Narayani Devi Dasi (right) initiates Nila Madhava (left), now Nilambari Dasi, a second-generation ISKCON devotee on Janmastami 2022 at New Raman Reti Temple in Alachua, Florida. (Photo credit: ISKCON Alachua)
On August 19, Janmastami Day, Narayani devi dasi became the first Vaishnavi (female devotee) in ISKCON to serve as a diksa guru, or initiating spiritual master. On that day she formally accepted her first disciple, now named Nilambari dasi.
Nilambari dasi offered her vows and received her name on Thursday, August 18th, during a small ceremony at New Raman Reti, the ISKCON temple in Alachua, Florida, one of ISKCON’s largest communities in North America. The ceremony was completed the next day, on Janmastami, the appearance of Lord Krishna, when Nilambari sat for the ceremonial fire yajna, as part of the Janmastami celebration. The yajna was performed by Alachua temple brahmanas (priests) Caturatma das and Raghunatha das.
Narayani devi dasi is a disciple of ISKCON Founder-Acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada. She joined ISKCON in Boston in 1970. Narayani has performed a variety of services for Srila Prabhupada including serving as a pujari in the Calcutta ISKCON temple, traveling to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books in Western India for the Bombay (now Mumbai) temple, and teaching Bhakti Sastri, Bhakti Vaibhava, and Bhaktivedanta courses in the Vaishnava Institute for Higher Education (VIHE) in Vrndavana, India.
Narayani helped write the Vaishnava Training and Education (VTE) curriculum for several courses and has written a series of twelve books including Srimad Bhagavata At a Glance and Bhagavad-gita at a Glance. Narayani is a member of ISKCON’s Sastric Advisory Council (SAC). She spends much of her time each year in Vrindavan publishing, writing, and studying. Narayani also travels annually on a preaching and teaching tour visiting Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, and the US.
Her disciple, Nilambari dasi (previously Nila Madhava), is the daughter of Pancaratna das and Atitaguna dasi. Nilambari dasi lives in North Carolina and has been a devotee of Lord Krishna her entire life. She is a dedicated member of her community, a school teacher, a wife, and the mother of three children.
The decision whether or not to allow Vaishnavis to initiate disciples has been discussed by the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of ISKCON since at least 2005. Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya, had offered various comments and instructions on the subject of women gurus, and some quarters within ISKCON had argued that women initiating is not appropriate in ISKCON. Supporters of Vaishnavi diksa gurus referred to multiple Srila Prabhupada references to support their position, including these:
“I want that all of my spiritual sons and daughters will inherit this title of Bhaktivedanta, so that the family transcendental diploma will continue through the generations. Those possessing the title of Bhaktivedanta will be allowed to initiate disciples. Maybe by 1975, all of my disciples will be allowed to initiate and increase the numbers of the generations. That is my program.” (Letter to Hamsadutta, January 3rd, 1969)
“Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna, that person should be accepted as Spiritual Master, regardless of any material so-called qualifications; such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or sudra.”
(Letter to Silavati — New Vrindaban 14 June, 1969)
“I hope that all of you, men, women, boys and girls, become spiritual master…”
(Vyasa-puja Address, London August 22nd, 1973)
“Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection…”
(Interview with Professors O’Connell– June 18, 1976, Toronto)
After many years of discussion, debate, and dialogue within the GBC, and with leaders and members of ISKCON from across the world, the GBC finalized its endorsement of Vaishnavi diksa gurus (VDG) in December of 2021. The resolution passed with a 64% majority vote of GBC members (18 in favor; 2 opposed; 8 abstentions). In its decision, the GBC designated that this resolution falls under a special category of culturally sensitive laws, wherein regions of the ISKCON world may choose to “opt out” of the new law, and not allow Vaishnavis to initiate in their region. North America was the first region to publicly endorse both the decision and their desire to facilitate Vaishnavi diksa gurus.
Narayani devi dasi is the first Vaishnavi to fulfill the ISKCON requirements to serve as diksa guru (the majority of which are the same for women and men). Those requirements were clarified by the GBC’s December 2021 decision. That decision was reviewed, as required by ISKCON law, by the Spiritual Advisors Bhagavata Assembly (SABHA), a representative body of global ISKCON devotees, which affirmed its support in May 2022. The North American Council of ISKCON confirmed its support of Vaishnavis serving as diksa gurus in North America in June of this year, thus clearing the path for this historic initiation.
To read the full 2021 GBC decision on VDG please see (page 23):
Sep 25, 2022
Archbishop Eric Escala, Continuing Anglican Church
Sep 24, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium