The Life & Example of Srimati Krsnamayi Devi

Jun 12 2019 - Krishna Talk 220

(The following article is based upon information from www.bhaktiyoga.org.uk)

Women Saints in Gaudiya Vaisnavism

It is a fact that stalwart Vaisnavas never seem to falter - they just persevere, no matter what kind of hardships they have to endure. Srimati Krsnamayi Devi was one such Vaisnavi. Great women Vaisnavis have existed throughout the ages, showing that the qualities of leadership, scholarship, intelligence, wisdom and devotion are an affair of the heart, not gender.

There are many examples of such women – even so, they are still very rare. The first woman to distinguish herself as the superlative Vaisnavi five hundred years ago was unquestionably Saci-devi, who appeared in Bengal in the mid Fifteenth Century. Playing the role of a perfect mother and wife, she was glorified as the mother of Sri Caitanya and the wife of Jagannatha Misra. Indeed, if Saci-devi was the perfect mother, Visnupriya was the perfect wife.

Visnupriya spent as much time with the Holy Name as she did with her beloved mother-in -law. And her reputation as a prominent ascetic soon grew. It is said that she would set aside one grain of rice for every Name she chanted in one day. When her utterances of nama-bhajana were completed at the end of the day, she would boil that amount of rice and take that as her meal. She is still glorified today for her dual role as an ideal chaste wife and an ascetic of the Vaisnava tradition.

One of the more prominent woman gurus was Jahnava-devi, the consort of Nityananda Prabhu (Sri Caitanya’s intimate associate and plenary expansion). Her devotion was so intense that it endeared her to the pious and impious alike, and by her personal example she showed how to perform temple worship and how to devote one's life to spiritual pursuits. She even presided over large Vaisnava festivals and gave initiation to men and women alike. It was Jahnava-devi who had the insight to keep close contact with the Gosvamis of Vrndavana. In this way she sought to keep solidarity and unification between the Gaudiya Vaisnavas in Bengal and in Vrndavana.

Srimati Krsnamayi Devi was also such a Vaisnavi – but despite so many good qualities and capabilities, she remained quiet and humble in the shadow of her guru, Srila Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja – the illustrious disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. When she was recently widowed, she decided to devote the remainder of her life to guru and Krsna. She surrendered at the lotus feet of that great Vaisnava with body and soul. Srimati Krsnamayi Devi epitomized that kind of surrender. She served in the matha as a cook for thirty plus years before she was incapacitated by arthritis.

Her life

When asked what made her move into the matha. She replied simply, "Because I liked it there". But her service attitude and her personal bhajana indicated a much deeper commitment than that. Her sobriety for proper implementation impressed Srila Sridhara Maharaja so much that, when he had to go on preaching tours leaving the matha, he would leave her as matha-in-charge until his return. So much faith he had in her capacity to stick to the siddhanta that in his earlier will, he named her as a successor several times, before she became physically incapacitated. She herself was a preacher of uncommon attributes as can be attested by her poetic Bengali composition on the "Auspicious Birth of Guru Maharaja" which is now inscribed in marble on the south wall of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s samadhi-mandira and the same poem was included in many Bengali publications during Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s time. According to literary Bengali, this poem is written in an erudite fashion of the old Bengali language using the classical style. In this way we can more appreciate Krsnamayi Devi's uncommon humility in the face of her extraordinary capacities including that most difficult of all traits, tolerance. Many devotees, including Srila Sridhara Maharaja, considered her a suddha-bhakta, a pure devotee of Lord Krsna.

She appeared in Nagpur in December 1898 on Purnima. Her family were high Smarta brahmanas and they later settled in Tegharipara in Navadvipa. Her father was a lecturer at the local college and she was educated in the scriptures from an early age.  Her husband was a chief auditor for the Indian Railways. They had a daughter but before they could have a son her husband died.  She later adopted a boy by the name of Satya Hari who was also from a brahmana family.  Satya Hari also worked on the railways and he later started his own business.

She was educated in Calcutta in her childhood. She proved early on to be of exceptional intellect. At only 11 years of age, she obtained excellence in many subjects because of her capabilities. She was accorded gold medals and honors from the famous Judge Sir Ashutosh Mukherji. Living in Navapvipa, she was destined to meet Sridhara Maharaja and become his disciple. When she became 40 years of age, she was fortunate to meet her spiritual master. Shortly thereafter, she received both hari-nama and mantra initiations simultaneously from him and dedicated her life to the service of Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga.

Srimati Krsnamayi used to take her daily bath in the Ganges and she traveled there via the same route each day. However, when she heard of Sridhara Maharaja she changed her route to the Ganga so that she could regularly listen to his hari-katha.  She would offer him flowers and Ganga water.  This went on for about two and half years and then she then took hari-nama initiation from him. She was about 37 years old at the time.

When her daughter had finished her studies and her adopted son had become financially self-sufficient, she gave up family life and went to live in the matha. At that time, she donated her property and money to Sridhara Maharaja’s mission. This property included houses and land and was of significant value. Krsnamayi was wealthy and had given all she had for the service of Sri Krsna. Her agricultural land yielded a plentiful supply of rice and vegetables and the money she donated enabled building work to start so that other devotees could stay.

Because she was from a respected brahmana parivara in Navadvipa, her initiation from a Vaisnava guru caused a scandal in her family. As Smartas they had always been opposed to the Gaudiya Matha and their beloved daughter was leaving everything to enter the asrama of her guru to serve him with all her heart. When interviewed about this she told that, “I came to the matha without telling my family members because there would have been an objection. They would have prevented me from coming. I came to live in the matha because I liked it. I asked an uncle for permission and he said, "Yes, there is a genuine holy man there." My father did not approve of it so I had to come without his knowledge.”

At the matha she was given the responsibility to look after all the ladies, making garlands for the Deities, managing Sridhara Maharaja's room and preparing the type of water he liked to drink. Sridhara Maharaja always had special affection for her due to her unalloyed devotion, honesty and dedication.  He also appreciated her writings and poetry. He, himself, wrote a brief Sanskrit poem glorifying and describing her life. He included this in his Bengali rendition of Bhagavad-gita, which she helped to finance.  The Sanskrit poem composed by Srila Sridhara Maharaja is as follows:

(1)
sriman-navadvipe dhamni teghari-vipra-vamsajah
sva-namadhanya-sammanyo-vadanya atmavan kriti
sri vaidyanatha-sarmasit dharmanishtho jana-priyah

“Born in Teghari district of the holy land of Navadvipa, in the family of brahmanas, valuing honor as his only wealth, Sri Vaidyanatha Sharma was firm in dharma and dear to all.”

(2)
tat kanya punya-karmanya dhanya dharmanuragini|
tapasvini pati-prana vidushi vratacarini

“His honourable daughter, whose happiness was in performing virtuous deeds, was yearning whole-hearted for dharma – renounced from all mundane, she dedicated herself to her husband, being very wise, and fulfilling all religious vows.”

(3-4)
deva-dvija-guru-sraddha pujya-puja-parayana
sri-kiranamayi namni devi tat pati-daivatah

kalikata-nagaryam yah talapalli-nivasakah
vidvan vidvadvaren-yascha sriman sambhranta-vamsajah

“Having faith in God, the brahmanas and Sri Guru, worshiping that One who is highly worthy of worship, she was named Sri Kiranamayi (Krsnamayi’s birth name which means “radiant like the sun”). She was inseparably related with God, as well as her husband who was from the village of Talapalli in Kalikata. She was learned and appreciated by learned men; she was decorated with beauty herself, and high-born.”

(5-6)
dhimanadhyapakas-caiva matiman naya-kovidah
pratibha-bhava-gambhiro caru-narma-supanditah

sriman makhana-lalas ca vandya-vamsa-vibhusanah
evam bhutasya satasya svadhama svaminas tatha

“Sriman Makhana Lal (Krsnamayi’s husband) was the worshippable ornament of his family. He had sacred knowledge and was also able to teach it; full of devotion and prudence, self-sacrificing and deep in understanding, Loved by all, their family was blooming, up to her husband’s sudden departure to his eternal abode.”

(7)
putrasya sneha-patrasya paramartha-prasadhika
utsargi-krta-sarvasva guru-krsna-padambuje
mandira-bhogacaryadi-nana-seva-parayana

“And then, although filled with maternal love, by the call of spiritual life, she abandoned everything she owned. To the lotus feet of Guru and Krsna, she devoted herself, showing the way by engaging in different kinds of service in Their temple for Their pleasure.”

(8)
veda-sarartha-samgita gita-samjnita-pustika
tan mudrane ca mudrada sadhuna sadhunarthita

“Now she is publishing the Bhagavad-gita, which is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. For the joy of the sadhus we present this example of her saintly life, with a desire to achieve the same saintly aim.”

Sridhara Maharaja stated that, "Krsnamayi Didi is a special devotee and we must always look after all her needs".

She recalls about her life in the matha, “I prepared foodstuffs in the kitchen of the matha and also I offered puja. Only the ground floor had been constructed when I first came there. 
On one of my earlier visits, I had a quarter of a Rupee with me which I donated. I commented to Srila Guru Maharaja that I would like to have given more – a full Rupee if only I had one. Srila Guru Maharaja replied that it was not easy to give in full.”

She narrates that at that time, she was requested to perform a most memorable service for her Gurudeva. The temple had been recently established in Navadvipa-dhama town itself in an area known as Kolardvipa where Jagai and Madhai had their famous pastimes with Lord Nityananda. Srila Sridhara Maharaja had made arrangements with a Jaipur murti-walla to prepare Radha-Krsna Deities for the newly constructed temple. When the Deities of Sri-Sri Gandharvika-Govindasundara were completed, They were brought from Jaipur by Krsnamayi Devi and Govinda Maharaja. When the Deities arrived, Krsnamayi Devi felt very blessed to have been instrumental in escorting Them to the holy dhama and her Guru Maharaja's temple. But wonder of wonders, just as she thought that the service was done, she witnessed a most inspiring happening as Sridhara Maharaja and his exalted God-brother, Srila Bhakti Dayita Madhava Maharaja began the installation of the Deities. The two godbrothers performed a roaring kirtana of immense proportions which culminated in the two dancing wildly and loudly chanting for the pleasure of Their Lordships. Krsnamayi Devi was astounded and as a witness to this most ecstatic event, her heart became filled with the mercy of Their Lordships and she reports that she actually envisioned at that instance that Sri-Sri Gaura-Nitai were in fact, dancing before Sri-Sri Gandharvika-Govindasundara. After witnessing this other-worldly event, she told that her commitment to the service of the Supreme Lord deepened through Sri Guru and His Grace.

When Srila Sridhara Maharaja went on pilgrimage to Badarikasrama, Krsnamayi Devi went with him and some of his other followers. She also went to Ramesvara with him one year although she was advised not to go because her son-in-law was very ill and it was feared he might leave his body. Still, it was her heartfelt desire to go on pilgrimage with her Guru Maharaja so she did that. When she returned, amazingly, her son-in-law was still alive.

The Tegharipara area of Navadvipa used to be famous for its abundant supply of followers of Tantra. They were very entrenched in their tantric way of life but, despite this, Krsnamayi preached to them and converted them to Vaisnavism. Sridhara Maharaja greatly appreciated this. At this time, he proclaimed that she was a suddha-bhakta, a pure devotee of the Lord. When interviewed, she said, ”I do remember receiving my Guru Maharaja’s genuine love and blessings. “

Despite her obvious great qualities and intellectual abilities she humbly remained in the service of cooking for the Deities. It was also her practice that she usually would not return dandavat-pranamas from a brahmacari. Some misinterpreted that as some seniority complex but they were sorely misled by their speculation. On the contrary, she herself felt unworthy to receive dandavats from an ascetic because she was a woman. Naturally she was far beyond such bodily distinctions.

The departure of her Guru Maharaja was very painful for her. She felt great separation for the rest of her life. After his departure She took shelter in another asrama in the Tegharipara district of Navadvipa. Later her pain of separation from Srila Sridhara Maharaja increased so much that she moved to the Gopinatha Gaudiya Matha in Mayapura to have the close association of his stalwart godbrother, Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja. Here she spent much time in her deep bhajana.

In her old age She was lovingly cared for by Jahnava Devi Dasi and a surrendered soul named Gaura Krsna Dasa who served her just like they had served Srila Sridhara Maharaja. They took Krsnamayi Devi to Radha-kunda for a glimpse at that holy place before she left this world. They carried out this service with great until her very last moment in this world.

Conclusion

Actually genuine humility, determination and purity are great qualities rarely found in anyone, what to speak of a lady. Externally women may appear humbler than men, but is that really true humility? Would any of those “humble” ladies be capable of living an entire life of dedication simply cooking for the Deities and serving other Vaishnavas, without any special recognition, or any special titles for their entire lives?  Surely not. This type of humility is not so cheap. Such an attitude of profound humility requires the realization that one’s position is simply due to Krishna’s mercy at all times.

In the Mahabharata we find the example of the princess Amba who was kidnapped by Bhisma for his half-brother, Vicitravirya. When Bhisma refused to marry her and she was later rejected by king Salva, Amba became extremely bitter. She then performed severe austerities to exact revenge upon Bhisma – thus Amba embodies the worldly feminine aspect of mercilessness. She could not forgive those that she considered as offenders. Had Amba been a Vaisnavi, she would have tolerated her situation, taking it as the mercy of the Lord.

In stark contrast to Amba’s mundane feminine nature, Srimati Krsnamayi Devi tolerated so much in her life without protest, always taking the humble position and never putting herself forward. She accepted everything as Krsna’s mercy and dedicated her life to Sri Guru, never thinking of her own comfort or reputation even for a moment. She is an inspiration, not only to all aspiring Vaisnavis, but to any devotee irrespective of gender, asrama or position.

 

 

 

 

Topic: History
Tags: acarya