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Devotional History of Srimati Sunita Devi Dasi
By Tosan Krishna dasa
"WHATEVER ONE REMEMBERS AT THE TIME OF DEATH, THAT STATE HE WILL ATTAIN WITHOUT FAIL" (She departed amongst friends calling out to Sri Krishna and Srila Prabhupada.)
Sunita was born in Brajadhama in an Aggarwal family in the village of Hatras in 1949. Both her mother and father were born in Mathura.
Her father educated his children as Vaishnavas. They read Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagawatam, Mahabharat, Ramayan and Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Sisastak. The family visited Vrindaban very regularly and often stayed over night. Her father later bought a room for the family near Bankibihari Temple at the Radha bhavan ashram at the end of Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg.
Sunita joined the Boston Temple in 1970 and was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in that year. She did service for ISKCON press and Back to Godhead Magazine then stationed in Boston. When the press devotees moved to the Brooklyn, Henry Street Temple in 1972 she went with them. She continued serving at the press, particularly in the art and photo departments and gradually expanded into book distribution and collection. She made a major contribution in her collection effort in the 1973 fund raising marathon requested by Srila Prabhupada in which the New York Temple paid for the entire purchase of the ISKCON Juhu Bombay Temple property as well as the construction money for the first ISKCON Temple and guest house in Sri Mayapur dhama (known to devotees as the conch building) and the purchase of the Gita Nagari Farm. I know she did a significant amount of collecting because I was also present serving as the "sankirtan leader. " I was impressed with her determination to serve Srila Pabhuapada. When she often returned very late at night or even the wee early morning hours from distributing books at a rock concert she always eagerly requested to perform the puja for the up coming mangala aroti. She regularly went out on traveling sankirtan for many weeks at a time. She learned about American culture at rodeos, stock car races, tractor pulls and foot ball games. Her favorite preaching was on college campuses where she would go into student dorms to distribute books door to door. During the winter months, she and the other devotees would sleep in the dorm building basements on the floor next to the furnace rather than spend money on motels.
I was fortunate to marry Srimate Sunita dasi on Sri Radhastami, 1974. It had been my strong wish to marry her as I was attracted to her inspired devotion, kind heart and spiritual wisdom. Krishna blessed me by letting it happen. Srila Prabhupada let it be known that he liked the idea by pronouncing that it was an "auspicious combination. " At least I know it was very auspicious for me.
Then Sunita came forward and greatly helped me set up, organize and operate the very first ISKCON Govinda's Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii.
We returned to New York and Sunita continued to very enthusiastically distribute Srila Prabhuapad's books at Kennedy International terminals and Port Authority or by traveling sankirtan parties. She developed a deep camaraderie with many fellow book distributors who came to New York from around the world. In between distributing books she would diligently sew and cook for and worship the Deities. She especially liked to regularly dress Srila Prabhupada's original Radha Krishna Deities that He brought with Him from India to personally worship. She made many outfits for their Lordships. She also loved to make very elaborate garlands and sometimes Deity jewelry. She again helped me set up the second Govinda's Restaurant at the Manhattan 55th Street Temple.
Sunita was always submissive when her husband needed to relocate. Off to Los Angeles we went. She never skipped a beat and delved further into the ecstasy of preaching and distributing books at LAX and spending weeks away in San Diego and traveling book distribution. Book distribution was her life.
Over the years we visited India many times. It was always a joy to go on parikrama all over Brajadham with Sunita because she loved to sing bhajans at all the holy sites. I especially liked it when we would go to Radha Kund at the bathing spot of Ma Jahnana devi's (the wife of Sri Nityananda's prabhu) baithaka and ghat and sing "Sri Vraja-dhama- mahimamrita" that goes. . . jaya radhe, jaya Krishna, jaya vrindaban. I also fondly remember one of the many times we circumabulated Govardhan Hill in which we returned late to Radha Kund and spent that very hot June summer's night resting on an ashram roof. It was Purnima and thousands upon thousands of local villagers of all ages majestically curcumabulated Govardhan and Radha Kund by the light of the full moon. Thus all night long we heard them joyously singing the sweet praises of Radha and Krishna! Together we also visited Jaganath puri several times and South India's Rameswaram.
In 1977 we went to Vrindaban after Gaura Purnim in Mayapur. I was asked to manage the guest house. Sunita, with her total fluency in the local Brijbasa language, commanded full respect among all the staff and chokidars. The town's people, some of whom were related to her, could not pull anything over on her. She was in-charge and the workers loved and respected her.
Srila Prabhupada then came to Vrindaban and sat us down to announce that he was soon to leave his body. We were all stunned. Sunita then started assisting Srila Prabhupada's personal servants and cooks in various tasks. She would often wash Srila Prabhupada's clothes and make his garlands. At that point Prabhupada was not accepting lady cooks so she could not cook for him as she had done in New York and Mayapur festivals. When Srila Prabhupada left Vrindaban for the Bhaktivedanta Manor we left for New York as my visa had expired.
We were inspired to continue serving Srila Prabhupada's mission in Vrindaban. While I did business in New York to collect for guest house improvements, Sunita went to Houston for several months to distribute books and collect money for the construction of the Vrindaban Temple office, kitchen, prasadam room, ashram and gurukula building. Srila Prabhuapad left his body during that time. I called her in Houston. We consoled each other by telephone.
When back in New York she started working with Bala Books and painted illustrations for the entire book, Gopal the Invincible with fifteen paintings. She then got an idea and permission to save some of her book distribution collection for a very expensive and elaborate set of clothes for Radha Govinda. After collecting she went to Dehli, designed the set, had it made, paid for it, then on returning sewed it together when it arrived in New York and offered it at the next festival. Ramabhadra prabhu said that that set of clothes was a break-through in quality and that it set the standard from then on for Radha Govinda.
Sunita never had time or interest in having children. Now after being married for six years, she was thirty, we finally had an apartment outside the Temple. Then we planned on having a child. Krishna blessed us with our first son, Gaura Shakti, in 1980. After so many years of traveling and distributing so many books, no Temple authority was going to tell her to leave her baby and go out on sankirtan. She carried Gaura everywhere. We joked how the doorman at our apartment was always a bit shocked when he saw us every morning, even in the deepest of winter, carting off our little baby at 4:15am to walk the streets of New York to get to mangala aroti. Sunita now spent more time, baby in tow, on street harinam on Fifth Ave. and evenings chanting in Times Square. When Radha Govinda were moved out of the 55th Street Temple, I moved out of our apartment so Sunita could use and run it as the brahmacarini ashram. I was Temple president so she took charge of the Deity department and arranged for Radha Govinda to have a new outfit every month for almost two years until she left New York with me to go back and serve in Vrindaban.
We sought service in the dhama and found ourselves running the guest house again. Sunita took over the restaurant. She had a big brick and plaster wood-burning pizza oven built in the kitchen so at festival times she could serve the large numbers of devotees.
Now we decided to go the America and collect funds as we needed money to make repairs on the guest house and to put signs all over the roads and at Mathura train station to advertise the Krishna Balaram Mandir. At this time, strange as it sounds, there were only a few very run-down little tea stalls in front of the temple. Visitors were relatively few in number then. So, after collecting in America, we made and placed big signs decorated with peacocks all over Vrindaban and Mathura. More guests started coming.
It was now 1985 and we moved to New Vrindaban for the wonderful preaching going on at that time. While I managed Srila Prabhuapad's Palace, Sunita managed a teenage girl's live-in ashram. I remember she took her girls out on book distribution with Gaura and still have photos of them as they took a scenic break at Niagara Falls. When Gaura finally went to the ashram school at age six, Sunita hit the road again on traveling sankirtan and visited her son on weekends. Things changed in New Vrindaban so we quickly left after she finished up a two month Christmas marathon. She won the award for most books distributed.
Now back in Sri Vrindaban, I worked to finish Srila Prabhupada's Samadhi marble construction and managed the gurukula. Sunita went with Lokanath Swami's padayatra party for five weeks with Gaura. They walked and camped out for thirty days continuously. They went from Hrishikesh, all along the winding Ganga and hills of the Himalayas, all the way up to the thin mountain air of Badrikashram. The next year, while I was away for two months on GBC service in New York, Sunita chose, when she was pregnant and against my protests, (do not think I was in charge of Sunita) to travel for three weeks by bus with little Gaura and Sunita's 13 and 14 year old niece and nephew, with no other adult, all the way to the Himalayan tirthas of Gangotri, Jamunotri and Badrinath ashram. Give me a break Sunita! You were too much. I returned to Vrindaban thankfully finding her blissful and no worse for wear.
Soon, I had to go traveling for another two months but this time she was too pregnant to pull anymore fast moves. I was too busy now to run the gurukula, so when Sunita thought it necessary to check on her son's well-being or give him medicine she defied gurukula authorities to personally care for him. She then had a new baby boy in Vrindaban, Govinda Madhava, in 1988. She also got her first house or at least half a house composed of one all purpose room, a verandah and a tiny kitchen. We also had a guest room. Now for the very first time, after fourteen years of marriage, Sunita had time to cook for her family. I often had to spend weeks traveling away in Rajastan for marble work or Mayapur construction meetings. She used our home as a way-station to render service for visiting devotees on pilgrimage from around the world; it was a sort of transcendental bed and breakfast. When I was at home she invited many friends and Sanyasis for meals almost everyday and for hot milk from the Goshala at night. After five years straight in Vrindaban and a four month stint in Mayapur, we made the wrenching decision to leave India so our children could get the educational opportunities we felt they needed so they really could renounce something when they grew up. Naveen Krishna was born to Sunita just six weeks before we boarded the plane for America.
Krishna, always merciful, sent us to Alachua. We arrived on Christmas day 1991. Sunita took great care of her children and loved going to the Temple and associating with devotees. Here only did we really start acting like householders for the first time since we were married. After leaving India, I lost my sense of mission and my sadhana practically disappeared. Sunita remained loyally supportive of me and kept her devotional enthusiasm. Sunita felt semi-retired here in Alachua and, therefore, endeavored to serve Vrindaban ISKCON in separation. We often spoke together about our earlier service. In speaking to Ramabhadra prabhu, Sunita told him that when her kids grew up she planned on once again spending much more time in New York and Vrindaban.
Sunita was known for her cooking, yet, she told me her mother never had time to teach her any cooking, whatsoever. She sewed many Deity dresses, yet, never used a needle or a sewing machine before becoming a devotee. She illustrated a book but only learned how to paint at the BBT by practice. She distributed thousands of big books using a language she learned only after coming to America and she was a wonderfully caring mother even though in the first years of our marriage she showed no interest in children. Sunita did the needful, depended on Krishna and Srila Prabhupada and They always guided her. All Sunita wanted to do was serve Srila Prabhupada's mission and serve the vaishnavas. She departed amongst friends calling out to Sri Krishna and Srila Prabhupada.
Sunita's life was successful. I am proud of and very happy for her. I wanted to marry her because she was such a good devotee of Srila Prabhupada. Therefore, I can only count my blessings and feel honored that Krishna gave me such a wonderful wife for association. As a family we have so much to remember. She gave us so much. She will continue to guide us. Krishna is eternal and things done in connection to Krishna have eternal consequences. As a boat passing through the ocean creates a path or wake in the water making it easier for other boats to follow close behind, so I pray that I may follow in her wake, the one she has created by her example. I have prayed to her to continue blessing me and our sons with her mercy. She is our auspicious guiding light.
© CHAKRA 22-June-2001
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