Fortunate are the devotees who are able to fully dedicate their lives to the service of the Lord, leaving aside comfortable homes and close familial relationships! Living in simple circumstances and endeavoring to utilize all their time in devotional practices, such devotees make complete use of this rare human form of life. Dedicating one’s life to the service of the Lord has been a practice since ancient times, when sages and other great souls used to go to the forest and invest all their time and energy in cultivating Krsna consciousness, away from the entanglement of worldly affairs. It was also the custom that after a certain age, householders, also, would give up attachment to family and proceed towards the forest to engage in the meditation on and service to the Lord. This stage of life is known as the vanaprastha asrama.
Even though times have changed and very few people enter the forest to practice bhakti, the principle of dedicating one’s life to the cultivation of bhakti is still the practice of many. Leaving home to do bhajana is traditionally the practice of men, while the women receive the protection and live in the shelter of either their father, husband or son.
But, as Srila Prabhupada so frequently explains, full dedication of the self can be practiced by anyone in any asrama. It is just a matter of consciousness. Many women all over the world are raising Krsna conscious families, doing temple seva and maintaining good sadhana. On the path of bhakti, there is no material impediment. Still, to fulfil the purpose of this essay, we will now focus on those women who have chosen to not enter the grhastha asrama and those have completed their duties in the grhastha asrama.
For such dedicated women who desire to simply engage in the service of the Lord and who depend upon the mercy of the Lord for their sustenance, temples provide their accommodation, seva, prasad, and time to focus on their spiritual pursuits.
In Iskcon Vrindavan, as well as having a brahmacari asrama, we have a Mataji’s asrama. This facility is provided by the temple for such ladies who are fully engaging in the service of the Lord and no longer living with their families. Currently we have 9-10 matajis from Latvia, Russia, the Ukraine, America, India and other countries living in our ashram and serving in the temple. The elderly women in the ashram simply engage in their devotional practices and are being supported and maintained by the temple as cherished members of our Vaisnava family.
H.G. Yasodamayi Mataji, is among the oldest of our asrama residents. She is also the most long-term resident, having been living in Vrindavan since 1992. She has been serving as a teacher that whole time. She has taught many children in the congregation various different skills, especially Art and English. She has also given inspirational seminars and classes on the Srimad Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagvatam. Originally from America, she gave up a materially comfortable life in the West to come and live in Sri Vrindavan dhama and focus on her spiritual life. And she has remained here ever since. She is particular about maintaining a good standard of cleanliness in the asrama and cares for the others in the asrama by keeping the environment clean and pleasing.
H.G. Govinda dasi is in charge of making flower garlands for Thakuraji.She has been serving in Iskcon Vrindavan for more than three decades and moved into the asrama last year due to the lockdown. Now she plans to stay in the asrama longer, as it facilitates her service in the temple. She is a great source of inspiration for the other women in the ashram.
H.G. Kalyani Radha devi dasi, a young girl from Latvia, is also staying in the ashram and is engaging all her time and energy in various temple services. She is part of the Samadhi kirtana group, performing kirtana for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada in his samadhi mandira. She is also serving in the Namahatta department, thus assisting in the temple’s various preaching endeavors. And she also serves prasad in the devotee kitchen. Upon being asked how she likes life in the asrama, she blissfully told us that she feels very joyful and grateful to be able to stay in the temple, attend the morning program daily as instructed by Srila Prabhupada, and perform her various services. She is fully engaging herself in the service of the Lord and is therefore blissful.
The mataji’s asrama is a wonderful facility for those women who desire to simply live a life of dedication. As we have mentioned, however, bhakti is not dependent upon any external situation but is rather a tender disposition of the heart to serve. Such a disposition is a result of receiving the mercy of a devotee of the Lord. May that loving disposition to serve Krsna and His loved ones flourish in all of our hearts.