by Manjari dasi (ACBSP)
On July 12, 2004 at 8:26 a.m., at the MVT in Vrindavana, our dear godsister and friend, Mula Prakriti, gloriously departed from this world. Last September, during a stay in Vrindavana, Mula was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After a courageous battle with the disease, she returned in order to leave her body to this spiritual home Srila Prabhupada has given us all.
Those of you who know Mula Prakriti will remember the intensity with which she lived her life. She had a burning desire to serve Srila Prabhupada by preaching. She joined ISKCON in L.A. in 1973, and in the early years, shot to the top of the book distribution charts, distributing literally hundreds of thousands of books all over the United States and Japan and collecting millions of dollars for Srila Prabhupada's projects. After the departure of Srila Prabhupada, Mula and her husband, Gopavrindapal, lived and raised their three children in California, Oregon, and the Big Island of Hawaii. There they initiated unique programs to develop spiritual communities and foster loving relationships between devotees. In each community in which they lived, Mula was a driving force in the creation of a gathering place for the devotee community. She and Gopa started and renovated several temples and in Ashland, Oregon, had a popular storefront preaching center named "Inquire Within."
In more recent years, Mula's abiding desire to act as a bridge between devotees blossomed as her horizon expanded to include the entire family of Gaudiya Vaisnavas. She began a book of interviews of people who knew Srila Prabhupada before he went to the West. She became inspired by Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, who understood her great sincerity and encouraged her desire to glorify Srila Prabhupada. She took her personal bhajan very seriously, arising every morning at 2 o'clock to chant – gradually coming to one lakh – and worship her Govardhana Sila. Mula also traveled widely and touched the lives of countless devotees with her sweet, loving exchanges; exemplary humility, and yearning for devotees to realize their common bonds. A storyteller par excellence, she enthralled her listeners with stories of Srila Prabhupada that we had never heard before.
When cancer struck, Mula sensed that it was her time to leave this world. However, she underwent various treatments until she could do no more. All the while, she kept her sense of humor, once writing to a friend, "So, if everything turns out all right (cancer in remission), I will be coming to Vrindavana in June or July. If it is not all right I will also be coming then. So I guess it is win-win for me!" Mula always felt that her real home was Vraja Dhama. She was so happy and relieved to have made it back for her final journey. Gopavrindapal recounts that as soon as they reached Kosi (the border of Braja), she breathed a great sigh and wept tears of joy.
Medically, Mula's condition was a miracle. Although the cancer had metastasized into her liver, intestines and chest, once she reached Vrindavana, she suffered no pain. Liver cancer is generally excruciatingly painful. The strongest analgesic she took was occasional Tylenol for her fevers. She was also conscious until the end. In the last days, when she could no longer rise from the bed or open her eyes, she dictated corrections, additions and even one whole interview for her book. At times she confided that Srila Prabhupada was blessing her with profound experiences. Before she lost the strength to speak, she assured us she was chanting in her mind. Karta, Vaijayanti Mala and those who chanted with her noted her lips moving faintly in time with their chanting, her hands fingering japa mala even when there were no actual beads. Her last audible words were, "Hare Krishna."
Mula's book of interviews, "Our Srila Prabhupada, A Friend to All, early contemporaries remember him," was her final offering to Srila Prabhupada. Although it was still in production when she arrived in Vrindavana, we were able to show her a sample copy, with the cover and chapter layout. The book remained at the head of her bed throughout her final days. We had very much wanted to include in it a picture of her with Srila Prabhupada, but she knew of only one such photo – that was of Prabhupada in L.A. in which she is just a blur in the background, and she didn't even have it. Ranjit, at the BBT Archives, searched but was unable to find anything. But shortly before Mula's daughter, Nitya was to leave for India, Ranjit, while searching for a photo of someone else, came across a misplaced slide. This slide just happened to be picture of Srila Prabhupada giving darshan in the courtyard of the Krishna Balarama Mandir in 1975. A very young, serious Mula Prakriti is sitting near his feet. By the time the picture was brought to Vrindavana, Mula wasn't able to focus her vision on small things, but we described it to her. It seemed to us that the unexpected arrival of such a perfect picture of her with Srila Prabhupada – one that no one was even aware of – was Srila Prabhupada's blessing upon Mula and her book.
Mula Prakriti's departure in Sukhada's apartment, which is shaded by a huge banyan tree, was attended by great auspiciousness. Her husband, sons Sravana and Kirtan, and daughter, Nitya, were there to support her. Aindra prabhu and his brahmacaris; and Narayani, Sama Priya and the ladies sang kirtan for hours every day. She had twenty-four hour sadhu sanga, Krishna-katha, and Krishna-kirtan. A constant stream of Vaisnavas visited. Srila Narayana Maharaja came and gave her his blessings, assuring her she had no need to fear, that she would achieve the highest destination. Sripad B.V. Tirtha Maharaja chanted mantras while doing anga nyasas for her protection. B.V. Vana Maharaja, Premananda prabhu, Uma didi, Rasananda prabhu, Krsnapriya Prabhu, Yasomatinanda prabhu, Radha Kunda, as well as other godbrothers and godsisters and many others came to have her darshan and to bless her.
Mula's final stage was not quick; the active dying stage lasted forty–two hours. Her godsister and nurse, Sangita, and other medical attendants were amazed that she somehow was able to breathe in lungs that appeared completely full of fluid. "But there is nothing normal about Mula's condition," Sangita repeatedly said. Somehow, Mula was still able to hear and respond to some slight degree. When her son, Sravana, led mangala arati and morning bhajan, she raised her hands to offer pranams when the songs mentioned various personalities. In her last hours, Gopavrindapal, Nitya and other devotees took her on Govardhana parikrama by reading from the Vraja Mandala parikrama book.
In the end, she lay under Radha Kunda's beautiful portrait of Srila Prabhupada, with Krishna's thick Tulasi garland and Radharani's flower belt encircling her face, her beloved Deity, Giriju, touching her forehead, and impressions of Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet behind her head. The Holy Names were written in gopi chandan tilak on her body and her hand was in her beadbag, as it always was. She became restless as breathing became increasingly difficult. Her godsister, Vrindavana Vilasini rushed to her side. "Don't be afraid, Mula," she reassured her. "Take Prabhupada's hand. He will do your breathing for you." Mula then relaxed. Vrindavana, Sangita, Mahadevi, her children and other devotees began to chant by her side. Gopavrindapal placed Tulasi, Radha Kunda water, Vrindavana dust and caranamrta on her tongue, and placed Srila Prabhupada's final volume of the Srimad Bhagavatam (10.13) on her chest. Sangita recalls, "For about 30 seconds it seemed as if the sky opened up. The room seemed packed with people – auspicious personalities like sages. I couldn't see them but I could feel their presence." On the CD, as Prabhupada began to chant, "Ceto darpana marjanam…," Mula's favorite verse of Siksastakam, a devotee walked in bearing the Deities' caranamrta and a garland from Sri Sri Radha Syamasundara. At that moment, Mula left her body.
In death, Mula's body was even more beautiful than in her last days. She was smiling the old, million-dollar Mula smile. It seemed to get bigger and bigger. Her face was rounder – the gauntness was gone. She was bathed in Radha Kunda water then draped in a beautiful, violet-mauve Bengali sari with embroidered golden yellow border. It had been chosen by Sasikala in Mula's style: understated and simple, but pretty.
Hearing of Mula Prakriti's passing, devotees stopped whatever they were doing and came from all over. Yasomatinandan prabhu, in his Bhagavatam class in the Krishna Balarama Mandir, had just finished speaking of the passing of Haridas Thakur when the word came. The entire Keshavaji Gaudiya Math in Mathura emptied out and the brahmacaris, sannyasis and Mathuravasis all came to honor Mula and have her darshan. The kirtan in Mula's room intensified as more and more devotees squeezed in. Sripad B.V. Tirtha Maharaja performed her last rites. She was then placed on a palanquin and taken in procession with kirtan to Srila Prabhupada's Samadhi and in circumambulation of the Krishna Balarama Mandir. By this time it was the early afternoon and quite hot. Then the devotees, men and women, accompanied her in a sankirtan procession through Vrindavana town to the burning ghat. There, as the form that we had known for so long merged with the elements, we said our last goodbyes and paid pranams to the great Vaishnavi, Mula Prakriti devi dasi, who had graced our lives with her friendship and love and taught guru nistha by her life's example.