Cobra in Srila Prabhupada’s room

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October 1974, Mayapura, IndiaCamp: ISKCON Chandrodaya Mandir

During the month of October (Kartik) Srila Prabhupada benedicted the devotees in Mayapur with his association. It was an especially pleasant time of year in India. It was just after the rainy season. Srila Prabhupada’s and his entourage stayed in the almost completed Lotus building. His room was on the second floor. Srila Prabhupada’s quarters consisted of two rooms, a sitting room and his bedroom. His entourage stayed in another two. There was a large bathroom facility at each end of the building. In each bathroom were four shower stalls, four toilet stalls and four sinks. 

One late afternoon Srila Prabhupada was giving darsana in his sitting room. I did some clean up work in Srila Prabhupada’s bathroom after His Divine Grace’s shower. The entire bathroom facility was exclusively used by His Divine Grace for the duration of his visit. At this time there was still no running water in the building. A few times a day I would bring buckets of clean water to the bathroom. As I walked past the first toilet stall with buckets in hand, a six feet long cobra quickly slithered past me into the toilet stall. Terrified I raced out of the bathroom as fast as my shaking body could take me.

I didn’t want to create a big scene and interrupt Srila Prabhupada’s darshan and was looking for someone in authority to inform. The first devotee I happened upon was Bhavananda. My heart still racing, I cried out, “Bhavananda, Bhavananda, there’s a cobra in Prabhupada’s bathroom. It went right by my feet and just missed me!”

Of course, my plan to not disturb our Guru Maharaja quickly came undone. Bhavananda loudly burst into Srila Prabhupada’s sitting room, arms flailing. He dramatically exclaimed, “OOOHHH! Prabhupada! There is a cobra in your bathroom! We need help! Let’s call Rasaparayana!” Rasaparayana was our tall, strong, temple Kshatriya. “Come on, let’s call Rasaparayana!” Bhavananda yelled as we ran out of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters.

We effectively terminated the tranquil darshan. Srila Prabhupada and his disciples left the room moving out onto the wide, shiny, marble verandah. A few devotees cautiously went into the bathroom to search for the serpent while everyone else stayed out on the verandah. Srila Prabhupada fingered his beads and chanted japa, walking back and forth undisturbed. Looking around, Prabhupada, seeing so many devotees gathered by this time, said, “So many devotees for one snake.”

Bhavananda started speculating that perhaps it was a communist plot, otherwise how could the serpent get up to the second floor. Others agreed, saying it wasn’t possible for a snake to appear on an upper floor without being planted. Since I was a visitor to this sacred Mayapur Dhama I wasn’t knowledgeable of the local political scene. I concluded that the serpent just happened to appear in Srila Prabhupada’s bathroom.

Rasaparayana stalked about with a knife in hand trying to find the snake. He informed us, “They travel in pairs, so if there is one, then it’s mate is probably nearby.” Finally he saw part of the huge serpent’s body sticking out of the pipes traveling down the wall in one of the toilet stalls. He reported the good news to the devotees out on the verandah. Some of the devotees began chanting, “Kill it! Kill it!” Srila Prabhupada remained outside still chanting softly on his beads. He didn’t give any instructions on this dilemma. Rasaparayana chopped the cobra’s body in two with his sharp knife. With determined resolution he said, “We’ll keep looking. There must be another one.”

The devotees began to realize that the serpant probably came up through the plumbing. It wasn’t a communist plot after all. Several anxious minutes passed searching for the other intruder. Rasaparayana finally spotted the mate in the network of pipes behind the toilets. Once discovered, it quickly slithered down the pipes, escaping, never to be seen again, hopefully.

After everyone settled down, we went back into Srila Prabhupada’s sitting room. Looking at his young disciples and seeing their anxiety he said, “Sometimes, these snakes have a mission to kill a certain person. They will not stop until they succeed. Particularly at the end of the snake’s life, sometimes, the snake grows wings. He has a particular person that he is to kill. The snake will kill that person and then it goes off to die.” I remember a few times in Mayapur in the quiet of the evening, Srila Prabhupada would point out a sound, “Hear that sound. That is the snakebird. It has a special sound.” All the devotees present would become very quiet for a time in hopes of hearing it again. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would tell us spooky stories and smile seeing our reactions. 

That evening at around 9:30 I went into Srila Prabhupada’s bedroom to give him a massage, as I did every evening. I was gently massaging his legs. The room was quiet and dark, except for the moonlight coming in through the windows. He began chuckling and asked me, “So, what shall I do if I am here and the snake comes? Only one snake has been killed. Perhaps the other will come and get me tonight.”

He seemed to enjoy the remembrance of everyone’s anxiety during the day. I understood from his tone that he was not at all concerned about the snake. I encouraged his discussion by saying, “I don’t know Srila Prabhupada.” He replied, “Well, we are not afraid of snakebite. We’ll not worry about it. If it comes, it comes. We will just chant Hare Krsna. If Krsna wants to kill you know one can save you and if Krsna wants to save you no one can kill you.

He asked me about the other devotees. If they were in anxiety. I laughed and told him, “Pradyumna, Nitai and I are all staying in the same room. Nitai and I put our mats down on the floor to prepare for rest and then Pradyumna put his in between, just in case the cobra showed up.” Prabhupada laughed heartily. “Very intelligent!” he said. I continued to massage my glorious master for another half hour. I felt completely safe under his protection. Hearing his words at times could cut through even the dull headed. 

Srila Prabhupada, you are my hero. You are the fearless pure devotee of the Lord. Once, on a morning walk in Mayapur when everyone was discussing their fearful concerns about nuclear war you said, “If the bomb comes we will look up in the sky and say, ‘Here comes Krsna.” Please, benedict me with unflinching faith in you so that I have no fear within this material world. I want to be able to chant the Holy Names of the Lord, even as the snakebird flies toward me, preparing to inflict it’s final bite.

your servant, Srutakirti das