Srila Prabhupada’s childhood Deities of Sri Sri Radha Govinda,
courtesy Nityatrpta Devi Dasi, BBT Archives.
By Shyamasundara Dasa
Original article: https://is.gd/MZSb0J
The following is a revised and expanded edition of an article that I originally wrote in 1995. It weaves together, through the lens of Vedic Astrology (Cora Prasna), the history of how the ISKCON Mayapura temple was first victimized by thieves who stole Srila Prabhupada’s childhood Deities. And, the subsequent more serious attack by a gang of dacoits who stole Srimati Radharani thinking she was made of gold resulting in many wounded and at least one death. And, how following a simple instruction from Srila Prabhupada could have prevented it all.
I would like to acknowledge the help of HH Bhakti Raghava Swami, Pankhajanghri and Satadanya Prabhus and Nityatrpta Mataji for their assistance.
Dear Maharajas, Prabhus and Matajis,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Bhakta-vighna-vinasha Narasimha Deva Bhagavan ki jaya!
Today I would like to recount an event regarding the theft of the Deities in Mayapura and subsequent attack on the temple by dacoits who stole Srimati Radharani, that I have recorded in my astrological diary from the year 1982.
A little background, at that time I was studying Prasna (both Bhrgu Prasna and Prasna Marga style) in South India. I had gone to the Mayapura festival that year. It was a good year for me and my astrological studies: the Ministry of Jyotish was established by the GBC, I had a GBC appointed to oversee my work, provide finances, I had excellent teachers, etc.
On June 15, 1982 I was in Bangalore having just returned from Trivandram. I got a call from Calcutta (Kolkatta); it was Satadanya Swami (now Prabhu). He informed me that on March 25, 1982 some thieves had stolen Srila Prabhupada’s personal deities, Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda, the Salagram – Gadadhar, who had a gold band around Him, along with His throne and some cash. But he did not say much in regard to details.
He asked me on behalf of the management of Mayapur if there was any way through astrology if any information about the theft could be determined? For example why it happened, who did it, would they be caught, would they attack again, etc.? I replied that I would approach my astrology teacher Sri B.G. (Bhakta Govinda) Sashikanta Jain and ask him this question. (For those who know something about Vedic Astrology, world famous Vedic Astrologer B.V. Raman and family would sometimes consult him and they were family friends.)
That day I went for my lessons as usual. I would usually leave the ashrama after the morning program and breakfast and arrive at the astrology office of my teacher at about 10:00. This was a building with two offices, an open compound, and several waiting rooms. There was usually about 20 or more people waiting for the office to open. There would be a couple of servants going among the people giving them paper and pencils to write down the questions they would ask the astrologer.
Mr. Jain would only come to the offices on Friday, when they were closed, to do charity cases. The rest of the week his five sons, all astrologers, would man the two offices in shifts. Mr. Jain had put me under the tutelage of his fourth son Surendra Kumar Jain aka “Suri” (now Subanjaya Dasa). Of all the sons he was the best astrologer and followed his father’s footsteps the closest and was a real lover of the science. If we had any problems we would consult his father and in any case we would usually spend the evenings together with his father and discuss topics of astrology, ayurveda or philosophy. This last topic, of course, is how Suri became Subanjaya Dasa.
The usual day was spent in the following way. From about 10:00 – 14:00 we stayed at the office doing one prasna after the other and would see from 10 – 20 people or more. By 14:00 we were tired and would go to Surendra’s home for lunch and a rest. Then from about 16:00 till 22:00 we would get into all types of esoteric studies mostly discussing various arcane points of astrological theory but occasionally ayurveda, mantra sastra, etc.
Big important men from the government would come for astrological advice from Mr Jain or his sons. Sometimes Surendra and his brothers would test each other by holding an object in their hand and the other brother had to determine astrologically what that object was. Was it of animal, plant, or mineral origin (jiva, mula or dhatu). What color, shape, etc. They were usually correct in their answers. In this way they kept their knowledge very sharp.
Sriman B.G. Shashikanta Jain
Mr. Jain was a very kind and jolly man who had a great liking for Srila Prabhupada. But no one should underestimate his great genius, he was brilliant, and had trained his sons well in astrology. Though I never wanted to leave I would force myself to go by 22:00 so that I could get back to the temple and get up for the morning program. This went on like this for well over a year.
On this day in June of 1982 before going home for lunch I told Suri that I had a very important prasna to ask him regarding the theft of the Deities. This type of prasna is called Cora Prasna, theft prasna, and is well delineated in prasna texts like Shatpancasikha, Prasnajnana, and Daivajnavallabha etc. Anyway, Suri agreed to do it and we went into the back room and also called his father in on it. Most of the delineation was done by Mr. Jain based on his decades of experience. But it should be noted that Mr. Jain was discreet when it came to doing such things as cora prasna or inquiries about murder or other criminal cases because it could attract the retaliation of the criminals. But since this crime happened at a distant place he was not concerned.
Six-seven people were involved in the theft (directly or indirectly), including one woman. Of these six, two will be caught when they attempt the robbery again 18 months from the time of the question. And on September 5th, when Budha (Mercury) is param-uccha (deep exaltation) more light will be shed on the matter (as to why it happened etc.). Since the Lagna was vargottama, it was an inside job. Recovery of the Deities is very unlikely, not much hope. The woman involved was described as follows: “a woman of yellowish complexion, good (clean or white) clothes, clean, tall, with water pot and ladle in her hands.” Many other details were given about the activities of the thieves in their attempts to dispose of the murtis.
How he came to some of these conclusions I was able to figure out later. The description of the woman is from the description of the drekkana of the Lagna as described in Brhat Jataka 27.18. The number of people involved in the theft by how many planets are associated with the 8th house in the navamsa chart. The date of September 5th was because Budha ruled the Lagna. But I don’t know how he arrived at his conclusions that they would attack again and that two will be caught. He had some siddhi that was beyond the norm. I am pale in comparison to his abilities.
This was the information that I relayed back to Mayapura and I hoped that it would be of some use to them though I had to admit that it did seem somewhat enigmatic and the fact that they would not recover the Deities was not so good. However, in the course of time things unfolded in an interesting way as follows.
In November of 1982 I was in Vrndavana for Kartika. One day Pankajanghri Prabhu the twin brother of Jananivas (both pujaris from Mayapura), approached me in the temple room of Krsna-Balarama mandir and told me an amazing thing. He said that within about 6 hours of the stipulated time we had given them (September 5, 1982) when more information about the reasons for the attack and theft would be revealed to them an event happened that indicated to all why the Deities had been stolen. What transpired was as follows:
It seems that small Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda had Their own dedicated pujari, a young man of about 20, and also a dedicated cook, a widow in her late 30’s or early 40’s. These two were caught in flagrante delicto at the very moment that Budha was in parama-uccha (September 5th). He said that it was realized by everyone that the theft of the Deities must have been caused because Their servants were having a nasty sexual affair. It was also remembered that one of the parties involved was said to be “a woman, of yellowish complexion, good (clean or white) clothes, clean, tall, with water pot and ladle in her hands.” This description perfectly fit the widowed cook who had fallen down with the young pujari who was her son’s age. (Widows in India wear white, Bengali women are said to have a slightly yellowish complexion, cooks carry ladles and pots, and persons in the Deity kitchen have to be scrupulously clean. And, that she was tall for a Bengali.)
Thus one part of the prediction had already come true. And, Pankajangari Prabhu and I wondered what else might happen. We all forgot about the whole thing. After the next Mayapura festival in 1983 it was decided that I should return to the West. In 1984 we got the shocking news that there was another attack on the Mayapura temple on March 24 by a band of dacoits. (Almost exactly two years to the day of the previous incident). In this attack one devotee, Raghava Pandit (now Bhakti Raghava Swami) had his leg blown off by a bomb. By coincidence the leg that was destroyed was already useless to him as it was withered because of polio. In an email to me he described what happened:
I had run from the long building (Cakra Building) with a group of devotees to the backside of the Lotus Building where all the commotion was taking place. For weapons I had a brick in my right hand and two walking sticks in the other. I ran towards the second side gate wanting to enter the temple where the fighting was taking place but two dacoits were at the gate guarding. Before I could get to the gate, one of them threw a bomb at me and that was it.
I was on my back with my right leg bleeding profusely and the heavy smell of sulfuric acid from the bomb blast in the air but conscious all the time and loudly chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. After some time, the dacoits left and the situation settled. I was then taken to the Saktinagar Hospital near Krishnanagar in the middle of the night in Srila Prabhupada’s Ambassador car (the only vehicle available then and the only time I got to ride in Srila Prabhupada’s car) and they performed the amputation that very night.
The devotees fiercely resisted the dacoits and shot several of them killing at least one and captured another. So this verified Mr. Jain’s prediction, except that it was off by 3 months, the raid took place about 21 months after the prasna had been asked not 18. But, it was close enough, and is still impressive.
According to Pankajanghri Prabhu, Madhava’s Radha was replaced at Radhastami 1984, (they are the current utsava murties Sri Sri Radha Madhava) but Sri-Sri Radha Govinda, Srila Prabhupada’s Deities, were never replaced.
The following is Satadanya Prabhu’s recollection of what happen at that time.
And old, pre-theft photo of Sri-Sri Radha Madhava,
courtesy Pankajanghri Prabhu. Click to larger image.
Satadanya Prabhu’s Recollections
The following is a transcription of a conversation I had with Satadanya Prabhu on Dec 7, 2018. It has been slightly edited for readability.
I (Satadanya) wanted to hire some Gurkha guards from Nepal but the logistics were difficult in those days so I looked locally for some Nepali guards and found some in Navadvipa. These were the guards at the time of the theft. (Find out about Gurkhas here and here.)
When Srila Prabhupada’s deities were stolen in 1982 we chased the thieves to the Jalangi and I think they may have thrown them into the river. In any case They became untraceable.
The Super Intendant of Police investigating the case was puzzled because usually thieves just cut the lock and throw it on the ground. But, in this case the lock was missing which was unusual from a police perspective. Shortly after the theft the guards absconded and an inside job was suspected.
Regarding the 1984 theft the original Deities of Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava were asta-dhatu (8 metal alloy), one of three sets that were made. One set is in Boston (Sri Sri Radha-Gopivallabha), another in Berkeley(Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda). The third set Srila Prabhupada took on tour to Gujarat and sang “Jaya Radha Madhava” (for the first time?) then installed them in Mayapura.
You have to understand what Dacoits are. They are heavily armed bandits and murderers who come in large gangs and will kill with no mercy. They are not to be confused with burglars who use stealth. They come armed to the teeth with pipe bombs, petrol bombs, home made pipe-guns, and choppers.
The Deities were made with slightly different percentage of metals in the alloys in such a way that Madhava had a whitish hue, while Radha had more of a golden hue. Because of this it was rumored in those days that at the Sahib Math (foreigner’s temple) they have a gold deity. The dacoits believed their own perception and the rumors that Radharani was made of gold and that was their target.
We later learned that they came on the Ganges by boat. North of Mayapura there is a place called Perulia. They landed at night some where between Mayapura and Perulia. When they came into the Mayapura campus they (an unknown number between 10-20) circled around and approached from the southern side where the Jalangi is because in those days there was only what is today called the “Lotus building” and the southern side had a lot of jungle that could be used for cover.
When they attacked they threw bombs to create chaos and cut the locks off the gates and they took Radharani. So they were very target specific because Radharani was quite heavy and rumored to be made of gold. They took Her, and threw a lot of bombs to create confusion. During the attack one of the devotees took out the shotgun and shot several and killed at least one of the dacoits during the attack. One of the injured dacoits was arrested at the time. We called the police but the other dacoits had already made their getaway.
I met with the Super Intendant of Police who was a very tough guy who told us, “We will find who ever did this and on any pretext will make a ‘false encounter’ and kill them. At least the leaders. Shoot them.” He was very tough.
After some time passed the Super Intendant of Police told me “we have a possible tip off on the recovery of the Deity. Would you like to go with us on the raid?”
I went with the police, it was a long boat ride and finally we came to a place. There was a crude thatched mud hut on some agricultural land. The police advanced with stealth and arrested the man inside the hut. They interrogated him using their own “methods” until he admitted that the Deity was buried under the earth near the hut. The police dug Her up but an arm was cut off and, if I recall correctly, part of the leg. The dacoit admitted that they had cut the arm and part of the leg to get it to a “ fence” to find out the value because they were thinking it was gold.
Because a crime had been involved the police wanted to keep the Deity as evidence. In police jargon it is called Jimba, legal custody. But I convinced them that since She was the Deity of the temple that She should go with me to ISKCON Mayapura whether She is cut or not. So they put Radharani in my legal custody and I would have to produce Her if needed in the court. Anyway we got her back. In fact Jananivasa still has that Deity today stashed somewhere in the Deity department.
Some time later a police case was made. The police had caught and rounded up several of the dacoits. Then that Super Intendant of Police made his promise good. Because the leader of the group had gone on another dacoitry and the police shot him. He was a Muslim, but it was a mixed gang of Muslims and Hindus but 100% dacoits, religious affiliation is inconsequential when it comes to such criminals.
A court case ensued and the police called me up. At first they asked if any of the devotees could identify the dacoits? Which was an impossible task, because it was in the dark in the wee hours of the morning and they are wearing masks. But unless you can identify them in an “ID parade” you can’t convict them. So we said it would be impossible. So they said “we’ll get back to you.” Some time later we got a call from the police who said “they are being moved from one jail to another in a police van and we will stop at a specific location. You come with some devotees and a camera and take pictures of their faces. So that when the ID parade is made you will be able to make positive identification.”
We did that, we met at the specified location and we went into the back of the police van with the 3-4 dacoits but they were hiding their faces. So the police grabbed them by the hair and pulled their heads back so that we could take pictures of their faces. Subsequently the devotees did identify them in the ID parade and the court case ensued and I assumed they were convicted.
Sri Caitanya Candrodaya (on left), the presiding Deity of ISKCON Mayapura, along with the current Sri Sri Radha Madhava, with new Radha. Photo by author, 2012. Click to larger image.
Seva Aparadha Affects
the Whole Community
From this historical event we learned how accurate Vedic astrology can be in the hands of a master. We also learned something of the little known history of ISKCON Mayapura’s Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava utsava murtis.
One thing to carefully note about this incident is that the seva aparadha of two persons, the young male pujari and the older widowed female cook seriously impacted the whole community in a tragic way leading to the theft of Srila Prabhupada’s childhood Deities, the attack on the temple by a gang of dacoits, the theft and mutilation of Srimati Radharani, the serious injury to at least one devotee and the death and injury of some miscreants. Thus such seva aparadhas have very serious consequences and should not be taken lightly. However it is very likely that this seva aparadha and its consequences could have been avoided if Srila Prabhupada’s instructions that only a married woman whose husband is present be allowed to do Deity seva and go on the altar – it should be considered that the Deity kitchen is an extension of the altar.
Srila Prabhupada was very aware that males and females working together in the kitchen or altar area was less than optimal and a source of spiritual fall down. There are only a few temples in ISKCON that try to follow an actual “Temple Standard” with only males doing the worship. But in some cases it is only partially implemented because if women are engaged in cooking for the Deities then it is still a “Home Standard.” (It is called “Home Standard” because while pancaratra agama allows women and sudras to worship the Deities the proviso is that they only worship at home 1.) In such mixed sex environments there is the real and present danger of subtle or gross sexual fall down by the sevakas and many incidents such as the following one told by HG Srutakirti Prabhu in his book What is the Difficulty have and continue to take place.
Sixteen months before this visit, Srila Prabhupada had warned me to stay out of the kitchen in New Dvaraka. Now his words seemed somewhat prophetic. Nanda Kumar, by getting married and leaving Srila Prabhupada’s personal service, had demonstrated what could happen by associating with female devotees while performing service in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I did not learn from his experience and now it was my turn to be overwhelmed with desire.
In September of 1972, Srlla Prabhupada instructed me to prepare his meals in the servants’ quarters and stay out of the temple kitchen. Due to illusion, I gradually became careless regarding that instruction. History repeated itself and I found myself standing in front of Srlla Prabhupada asking if I could remain in New Dvaraka to get married. My senior god-brothers had tried to persuade me to stay with Srlla Prabhupada, but I was too far-gone. They also encouraged me to marry someone else, but my mind was fixated on a particular girl. I was determined in my course of action.
As easily as I became Srlla Prabhupada’s personal servant, I quickly lost my most valued treasure due to my uncontrolled senses. Within a few days, I abandoned my Guru Maharaja’s personal service. Srlla Prabhupada knew me completely. He did not try to convince me to stay with him or try to stop me from getting married.
Srila Prabhupada knew that this “Home Standard” only worked in homes and not in temples because in temples the male and female sevakas are not related to each other and the natural tendency of male – female sexual tension and attraction develops. They gradually start flirting by talking and joking more and more in a casual way, beyond what is necessary for the sake of their service. Then attraction to such association diverts their attention from the Deities to their partner in the service and then the inevitable happens by the overwhelming power of biology and maya.
To curb the potential of gross or subtle sexual fall down by the sevakas, which is a serious seva aparadha, Srila Prabhupada wanted a new standard implemented in ISKCON temples (see below) that a woman could only do Deity seva if and only if her husband was present with her which is in fact a “Home Standard.” This of course means that no single woman can do any seva in the Deity kitchen, Deity room or the altar. This standard has yet to be implemented.
Prabhupada: Now there should be one rule, that unless they are husband-wife, man and woman should not worship together.
Pusta Krsna: On the altar.
Prabhupada: Yes. Strictly prohibited.
Tamala Krsna: On the same altar.
Tamala Krsna: Different altars is all right, but not the same altar.
Prabhupada: No, different quarters… They should not go to the…
Pusta Krsna: They should not be brought before the Deities.
Tamala Krsna: Alone.
Hari-sauri: In the kitchen or…
Prabhupada: Man and woman together should not worship unless they are husband and wife.
Tamala Krsna: Never be alone. So just because they are married to someone else, that is not… They must be married to each other.
Prabhupada: No, no, they must be together…
Tamala Krsna: Married.
Prabhupada: …the man and the woman. The husband-wife can go, not others.
Tamala Krsna: In most temples that is not the system right now.
Prabhupada: No, that system should be introduced. The husband-wife together can go to worship the Deity. If they are not related as husband, they should not go.
Pusta Krsna: What about a situation like this, where the husband and wife are worshiping but also some other brahmacaris are also worshiping?
Prabhupada: Still, that is some protection. The husband is there. The woman means her husband must be there.
Morning Walk – July 20, 1976, New York
Many a past scandal in ISKCON could have been avoided if this standard had been implemented. It is not too late to implement this standard and avoid future scandals. And as we have noted these seva aparadhas do not only impact the lives of those implicated but they also affect the whole community. And, while the effect in other temple communities may not be so dramatic it still exists. So if you are wondering why your community is having troubles seva aparadha may be one of the causes.
A better solution would be to employ an actual “Temple Standard” in temples where only men are doing seva in the kitchen and altar and let the women only worship at home in a protected environment. Such “Temple Standard” is the norm in recognized Vaisnava temples in India such as Srirangam, Radharaman, Tirupati, Padmanabha Swami and Guruvayur etc.
In strict temples like Guruvayur when it is the turn of the grhasta pujari to do seva he will not come home for six months but do full time service to the Deity without even the chance of his having any sexual intimacy with his wife while doing his seva – such is the high standard of Deity worship that some temples follow.
We realize however, that in many ISKCON temples especially outside of India that there is a serious lack of personnel for doing the Deity seva so a “Home Standard” is the only option. But at least in such a situation Srila Prabhupada’s standard of husband-wife teams should be implemented to minimize seva aparadha.
30 Years On
This beautiful video made 30 years after the events of this article show that a lot of positive changes have happened in Mayapura.
1 V. Varadachari and G. Tripathi, Isvarasamhita Volume 1 (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt.,Ltd., 2009), 26.
2 Dasa Srutakirti, What is the Difficulty (Dharma Publications, 2006), 177-178.
Srutakirti, Dasa. What is the Difficulty. Dharma Publications, 2006.
Varadachari, V. and G. Tripathi. Isvarasamhita Volume 1. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt.,Ltd., 2009. [Isvarasamhita is the primary pancaratrik text used in Melukote, one of the most important centers of Sri Vaisnavism and personally re-established by Ramanuja Acarya.]