sa ca svarlokam aroksyan
sunitim jananim dhruvah
anvasmarad agam hitva
dinam yasye tri-vistapam
Dhruva was seated in the transcendental airplane, which was just about to start, when he remembered his poor mother, Suniti. He thought to himself, “How shall I go alone to the Vaikuntha planet and leave behind my poor mother?”
Dhruva had a feeling of obligation to his mother, Suniti. It was Suniti who had given him the clue which had now enabled him to be personally carried to the Vaikuntha planet by the associates of Lord Visnu. He now remembered her and wanted to take her with him. Actually, Dhruva Maharaja’s mother, Suniti, was his patha-pradarsaka-guru. Patha-pradarsaka-guru means “the guru, or the spiritual master, who shows the way.” Such a guru is sometimes called siksa-guru. Although Narada Muni was his diksa-guru (initiating spiritual master), Suniti, his mother, was the first who gave him instruction on how to achieve the favor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is the duty of the siksa-guru or diksa-guru to instruct the disciple in the right way, and it depends on the disciple to execute the process. According to sastric injunctions, there is no difference between siksa-guru and diksa-guru, and generally the siksa-guru later on becomes the diksa-guru. Suniti, however, being a woman, and specifically his mother, could not become Dhruva Maharaja’s diksa-guru. Still, he was not less obliged to Suniti. There was no question of carrying Narada Muni to Vaikunthaloka, but Dhruva Maharaja thought of his mother.
Whatever plan the Supreme Personality of Godhead contemplates immediately fructifies. Similarly, a devotee who is completely dependent on the Supreme Lord can also fulfill his wishes by the grace of the Lord. The Lord fulfills His wishes independently, but a devotee fulfills his wishes simply by being dependent on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore as soon as Dhruva Maharaja thought of his poor mother, he was assured by the associates of Visnu that Suniti was also going to Vaikunthaloka, in another plane. Dhruva Maharaja had thought that he was going alone to Vaikunthaloka, leaving behind his mother, which was not very auspicious because people would criticize him for going alone to Vaikunthaloka and not carrying with him Suniti, who had given him so much. But Dhruva also considered that he was not personally the Supreme. Therefore, if Krsna fulfilled his desires, only then would it be possible. Krsna could immediately understand his mind, and He told Dhruva that his mother was also going with him. This incident proves that a pure devotee like Dhruva Maharaja can fulfill all his desires; by the grace of the Lord, he becomes exactly like the Lord, and thus whenever he thinks of anything, his wish is immediately fulfilled. (SB 4.12.32)
In the next purport Srila Prabhupada expresses sentiments that express my own feelings on this occasion:
The great associates of Vaikunthaloka, Nanda and Sunanda, could understand the mind of Dhruva Maharaja, and thus they showed him that his mother, Suniti, was going forward in another plane.
This incident proves that the siksa- or diksa-guru who has a disciple who strongly executes devotional service like Dhruva Maharaja can be carried by the disciple even though the instructor is not as advanced. Although Suniti was an instructor to Dhruva Maharaja, she could not go to the forest because she was a woman, nor could she execute austerities and penances as Dhruva Maharaja did. Still, Dhruva Maharaja was able to take his mother with him. Similarly, Prahlada Maharaja also delivered his atheistic father, Hiranyakasipu. The conclusion is that a disciple or an offspring who is a very strong devotee can carry with him to Vaikunthaloka either his father, mother, or siksa- or diksa-guru. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say, “If I could perfectly deliver even one soul back home, back to Godhead, I would think my mission—propagating Krsna consciousness—to be successful.” The Krsna consciousness movement is spreading now all over the world, and sometimes I think that even though I am crippled in many ways, if one of my disciples becomes as strong as Dhruva Maharaja, then he will be able to carry me with him to Vaikunthaloka. (SB 4.12.33)
We do not know how many souls Srila Prabhupada has delivered back home, back to Godhead, but certainly Mother Arca Vigraha is one of them. And I am sure that Srila Prabhupada is very pleased that one of his spiritual dependents has attained the perfection of life. I am also sure that others also have attained the same perfection by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy. And the devotees who were personally associated with Mother Arca Vigraha are also fortunate, because from her elevated position now she can bestow her special mercy upon them and help them in their spiritual lives.
Shortly after Mother Arca Vigraha left, I visited South Africa. I didn’t particularly expect anything different, but soon after I got there I could feel Mother Arca Vigraha’s desire to give mercy to various devotees whom she knew, especially those who had been with her and those who had served her in some way. It was an adventure as she revealed to which devotee she wanted to show special favor. And the same process is continuing today.
So, we have fond memories of her as we knew her, and we believe that she has gone to the realm of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Radha and Krishna and that she can bestow her blessings upon us. She is ready and eager to bestow her mercy upon her associates and friends, and upon the devotees whom she knew and appreciated when she was here. Her mercy is very strong and powerful, and I feel we are very fortunate and blessed to have known her and to have had the opportunity to associate with her and to be able to receive her blessings even now.
Mother Arca Vigraha ki jaya!
With Mother Arca Vigraha, the joy of being a devotee and her heart-feelings for Krsna and the devotees were so alive. All her being, all her self, was full of life and her desire to serve Krishna and the devotees, just radiating this enormous desire to please Krishna, to serve Krishna, to serve the devotees and the spiritual master. It was like seeing everything we read put into practice. It was practically not seeing a human being but seeing a completely spiritual soul in action, in service to Krishna. I never saw her as a material body. Looking at her, I saw her service, her desire to please, her strong determined feelings for Krishna and guru and the devotees.
Kandarpa Manjari dasi:
Mother Arca Vigraha has definitely been an inspiration in my spiritual life. The main inspiration was her service attitude toward you, Maharaja, and toward the other devotees. And her non-judgmental attitude toward the Vaishnavas—the way she was always willing to give the devotees the benefit of the doubt and encourage them and her example of always being enthusiastic to serve were both very inspiring.
When I first arrived in South Africa in 1990, some of the devotees—Nama Cintamani, Kuntidevi—greeted me, and they pointed out Mother Arca Vigraha, saying, “See Mother Arca Vigraha? She’s very advanced.” And of course, I, with my material vision, thought, “Really? Oh.” But as the years went by and I heard more about her, I realized why she was so advanced. I saw that in her different services in South Africa—in her service to the Deities, the devotees, her spiritual master, everyone—she was entirely selfless. I thought, “Oh, this is the real sign of advancement, that someone is willing to give up everything—one’s pride, everything—to serve.” Only then did I begin to realize what the devotees had meant.
I finally met Arca Vigraha when Maharaja was able to go to India after so many years. She and I were on the same flight back to South Africa. I had always wanted to speak with her, but I didn’t know how to approach her. But she just jumped out of her seat and came and sat right next to me and made me feel really important. She said, “Here, look at these pictures!” They were pictures of Maharaja and the life members in Bombay, and she took the time to explain each incident. Her enthusiasm overwhelmed me, and I thought, “This is such a kind-hearted devotee.” She just had an art of making you feel important, even though you weren’t. She was really amazing. It showed that even in her relationships she was selfless: she just wanted to encourage you all the time; she didn’t want anything for herself.
Then I went to Vrindavan. It was about five months before she left her body, and when I saw her I thought to myself that I didn’t know how to deal with her, because she was leaving her body, which is a very traumatic experience. But she must have read my mind or something, and she just walked up to me as if nothing was going on in her life except how much she was in love with Vrindavan. It was in the temple restaurant, and she hugged me and said, “You better come and see me before you leave”—really begging me to come. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fulfill her desire, because we were in a rush to leave and were with a whole group of other devotees. I thought I would see her when I returned to Vrindavan, because I was planning to go back the following year.
Then I heard that she had left her body, and I felt very upset. But then I had a dream about her, at the same time that Maharaja went to South Africa after her disappearance. And in the dream we made peace and she forgave me that I had not come to see her.
I feel that her example is my inspiration and example. When Maharaja was very sick and came to America in 1999, Mother Arca Vigraha was instrumental in helping me, because I used to pray to her to inspire me and help me to cook for Maharaja to make him feel better. She was a figure, an instrument, to instruct and help me, even though she was not physically present. And the same thing happened today. Although I have been very sick for the last few days and have not been able even to cook or do any housework, somehow I got up early and had energy to cook. This was definitely Mother Arca’s mercy, that on her auspicious disappearance day she again empowered me to serve the devotees. And I prayed to her that I could learn to become more selfless, like her.
My mind is so filled with memories of Mother Arca Vigraha that it is difficult to isolate what inspired me about her, and what inspires me about her now. There is so much. But a few days ago I was thinking how Mother Arca Vigraha embodied the two most important devotional principles: chanting the holy names and serving the Vaishnavas. As Kandarpa and Sundarananda mentioned, she performed these two activities with great determination and enthusiasm.
She would get up early each morning, at about three o’clock, and she never failed to chant her sixteen rounds. She worked very hard. When she was painting the Deities in Vrindavan she would hardly sleep for days or sometimes weeks. Even when we were still in South Africa, before we moved to India, she would paint until late at night. I would come back at about 10 p.m. from the day’s book distribution and the evening preaching program at Yeoville, ready to collapse. But Mother Arca Vigraha would be awake, so we would talk and discuss until late at night, sometimes reading from the Bhagavatam. And the next morning she would be up at three o’clock, ready to start another day. But although she would rise very early, she would often encourage me to take a little extra rest.
She always said that Jayananda Prabhu was her model. Hearing about his example inspired her with the determination to always finish her rounds, no matter what. She had such a taste for service that she often said she wanted to become like the Six Gosvamis. She lamented that she had to sleep at night. Once, when we were taking a course in Vrindavan on The Nectar of Devotion, she said that the real nectar of devotion was to do service.
Her service to the devotees was amazing. She was everybody’s friend, and she made everybody feel important and special and loved. She would greet you in such a way that you would feel that you meant everything to her. One day, before I began to stay with her, I went to visit her at her house in Yeoville. I knocked on the door, and when she opened it she exclaimed, “Oh, Kuntidevi!” with such joy. And I thought, “Wow, she really likes me.” Then just about an hour later somebody else came and knocked, and when she opened the door she greeted each person with the same joy and enthusiasm. I was quite shocked at first to realize that it wasn’t just me, but then I realized what a special quality it was to be so warm and gracious—not just as a social mannerism, but from the love in her heart.
I miss her as a friend. She was, in Krishna consciousness, the person with whom I had the deepest friendship and the deepest relationship. I haven’t really had another friend like her. I miss her a lot. I often share thoughts and experiences with her in my mind. Or something happens and I immediately think of her—funny things especially, because we used to laugh at the same things. And also confidential things, things I wouldn’t easily share with anyone else. And I would think, “Oh, Mother Arca would have laughed at this” or “I have to tell her this.” But she is not here in the same way anymore. Still, in another way she is still here and very supportive as a friend and as a devotee.
Although we were friends, Mother Arca Vigraha was older and more experienced. I learned a lot from her training, her instructions, and her association. I was telling Vrajesvari the other day how Mother Arca had a juicer that she had received as a wedding gift, thirty years or so before I met her. She took such good care of this juicer that it was in first-class condition so many years later, even though she used it every single day.
This was one of the first practical lessons I learned from her—to take the machine apart immediately after every use: to wash every piece, dry every part, put it together again, and pack it away. I learned how to take care of things and to perform even simple tasks thoroughly. This may not seem like a very profound lesson, but actually Srila Prabhupada said that Krishna consciousness means to be conscious, and she taught me to become more conscious of details.
Another thing I was remembering the other day—I was wrapping something—was how we used to wrap her paintings in Vrindavan. Again, she did it with such care and precision and artistry, the way she did everything. To maintain herself, she would paint floral still lifes, like the ones on the calendar in our kitchen. She was very, very sick at that time, and the pain in her arm was almost unbearable, but somehow she would still paint. So I would go to different places in Vrindavan—sometimes in the fields—to collect flowers for her to paint. It wasn’t so easy to find flowers on stems in Vrindavan, because people there grow flowers mainly for garlands. So sometimes I would go to Delhi, and there was one really nice flower market at Khan Market, and I would pick out some beautiful flowers and bring them back for her. We would arrange them in one of her colorful Rajasthani ceramic vases, and then she would just paint for days. It was a momentous effort every time. But she was so determined. Then we would have to package the paintings so that Sara, her daughter and agent in South Africa, could sell them. Mother Arca Vigraha was very particular about packing her paintings. By watching her and helping her, I got a sense of her meticulousness, and eventually I was entrusted with packing them. When a person who is such a perfectionist and who has such fine taste entrusts you with something so dear to them, it really means a lot. Of course, in some ways she entrusted her life to me, but at the time packing her paintings meant a lot to me.
Although I fall far short in every respect, I have often thought that my service to Mother Arca Vigraha prepared me for my service to you, Guru Maharaja, because you are also a perfectionist with very sensitive and refined tastes, and you also have an artistic temperament in many ways. It was good training to serve her before trying to serve you.
Apart from being an amazing devotee, Mother Arca Vigraha was just a wonderful person. Nowadays we often speak about devotees being “balanced.” I feel she was balanced—as a human being and as a devotee—in the sense that she was very deep in spiritual life, very deeply absorbed in Krsna consciousness, but not fanatical at all, not dogmatic at all, not exclusive of anybody or anyone’s belief. She saw the essence in everybody and often said that we should see the divinity in everyone. And she had great respect for all living entities—even the dogs. When she saw the dogs suffering in Vrindavan, she would cry. Sometimes she would cry and say she was crying for the whole world. Of course, her emotions were heightened by her particular situation, but she was very sensitive.
She would befriend all kinds of devotees, even if they were unpopular or ostracized by some. For example, she made friends with Hamsaduta, who was considered very offensive, a renegade in ISKCON, but she made friends with him and welcomed him into her house. At first I was really concerned. I could not understand why she had become friends with him. So I would go to Govinda Maharaja and ask him what we should do about her association with Hamsaduta, and I would write letters to Guru Maharaja asking him what to do. Eventually I realized that she was just following her own heart, so full of purity and spiritual realization. And this was another valuable lesson, to be true to oneself, the way she was always true to herself. She always followed her heart.
Mother Arca Vigraha was not conventional. Sometimes this was quite amusing, especially in the beginning. She was very spontaneous in her devotional service and lived “outside” in her own house, while we all lived in the temple and were all trained to be very strict about everything. There were so many rules and regulations, and the slightest “deviation” had tremendous consequences, or so it seemed. But Mother Arca Vigraha was so spontaneous, and in the beginning she couldn’t get every detail right, like how many times to offer an incense stick or ghee lamp. Later I understood that the purpose of all the rules and regulations is to remember Krishna, and that Mother Arca Vigraha was already remembering Krishna, so what was the fault if she made some small mistakes?
And she always had a very personal relationship with Krishna. I remember that when I stayed with her in her house in Johannesburg she would often talk to Krishna just like she would talk to any other person. And if something disturbed her, she would call out loud, “Krishna!” We weren’t quite sure how to understand her spontaneity, but her relationship with Krishna was indisputably real. Arca was twelve years old when her mother died, and she told me that her father was so grief-stricken that he was unable to take care of her and her older brother. So he handed her over to the care of a Catholic lady, Mrs. Schneider, who lived next-door. Although Arca was Jewish by birth, Mrs. Schneider taught her how to pray, how to call out to God, bowing down with folded hands, in the Christian way. Arca was in great distress about her mother’s death, but Mrs. Schneider taught her to take shelter of God. Mother Arca Vigraha credited Mrs. Schneider for teaching her to develop a personal relationship with God through prayer. And that sense of having a unique and personal relationship with God always stayed with her.
As she grew older, Mother Arca Vigraha explored many different paths of self-realization and God-realization. She inquired into Christianity, the Kabbalah, Sai Baba, Bhagavan Rajneesh, the Rosicrucians—everything there was. She even traveled on the back of a camel through the Sinai desert with a group of Bedouin nomads. And whatever path she followed, she learned everything there was to know about it and then practiced it very seriously. Gradually she rejected all the other theories and came to Krishna consciousness. Then she realized that Krishna consciousness was the process for which she had always been searching and yearning. So when she joined and became a devotee, she already had a lot of spiritual training and realization.
But she was a fun person. Even when she was sick in India, dying, she still had a spirit of fun and adventure. At one stage we were going all over India, seeing different kinds of doctors and healers, going to different types of hospitals (I think I saw every cancer ward in Bombay and Delhi). But through all of it, which was a very heavy experience, she always had a sense of humor. Looking back on it now, I can see how incredible it was to maintain this spirit under such circumstances. But we saw it as an adventure, not only the physical adventure of traveling through India, but also a spiritual adventure, a journey. It was a very dynamic time. All these things would happen to us, and it was a great experience. We had some very unusual experiences.
One summer, when Mother Arca Vigraha’s frail health could no longer tolerate the intense heat in Vrindavan, we flew to northern India, to Kulu-Manali in Himachal Pradesh, in the outer ranges of the Himalayas, near the border of Tibet. Manali, situated higher up in the valley, is a famous tourist resort, both for wealthy Indians and Western hippies. We chose to stay in the lower village of Kulu, situated on the banks of the river Vyasa.
Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhu in Vrindavan had given us the names of some friends in Kulu. One boy invited us to visit his family in their village, high on the slopes of the mountain. The only way to reach his village was on foot, a steep, three-hour climb from Kulu. There was no way Mother Arca could do such a climb, but she insisted I go. One morning the boy and I set out. The climb was magnificent, with beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountain peaks, named after the seven great sages, and the river below. The scenery and landscape reminded me of something one would see in a National Geographic photo-article. I knew Mother Arca would love it and resolved to take her.
First our friend offered to carry her on his back. Then he said he could take her on a mountain horse, but she was too frail even for that. Eventually we shelved the idea. But at nine o’clock the next morning our friend burst into our room and said, “Come, let’s go.” He had four other men with him, and they had crafted a special palanquin, or palki, for her, complete with curtains and a roof to shield her from the sun. For Rs. 500, they would carry her up and down the mountain.
Mother Arca Vigraha loved the palki and was excited about the climb. Not wanting to miss the beautiful scenery, she had us take down the curtain and the roof, and she made herself as comfortable as possible, sitting cross-legged, sketching. Although paid for their services, the palanquin bearers carried her with the utmost care and respect. She had that effect on people: everyone she met wanted to serve her and please her. And these people recognized her as someone special, a “holy mother.” Wherever we went around Kulu, people would offer respect and address her as “Holy Mother.”
Eventually we reached the village. First we visited the village temple, where there were a Deity of Lord Ramachandra and a Shiva-lingam, and then the boy took us further up the mountain to his family home. His family lived in a simple log cabin—the sheep downstairs, the people upstairs—overlooking groves of almond and apple trees. Huge hemp bushes grew wild everywhere.
Mother Arca Vigraha was fascinated by the villagers’ simple, self-sufficient way of life. They grew their own wheat, dal, and vegetables; herded sheep for wool; and kept short-legged Himalayan cows for milk. They ground their own atta, spun and dyed their own wool, and wove their famous Kulu shawls and tunics. They even built their own houses. With the hemp they made shoes.
With usual Indian hospitality, the mother offered us lunch. She gathered bundles of wheat, ground them in a stone grinder, and with this freshly-ground atta formed thick rotis with her hands. Then she made a sabji of fresh, tiny eggplants with a chili-masala stuffing, and some dal. It was simple, almost primitive, but delicious.
After lunch, we drank fresh water from a stream trickling down the mountain. According to legend, the Pandavas, as well as many sages and rishis, had spent time in the area. It wasn’t difficult to imagine these great devotees living there, drinking fresh water from the streams, eating fruits and berries from the trees, and meditating on God.
Mother Arca Vigraha gained a lot of inspiration from that trip up the mountain. She saw it as a symbolic journey, looking out over the world she was leaving behind and embracing the world beyond.
Then one morning she woke up with intense pain. We knew the cancer had spread, and we returned to Delhi by bus—a fifteen-hour journey, winding down the narrow mountain roads. In Delhi we went straight to Batra Hospital to meet her oncologist, Dr. Gosh. He was very straightforward and told her that the cancer had reached a critical point. Mother Arca Vigraha was shaken. We both realized that she did not have long to live. The only thing she could do was try to control the pain through radiation therapy. So we went back to Vrindavan for a few days and then returned to Delhi.
She wanted her art equipment—pencils and brushes and paints and papers—in case she felt inspired to work. We also took a portable kitchen—stoves, pots, and dry goods. And her special pillow, sheets, and personal effects.
The taxi left us at Batra Hospital. There were throngs of people. Struggling with our luggage, we took our places in a long line leading to the front desk and eventually reached the admission clerk. Our idea was that I would stay under Arca’s bed and cook for her and take care of her. But the hospital refused, and with that, Arca turned around and walked out. “We’re going to Kaya Maya.”
Years before, on a flight from Mauritius to Bombay, Mother Arca Vigraha had met a famous Ayurvedic kaviraja. When she moved to Vrindavan, she started taking treatment from Kaviraja Partap Chauhan, who, it turned out, was a student of the famous kaviraja she had met on the plane. And Kaviraj Chauhan’s “Guruji,” as he was called, ran an Ayurvedic clinic called Kaya Maya in Tughlakabad, outside Delhi.
We piled into an auto rickshaw, with Mother Arca Vigraha in the back on top of the luggage, and I squeezed in next to the driver. When we arrived at Kaya Maya we found that it was just a day clinic. Still, the manager agreed to give us a room—a dark little room full of cobwebs with a simple tap and toilet as an attached bathroom, and another room, a crude cement structure with a tap and a basin, to use as a kitchen.
Every day people would come to consult Guruji. They would wait for hours in the courtyard outside his consulting room, and they would notice us. Partly out of boredom and partly out of curiosity, people would come right up to our door and window and stare at us. And Mother Arca Vigraha, equally intrigued, would stare back. Her artist’s vision always noticed something unique and beautiful about each person, no matter how ordinary he or she seemed.
Mother Arca Vigraha had excellent taste in everything, and she loved fragrant oils. She had one particularly nice oil that she would wear on her sikha. So, the first night at Kaya Maya, at about ten or eleven at night, there was a loud knock on our door. Standing in the door, swaying and hiccupping, was a large man who introduced himself as Guruji’s son. He told us that he had just come from a party and had smelled the exquisite fragrance coming from our room. Mother Arca Vigraha was delighted and said, “Oh, you like it? Come smell.” So she lifted up her sikha and allowed him to smell. Then he started telling us his life story, all the while hiccupping. As we got to know the place better, we understood that he was the black sheep in his family. But he felt so encouraged by Mother Arca Vigraha’s kindness; she always saw the good in everyone and gave them a sense of dignity and self-respect.
This was about six months before she left her body. She was very sick and in great pain. We had no transport to get to the hospital, so every day I would walk down to the main road to hitchhike. When a car stopped I would tell the driver, “Just wait, I have to call my mother,” and run back up to call Arca. It is amazing how many austerities she accepted. She was accustomed to having the best of everything, but here she was, begging rides to go to the hospital.
At the hospital we met people from all over India and Nepal. Some had huge tumors, like footballs, protruding from their bodies. It was almost too much for the human mind to bear. I think the other patients recognized how brave Arca must have been. She was so obviously refined and accustomed to more, but here she was in a mediocre hospital, far away from her family and country and facilities. I think she gave the other patients courage to face their own situations.
After that, we returned to Vrindavan, and she never left again, not even for a day. She became more and more absorbed in Krishna consciousness, and her focus shifted from her life and service in this world to her life and service in Goloka Vrindavan. The next few months extracted from her the ultimate in surrender and purification, and by the time she passed away, her consciousness was highly exalted.
She had taken your instruction, Guru Maharaja—“Just go to Vrindavan and let Radharani take over”—completely to heart. Her faith in guru and Krishna and her love for Vrindavan assured her of complete victory. There is no doubt that she entered the eternal pastimes of Radha and Krishna and Their associates.