What do Hare Krishna Women Do?
by Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
I’ve lived in a Hare Krishna community for twenty-five years, devoting my life to activities and projects for my temple. From time to time I’m asked, “What is life like for Hare Krishna women? What do they do?”
The people asking may be thinking of Hare Krishna men, with robes and shaved heads, dancing in the street and playing drums. They can’t quite fit the ladies into that mental image. Yet the women in the community where I live accomplish the same solid service to Srila Prabhupada’s mission as do their fellow male devotees. So I’d like to tell about some of them, both to shed some light on what Hare Krishna women do and to benefit myself by honoring my Godsisters.
Also, this is for Mom.
Thousands of women follow the Hare Krishna teachings and practices in every country, all over the world. Some live near temples and some don’t, so their lives vary accordingly. In India alone, millions of women maintain an altar in their home as they tend to their families.
I live in Los Angeles, where the ISKCON temple community is called New Dwarka. I’ll write about how the women here lead Krishna conscious lives.
Gunavati Devi Dasi designs the clothes for the temple deities (Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha, Gaura-Nitai, Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra), and she organizes a team of ladies who sew for the deities and dress them. For seven temple festivals during the year, the deities are offered beautiful new silk-embroidered clothing. Gunavati dresses the deities and cooks for them as well. She has been sewing for the deities for twenty-seven years.
Tadit Devi Dasi is manager of the successful Govinda’s Gift Store at the temple. Since she began the purchasing and managing in 1986, the income from the store has more than quadrupled and has financed many temple projects. Many celebrities and designers visit the store. To meet the demand for the many kinds of devotional items and clothing the store offers, Tadit travels to India five times a year. She holds a degree in fashion design and is the wife of the temple president, Svavasa Dasa.
Kriya Shakti Devi Dasi has taken on the service of caring for the rooms where Srila Prabhupada’s lived at the Los Angeles temple. She has increased the collection of his personal items and improved their preservation. She gives inspiring tours of his quarters and arranges meetings there on festival days. She also lectures in the temple and is the manager of the single women’s ashram.
Narayani Devi Dasi joined the Los Angeles temple in 1980, and every day since then she has designed the color scheme and arranged the assembling of some thirty-two garlands used in the daily temple worship. She is the hostess for the Life Membership guest rooms at the temple. You’ll always see Narayani wearing a sari with the same colors the deities are wearing, a practice she says helps her remember them throughout the day.
Divya Drishti Devi Dasi manages the Sunday School at New Dwarka, attended by forty eager devotee children in four levels of instruction. Every year she obtains all of the necessary permits for putting on the Venice Beach Rathayatra. She and her husband, Bhagavata Akincina Dasa, have managed the Rathayatra parade and festival for almost twenty years. Divya Drishti is also a practicing nurse mid-wife who has helped deliver over two hundred babies. Several of the children she delivered now attend the Sunday School.
Rambhoru Devi Dasi is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate School of Religion. She is doing a comparative study of Vaishnavism and Christianity. She has hosted internationally known scholars of Vaishnavism and their students at our temple. Recently a group of Jesuit novitiates from the Los Angeles archdiocese came with Dr. Francis X. Clooney, S.J., a priest and professor at Boston College. From 2001 through 2004 Dr. Clooney worked with ISKCON devotees as academic director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. One of the world’s leading comparative-theology scholars, Dr. Clooney will become the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School, effective July 1 this year. Also with the group was Dr. Christopher Key Chapple, director of the department of religion at Loyola Marymount University and author of several well-known books on Hinduism. Rambhoru says that being at the university challenges her to think more clearly about Prabhupada’s message and how to present it to people so they can understand it and make it practical in their lives.
Ishanah Devi Dasi takes care of tulasi, the favorite plant of Lord Krishna, and whose leaves and flowers are used extensively in his worship. She holds a Ph.D. in botany and has written a book entitled The Art of Caring for Srimati Tulasi Devi. Ishanah makes amazing flower-covered garments for the deities to wear on festival days. She helps her husband, Ratna Bushana Dasa, cook the Sunday Feast. Ishanah helped to arrange for the carving and installation of a beautiful new deity of Vrinda Devi in the ISKCON temple at Vrinda Kund, near Vrindavana, India.
Vaijayanti Devi Dasi holds a degree in Sanskrit. She helped with the new edition of Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Theresa, nearly seventy years old, has for fifteen years made the bouquet of flowers that is placed in the hand of the temple deity Rukmini Devi. She selects every flower to match the colors of Rukmini Devi’s dress. Because the deities are dressed in fresh clothes every morning and afternoon, she makes fourteen bouquets each week.
Mahalakshmi Devi Dasi is the lead singer for New Dwarka’s Temple Bhajan Band. The band performs every weekend at yoga studios, trade shows, interfaith conferences, film festivals and other festivals, and even for birthdays and anniversaries.
Nandarani Devi Dasi works the register at Govinda’s Buffet and sews garlands.
Some of the single women living in the ashram go out to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books, especially at colleges. They set up a book table on campus, and students stop by to hear about topics such as bhakti-yoga and reincarnation. The ladies enjoy explaining Krishna’s philosophy to them, and many students are eager to learn more.
A number of dedicated women have dressed the deities, offered them arati, and cooked for them for many years, including Vidya, Deva Didhiti, Navina, Paurnamasi, and Parijata.
This has been only a glimpse of what some women in the Hare Krishna movement do. For the most part, the women I have described serve Krishna within the temple community. But service to Krishna is not limited to temple-related activities. Thousands of women all over the world, while engaged in their professions and occupations, serve the Lord, keeping Krishna as the center of their lives. Many of these women—both inside and outside the temple community—are great examples by which I am able to understand pure devotion to Lord Krishna.