Like everything in Iskcon, the Deity Care Department started due to an instruction Srila Prabhupada gave. This particular instruction was given just days before the temple was opened in April of 1975. Sitting behind his desk, he told his servant, Srutakirti Prabhu, that he wanted the women to be involved in the worship of Their Lordships. He knew that in Vrindavan, it wasn’t possible for the women to be on the altar like they were in other temples around the world. He said that they should be engaged in serving the Deities behind the scenes. This has been going on in various ways over the years, and now it has expanded in a most wonderful way.
It all started during the lockdown in 2020, when only those who resided in the temple or MVT were able to do service in the temple. On Gundica Marjana, the matajis were cleaning the deities’ furniture, as well as all the brass animals on the altar. This service has been headed by Padmavati Mataji for more than 20 years. I noticed that one of the brass elephants was missing a tail and a leg and decided to get a new elephant for Gaura Nitai. The next day Padmavati Mataji and I went to Loi Bazaar searching for the perfect elephant. Due to the lockdown, inventory in the shops was limited. After searching all day we found the perfect royal elephants. I told my husband the price and he told me not to spare any money and to get the best elephants possible.
In my mind I imagined I was gifting Sri Gaura-Nitai real, live, royal elephants just like Krishna and Balarama’s father Vasudeva, who, in his mind, gave cows and gold in charity to the brahmanas on his divine sons’ appearance days because he couldn’t celebrate Krishna Balarama’s birthdays while in prison. On the day of Hariyali Teej, my husband and I gifted those animals to Gaura Nitai. Later on, on Balarama’s appearance day, we purchased silver anklets for Krishna Balarama and on Radhastami, we did the same for Srimati Radharani. Due to the lockdown the Deities didn’t get as many gifts as usual.
I felt that I had a rare opportunity to give the Lordships nice gifts during this difficult time. When the temple opened again in October, the matajis who served with Padmavati Mataji began cleaning all the Deity jewellery. At that time, it was not a regular activity. While cleaning one of the almiras filled with jewellery I noticed that Lalita and Vishakha’s silver payals (ankle bells) were dark. I took permission from Mukunda Datta prabhu, the head pujari, and from Rasikendra Prabhu, Radha Shyamasundara’s main pujari, to clean and polish them. I had no idea how to clean silver, except for using toothpaste when I was cleaning my personal jewellery. But I had a strong desire to make those payals as shiny as possible. Devotees gave me silver cleaning acid, and while cleaning the payals, one senior mataji told me to try using Colgate powder after cleaning with acid. The result was wonderful and all the pujaris began to give the matajis the Deity silver for cleaning and polishing. Due to the lockdown many items were in need of cleaning. The more we cleaned, the more Srila Prabhupada would teach us how to make the Deities’ silver shine. The techniques that I would come up with to make silver reflective as a mirror were not used at our temple before. I remember showing Krsna-Balarama’s crowns to Mukunda-datta prabhu and comparing how they looked with the simple cleaning and how they looked with the 4 step cleaning. The head pujari pointed at the crown that was mirror-like and said that we want the Deity silver to look like this.
All the devotees were missing the Lordships due to the prolonged lockdown and they were eager to help with the services. Sometimes there were as many as 15 matajis cleaning and polishing the crowns, shoes, flutes, ankle bells, Balarama’s plow and Krishna’s stick. I remember receiving the various items for the first time. Sometimes I broke down in tears, because I was holding such items for the first time.
I was born and raised in a devotee family and during my childhood, my mother read Krsna book and Srimad-Bhagavatam to me. I especially loved to hear about Krsna-Balarama’s pastimes in Vrindavana. I was raised in KGB, USSR Armenia. At that time we could only dream of being in Vrindavan and serving Their Lordships, but my mother always told me that in the future I would live in Vrindavan and take care of Srimati Radharani’s clothes and jewellery. She put that strong desire in me.
When the pujari handed me Krishna and Balarama’s bullhorns, the plow, flute, and Srimati Radharani’s crown, I broke into happy tears. My mother’s prediction and the desire she put in me was finally fulfilled. The little girl, who meditated on Srimati Radharani and Krishna Balarama all her childhood, now, by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, was allowed to take care of Their Lordship’s personal items.
The more we cleaned, the more services Srila Prabhupada gave us. I shared my desire to take responsibility for cleaning the Deities’ closets and airing out Their outfits in the sun with some of the pujaris . They laughed and said that no one would allow me to do that. The more I heard that I can’t do this or that services for the Lordships, the more determined I became. I asked permission from the head pujari and he said it was a wonderful idea! We took the opportunity to spread all of the Deities outfits in the courtyard on top of my new sarees. It took over one week to freshen everything up and thoroughly deep clean the closets.
Mukunda datta prabhu mentioned that during the Rasa dance, the gopis would spread their sarees along the bank of the Yamuna so Krishna could sit comfortably. Similarly we spread the new silk sarees in the courtyard of Krsna-Balarama to take care of The Lordships items.
One thing led to another and we started washing the Deities sweaters and chaddars and buying new jewellery and chaddars to replace damaged ones. This is how the Deity Care Department was established and inaugurated by our Temple President Panchagauda prabhu and the head Pujari Mukundadatta prabhu. They gave lots of support and encouragement for our department to be established and developed.
I saw the need of unification of the care for our Lordhips and did everything I could to make sure that every angle of the services I could help to perfect were perfected. No matter what difficulties or opposition was there, I would look at the Deity department through the eyes of Srila Prabhupada. What would he say if he would see the Deities paraphernalia, and how should I do the service to meet his standard?
I began to post updates on my Instagram account about the services we were performing and advertised service opportunities. Devotees from all over the world started to send donations and required items. Our department became self-sufficient and has been able to provide for all areas of the Deity seva. I used to notice that mostly devotees would gift jewellery only to Radha Shyamasundara and the rest of the Lordships did not receive much jewellery. My goal became to provide equal amount of jewellery for each set of Deities and anything else They required to serve Them.
There are various groups within the Deity Department:
* Pujaris headed by Mukunda-datta Prabhu who serve Them directly on the altar.
* Matajis headed by Govinda dasi who make dozens of garlands daily. They also make intricate flower outfits during the festivals.
* The cooks headed by Jagadish Caityanya prabhu in the Deity kitchen, who make seven offerings a day.
* The Deity bakery headed by Shaila Vasani. Daily ladies bake gourmet cakes and pastries.
* The Deities festival kitchen, headed by Purnima Mataji. They make extra items to offer during festivals.
* The Deity Care Department headed by Vishakha Devi.
Our responsibilities are
•Polishing the Deities silver
•Daily cleaning the Deity closet
•Cleaning and repairing jewellery
•Making new beaded jewellery
•Buying jewellery for all the Lordships
•Washing and taking care of Deities winter clothes
•Arranging necessary items and getting donations for them.
•Selling Their Lordships maha-payals and very special items.
•Cleaning Srila Prabhupada’s House and all of the cabinets, which store the priceless paraphernalia which he used while here.
Through the Deity Care Department Srila Prabhupada is giving our Iskcon Vaisnavis the ability to engage in direct service to Their Lordships as he desired. We would like to touch the lotus feet of Krishna Balarama every time we clean Their shoes, but instead I tell the cleaning crew that we are massaging Krsna Balarama’s lotus feet by nicely brushing and polishing Their shoes. Now we have this amazing opportunity to be close to The Lordships’ bodies by taking care of Their personal paraphernalia that They use daily.
* The newly established Iskcon Vrindavan Donation page on Instagram and updated Deity Care page on ISKCONVRINDAVAN.COM
Our ISKCON VRINDAVAN broadcasting team made the donation page very easy for anyone to make a donation and be a part of our Lordships lives.
During the second lockdown, an official Iskcon Vrindavan donation page was established on Instagram. This would make any person on social media confident about where they were donating and that they were donating DIRECTLY to ISKCON Vrindavan.
We are delighted to announce at this time the Deity Care Department has been given their own room by the efforts of my husband, Srutakirti Prabhu, Mukunda-datta Prabhu, Panchagauda Prabhu and Janardan Swami. This will give us a much better facility to perform services regularly, saving time and energy. It is just the beginning of what is to come over time. Discussions have been ongoing about how to bring the Deities’ closets and pujari rooms up to date, since it has been 47 years since the Mandir was built. This is our next big project in planning that we will need all of your participation too.
Our mission is nicely described by Srila Prabhupada in a letter sent to one of the head pujaris: “Deity worship means to be very, very clean. You should try to bathe twice daily. The Deities should never be approached without having bathed first and changed to clean clothes after passing stool, etc. Keep teeth brushed after each meal, fingernails clean and trim. Be sure that your hands are clean before touching anything on the altar or the Deities. And cleanse the Deity room, altar and floor daily thoroughly. Shine the various ARATI paraphernalia after Arati. This is described in the booklet for pujaris written by Silavati Dasi. The idea is SUMMIT CLEANLINESS —that will satisfy Krsna.”
The Deity Care Department follows these instructions carefully in order to please Srila Prabhupada and Their Lordships.
Stay tuned for more detailed updates and special service opportunities we will be posting on ISKCON VRINDAVANA and ISKCON VRINDAVAN Donations pages on Instagram.
In loving service to
Srila Prabhupada and KRISHNA BALARAMA