On January 8th and 9th, 2013, Radhanath Swami attended a ceremony in Vrindavan to honor his godsister Srimati Yamuna Devi Dasi on the one-year anniversary of her passing. On the first day, he spoke, along with many others, at ISKCON’s Krishna Balaram Temple, sharing his respectful appreciations of Yamuna Devi. Later he attended the establishing of a holy samadhi, or memorial, at the grounds of the ISKCON Goshala (place where the cows are cared for). The following day Radhanath Swami took part in the immersion of Yamuna Devi’s ashes in the sacred Yamuna River, after which she was named.
Yamuna Devi is well known as one of Srila Prabhupada’s first and dearmost disciples, who sacrificed her life to serve him in his mission to bring the teachings and practices of Krishna Bhakti to all parts of the world.
She had a beautiful voice and is known for singing of the prayers of the Brahma Samhita, a recording produced by George Harrison and played daily in every ISKCON temple during the morning darshan of the Deities.
She was one of the pioneers who served an important role in establishing temples in the UK and India, especially the Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. She perfected the devotional art of cooking and wrote the cookbook Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, which garnered multiple awards, including the International Association of Culinary Professionals “Cookbook of the Year.” In general, Yamuna was widely appreciated as a devotee who practiced Bhakti with meticulous devotion and deep feeling.
Below is an excerpt of Radhanath Swami’s glorification of Yamuna Devi:
“It is truly our immense good fortune to be together in the holy dham of Sri Vrindavana to honor one of our beloved guru Srila Prabhupada’s very dearmost, intimate associates, Yamuni Devi, on the day of her disappearance anniversary.
“Srila Prabhupada often explained that the nature of true Vaishnava devotees is that they have the quality of saragrahi – one who in all circumstances seeks the essence. What is that essence? Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught us that the essence of all knowledge and the Vedas is prema bhakti.
sa vai pumsamparo dharmo / yato bhaktir adhoksaje
ahaituky apatihaa / yayātmā suprasidati
The supreme occupation (dharma) for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6)
“To seek the essence means to go very, very deep – to be totally absorbed in our hearing of the scriptures, in chanting the holy names of God, in whatever service we do and in all of our relationships. This quality of saragrahi is the perfect description of Yamuna Devi. She offered unconditionally in total absorption, her body, mind, heart and very soul in everything she did.
“Some examples: In 1966 she went to New York and learned how to cook from Srila Prabhupada. She soon became one of the most accomplished cooks in our whole society and wrote a cookbook called Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, which became the number one cookbook of the year.
“And how she expressed what she received from Srila Prabhupada. When she was in London and was recording the Radha Krishna album and George Harrison happened to hear her singing all by herself, he told her, ‘I can make you the biggest female vocalist of our generation,’ and he meant it. He was eager to make her a star. But Yamuna Devi had no interest in any of that.
“And then she went to India and travelled with Srila Prabhupada and helped him establish temples.
“She really taught us how to seek the essence. Her passing from this world was so perfect. She never wanted fame or prestige. She only wanted seva, selfless service. It was just the way she would want to go. After being with some of her favorite loving people, having kirtan, she went to take rest, then got up a little later and with her japa mala (rosary) in her hands, totally absorbed in the sweet sounds of the holy names, she left.
“She lives forever in our hearts to inspire us with that bhava, that love she had.”