Yamuna Devi, an ISKCON pioneer, one of the first disciples of Srila Prabhupada, and a much loved and deeply inspiring figure for devotees all over the world, passed away on December 20th, 2011. Now, as a tribute to her on this ninth year of her passing, Dinatarini Devi, Yamuna’s companion in devotional life for 37 years, has compiled her original Deity book, Yamuna Devi: A Study of Seva Puja.
Coming this Spring, the historical gem details Yamuna Devi’s studies in Deity worship from the early 1970s, including her extensive India studies with temple sevaites and her later years of worship of Sri Sri Radha-Banabehari.
Yamuna Devi originally wrote the work in response to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to learn from the Goswami temples in Vrindavan, and later expanded it. The book also includes a section dedicated to Sri Sri Radha-Banabehari and Yamuna’s beautiful shringar and paraphernalia designs for Them.
“Memorializing Yamuna Devi’s extraordinary Deity seva puja in this book has brought great happiness to those of us who participated in it, and we pray it may bring joy to the hearts of the Vaishnavas,” says Dinatarini Devi.
Dinatarini Devi writes:
When we were thinking of the title for Yamuna devi’s memoir/biography, Yamuna Devi: A Life of Unalloyed Devotion, I remembered Srila Prabhupada’s description of unalloyed love from his Science of Self Realization:
“If one protects the tender creeper of devotional service nicely, then gradually it will produce the fruit of unalloyed love for God. Unalloyed love for God means love that is not tinged by desire for material benefit, for mere philosophical understanding, nor for fruitive results. Unalloyed love is to know, ‘God is great, I am His part and parcel, and therefore He is my supreme lovable object.’ This consciousness is the highest perfection of human life and the ultimate aim of all methods of self-realization. If one reaches this point—God is my only beloved, Krishna is the only lovable object—then one’s life is perfect. And when one tastes that transcendental relationship with Krishna, then one feels real happiness. The devotional creeper will then be so strongly protected that just by catching hold of it, one will be able to reach the supreme destination. If one climbs steadily up a tree, one eventually comes to the very top. Similarly, if one can achieve love of Godhead by catching that devotional creeper, there is no doubt that one will reach the transcendental abode of Krishna and will associate with Him personally, just as we are associating here, face to face”. [Science of Self Realization 8]
For me, this was eloquently descriptive of Yamuna devi’s journey in Krishna consciousness. As I now reflect on her devotional life nine years after her departure, I am first reminded of small yet poignant moments with Srila Prabhupada—walking behind him up the narrow, steep steps to his rooms in Los Angeles when he suddenly stops and turns to gaze lovingly at Yamuna with tears flowing down his cheeks: his casually asking us to describe our ashram in Oregon: “It is small, Srila Prabhupada, but very clean,” she replies. “That is alright,” he says, “You can have a small room and clean it very nicely, put in some flowers and bring an old man like me in and he’ll feel just like a bridegroom.” And he laughed loudly and repeated it again, “Old man like me.” “How much do you pay?” he asks. “Only $100.00.” His eyes open widely, and he says, “So much?! I only pay five rupees for my rooms in Vrindavan.” These were such sweet and profound times—imprints on my own consciousness never forgotten or taken for granted. Yet each exchange whether serious or with levity was seen by Yamuna as instructive. From the beginning, he had carefully instilled within her the devotional imperatives of cleanliness and careful attention to detail in her many services, and she saw even in Srila Prabhupada’s joking quips a reiteration of those early instructions.
Yamuna devi was known for her many wonderful qualities, but for me the focus and precision with which she undertook each service, whether serving Srila Prabhupada in cooking or cleaning, preparing for and writing her cookbooks, rendering services to the Vaishnavas, and the seva puja of her beloved Deities, Sri Sri Radha-Banabehari, were memorable. Her preparation for anything from a simple offering to the Deities to grand festivals was focused and exhaustive. She would sit quietly for one or two hours, beads in hand, then jump up with a full plan at the ready, and preparation would immediately begin. Everything was thoroughly vetted and thought out. Meals and feasts had to be not only prepared well, but color-coordinated on the plates. The smallest detail was important. A favorite of mine was seeing her design outfits for the Deities. After her usual meditation, she would lay out graph paper on a large table and say, “Now let’s offer a bumblebee outfit to Sri Sri Radha-Banabehari based on the Bhramara Gita in Srimad Bhagavatam.” And she would begin meticulously designing each piece of Their summer and winter variations of a bumblebee-themed outfit.
In tribute to Yamuna Devi on this ninth year of her passing, we have compiled her original Deity book, Yamuna Devi: A Study of Seva Puja, coming this Spring (covid restrictions have held up printing). Originally written by Yamuna in response to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to learn from the Goswami temples in Vrindavan, she later expanded it. We have also included a section dedicated to Sri Sri Radha-Banabehari and Yamuna’s beautiful shringar and paraphernalia designs for Them. Memorializing Yamuna devi’s extraordinary Deity seva puja in this book has brought great happiness to those of us who participated in it, and we pray it may bring joy to the hearts of the Vaishnavas.
Yours with heartfelt gratitude,
Dinatarini devi dasi
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org