Yasoda Priya devi dasi, pujari, chef, prasadam distributor, expert gardener and dear friend to the New Dwaraka devotees, left the material world on her way back to Krishna on April 11, 2021 at 7:15am, exactly the current time of the temple Guru Puja.
Yasoda Priya arrived from Venezuela to Hawaii in 1981. She was traveling with a friend who suggested they visit the temple. Just previous, at the beach she had a vision of a peacock feather rising from out of the water, followed by a head rising up, too, and a wonderful face that she had never seen before. When Yasoda visited the temple and saw paintings of Lord Visnu, she better understood the vision and later came to believe that it was nothing coincidental.
Yasoda joined at Honolulu temple, New Navadwip Dham, and served there for five years, cooking milk sweets for the Panca-tattva and serving Them in the Pujari room. She took spiritual initiation from Hridayananda Das Goswami in 1982. Prabhupada disciple Dhira devi dasi, her closest friend at the time, said, “She was the servant to all the pujari with such admirable qualities – attention to detail, respect for the devotional paraphernalia, and, above all, humility. I never heard her say a single negative utterance of anyone or anything. Never a complaint. She is the personification of avoiding prajalpa. Yasoda Priya arrived at the temple with all these devotional qualities. It was as if she were simply picking up where she left off and thus found herself at home as a devotee.”
Eventually, Yasoda moved to the Los Angeles temple, New Dwarka, where she worked in publications and the Pujari Department, organizing the Deities outfits and jewelry. She later took up residence in a location in Northern California where, although there was no opportunity to visit a temple, she continued her devotional life. Yasoda cultivated a nice devotee friend there, Bhaktin Anna, who later became the initiated disciple of Hridayananda Das Goswami, Ananta devi dasi. Yasoda Priya and Ananta became enthusiastic to serve Krishna and help one another in the practice of Krishna Consciousness.
Ananta is a bodywork practitioner, focused on osteopathic techniques and acupressure. In their rented house, while Ananta gave treatments in an upstairs apartment, Yasoda cooked meals downstairs for prasadam distribution to her clients, which became an attractive feature of the bodywork experience. Yasoda carefully studied all of Kurma dasa’s recipes through his books and videos, even emailing him for advice, until she became an expert chef. Ananta was also the Head of Wardrobe for a regional ballet company and Yasoda’s exotic bowls of prasada lentils and other specially prepared vegetables, rice, cookies, and macaroons became favorite treats for Ananta’s fellow seamstresses, administrators, musicians, and set designers, as well as the performers; another opportunity for prasadam distribution.
When Ananta’s mother died in 2013, she inherited her mother’s house in Los Angeles. The two women moved to Los Angeles to renovate the home, as well as to attend morning programs at the New Dwaraka temple regularly. Yasoda Priya had grown up in Venezuela where she learned fine cooking from her mother and how to grow flowers, so she could then use those skills for Krishna. For several years, Yasoda took up daily cooking service in New Dwarka assisting and training under head cook Jagannivasa dasa to prepare the offerings to Radha-Govinda that are served at Govinda’s Buffet. Due to her Guru’s instruction and Jagannivas’ inspiration, she thrived with her Ekadasi preparations. Yasoda Priya’s determination was to dedicate the ample garden space in the house to be of service for the pleasure of Sri-Sri Rukmini-Dwarakasdisa. Now, the gardens are filled with fragrant flowers that Yasoda planted, including several varieties of gardenias, plumerias, roses, freesias, hyacinth, and jasmine, as well as a number of fruit trees. The flowers and fruits are brought to the Temple all year long.
In 2015, Yasoda was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer. She was not expected to live much longer, but a new drug was approved by the FDA the week prior to her diagnosis which significantly slowed the progression of the cancer, and that, along with several other therapies, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, graced her with six years more to continue her service, by Radha Krishna’s mercy. Despite her illness, Yasoda always had a positive attitude. Her doctor remarked that there was not a day when he did not see Yasoda smiling, and that she had changed the lives of her entire medical team. She would sometimes comment, “Krishna has been so kind. So many people have less opportunity than I have had.”
In her last years, Yasoda intently studied books on the philosophy by Srila Prabhupada, Hridayananda Das Goswami, Sacinandana Swami, Yamuna Devi, and other exalted devotees, taking notes and writing verses on cards that she carefully placed around her home. She very much appreciated the communication and inspiration from devotees found on Dandavats and read it daily.
Previously in her many cooking experiments, Yasoda “perfected the macaroon”, her signature sweet. From the very beginning of her medical journey, she distributed macaroons, cookies, and other prasadam sweets to all of the health workers she came in contact with. Every nurse, orderly, and doctor received something from Yasoda, even if it was only a prasadam sucker she bought and offered from See’s Candies. Amazingly, even at her cremation, all of the workers received a prasadam candy!
Hridayananda Das Goswami, the spiritual master of Yasoda Priya, speaks highly of her,
All of us who had the good fortune to know Yasoda Priya Devi Dasi will eagerly testify to her excellent character and deep devotion. Once, when asked how one could recognize a true devotee of Krishna, Prabhupada said, “He is a perfect gentleman.” Prabhupada would agree that one can similarly recognize a true Vaiṣṇavī by her character as an unfailing lady. Yasoda-priya exemplified that quality by which one can recognize a true Vaiṣṇavi. The glory of Prabhupada’s Krishna consciousness movement shines through on occasions like this, for we realize that the Lord’s faithful, loving servant receives countless blessings upon leaving this world. Thus, even as we mourn the loss of the company of the Lord’s dear servant, we celebrate the transcendental servant’s great fortune at the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.