Kurma Rupa Das, the director of cow protection organization Care for Cows and a much-loved gurukula teacher, passed away due to metastasized stomach cancer in Krishna’s holy land of Vrindavana, India on June 28th at the age of 67. He was surrounded by devotee friends and Brijabasis singing Krishna kirtan, as well as his beloved cows.
Kurma Rupa was born to Mexican parents and grew up in New York. At 21, he was drafted for the Vietnam War.
“While I was in the army, I prayed for the first time in my life,” he recalls in the recent short film ‘My Part of the Bargain.’ “I prayed very intensely that, ‘My dear God, if you save me from having to go to war, then I will figure out how to serve you.’”
Soon after, Kurma Rupa was allowed to leave the army and didn’t have to go to Vietnam. “When I got out, I felt obliged to now keep my part of the bargain,” he said. “I now had to figure out how to serve God.”
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness provided the answer, and he joined the society’s center on 55th street in Manhattan.
At the time, he was married, but when the austerities of temple life proved too much for his wife, she left the society. Kurma Rupa stayed, and remained a brahmachari (celibate monk) for the rest of his life.
He was initiated by ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada and for some time, he served at ISKCON New York by training new devotees in the practice of Krishna consciousness. But after Prabhupada passed away, he felt less inspired to continue that service and followed his heart’s desire to serve in Vrindavana, India. In the early 1980s, he moved to Vrindavana, and never left.
For many years, Kurma Rupa served as a teacher at Bhaktivedanta Swami International Gurukula for children from all over the world. He was kind and patient, and is remembered for going above and beyond in caring for the students and encouraging them in their studies and interests.
“He was a Gurukula teacher to both my oldest children, Nandu and Balarama, and both of them have great affection and love for him,” says Jasomatinandana Das, who knew Kurma Rupa for over 30 years. “He is one of the main reasons why, in spite of many difficulties, they still cherish their days in Gurukula.”
In 1997, Kurma Rupa was sharing a house with Rupa Raghunath Das, director of the charity Food For Life Vrindavana.
“Bihari Lal, a local Brijabasi store owner, donated a young male cow to Kurma,” says Rupa Raghunath. “The bull was named Padmalochana, and he started living in that house with us. I remember Kurma used to personally cook for him every day. That marked the beginning of Care for Cows.”
After that, during the sacred month of Kartik, Kurma Rupa made a vow to take in and feed a couple of homeless cows.
“By the end of one week, there was another cow, by the end of the second, another, by the end of the third, a dozen, and by the end of Kartik, about fifteen,” his friend, author Braja Sorenson, remembers him telling her in his typically jolly manner.
Kurma Rupa burst into laughter at the memory. “I came outside on the last day of Kartika, and I stood there, in front of these cows. And I was about to ‘announce’ to them, ‘Okay, so the Kartika-vrata is over…’ Imagine, I was thinking, ‘Okay, it’s done, that’s it, bye…’ and life would go on.”
“Krishna tricked me,” he continued, still laughing. “He just tricked me into doing that without a single thought of the consequences: I couldn’t stop now. I had these cows, what was I going to do with them?”
“He would go out on his bicycle with a piece of cloth and buy some grass or hay, tie it on back of bike and bring it home and feed them,” recalls Dhritarastra Das. “After the injured cows were better he never kicked them out, they were now part of the family.”
“My kids used to help him with his first cows,” said Subhangi, who also lived in Kurma Rupa’s building for some time. “He had orphan baby cows sleeping in his room!”
Kurma Rupa teamed up with Rupa Raghunath and Food For Life Vrindavana to start Care For Cows, and for the next eighteen years, he fully dedicated his life to the service of abandoned, sick and injured cows, bulls, retired oxen and orphaned calves.
“The biggest danger for cows in Vrindavana today is man,” Kurma Rupa says in the video ‘My Part of the Bargain.’ “That’s very surprising – in Krishna’s Holy Land, the cows are endangered mostly by the people. It’s no longer sacred cow, it’s sacred car. You see how people drive in the streets here in India, or at least in Vrindavana. They drive very fast, very recklessly. So they injure a lot of cows. [cows are also endangered by] eating garbage, plastic bags.”
“Initially Kurma Rupa personally tended to the cows needs, day and night,” says Rupa Raghunath. “He worked tirelessly for years, and today, Care For Cows has 220 cows on FFLV land and 200 more across the Yamuna.”
Care for Cows became a network of international volunteers dedicated to spreading awareness, education and action regarding cow protection (go raksha) as taught in the Vedic scriptures. It also gave guidance, support and grants to likeminded charitable organisations worldwide.
“Care for Cows is a go-sadan,” says Kurma Rupa in My Part of the Bargain. “That means it’s a place where we’re not focused on milk production. It’s not a dairy. But it’s a place where we just simply protect the cows. We have many old cows here. We’re just focused on trying to keep them healthy. We have veterinarians assisting us. And it’s a place where we bring in cows that have either been injured, or they’re suffering from malnutrition, or some disease, and we bring them in and try and recuperate them – try and bring them back to good health. And then we keep them here.”
In June this year, after he was diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer, Kurma Rupa began to reside in Care For Cows’ go-sadan, in the midst of the cows as he prepared to depart.
A steady stream of devotees and local Brijabasis came to visit him, and devotees sang kirtan and read Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam to him. Kurma Rupa was not afraid of dying, saying, “I am very happy.”
In his last days, he told ISKCON guru BB Govinda Swami that he was too weak to chant, but shared that for many years he had chanted 64 rounds a day. And during those rare, special moments of his life when Krishna would bless with a drop of mercy, he said, he could see that his only desire and aspiration was to serve Sri Gopal and His cows.
On June 28th, 2015, at 8.45 AM on the auspicious Padmini Ekadasi in the month of Purushottoma, Kurma Rupa Das left his body surrounded by devotees, Brijabasis, and uplifting Hare Krishna kirtan, with sacred tulasi on his tongue and head and his salagram-sila on his chest.
He is deeply missed by many.
“He was free from envy -- like the six Goswamis, he loved all without malice,” recalls Jasomatinandana. “He was simple, straightforward and honest to the core. He not only treated sick cows but he treated devotees too. After Srila Prabhupada’s departure, he was one of the few persons I could go to for advice and feel assured it was what Krishna desired. I will sorely miss him as a friend, philosopher and guide.”
And B.B. Govinda Swami concludes, “Let us all offer a prayer to Sri Gopal, that He quickly embrace Kurma Rupa Prabhu, and that arm and arm they walk together amidst 900,000 cows.”
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To find out more about and donate to the organization that Kurma Rupa dedicated his life to, please visit http://careforcows.org[ cow protection ] [ vrindavan ] [ cow ] [ kurma rupa das ] [ care for cows ]