For young Kumud Jeendgar, life had never been easy. From the day of her birth in Jaipur, India in 1972, she had had severe physical disabilities. Her bones were fragile and their structure crooked, and she was told that even as a fully grown adult she would stand less than four feet tall.
Local children her age weren’t very sympathetic to her condition—taller, stronger, and also crueler than her, they would call her mean names and push her to the ground when she tried to play with them. So her parents, fearing for the safety of their fragile little girl, kept her at home with them and away from other children and a traditional education.
Kumud wished for a normal childhood, in which she could go to school and play with other kids. “I spent 24 hours a day hankering and lamenting,” she says now. “I even dreamt of staying back as the other kids went to school, of sitting on the sidelines while they had fun. I had no peace of mind.”
One day in 1988, when she was 16, her father brought her some books that he had gotten from a travelling ISKCON devotee. They were by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whom she had never heard of—at the time there were no devotees and no ISKCON center in Jaipur. However, she looked through them, selected Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and began to read.
“Gradually I came to know that I was not really the temporary material body that I had been lamenting for 24 hours a day, but a spirit soul, part of the supersoul Lord Sri Krishna,” she says. “And I realized that lamention is not worthwhile for human beings—as Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, the wise man laments neither for the living nor for the dead.”
Kumud began to deeply rethink the way she was approaching her life. But if she was not to lament, what should she do? What was the purpose of life? Continuing to delve into the Bhagavad-gita every day, she found out: “Having come into this temporary, miserable world,” Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita chapter 9 verse 33, “Engage yourself in loving service unto Me.”
Kumud was thrilled: she was not this body that gave her so much pain, and now she had a purpose. But then she began to lament and feel sorry for herself again. She didn’t have the physical ability that other devotees did—what service could she do for Krishna?
Yet again, Bhagavad-gita came to the rescue: “One percent done in Krishna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent,” Srila Prabhupada explains in the purport to verse 40 of chapter two. Reading this, Kumud gave her heartfelt thanks to Srila Prabhupada for the happiness and solace that his words gave her.
“Reading Bhagavad-gita changed my life completely,” she says. “I was not able to go to school like other kids, but the Gita gave me all the knowledge I needed. I was not able to play with other kids, but every day I worshipped a deity of baby Krishna as Laddhu Gopal at my home altar, and unlike the other mean children, he was very kind to me. I had finally found the purpose of my life. I was relaxed, happy and blissful, thanking Srila Prabhupada every day.”
Joining Srila Prabhupada’s Family
Kumud began to develop a desire to connect with Prabhupada’s family, ISKCON. But it had no presence in Jaipur, so how could she? She didn’t know where to find devotees and was worried that if she did, they wouldn’t take her seriously—all her life she’d been looked down on by society because of her physical condition. And besides, she was only seventeen.
“I would pray, Prabhupada, please show me where and how I can connect with your family,” she recalls. “And Srila Prabhupada, the savior of the suffering souls, mercifully answered my prayer. When I wrote to New Delhi temple asking for more books, one devotee, Jitamitra Dasa, wrote back saying that he wanted to see me helped on the path of Krishna consciousness, although I hadn’t said anything about my predicament. He advised me to visit New Delhi temple and meet his Holiness Lokanatha Swami.”
Hearing about Lokanatha Swami, Kumud began to worship him as her spiritual master with faith that he would become her guru, although she didn’t even know what he looked like.
Finally, one day in 1990, she was able to visit Lokanatha Swami at the New Delhi temple with great effort. Entering his office and paying her respects, she said, “I came from Jaipur to get initiation from you, Guru Maharaja.” He looked at her. He knew nothing at all about her, yet this little person was calling him her guru and asking him for initiation. He laughed kindly. “Okay, just try to come visit me here more often, and after some time I will consider giving you initiation.”
But travelling was not easy for Kumud, and she would not take no for answer. “I came here just to get initiation from you, and I will not leave you until you accept me as your disciple,” she said, determined. Lokanatha Swami looked at her, more seriously now. He knew of her physical challenges, and that she had been born in an Indian Vedic family, and deduced that as such, she had probably led a clean, pure life. “Are you chanting Hare Krishna?” he asked.
She replied that she was chanting sixteen rounds a day, and following the four regulative principles. Finally, he accepted her as his disciple on the spot, giving her the name Krishna Priya Dasi. She received formal initiation by fire sacrifice two years later.
Srila Prabhupada to the Rescue
Now Krishna Priya felt she no longer had any reason to lament—she had Laddhu Gopala, Srila Prabhupada’s books, and a spiritual master in Prabhupada’s family. In 1996, she married Gopal aDasa and moved to the United States, where she lived near the Hillsborough, North Carolina temple amongst other members of Prabhupada’s family. Her life was happy and blissful.
But there was one other thing she wanted to do to make it whole. She had always been fond of writing poems, and the Bhagavad-gita As It Is had inspired her and changed her life. She wanted to write poems based on the Bhagavad-gita, to share its wonderful message with others.
But in 2004, Krishna Priya succumbed to a strange illness that no local doctors could identify. She returned to Jaipur, but although doctors there tried hard, they could not figure out what was wrong with her either. Her health deteriorated every day. Finally, doctors conducted an MRI, and found that her brain had been dislocated and had slipped down towards her spinal chord.
Most sufferers of this extremely rare disease had passed away during surgery. Those that survived had been left completely mentally and physically disabled—vegetables that couldn’t leave their beds.
Krishna Priya’s family were distraught. And although she had often thought about karma, one of the central messages of the Gita, as a way to explain her difficult lot in life, Krishna Priya now thought desperately, “Oh Krishna, what have I done to be put in this situation?”
But her brother was determined to save her life. “I want you to live, and to live in good health,” he said. “Because I know that you have a special desire in your heart, and I want to help you fulfill it.”
Searching all over India for the best surgeons, he finally narrowed his findings down to two. Krishna Priya met both and talked with them about Srila Prabhupada.
“One of the surgeons seemed very respectful towards Prabhupada, and I told my family, I want this man to do my surgery,” she recalls. “If I’m destined to leave my body during brain surgery, then at least I want it to be at the hands of someone who has respect for Srila Prabhupada.”
Her family accepted her decision. Later, they discovered that the other surgeon, whom she had rejected, would purposefully make mistakes during brain surgery so that his patients had to stay in treatment for inordinate amounts of time—sometimes over a year—thus making him more money. Krishna Priya’s parents were shocked, but they realized that, in a way, Srila Prabhupada had saved their daughter.
Then the time for surgery came. A group of nurses arrived to put Krishna Priya on a rolling cart and take her to the surgery room, from where she would probably never return. Lying down on the cart, staring up at the ceiling, she thought about how Vaishnavas spend their whole lives preparing for the final examination that is death—how they always hope that at the time of death, they’ll be surrounded by other devotees, chanting the Holy Name. But here she was, about to leave her body in an unconscious state during surgery. “I never thought it would end like this,” she whispered to herself.
As the nurses began to pull the cart out of her room, her family broke down in despair. They knew they would never see her again. Only her sister controlled her mind and consciousness, and began to pull the cart with the nurses.
Then something happened that Krishna Priya would remember forever. Her sister turned on the TV. If there was ever an inappropriate moment to turn on the TV, this was it. But that’s what she did.
And as she did, Krishna Priya heard a familiar voice in her ear. She looked up. There, on the TV screen, was Srila Prabhupada.
“My sister still asks me, ‘How could that have happened? Why did I turn on the TV, and when I did, how could Prabhupada have appeared on it at that exact moment?’” Krishna Priya says now. “And I tell her, ‘Don’t be surprised. Srila Prabhupada has a Master’s Degree in saving suffering souls. And he came to save me.”
On the TV screen, Prabhupada was dancing and singing for Lord Krishna. “The moment I saw him, I completely forgot that I was about to die in a few minutes,” Krishna Priya says. “I thought, Prabhupada is giving me some instruction—perhaps the most important instruction of my entire life. So I joined him. I started to sing and dance for Lord Krishna too. I didn’t care what the nurses or anyone thought of me. I was happy. I went into the surgery room with a big smile on my face.”
Krishna Priya’s family waited for hour after agonizing hour. Finally, a doctor emerged and told them the news: she was alive; but they didn’t know what her mental or physical condition was.
“My sister came to see me in the Intensive Care Unit,” she recalls. “I was only half-conscious, but I was calling out ‘Prabhupada, Prabhupada.’ My sister was delighted because the fact that I remembered his name proved that my brain was in good working order. She asked me, ‘What do you want to do for Prabhupada?’ Still half-conscious, I replied that I wanted to teach for Prabhupada. This made my sister even happier, because it showed her that I had drive and focus.”
Krishna Priya recovered fast, getting discharged from the hospital in just one week. “Everything is working fine, and there are no complications,” the doctor told her family. “But be careful—her immune system is very weak, and if she gets any kind of infection, it will not be easy to control.”
Finding Solace in Lord Krishna’s Song
The happy family returned home to Jaipur. But disaster struck again. Every day, visitors crowded into their home to see how she was doing, and despite her family’s best efforts to have them keep their distance, she got an infection. Spreading throughout her body, it finally burrowed deep into her brain. Doctors at the local Jaipur hospital could not control the infection and at last declared: “All you can do now is wait until she passes away—it’s impossible to save her life.”
Once again, however, her brother would not accept it. He took her back to Bombay hospital, where doctors struggled to save her. They could not re-operate, and without re-operating, how could they get to her infection and heal it?
Meanwhile, Krishna Priya was tottering between life and death; every day felt as if it were her last. Yet through her suffering, she thought of her mission to write poems on Bhagavad-gita As It Is. “I never told people about how this transcendental literature changed my life,” she thought. “And now I’m going to leave without fulfilling my life’s purpose.”
With deep sadness in her heart, she began to pray to Krishna. “Oh Lord, please give me one last chance,” she said. “I promise that if I recover, the first thing I’ll do is write my poems on the Bhagavad-gita and to tell everyone how this special book helped me to overcome all obstacles.”
She prayed every day. Her family, her family’s friends, and her fellow devotees back in New Goloka prayed along with her. And finally, doctors decided to try a new treatment they’d never tried on her before. There was no guarantee that it would be successful, but there was no other hope—it was a last resort.
The treatment involved giving Krishna Priya heavy steam therapy several times a day. It was May, one of the hottest months of the year in India, and every time the steam touched her fragile little body, the pain was almost unbearable.
But Krishna Priya remembered the Bhagavad-gita’s teachings in chapter 6, verse 19: “As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent self.” These words from Lord Krishna Himself gave her the power of tolerance she needed to endure the therapy. And finally, her infection cured, she was once again discharged from Bombay hospital and returned to her family home in Jaipur.
This time, her family was very careful—no one was allowed into her room apart from one nurse. But the dark times weren’t over yet.
“I was so fragile that I couldn’t open my eyes because even a tiny bit of light was too much for them,” she says. “My ears couldn’t tolerate any sound—even someone entering the room was unbearable. I could not eat food, and survived on a liquid diet. The doctors said they didn’t think I would recover. Even my family were losing hope—how could I recover if I could not tolerate any light, sound or food?”
But Krishna Priya herself did not lose hope. She thought of Srila Prabhupada and Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad-gita, and one particular verse, 2.14, stood out in her mind. “O Son of Kunti,” Krishna says to Arjuna, “The non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
Meditating on this one verse over and over, Krishna Priya had faith in Krishna’s promise that the darkness and doom would pass just like winter and summer seasons; that she would be able to see Lord Krishna’s beautiful form once again, and to listen to her Guru Maharaja’s kirtan again.
Sharing Krishna’s Message With the World
Gradually, she recovered. She could see, listen, and eat once again. And emerging from the darkness, she remembered her promise to Krishna, and her mission to write a poetry book based on the Bhagavad-gita.
Staying in Vrindavana, India between December 2006 and March 2007 with her husband, she decided to try to write poems in the holy land where Krishna once appeared.
Despite still suffering from dizziness and other health issues, and despite doctors’ orders not to read or write, she stayed firm in her mission. “Maybe my situation will get worse again,” she thought. “Now is the time.”
Writing a collection of heartfelt poems in Vrindavana, she enlisted her mother-in-law Nancy Rosenberg in editing the book and her brother in helping to print it. Upon her return to North Carolina, Krishna Priya added more poems and illustrated the book with drawings of lotuses, lily pads, conches and Krishna’s flute to create a second edition. Srila Prabhupada disciple Madan Mohan Mohini Dasi edited, with Mayapriya Dasi designing the cover. Lotus Lryics: Poems Inspired by Lord Krishna’s Bhagavad-gita garnered appreciation from the general public as well as devotees, with the local Herald Sun newspaper publishing an article about Krishna Priya’s life and book.
Today, Krishna Priya continues to live near the New Goloka temple in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where the devotees and her mother-in-law Nancy care for her. She spends her time dressing Giriraj, making garlands for the deties of Sri Sri Radha Golokananda, cleaning the temple room and cooking Vedic sweets. She is currently working on a Vedic sweet cookbook featuring recipes offered to Jaipur’s Sri Sri Radha Govind dev Ji, and has nearly completed illustrations for it, including a painting of Krishna’s eternal consort Srimati Radharani.
“I’m not a very qualified person, and my ignorance is very deep, but I was eager to do something to please Srila Prabhupada,” Krishna Priya says with real humility. “I feel that I’ve achieved my life’s purpose, in sharing Krishna’s message with the world in my own way. And now that my work is done, I feel that whenever I do eventually pass away, I can leave my body peacefully.”
Krishna Priya’s artwork and her book, Lotus Lyrics, are available to buy here: http://supersoul.com/krishna/index.html
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications