and there was a big empty space in front of Prabhupada, who was in his rocking chair. Everyone else was behind him. The play opens with Rukmini sitting on the stage writing a letter to Krishna. All of a sudden I got nervous. Even after all my years of doing theater, I thought, “Prabhupada, oh my God, how can I do this?” This was way beyond the fear of going to an audition. I thought, “Here’s Prabhupada, the spiritual master of the universe, and I am performing Rukmini. Me. He’s going to see this as ridiculous.” My knee started shaking. I tried to press it into the floor, and then I took a deep breath. At that point, Prabhupada’s presence calmed me down instead of making me nervous, and we had a wonderful performance. Towards the end of the play, when Rukmi’s hair gets shaved in a strange way, all the devotees laughed. Prabhupada stopped them from laughing, saying, “Why are you laughing? This isn’t funny.” After all, it was humiliating for Rukmi. Prabhupada trained us in so many ways. After the play we were taking our makeup off, when Mohanananda, Prabhupada’s servant, came and told us what Prabhupada had said about the performance. Prabhupada had said, “This is better than reading my books,” and “I want to take this whole troupe with me to Africa.” Unfortunately that wasn’t possible because we were the main event of the Brooklyn temple’s Sunday feast program. But the fact is that Prabhupada put great importance on theatrical performances. He wanted Krishna consciousness to be presented as a cultural movement. Once in the Bhagavatam class he said, “All my disciples should act in plays because when you play the part of any of these characters, you get the feeling of what it’s all about. It becomes more real.” We tend to forget about our feelings because we get caught up in the process. But when you perform a part, you have to use your feelings to portray the character. For the period of the performance you’re transformed. Prabhupada also complimented me. He said, “Rukmini, she was the best.” Another time, we had an ecstatic performance in Mayapur at the Mayapur festival in 1977. Prabhupada was sick and not giving lectures, but he would come to see the play and then go back to his room. We were doing a portion of the Ramayana, and I was playing Surpanaka. Somehow we got trees on stage to create a forest effect, and I was coming up the stairs in the back, when Prabhupada saw me and started clapping and laughing. During the exchange between Surpanaka, Lord Ramachandra, and Laksman, he was laughing hard and slapping his legs with both hands. I looked out for just a moment, and all the devotees were watching him. He was the only one who was watching the play. Then he stood up and gave a standing ovation. It was ecstatic. The amazing thing is that Prabhupada did not judge. He was like a child when he watched plays. All our inhibitions as actors and actresses would go away. His personality was amazing in that he could be like a child and also be a wise, saintly person. It’s an amazing combination.

To view the entire unedited video go to Memories 15 - The 1996 NYC and LA Reunions

The full Prabhupada Memories Series can be viewed here and also at www.prabhupadamemories.com

Following Srila Prabhupada

Interview DVD 04

Rasajna: So we went to greet Srila Prabhupada at the airport and this is, of course, the very first time I ever saw him so I was a little anxious. I remember they rolled out a long red carpet, and I remember my first impression. For some reason I had expected him to be very tall, I don’t know why, and I remember thinking, “Oh, he’s so short.” But there was something so very regal about his carriage. Then he went to sit down on the dais. They had actually brought a little wooden dais for him to sit on because there was going to be an interview. It was a television interview. First there was, of course, the kirtan. And then everyone sat down and, of course, all the people in the airport in the background wondering, “What’s going on here?” So I was just mesmerized watching him. It was like watching a performance for me, a solo performance on the stage. He sat down with the greatest of elegancy and ease. Someone offered him a silver goblet of water, and I remember him holding it up and the stream of water flowed like a fountain right in his mouth. It was just so elegant and I just thought, “Wow!” Being in the theater profession for some years, I thought, “Boy, that person really has a lot of grace to be able to do that in front of all these people, everybody’s eyes on him, with not even a string of nervousness or tension or anything like that.” Then they offered him a plate of fruit, and he very delicately picked up a piece of fruit and just popped it in his mouth and sat there and chewed it. Everyone was watching him and no discomfort, no nervousness or anxiety, he just finished eating that little piece of fruit. Then he was looking around one after the other at the faces, very peacefully and quietly really looking, taking all the time that he wanted to. I was just, from a material standpoint, completely impressed.

We were going to do a performance for him the first evening of “Krishna Kidnaps Rukmini,” but I really felt that he could see into me, there was nothing that I could hide. Then I was thinking, “Oh, my God! I’m going to be playing the part of Princess Rukmini, who is an expansion of the Goddess of Fortune, and it’s ridiculous. What am I doing? It’s just going to be a farce!” But anyway, it was planned and the show must go on. So there I was and the scene opens with myself sitting on the floor by myself writing the letter to Krishna, and I could feel my right knee beginning to shake out of nervousness. Then I remembered something my director said. He said, “Whatever comes up for you, just use it in the part, find some way to integrate it into the role.” Then I just realized, “Well, she probably was in a very anxious state. Here she was to be married to someone she didn’t want to be married to, and she was totally anxious.” Also I noticed as my eyes went up, even though you don’t really look at anybody, you still have a feeling. As my eyes passed Srila Prabhupada sitting there and moved up, this ease came over me. It was like he put this blessing on me or something, and I forgot everything and I just became Rukmini and was able to play with total abandon, just totally get into the part. Then we finished, and there was grand applause and everything. We went down to the dressing room, and I was completely drenched with sweat. We were waiting, just taking our makeup off and so forth. Then Srutakirti came in and started telling us everything that Prabhupada said, and it was real excited. He said, “Prabhupada said, ‘This is better than reading my books. It’s better than reading my books because it sticks in the mind because you have a vision.’” And he said, “Seeing these is like windows to the spiritual world. So people just don’t hear it, but they actually have an experience.” Then I got the wonderful compliment when he said, “Rukmini, she was the best.” I thought, “After all that anxiety I went through, and then he was actually pleased.” Then, of course, there was a little part of me that thought, “Well, he’s just saying that because he knows I need to hear it.” But then I also understood when you use whatever talent you have in Krishna’s service, that is the best. So it didn’t matter whatever I was thinking. He actually wanted us to go with him and travel with him all over the world. I think his next destination was Africa. He wanted to take us with him and he said, “There should always be kirtan, lecture, performance and prasad.” It just didn’t work out at that time, but I realized the importance of cultural events in the presentation of Krishna consciousness that Prabhupada really wanted.

Interview DVD 07

Rasajna: In Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada had told us that we should come to the Mayapur festival to perform five Krishna-lila and five Caitanya-lila. And we were to collect as much as we could individually to pay for the trip, and whatever we couldn’t collect he would pay from his trust. So we rehearsed every day. Then we got to Mayapur. We performed, and there was some complaint from the sannyasis of having women performing. I think Satarupa was playing Krishna. So there was a little bit of upset, and the performances were stopped. We didn’t know quite what to make of that. It was a very difficult period because we thought, “Why doesn’t Prabhupada just tell them that we’re doing it anyway?” Most of us just accepted it, but there was one of the members that had a really hard time accepting that and ended up leaving. One thing that I had learned up to that point, that sometimes Srila Prabhupada would make a decision that I couldn’t understand, and I learned that the best thing to do is to think, “Well, I don’t understand it now, but maybe in the future I’ll understand it.” So just to be able to understand the fact that I don’t know everything. With my rebellious nature it was tough, but I did it.

Interview DVD 08

Rasajna: I remember when all the Deities were standing…They weren’t on the altar yet, They were on the ground with Their blindfolds on, and there was this opulent sort of hut built in the courtyard with fruits and coconuts and this whole thing. Srila Prabhupada was over talking to a few brahmanas that were over on the side, and I’ll never forget this vision. It was as though he was calling on Krishna to come and enter into the forms of the Deities, and there was this stream of light coming down and his hands were up like this and the other people were just standing there with their palms folded. He was saying something, I couldn’t hear him because I was on the other side, but I saw that beautiful vision. Then they continued with the installation of the Deities.

We were on the list for second initiation in Vrindavan. So that was very exciting because the first initiation that we had in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada wasn’t able to be there and we were initiated by his older disciples on his behalf at the time. But this time we were getting personally second initiation from Srila Prabhupada, so that was very exciting. We had the ceremony, and then we lined up outside his quarters and were to go in one by one to get the Gayatri mantra. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so I didn’t really have any money to offer. So I went and got a big papaya and I thought, “I’ll offer him a fruit that he can have for breakfast or something.” I remember going in. I offered my obeisances and I was extremely nervous, didn’t know what I was supposed to say or anything. I just said, “Jaya Srila Prabhupada!” Then he was sitting on the other side of his desk with his knee propped up. It was very warm already in April, and he had on his sannyasi top. He patted the floor beside him like saying, “Come on over here,” like calling his little dog. So I went scampering over and was sitting right next to him, and I remember being really nervous but I wanted to be sure that I pronounced the Sanskrit nicely. Maybe I was even a little proud because Jayadvaita once had told me that my pronunciation was very nice in Sanskrit, probably from my German background. So he would point to one word after the other and I would repeat, and I was trying to do it really nice. I have to impress my teacher. I felt so foolish, arrogant and foolish all at the same time. Then he says, “Do you know how to count?” I said, “Yes, I’ve been watching the devotees for the past years doing their Gayatri.” I thought, “Gee, I should really have an intelligent question to ask,” but, of course, I couldn’t think of anything, I was just dumbfounded. But I remember feeling so much kindness and love, just so simple and practical, and I paid my obeisances and left.

Interview DVD 09

Rasajna: There was such an innocence, enthusiastic innocence that made everything very, very beautiful. I remember at all the programs everyone would come with so much enthusiasm and excitement, all cleanly freshly showered with beautiful fresh tilak. Prabhupada’s presence was so powerful that he actually transformed us physically, not just in the heart. When I look at pictures in the BTG from that period, everybody looked very, very beautiful. So that was a very, very special time how he infused us. Actually when I first came to the temple in Brooklyn, I was attracted by the love that the devotees oozed out. They were so welcoming, and everyone wanted to serve. It was a privilege. Even at the offerings, especially the four o’clock offering, there would be pies and cakes and cookies and ice creams. And if you stood there 10 minutes before the offering, there would be 15 women coming from different parts of the community with their dishes to be offered. It was like in the stories of Krsna Book. So Prabhupada’s influence when he was here was like that. It was very enlivening and he was just directing us towards Krishna really, not towards himself. When I think on all the other gurus that I met before Prabhupada, no one directed you toward Krishna, they directed you towards them. That was the uniqueness of Prabhupada. And even now after all these years, the other gurus are more so-called famous really than Prabhupada because they directed people towards them whereas Prabhupada directed us toward Krishna and was very humble.

At the New Dwaraka temple, it was arranged that every evening at the last arati there would be a performance for the pleasure of the Deities. But there were no devotees there normally, just the Deities and maybe a few scattered devotees who were still up. Our night was Wednesday, the theater night, and we would do a different lila each Wednesday. We would dress up in full costume and makeup, Prajapati would read the lila, and we would act it out in mudras and dance. It was so beautiful, it was like performing for the king and queen. You’d come in and you really felt Their personhood by doing a full-out performance. The principle of Deity worship that Prabhupada introduced to us gave us the perspective of really not just seeing the Deity but feeling the presence of God in the Deity through these activities.