May 1975: LAUTOKA, FIJI – Walks, Programs
Madhudvisa das: Here we have Prabhupada walking with the devotees, and the gentleman to the right of Srila Prabhupada is Vasudeva. At this time he wasDayoji Punja , and he was the prime mover of Krishna consciousness in Fiji in those early days. Srila Prabhupada was very affectionate towards Vasudeva and his whole family because here was an Indian gentleman outside of ISKCON, because ISKCON hadn’t been officially established there in the country yet, and he was taking it upon his shoulders to propagate Krishna consciousness. And he had a distinct love for Srila Prabhupada, as you see from his body language.
Vasudeva das: I had some business in Australia, Sydney, rice business. From my office, I saw some people, devotees, shaved head with saris, kurta, they are distributing the prasad, chanting Hare Krishna on the street. And I thought in my mind, “Who has changed these people?” So I asked some devotees there, “Who is your guru and how you came to Hare Krishna movement?” They said, “Our guru is Prabhupada, and he is coming after one month.” Then after that, I asked the rice grower people in the office, “These people are chanting Hare Krishna and who are they?” “They are taking drug and just chanting Hare Krishna.” So I decided that “Let me go to stay in their temple.” So I stayed two nights there. I saw early morning they wake up three o’clock, cold shower they take, and the arati and singing Hare Krishna mantra. Who has changed these people? So I decided to meet Prabhupada. Suddenly I have some business in Fiji, so I came back. Prabhupada came to Melbourne. Nandarani met Prabhupada in temple and asked Prabhupada when Prabhupada is going to Hawaii. Nandarani asked him, “You tell me also the flight number.” So Prabhupada told the devotees, “Tell them the flight number.” So Nandarani got the flight number, and Nandarani rang to us in Fiji. So Prabhupada’s flight is staying a half an hour. Nearly 2,000 people came out to greet Prabhupada. We had advertised in the papers and radio. When the flight came there, a jumbo jet, when I saw Prabhupada, I suddenly prayed dandavat obeisances. The first question Prabhupada asked me, “Is there any Radha-Krishna temple here?” So I said, “No, Prabhupada, there is no Radha-Krishna temple. There are so many small temples here but not Radha-Krishna temple.” “So you build nice…” in Hindi bhariyasa mandir mano he told me. I said, “I will try my best to build that temple.” After a 20-minute discussion, I paid obeisances to Prabhupada. And when I stand up, Prabhupada put his hand on my head and I feel just like all my sins have gone. I began to cry completely. Prabhupada said, “From today you chant 16 rounds,” and from that day I start chanting. I still wake up three o’clock and I still chant 16 rounds every day.
Madhudvisa das: There were certain Indian gentlemen who had this awe and respect for Srila Prabhupada, devotees such as Karttikeya Mahadevia and Mr. Sethi in Bombay. They acted like old devotees from previous lifetime, old Vaisnavas that were reigniting their relationship with Srila Prabhupada in this lifetime. The unique position of Dayoji, or Vasudeva as he was initiated, was that he was the CEO of a very large and important company…companies, many companies in Fiji. He was way up there in the elite of Indian businessmen. So he owned a chain of grocery stores, that was one of the retail businesses they had. And when the devotees were taken through the grocery stores and we came to the butcher shop, we were aghast, “How is this possible?” When it was asked of Srila Prabhupada, “What should we advise Vasudeva to do? Should we tell him that he should close down the butcher shop?” Srila Prabhupada said, “No, he doesn’t have to close the butcher shop at this time. This will come.” We were just black-and-white, cut-and-dry devotees. We had no nuances in our approach towards Krishna consciousness because we were immature, spiritually immature, even at this so-called late date in our spiritual life, 1975. Prabhupada could understand that Vasudeva was in business, the business was well established in the islands for many, many years, and Vasudeva had his brothers and uncles and aunts and his family was well immersed in this business. And for Prabhupada to say, “No, you have to close down the butcher shop,” that would be a point of controversy amongst the family members. Only Vasudeva at that time had fully embraced Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada could understand that if Vasudeva became strong, if there weren’t any preconditions put on his relationship with Srila Prabhupada having to do with his business, then eventually he would win over all his other family members. And as it turned out, most of Vasudeva’s family members did embrace Vaisnavism and some of them actually took initiation.
Bhagavati dasi: Vasudeva invited him that next time when you pass from Nadi to Hawaii, next year you come and stay in Fiji.
Vasudeva das: …stay in Fiji. Prabhupada says, “I will write to you when I can come.” So Prabhupada wrote a letter to me, “I am coming in 1975.” He rang from Hawaii, “Have you got the land?” I said no. Then I decided that I’ve got land, so I’ll donate this land to ISKCON, build a nice temple. We gave a contract for $330,000. I didn’t have any idea of how to build a temple. When I sent the copy of a plan to Prabhupada in Mayapur, Prabhupada saw it, Prabhupada says, “Why you build a dome in front? The architect says front people can see from the road. No, dome should be where the Deities are.” So we had to make so much alteration for that.
Bhagavati dasi: And he said the road should be concrete. For collection, Vasudeva used to go early in the morning, six o’clock, with a BTG in his hand and Prabhupada’s photo there.
Vasudeva das: As soon as they see Prabhupada’s photo, some will give thousand dollar, some five hundred dollar, some two thousand dollar. Within two months, I collected forty thousand dollars.
Bhagavati dasi: And then we got some loan from bank.
Vasudeva das: Bank, yes.
Bhagavati dasi: When Prabhupada first came, in the morning he was going for morning walk to Madin Drive in Lautoka. After coming from morning walk, we had Guru Puja. His first program in Latamwa Hall, Lautoka, and the whole hall was full with people.
Vasudeva das: Upstairs, downstairs, 2,000 people were there.
Bhagavati dasi: Prabhupada gave lecture for 20 minutes in English. So Vasudeva requested, “Many Indians are here who don’t understand English. So can you speak in Hindi?” So Prabhupada gave same lecture in Hindi. And then he gave one program in Nadi, Ramakrishna Mission, and one at Ba, it was in theater.
Vasudeva das: I used to go every day to see Prabhupada at about four o’clock. When I finished my business, then I used to sit down with Prabhupada. Prabhupada used to tell me about Bhagavatam, and we used to talk to each other.
Bhagavati dasi: Once he didn’t come, so after lunch and rest he rang to call Vasudeva. Then we were sitting in the veranda. And one devotee was there,Satya Nashri, he asked Prabhupada that local people say that Kaliya is here in Fiji. And Prabhupada asked, “Are there any wild creatures here like wild lion and serpents?” He said, “No.” Then he said, “Then Kaliya must be…may be here.” And after that, he changed the…
Vasudeva das: …name…
Bhagavati dasi: …to make Krishna Kaliya Temple.
Madhudvisa das: Some of the Hindus had said that this is Kaliya who has come to Fiji when he was banished from the waters of the Jamuna and that this big snake was living up in a big lake up on the top of a mountain where nobody went. And in Fiji there’s no snakes. So they told Prabhupada that, and Prabhupada said, “Yes, then it is possible because where there is the big snake, there are no small snakes because the big snake will eat the small snakes.” So one devotee, he took up the challenge to go to this lake. According to the superstition, if you went to this lake you wouldn’t come back or you would become insane. But not many people know how to get there, so he had to get a guide. So he paid this guide some money and he was a little bit reluctant, but finally he agreed. So they started to hike up there and a big storm came up, big typhoon. Winds were blowing, trees were knocked over. So the guide became spooked and he said, “No, no, this is the sign we are not supposed to go,” and he abandoned him. So the devotee thought, “Well, I’m going to do it.” He didn’t know how to get there but he still tried to persevere, but the storm became too violent and he couldn’t do it. So because of that folk tale, Vasudeva established the Krishna Kaliya Temple; and it’s a unique Deity of Krishna dancing on the head of the Kaliya serpent.
Bhagavati dasi: Then the next trip Prabhupada came in 1976.
Vasudeva das: Yes, to lay foundation.
Bhagavati dasi: To lay foundation. At that time, we got initiation.
Vasudeva das: I told Prabhupada, “My brother Bhuvan Mohan will take initiation.” Yes, he agreed. So next day Prabhupada told Upendra das, “Make it ready the yajna and I will give initiation.”
Bhagavati dasi: He asked Prabhupada, “Prabhupada, I want to take initiation from you.” Prabhupada said, “OK, shave your head.”
Vasudeva das: So myself and Bhuvan Mohan shaved head and we got ready to take initiation.
Bhagavati dasi: After initiation, the next morning Prabhupada called us in his room and gave second initiation next day to both of us.
Vasudeva das: But before Bhuvan Mohan said, “I am drinking tea, Prabhupada.” “From today you leave tea, no more take tea.” Then Bhuvan Mohan said, “I am chanting other mantra also, Prabhupada.” He says, “This Hare Krishna mantra will conquer that.” Prabhupada gave him initiation.
Bhagavati dasi: And he presented first mala to Vasudeva prabhu, then to me and then to Bhuvan Mohan.
Chitralekha dasi: Upendra went to Fiji first about a month before I arrived, and I believe it was September 1970. We were in Suva. People used to call us Mr. and Mrs. Swamiji, which we thought was very funny at that time, because we wore our yellow dhoti and sari. When we were in Fiji, an Indian family had given us a small Lord Nrisinghadev Deity. I still have Him. He was always our Deity who presided over our center and our preaching there in Fiji. He was the first Nrsinghadev Deity that appeared in our movement, so that was very significant. He was given to us soon after we had arrived there. On Sundays we had a feast, and our place would be packed with Fijian people and Indian people. So they took very enthusiastically to the feast. Upendra always wrote to Prabhupada about the difficulties that we were running into and the criticisms, and one of the sadhus next door wanted to chant Hare Rama first instead of Hare Krishna first. Prabhupada just wrote back and said, “Well, if he insists on chanting Hare Rama first, what is the harm? He is still chanting.” And part of it was their criticism about the color yellow for our dhotis and saris. Prabhupada answered back that “Usually white dhoti and colorful saris are what’s worn in India. But when someone is engaged in preaching activities or devotional activities they may wear yellow, and your life is always involved in preaching activities. So you may put on a white dhoti if you like, if you want, that is fine.” He was always instructing us every step of the way. Upendra would write him letters two or three times a month. So he was our guiding force all the way through. We really took to heart and felt like we had been given a responsibility to follow Lord Caitanya’s prediction that in every town and village there would be chanting of the Holy Name. So we literally went to every little village that we could and often were hosted in a very humble place, ancient temples of Narayan or Kali or whatever, but we would hold a program and all the villagers would come. There would be simple prasadam. Then we’d go on to another village and make our rounds. We went to Lautoka. We had met Vasudeva’s father, who was a very elderly man at that point, and his five sons, of whom Vasudeva was one of them. His father was a very devotional man and was always wanting to help in any way he could. And then we heard later how Vasudeva had come around to want to know more about Krishna consciousness and follow Prabhupada, and it was very exciting for us to see that from our humble beginnings that Vasudeva was going to take up the mission and carry on Krishna consciousness there under Prabhupada’s supervision.
Srutakirti das: When we arrived in Fiji, I remember it was practically one o’clock in the morning after our flight from Australia and it was Ekadasi. Of course, there was no temple then. We were staying at one Indian family’s house, and they had prepared prasadam for all of us; and, of course, it wasn’t Ekadasi prasadam. But Prabhupada said, “It’s OK,” and that was it. So we took prasadam. Then we went to bed around two-thirty or three o’clock. Then as Prabhupada did everywhere, when the sun was ready to come up Prabhupada was ready for his morning walk, and that was always the case. It didn’t matter how much Prabhupada was traveling, if he stayed in a place for two days or two weeks. As soon as Prabhupada got to the next place, he set his watch and he set his body and he just continued on. There was never any question jet lag, the word didn’t exist with Prabhupada. It wasn’t something anyone talked about. Prabhupada never exhibited it. We went out on a morning walk, and he would walk as quickly as he did everywhere for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Then we had a program. Prabhupada always had a morning program and he spoke, and then we had prasadam. Then Paramahamsa and I, we were just waiting for the opportunity to sleep again because we had only had three hours of sleep and for us that was really difficult, and we were hoping after breakfast Prabhupada would take a nap. So I brought Prabhupada his breakfast, and then when he was finished I came and took everything out and Prabhupada laid down. So I went back, I said, “Prabhupada’s resting.” So Paramahamsa and I, we laid down. Of course, we fell asleep, we were out, and Prabhupada maybe took 15 minutes or something and he was up. So finally I heard a bell ring. So I went into Prabhupada’s room, and it happened a few times where I would literally try to wake up as I was offering obeisances and exercise my eyes so Prabhupada couldn’t tell that I was sleeping. I sat up, and as soon as I sat up he said, “Why are you sleeping? You’re like dead men. Everyone is awake. The karmis are all at work but not the devotees. No, they’re sleeping.” He said, “They’re sleeping very soundly. Why are you sleeping?” And, of course, when Prabhupada asked why were you doing something wrong, I never had a response because whatever you said, he would just take that apart. So I just said, “Prabhupada, I’m sorry.” “What about Paramahamsa? Why is he sleeping?” He said, “Call him in here.” He goes in and immediately Prabhupada says, “You are a sannyasi. Your business is to minimize bodily demands, minimize sleeping, minimize eating. Why are you sleeping?” Paramahamsa said, “Prabhupada, I have jet lag,” and I thought, “Oh, no!” And Prabhupada said, “Jet lag?” He said, “Well, we just flew from here and done this,” and Prabhupada said, “So I am also flying, I am doing the same thing. I am awake.” Then he said, “All right, go on. Go sleep if you want.” So we would go back to the room and, of course, we wouldn’t sleep. Sometimes five minutes would go by or sometimes a half hour and he’d ring the bell again. And you’d go in and then he’d tell you to start reading and he’d tell you some stories or something, and you would know that he wasn’t angry with you. He was always trying to save us from our own bad habits and trying to show us that becoming Krishna conscious is serious business and one has to follow the process, otherwise gradually one can fall away. But that was one of the things he would do after chastising – he would always have a way of being extra special nice a little later on, and then we knew that he loved us so much.