I met Mother Balai through my sister Padyavali, who lived in Kinross in the Eastern Transvaal. Whenever I visited Kinross I would do as much sankirtana as possible, and soon, through the effort of the devotees, a nama-hatta was established.
Padyavali regularly brought prasadam for Mother Balai and her family, and soon Balai; her good husband, Lenny; and her children, Shamenderan and Priyenderan, took up the process of Krishna consciousness.
Mother Balai and the devotees, including two devotees from nearby towns, Their Graces Raghunath Prabhu and Uddhava Prabhu, started a regular Food for Life (FFL) program.
Mother Balai was an excellent cook, and she and her team used to prepare nutritious meals and distribute them enthusiastically while a group of devotees performed kirtan.
Mother Balai met His Holiness Giriraj Swami Maharaja at the Hillbrow temple and later accepted him as her spiritual master. He described her as a very dynamic devotee. She became very attached to Maharaja, and he became her life and soul. Once, she was alone in Kinross and was very frightened. She took shelter of chanting the holy names, but she was still frightened. She then was inspired from within by Guru Maharaja and started chanting Guru Maharaja’s pranama-mantra and focusing on his picture. She soon overcame her fear, and after that she always took greater shelter of Guru Maharaja and the holy names, and her faith increased more and more.
She loved Srila Prabhupada and wanted to do more and more service. Their Holinesses Krishna Das Swami, Partha Sarathi Das Goswami, and Giriraj Maharaja stayed at her home when they came for big preaching programs in Kinross. She served them and all the sankirtana devotees with heart and soul.
She was very kindhearted. She had a helper who had a five-year-old son who had AIDS. Mother Balai taught him to chant, and he became very attached to her and the devotees. He enthusiastically took part in all the spiritual activities and received special mercy from the maharajas. Mother Balai took care of him until he left his body at a young age.
When she came, with her devotee friend Shakila, on a pilgrimage to India with His Holiness Bhakti Caitanya Swami, she was so blissful visiting the holy places. She and her friend went out collecting Vraja raja (dust) in the early hours of the morning they were leaving for South Africa.
Until recently, Mother Balai served in the restaurant in Gauteng. She always was very eager to serve in any way she could.
I thank Mother Balai for taking such loving care of us during our sankirtana activities in Kinross. I will miss her sweet, loving association.
Mother Balai, please forgive me for any offenses. I am praying for your auspicious onward spiritual journey and offer my sincere, deep, heartfelt condolences to your family.
Your grateful godsister and friend,
Nama Cintamani dasi
When I heard of the passing away of Mother Balai due to COVID-19, so many joyful devotional memories of us together flooded my mind and heart. She was given the name Narasimha at birth and was fun loving from the start. Her recounting of her growing up was filled with stories of fearlessly swimming in rivers, laughter, and trying to increase the happiness of everyone she met.
She married kindhearted Lenny and had two lovely children, Shamen and Priyen. They lived in a beautiful home in Kinross, South Africa, where Lenny worked in the asbestos mines and Mother Balai was a librarian. Kinross is a small town, and Mother Balai, due her friendly disposition, knew practically the whole town. She was known and loved by everyone she met.
In 1990 her younger son, Priyen, met devotees and received Srila Prabhupada’s books. At that time Nama Cintamani and Lajja Sila Prabhus would get The Science of Self-Realization sponsored and distributed in schools. So, Priyen was convinced by Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and went home from school to tell his parents that he wanted to make dietary changes and be a Hare Krishna devotee. Nama Cintamani’s sister Padyavali lived a few streets away from Mother Balai, and so Mother Balai met the devotees and immediately took to Krishna consciousness, along with Lenny.
Immediately their home became transformed, and they hosted devotees and sannyasis who stayed over while preaching in the area. At the same time, Your Divine Grace invited His Holiness Krishna das Swami to South Africa, and, when informing us at the Muldersdrift temple of his imminent visit, he mentioned that he liked big hall programs. So Nama Cintamani, Lajja Sila, Bhakti-devi, Kuntidevi, and I arranged hall programs in seventeen towns, including Kinross. Mother Balai hosted both His Holiness Krishna das Swami and Your Divine Grace in her home and also cooked for the hall program. Later, Visakha Priya often visited and stayed over for preaching.
Her name was Bala, and she was a person of great strength. I recall how you asked her husband if he thought she was ready for initiation and he said, “Yes, but she does have a temper sometimes!” You laughed, she laughed, and we all laughed. And she promised to work on it. She once told you how she was addicted to drinking decaffeinated coffee, and you told her that not all the caffeine is removed in the process. She remembered this and often spoke of it.
Every time we preached in that area on traveling sankirtana, Mother Balai would let us stay over. Her motherly love was all encompassing in the huge feasts she would prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serve on huge plates that looked more like trays. She heard about the power of the dust of the feet of Vaishnavas and of the benefits of taking their remnants, so she and Padyavali devised a secret plan. One would ask you questions while the other either served you more prasada or stole remnants off your plate.
Kinross gets very cold, and Mother Balai would arrange all comforts for us when we stayed over. When we returned to her home late at night from preaching, the electric blankets would be on, hot, fresh elaborate prasada would await us, and unlimited questions about the philosophy would pour out from Mother Balai until the late hours of the night. She had an intense thirst for knowledge and was fired up to preach it to others immediately as she learned it. She was so enthused about her Krishna consciousness that she wanted to inundate the whole place with it. She cooked in huge pots in her home and arranged teams of devotees that she cultivated to assist in distributing. Her love and generosity overflowed in each plate, regardless of the recipient. This became a steady service she performed. At the same time, she would cultivate new families, and each time we visited she had a list of new people for us to cultivate. What a front liner in the sankirtana mission she was! She loved Your Divine Grace dearly and served as if you were always in her presence, constantly speaking of your service and interactions with various people.
When her dear husband became ill from asbestos pollution in his lungs and was hospitalised in Durban, Mother Balai was determined that he get maha water and caranamrta from Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath—and the holy name. She chanted sixty-four rounds daily for his benefit and held daily vigil at his bedside at the hospital until he departed.
When her helper back at home in Kinross gave birth to a child who was HIV positive, Mother Balai sort of adopted him, giving him a spiritual name and showering him with love and comforts as if he were her very own. She would buy him toys and clothes and chant and teach him to chant and feed him prasada daily. When he passed on, she cooked a huge amount of prasada and distributed it at his funeral and implored devotees to bless his soul.
Her spirit of jiva-daya continued, and she preached to and engaged everyone she met in devotional service, inspiring them to buy ingredients and sundry items for the temple. She would then drive her Mercedes Benz to the temple, loaded with all these offerings, even though she was advancing in age and the drive was over three hours. When we opened the Midrand temple, she was very enthused and when Nrsimhananda Prabhu, my husband, invited her to join our service team as a full-time devotee, she unhesitatingly joined full-time, even though she was already in her seventies. We loved her dearly, as she loved us, and gave her a very comfortable ensuite room. All she had to do was serve, as she loved to do. She attended the full morning program daily, dancing during the mangala-arati kirtans and chanting her japa in the temple room. She was an insulin-dependent diabetic and would sometime momentarily dose off during her japa; she would repent about this to me daily. I would try to encourage her, telling her that Krishna saw her endeavors.
Her determination was most admirable. She would chant thirty-two rounds daily, saying that the extra sixteen were for your good health and long life, to make this world auspicious. Her service in Midrand was to cook for the devotees, and when we went on hari-nama sankirtana just before guru-puja every morning, we would return to her hot tea before we all had class. She loved the cows and fed them daily with treats and encouraged her family and friends from Kinross to do the same. Once a month she would drive to Kinross to check up on her home and then return with the trunk of the car full of treats that she would cook for the devotees in the time she was meant to rest. Kachoris, cakes, tarts, and so much more would flow out of her car. When I ran the restaurant there, she would make cookies and pickles and many nice things to sell. She served with the enthusiasm and energy of a very young person, despite being over seventy. And she was a meticulous dresser, which added to her vibrance. On festival days she would cook more than sixty-five preps herself, and after cooking she would go to the temple room to chant more japa, even though she was physically exhausted.
Before her Midrand seva began, she would drive three hours from Kinross to Lenasia and cook the raja-bhoga with Mother Brahmini and serve the devotees and clean the kitchen and then drive back to Kinross. In her SUV she looked like a girl on a mission! And every time she came to do this service, she had new dishcloths and ghee and other things that she would engage so many people in donating for service to our beloved Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurahari. Recently, just before Nrsimha-caturdasi, she drove with her friend Shakila, who sewed the day outfit for the Deities and was delivering it to the Lenasia temple along with bhoga and thirteen buckets of pure ghee.
Mother Balai had a great sense of humor, which endeared her to all she met. On one trip to India, while we were on parikrama with busloads of devotees at Govinda-kunda, she was trying to write down something that was being spoken, and a Vraja-vasi child stole her pen right out of her hand. She laughed heartily, saying that Krishna was making her detached. Then at Kusum Sarovara she bravely went into the kunda, so happy to have the holy water embrace her, she said—and her false teeth fell out due to her laughing while taking the dip. A kind devotee dove in and retrieved them, and she happily put them on. We teased her that now her smile had become more auspicious. And when we were back on the bus, the sannyasi asked her how she was finding the trip, and she loudly told him of these experiences with such innocence and laughter that he too became red-faced, shaking with laughter.
We will always pray for Mother Balai’s mercy and love upon us. Her loss is painful, but with her attitude of service, we can only conclude that she must have transitioned into a higher realm of blissful service by Your Divine Grace’s mercy and her own love for you, and Srila Prabhupada and the parampara’s mercy.
Thank you for inspiring and cultivating and sheltering us all. We love you.
Your insignificant servants,
Nrsimhananda das and Madri dasi
Today my beloved disciple Balai Dasi, from Kinross, South Africa, passed away, due to Covid. She was a kind, generous, hospitable, staunch devotee—a mother to many—and she will be sorely missed. Please join me in praying for her auspicious onward spiritual journey.
Yours in service,
Today is Sri Ramananda Raya’s disappearance day. As stated in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 10.134, “Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu told Bhavananda Raya, ‘Your five sons are all My dear devotees. Ramananda Raya and I are one, although our bodies are different.’ ” And in his purport, Srila Prabhupada explains:
“The Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika (120–24) states that Ramananda Raya was formerly Arjuna. He is also considered to have been an incarnation of the gopi Lalita, although in the opinion of others he was an incarnation of Visakhadevi. He was a most confidential devotee of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, ‘Although I am a sannyasi, My mind is sometimes perturbed when I see a woman. But Ramananda Raya is greater than
Me, for he is always undisturbed, even when he touches a woman.’ Only Ramananda Raya was endowed with the prerogative to touch a woman in this way; no one should imitate him. Unfortunately, there are rascals who imitate the activities of Ramananda Raya. We need not discuss them further.
“In Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s final pastimes, Ramananda Raya and Svarupa Damodara always engaged in reciting suitable verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam and other books to pacify the Lord’s ecstatic feelings of separation from Krsna. When Lord Caitanya went to southern India, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya advised Him to meet Ramananda Raya, declaring that there was no devotee as advanced in understanding the conjugal love of Krsna and the gopis. While touring South India, Lord Caitanya met Ramananda Raya by the bank of the
Godavari, and in their long discourses the Lord took the position of a student, and Ramananda Raya instructed Him. Caitanya Mahaprabhu concluded these discourses by saying, ‘My dear Ramananda Raya, both you and I are madmen, and therefore we met intimately on an equal level.’ Lord Caitanya advised Ramananda Raya to resign from his government post and come back to Jagannatha Puri to live with Him. Although Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu refused to see Maharaja Prataparudra because he was a king, Ramananda Raya, by a Vaisnava scheme, arranged a meeting between the Lord and the king. This is described in the Madhya-lila, Chapter Twelve, verses 41–57. Sri Ramananda Raya was present during the water sports of the Lord after the Ratha-yatra festival.
“Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu considered Sri Ramananda Raya and Sri Sanatana Gosvami to be equal in their renunciation, for although Sri Ramananda Raya was a grhastha engaged in government service and Sri Sanatana Gosvami was in the renounced order of complete detachment from material activities, they were both servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who kept Krsna in the center of all their activities. Sri Ramananda Raya was one of the three and a half personalities with whom Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu discussed the most confidential topics of Krsna consciousness. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu advised Pradyumna Misra to learn the science of Krsna from Sri Ramananda Raya. As Subala always assisted Krsna in His dealings with Radharani in krsna-lila, so Ramananda Raya assisted Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in His feelings of separation from Krsna. Sri Ramananda Raya was the author of the Jagannatha-vallabha-nataka.”
May Sri Ramananda Raya bless us all.
Yours in service,
In the early ’80s, in Bangalore, I was required to make at least two Life Members a month. I was a bad Life Membership maker, and one month I had only ten days left. I was looking in the telephone directory for Bengali names, and I found a Ganguly. I phoned and said, “I’m from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. I want to come and see you today.” Mr. Ganguly sounded positive. He said, “Oh, you are from the Hare Krishna movement? Please see me at eleven o’clock.”
I took the membership form, a small set of books, a poster, and some other items and went to see him. To my surprise, I found that his was a huge place, almost equal to the aeronautical engineering place in Bangalore. I lost hope—there was no way this man was going to become a member. I went to one secretary, then another, then another, and when my appointment time came, I was still with secretaries. Ganguly was the top man. I thought, “Since I came all this way, I should see him.” Finally they brought me into a big air-conditioned cabin where a meeting was going on. Ganguly told everybody, “I have to talk to the Hare Krishna now, so you all go,” and he closed the meeting.
I went in, spread the books on his table, and put the poster up. I knew I wouldn’t have much time, so I was brief. I said, “I’m sure you know about this movement. We have a branch here, and we have applied for land. You are a Bengali, and you should be proud of this, because our guru maharaja is also a Bengali and he has spread the Hare Krishna movement all around the world. I’m sure you appreciate this service, so would you become a Life Member?” Then I was silent.
He got his checkbook and said, “What is the amount?” I said, “Two thousand two hundred and twenty-two.” He said, “I’ll give you a donation, and you can also make me a Life Member.” He wrote a check for ten thousand and gave it to me.
I was moved. I said, “Thank you very much. This is a nice gesture.” He said, “I wasn’t convinced by your preaching.” I said, “I didn’t think I convinced you, either.” He said, “I want to tell you something. My father grew up in Calcutta and was a classmate of your founder-acharya. Every day, Abhay came to our house on his bike, carrying his little lunch tiffin, and he and my father played chess. The stake for the chess game was lunch—whoever lost the game had to feed the other. Almost every day Abhay won.”
Later, this man’s father received a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and became a professor in the local university. He would tell people, “The Maharaja who founded the Hare Krishna movement was my classmate, and he came to my house every day when we were growing up.” He said that Abhay had told him, “You should help me later on, when I do something.” He would ask, “What is that something?” but Abhay would not explain what he meant.
Years later, the senior Ganguly learned that the same Abhay had become Bhaktivedanta Swami, gone to New York, and so forth, that there was a local Calcutta center on Albert Road, and that the swami was coming to visit. By this time, the junior Ganguly, with whom I was speaking, was in high school, and three days in a row he came to see Prabhupada in the Calcutta ISKCON temple. Since he looked like his father, Prabhupada recognized him. The junior Ganguly said, “I am the son of so-and so.” Prabhupada said, “Where is he? He didn’t come? Tell him I want to see him.”
Later the son told the father, “Maharaja wants to see you.” His father said, “How can I go and see him? He is the guru of the world, and I am a grihamedhi.” His son said, “But he wants to see you, and tomorrow he is going to ask me, ‘Why didn’t you bring your father?’ ” Feeling shy and small, the father said, “Tell him that I am sick.”
The next day, Prabhupada asked the junior Ganguly, “Your father didn’t come?” “He is feeling sick.” “Oh, he’s sick. Okay, I will come and see him.” When the junior told his father that Prabhupada was going to come, his father said, “How will he come to our house?”
The next morning, instead of taking his usual route, Prabhupada, followed by some disciples, walked down one alley after another, arrived at the Ganguly house, and rang the bell. The son came to the door and saw Prabhupada, his disciples, and a huge crowd of onlookers in front of his house. Prabhupada and a couple of devotees went in, and Prabhupada went straight to the bedroom where the senior Ganguly was lying down, not sick, but tired and broken. Prabhupada sat next to him, poked him like a friend does, and said in Bengali, “Hey, you didn’t come to see me!”
The senior Ganguly was shocked to see the Hare Krishna devotees in his house. He asked his wife, “Please bring something for them.” Prabhupada said, “My disciples need to learn Sanskrit. I told you, you should help me. Come and teach them Sanskrit. You can travel around the world with me and teach them. Why don’t you do that? You come; I will take you.” Ganguly said, “Oh, Swamiji, I am very old, and I don’t have any spiritual energy.” “No, you have the spark. The same quality that’s in me is also in you. You should join this movement. It is very important. Bharata bhumite manusya-janma yara. You should perfect your life. Better late than never.”
Prabhupada took a rasagulla and drank water. He told his disciples, “I used to come in the morning, and from here we took that road to go to school. He was a very intelligent student. He used to score higher than me.”
Around three o’clock that afternoon, when junior Ganguly came back from school, his father asked for some water. Then the senior Ganguly leaned back and said, “Bhaktivedanta Swami will take me,” closed his eyes, and passed away.
Junior Ganguly said, “In the morning, when Prabhupada said to my father, ‘You come; I will take you,’ I thought he was saying, ‘You come to ISKCON, and I will take you to America,’ or something. We understood what Prabhupada actually meant after my father passed on.” Junior Ganguly said to me, “When you called, I asked you to come, because I wanted to share this with you. In fact, we are already Life Members.”
After that, even though he was a busy man, Mr. Ganguly would regularly come to our Sunday programs.
Today His Grace Mahaprabhu Dasa (Sri R. K. Maheshwari), my dear friend and Srila Prabhupada’s staunch devotee, passed away at his home in Khar, Mumbai. To honor his sacred memory, here is an excerpt from my book I’ll Build You a Temple: The Juhu Story about Mahaprabhu’s first visit to Hare Krishna Land, on the occasion of the temple’s grand opening, January 14, 1978.
One of the first-time visitors, a lawyer, R. K. Maheshwari (later initiated as Mahaprabhu dasa), later remembered hearing about the opening day: “I was playing cards at Khar Gymkhana, a well-known club in this area, and all of a sudden I saw a newspaper with a full-page advertisement about the Hare Krishna temple opening that day. So I thought, How much money do these people have? A full-page advertisement in The Times of India! Being a Marwari, I always thought of everything in terms of money.
“Then I decided, ‘Let me see what this place is,’ and I immediately drove to the Juhu temple. At the gate they asked me, ‘Have you got a pass or invitation card? Vaijayanti Mala is giving a dance performance, and the hall is booked, and Raj Narain, union minister, and Patwari, governor, are coming for the inauguration, so there’s a big crowd and only important people are invited today.’
“ ‘Is this a temple or what?’ I asked. ‘Well, today is inauguration day,’ the devotee replied. So, I approached another devotee, an Indian—Rama Tulasi. He was telling a group of visitors that, like fish out of water, in the material world nobody is happy. You are searching happiness in the wrong atmosphere. The Gita has confirmed that this material world is dukhalayam, a place of misery.
“The visitors were asking about the temple, why these foreigners were so much interested in Indian culture. ‘We are having some doubt,’ one said, ‘because when the British came to India . . . Now most of the people here are American. They are coming in the guise of religion and teaching us our sanatana-dharma. We cannot understand all this. We know Krishna very well.’
“But Rama Tulasi was speaking philosophy. ‘If you want to be happy,’ he told them, ‘connect yourself with Lord Krishna by chanting the holy name of the Lord. That is the connection. And if you chant the holy name of the Lord, wherever you may be, whatever situation, you will be blissful. I’m not talking happiness—you may be happy, you may not be happy—but blissful is something different. I cannot explain to you what is spiritual bliss. You have to experience it.’ So, yes, that much I understood.
“I wanted to know more; I wanted to go inside. So I found some stairs, and I got to the second floor and saw the program. I spent the whole day in the temple, and the next day too, and I came regularly thereafter. I could see that these people were genuine, and I made up my mind that I wanted to get involved in their institution and become a life member. My membership card was signed by the temple president: ‘Giriraj das Brahmachari.’ I was keen to get his association, and once I met him, that changed the lifestyle of this practicing lawyer of the Bombay High Court.
“For me, that was a total change. I had been so much involved in material things that when my wife would go to a temple, I would sit in the car. I was never interested to go to any temple because my impression of temples was that they were all cheats, fooling people and making money and not following any rules or regulations or properly guiding people—just making a business. But all that changed with my first visit to Hare Krishna Land, on the day of the grand opening.”
Yours in service,