On the 27th of May 1913, in Kewal Nagar, a simple sugar estate village of Belle Rive, Mauritius, Kemlall Nundoo, was born. The youngest of five children, he imbibed the religious values of his father and older brother whom he assisted in his profession as “pandit” (Hindu priest). He was born in a vegetarian family, and was never tempted by alcohol or tobacco. As a youngster he had such an overwhelming desire to perfect his recitation of mantras that on auspicious days he would spend the whole day alone meditating on mantras glorifying Lord Siva and Lord Ganesh. He played harmonium, dholak (local mrdanga style drum) and violin.
In his early twenties he married Assoonee Bissoon Roy, who had also grown up in the same village. Assoonee’s grandparents were Bengali and she knew of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. When the Bengali film, Nilachale Mahaprabhu was screened in Mauritius, she understood the dialogues and when years later she heard the devotees chanting “Nitai-Gaura Haribol” she knew they were referring to “Nilachale Mahaprabhu”. Kemlall and Assoonee had eight children.
In 1948, while Mauritius was under British rule, Kemlall joined the Royal Pioneer Corps of the British army which took him to serve in Egypt and Libya. There, he also served in The Royal Military Police. He returned to Mauritius four years later.
Without having lost any of his religious fervor while he served in the British army, and with the added discipline of his military training, Kemlall soon became a respected figure (shrestha or elder) in the village. Not only was he sought after for his advice and assistance but he was always busy organizing Hindu festivals where he would chant bhajans and mantras. He was always absorbed in chanting.
Krishna Rupa Das' birthay cake
One of his occupations was to deliver bananas by bullock-cart from the East of Mauritius to Port-Louis. It was a four day journey, there and back. During one such journey, while he was wandering in the Port Louis market he stopped in front of a book stall. A Bhagavad-Gita caught his eye and he remembered how his wife longed to have a copy of this holy book. He bought it as a gift for her. Assonee’s brother, Ramnaresh, was a Gita reciter and she prayed daily that she would also be blessed with a child who would preach the Gita. Upon receiving this sacred gift she cried tears of joy and from that day always spoke of that moment as the turning point in her and her children’s life. The Gita was placed on the family altar and worshipped daily, with offerings of flowers and water.
Morning and evening prayers were a very important part of the family tradition in the Nundoo household. Everyone would join together to chant “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, “Sri Rama Jaya Jaya Jaya Rama” and in the evening they would listen to the eldest daughter, Didi Shanta, reading from the Gita. Assoonee was so strict about this spiritual discipline that if any child missed the Sandhya (evening) prayers he would subsequently also have to miss the evening meal.
In the seventies the Nundoo family settled in Arsenal, a village a few kilometers from Triolet, in the North of Mauritius. Driven by their strong spiritual inclination the family became closely associated with Purnanand Swami , a Gujarati Vanaprasthi who lived and preached in Triolet. Purnanand Swami was a devotee of Lord Krishna and in the beginning days of ISKCON Mauritius, around 1976, he would often invite Sriniketana Prabhu to give some talk at his various preaching pandal programmes. Purnanand Swami was very popular and his talks would attract thousands of people. Sriniketan Prabhu, a young Swiss brahmacari, disciple of Srila Prabhupada, had come to Mauritius with the ardent desire of spreading his spiritual master’s message and he eagerly took the opportunity offered to him by the “swami”. It was at these philosophical presentations that the Nundoo family and a few other families of Triolet met Sriniketana Prabhu and started supporting ISKCON.
The Honourable Minister of Social Security presenting Krishna Das with a medal, welcoming him to the club of centenarians
Sriniketana Prabhu would go door to door preaching Krishna consciousness and he would regularly visit the Nundoo’s home. One day, the day after an Ekadasi, Sriniketana Prabhu stopped by and expressed his desire to have some prasadam (food offered to Lord Krishna). Didi Shanta wanted to serve him but that day she had cooked with onions so Sriniketan Prabhu declined. When her father came home in the evening , Shanta related how she had been unable to serve Sriniketana Prabhu appropriately. Kemlall was so upset that a sadhu (saintly person) had come to his home and had not been able to eat that he took the basket of onions from the kitchen and threw it out of the house. From that day the Nundoo family never cooked with onions again.
Kemlall and his family extended all the support they could to Sriniketan Prabhu and the other ISKCON devotees who visited Mauritius. They very quickly adopted the teachings of Srila Prabhupada, dedicating themselves to the sampradaya. All but one of his children took to Krishna consciousness and chanted regularly. His youngest son and daughter started attending the Sunday feast programme at Lalmatie, where Sriniketana Prabhu had a preaching centre. In those days only a handful of guests attended the programme regularly. In 1980, just after graduating, his youngest son took initiation and was given the name Advaita Krishna das. Sometime later he and his sister who was given the initiated name of Madhurya Bhakti dasi joined as full-time residents in White House. Kemlall and his wife followed their children and received formal initiation in 1985. They received the names Krishna Rupa das and Krishna Rupini dasi respectively. Advaita Krishna’s older brother received the name Visnu Shakti dasa.
Krishna Rupa Prabhu suffered the loss of his wife, and two of his children. At the time of Krishna Rupini’s departure devotees were chanting at her bedside all day. At about 11pm when the kirtan was at its climax Advaita Krishna Prabhu held her in his arms and realized that she was ready to depart so all the devotees present loudly chanted, “Gauranga!”, “Nityananda”. At that moment Krishna Rupini Mataji departed. One of his sons had the good fortune to leave on Lord Nityananda’s Appearance Day and his eldest daughter, Shanta, on Govardhana-puja. She was so attached to chanting japa that when she left she clung so tightly to her beads that they could not removed from her grip, so they were cremated along with her. For the past two years Krishna Rupa Prabhu lives with Advaita Krishna Prabhu, Madhurya-Bhakti Mataji and their families. Each morning he bathes, prays and chants in front of the household deities. He never eats until he has chanted for at least an hour.
On the 2nd of June 2013 Krishna Rupa Prabhu celebrated his hundredth birthday along with five hundred devotees at Hare Krishna Land in Phoenix, Mauritius. His family, including many of his grandchildren and great grand children, were also present for the grand occasion. It is customary that dignitaries attend birthdays of Mauritian centenaries so the following members of government graced the function: Honourable Mrs. Sheila Bappoo, Minister of Social Security; Mr. Menon Chetty, Mayor of Vacoas-Phoenix; Mr. N. Ruhe, Chairman of the Senior Citizens council; Mr. F. Ng Ceng Hin, Chairperson of the National Soldiarity Fund; Mr. Fritz Thomas,
Chairman of the Ex-Servicemen, National Trust Fund; Mr. N.Caleechurn and Mrs. S. Kullean, officers of the Social Security Ministry.
The celebrating crowd
The Honourable Minister welcomed Krishna Rupa Prabhu to the club of Mauritian centenarians. Thanking his family for the care they took of him she went on to speak of the fragility of society and the prevalent neglect of our elders. She pointed out that of the 103 centenarians in Mauritius only eleven were male. She attributed Krishna Rupa’s age and health to his spirituality. In fact, all the dignitaries who spoke concluded that society was in great need of wise men like himself to guide society and people should follow his example and pray more to live longer! Krishna Rupa Prabhu was gifted money, gifts, bouquets and medals which he offered to Krishna, holding them above his head, chanting mantras. Throughout the whole ceremony he was visibly chanting on his japa beads and when asked to cut his cake – he touched the knife to his forehead, in prayer and loudly chanted, “anadir adir govinda, sarva karana karanam….” He then personally fed Mrs. Bapoo a piece of cake (traditionally a sign of affection between close family members) and she in turn took his blessings, by touching his feet. The event was aired on national TV.
The memorable evening ended with a sumptuous prasadam feast. May your good wishes and blessings be upon Krishna Rupa Prabhu, that when he leaves this mortal frame he returns to the eternal service of Lord Krishna.