This amazing story is about a saint named Mataji Pada Sevanam, from Baku, Azerbaijan (Caucasus, former part of the USSR), who re-established devotional service to Lord Nrsimhadeva and changed the hearts of many devotees due to her limitless love to Krishna, fearlessness, and determination. (From a lecture by A.C. Bhagavatamrita Keshava Swami. Barnaul, Russia December 18, 2016)
Gopal Told Me
Once upon a time, someone distributed a Bhagavad-Gita by Srila Prabhupada to a woman. She read it and the knowledge struck her so much that she accepted it with all her heart. She found the address of the ISKCON temple in the beginning of the book and came to meet devotees. A devotee met her and escorted her to a guest room where there were a few other people.
The devotee begun telling something to the guests, but he was called out and left them to bring more guests, saying: “Just a minute, please wait.” When he came back, the woman was preaching the Bhagavad-Gita to the gathered big time. She had lots of bookmarks in her Bhagavad-Gita, and she was saying: “See, Bhagavan Sri Krishna says…” The devotee later said he was amazed, it was so interesting that he got engaged and continued listening. She was so sincere in her preaching. This is how she came to the devotees.
With utmost bliss, she started coming to the programs at the temple, participated in kirtans and fell in love with the Deities. She felt like there was no point in living alone in her city, her kids were grown up, and had their own families. Now she acquired a new spiritual family. One day she came to the temple and said that she wanted to sell her apartment and donate the money to the temple.
“You can use the money in any way, just provide me with a room, I want to live here, serve, chant, and sing,” she said.
The devotees held a discussion about it and finally agreed; they built a little extension to the temple. You can see it by the temple in Baku, right at the entrance, it has large windows. She moved in there and began growing Tulasi. She was so positive and gave love to all bhaktas. I never saw her criticizing anyone, and she never participated in the politics. She also treated the Deities and Krishna with great love.
When I first came there, devotees were showing me around and told me about her as about a local significance. At that time she had already been initiated by Rohinisutra Prabhu, and her name was Pada-Sevanam. Devotees told me: here lives one grandma. There are different opinions about her around here. Some say she should be expelled from the temple for acting like a sahajiya, others say she is a saint, but actually, we don’t know. What they meant by sahajiya was that she was communicating with Krishna, as if she would do with you. She used to come to them sometimes and say: “Krishna told me.” That is how they introduced me to her in absentia.
Next morning she came to me to associate and looked at me with a challenge, probing me, what my condition was. I was respectful to her in every way. Suddenly, she takes out an apple, gives it to me and says: “Gopal told me to pass it to you.”
I say: “Thank you, please pass my thanks to Gopal.”
Gopal was a blue-colored doll, a little child Krishna. I don’t know where she got it from. She took care of Him, she had a cot for Him and toys. Devotees were saying she used to do strange things. Once she bought a radio controlled toy car, put her Krishna into it and started driving him around in the temple’s yard.
Devotees asked her: “Pada Sevanam, what are you doing?”
She said: “He is little, it’s interesting for Him. Kids like to play with cars, look, he is so joyful!”
I began watching her. Some sentiments were there, for sure, some imagination was also mixed in. But at the same time, she was an interesting type of devotee who had personal relationships with Krishna, she lived for Him. Perhaps, these impurities would go with the time, I thought. However, if people fall into pride, they take a position from above: “Krishna talks to me, I’ll tell you all how to live”. She never had this attitude. Those kind of relationships were very natural for her. She talks to Krishna, why can’t she talk to Him? She always chanted the holy names very seriously.. Whenever she had spare time she would sit down and chant very thoughtfully. She always read books of Srila Prabhupada with great interest, she was always engaged in service and participated in all devotees’ gatherings. Whenever someone would give a lecture, she would attentively and respectfully listen. Those are the signs of a true devotee.
Once I came to the Baku temple again and she came to me to associate and says: “I’d like to get your blessings.”
What does she have in mind? I wondered.
Invitation from Nrsimhadeva
I watched a movie called “Pilgrimage to Ahovalam,” she said.
Ahovalam is a famous temple of Lord Nrsimhadeva. If any of you is a disciple of Indradyumna Swami from the 1990-ties, you would have probably heard a fascinating story how he went to the Ahovalam temple. The temple is situated deep in a jungle. Tigers live around there and one has to be really determined to get there.
Indradyumna Maharaja was telling that there are signs that read, “Beware of Tigers.” There is a temple of Hiranyakashipu and there are still pieces of the column which Nrsimhadeva appeared from. There is also a cave and there is a self-manifested deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva inside it.
The video shows Dhruva Maharaja prabhu entering an ancient temple, where the Deity is Vira Nrsimha. Vira means victor, conqueror. The deity is located in a cave at the top of the mountain. Once upon a time, a demonic king conceived a plot in this place. He decided to perform austerities and worship Brahma. When Brahma appears, he thought, I would steal the Vedas from Him and we would construct this civilization in our demonic way.
When he actually stole the Vedas from Brahma’s mind, thanks to his demonic mystic powers, Brahma began praying to Nrsimhadeva. Nrsimhadeva personally appeared before him, tore the demon apart and returned the Vedas. Brahma was very thankful to Lord Nrsimhadeva. He performed a ritual of worship and prayed to Nrsimhadeva: “Oh, Lord, please stay in your merciful form of Vira Nrsimha, so that we could always worship you and remember about your heroic deed.” The Lord was pleased with the prayer and appeared in a form of the deity.
The movie shows that Dhruva goes through water up to his chest in the cave, there are bats hanging above his head. He and his companions go further and are full of dread, it becomes dark and it’s unclear what is ahead. All of a sudden, they hear bells ringing and see the light of oil lamps at the end of the cave. There was a priest, who was conducting worship to the deity, and beside him sat an engaged couple, a bride and a groom. He said that this is a very ancient Deity, but unfortunately, the worship ceased. Only once a week a priest comes to perform the worship ceremony, because there is jungle around the cave and to live in close proximity is almost impossible.
When Pada Sevanam heard that, her maternal feeling woke up: “Krishna, my Krishna is suffering!” She said that she asked Gopal: “What I should do; how can I help Nrsimhadeva?” Gopal told me that I should go there and serve Nrsimhadeva.”
Imagine a 74 year-old grandma has such an idea! Do you think it sounds a little abnormal? That is what I thought. My eyes widened and I said: “Do you understand what India is? I’m not even talking about the mountain! I take groups there every year. I know what it is. One can be robbed, there are all sorts of cheaters there, you don’t know the language, anything can happen! Besides, you don’t have the money for the tickets and who told you they would let you serve the Lord there? In Southern India they are really strict and don’t let women to serve deities, they consider this a violation of tradition, Srila Prabhupada saw devotees differently, not dividing men and women in this sense, that’s why he allowed women to worship on the altar. But there not every man is allowed, not even every Brahman.”
She says: “I know nothing, Gopal told me; I have to go!”
My arguments didn’t work, so I tried a different approach and said: “Actually, in our Sampradaya, we worship Radha Krishna or Lord Caitanya, who is Radha and Krishna as one person, so, if you want to go to India, go to Mayapur or Vrindavan and happily worship Krishna there. You don’t need to go to some mountain where there are no devotees, where it’s unclear how to make living, and besides you might not be allowed there.”
This argument stumped her. She said: “All right, I’ll ask Gopal.”
I thought to myself: “Gopal, tell her!”
The next day she comes to me and says: “I asked Gopal and He said that I have to go Nrsimhadeva anyway.”
I thought to myself: “Well, how is she going to go anyway; she doesn’t have the money.”
Two or three years later, I came to Azerbaijan again and devotees asked me: “Do you remember Pada-Sevanam? She actually made it to the Nrsimhadeva’s temple. Moreover, some say that people received her as a saint and worship to Nrsimhadeva resumed.” That took me by surprise. She is a really unusual woman, I thought. Unfortunately, no one knew any more details about her, just this short information.
About a half a year ago, before Pandava Ekadashi, a devotee, who was originally from Azerbaijan, wrote to me on skype. Ganeshwara Prabhu was asking if I remembered that grandma, Pada Sevanam. I replied: “Yes, of course, I do.”
It seems that the time has come, he wrote. Please ask devotees to pray for her. I replied: “Sure, I will,” but then I began thinking how I should tell devotees about her. She had done did something extraordinary, what I needed to let them know about. I wrote back to him on skype asking if he knew the details of the story, which was going around about her reaching the Nrsimhadeva’s temple and re-establishing the worship. “Yes, I know everything,” he replied. I helped her to get in there. Then he told me the whole story.
She was asking devotees around how to get to the temple of Nrsimhadeva and someone suggested to asking Ganeshwara Prabhu. She contacted him with the help of devotees and asked to watch the movie and find out where the temple was. She said: “Gopal told me that I have to serve Nrsimhadeva there.”
He and his wife respected Pada Sevanam a lot. They thought, perhaps it’s really something extraordinary what Krishna is doing through them, through their service. They watched the movie, but it was unclear where the temple was.
That day or shortly after, in 2006, Ganeshwara went to have Deities darshan at Krishna Balaram mandir as usual and accidentally saw that devotee Dhruva Maharaja, who made the movie. He invited Dhruva to his house and she showed him the episode, asking: “Where is this temple?” Dhruva told him that one needs to fly to Hyderabad, then by taxi, for a few hours, go to a village called Vedagiri. There, lives the main priest. The mountain is located in five kilometers from the village. One needs to know the pathways in the jungle. The priest goes there only once a week. If one wants to have a darshan, they have to come on the eve of the day and go with him there.
Ganeshwara did exactly that. He took two devotees and went to the village. They found the priest and went with him to the mountain. They saw the jungle, herds of wild monkeys, and snakes. In the cave they saw bats hanging above their heads, walked in the water up to a human chest, and finally got the darshan. They realized that it is unrealistic to live there and it is simply dangerous. Ganeshwara went back to Vrindavan, then he called Pada Sevanam and said: “I went there. It’s impossible to live there, just stay with the devotees and live normal life. Krishna has a different plan.”
“Gopal told me to go, and I will, anyway. I bought tickets and I am arriving in two weeks. Please meet me.” What should I do? Ganeshwara thought. Imagine, taking 74 years-old woman to the jungle and leaving her there. Imagine a man who gets snowed under with such a sudden mission. It’s like Lakshman would take Sita to the forest and leave. How can I leave a devotee of her age in the jungle where there is no water, no electricity, no food, absolutely nothing, only wild animals nearby?
All right, he planned that he’ll bring her to Vrindavan. She would see the Deities of Radha and Krishna, sink in that nectar atmosphere and then we will make the right decision; that she should better stay in Vrindavan. Her heart will open and God’s plans will change. That was the plan.
He meets her at the airport. She comes with all her tens of Deities, what devotees were bringing to her – several pairs of Radha Krishna, a number of Gopals, Govardhana silas, saligram silas, different pictures, etc. That’s all she brought with her in her suitcases.
I met her and said: “A taxi is waiting. We will go to Vrindavan first and then decide what to do in a few days.” She got really tensed. “ I need to go to Nrsimhadeva immediately; He is suffering because no one serves Him! How can I go to Vrindavan and enjoy myself there?”
“But Pada Sevanam, you have never been to Vrindavan,” said Ganeshwara. “It’s only a few kilometers away, we need to go there. When would you go there otherwise?”
She said: “If you don’t want to go there with me, just tell me where to go, I’ll get a ticket and go by myself!”
Ganeshwara thought: “I can’t leave her.”
Then, he buys tickets; they fly to Hyderabad, taxi brings them to Vedagiri. Ganeshwara takes her to the priest, hoping that he would open her eyes to see the reality. They go to the priest. He is around 70 years-old his self; his son is 30. Ganeshwara explains through his son (he translates) that this woman is from a different country, she is from Azerbaijan, and she got a revelation that your Nrsimhadeva calls her and that she needs to come and serve Him here. She packed her things and came.
When the priest hears that his eyes doubles in size.
He says: “What Nrsimha? Do you understand what you are saying? Live here? We, adult men can’t live there. It’s dangerous there, there are no facilities – no water, no food, no electricity. You don’t know what you are talking about! I cannot provide protection for you, so as the main priest I can’t let you worship there!”
Pada Sevanam becomes very serious, looks at the priest with a trying look and says: “If Krishna wants to kill someone, would you be able to protect that person, regardless of the place in this universe, even in your house? If Krishna wants to protect someone, who can kill that person?”
She said that with such faith and determination that the priest just broke into tears and said: “I don’t know who this woman is, but I have no arguments to convince her in this case. Go ahead, live! I will try to give you maximum protection.”
Now Ganeshwara is put in front of the fact that he has to carry all Pada Sevanam’s luggage through the jungle.
They left in the morning and carried the luggage to the mountain. Ganeshwara has the last hope that she would see everything herself and change her mind. They reached the top and Pada Sevanam, is lost in admiration.
“Here is also a room for my Deities!” (There was some little rickety building made of stones, with a time-skewed door, in front of the entrance to the temple). “I will install my Deities here, set up a tent and begin living. Excellent facilities! Everything is beautiful; go home, I will stay and worship Nrsimhadeva.”
Ganeshwara and the priest were totally shocked and speechless, but left her there. The priest was so amazed that he began telling everyone in the village about it, word about this grandma spread around instantly. The next day swarms of people begun climbing to the mountain to see that woman, a saint from Azerbaijan. They brought whatever they could – water, some kind of clothes, etc. Men looked at the tent she was in and said: “We must protect her and build a hut for her.” Women joined and began cleaning, bringing water, doing other things.
All villagers received her as a saint and began worshiping. She didn’t have even a tiny amount of pride about herself and was easily accepting it. People paying obeisances as she blesses them, as if she has always been doing that. People were inviting her to bless weddings, new houses, and to bless a newborn or a dying person.
All were running around her – the priests, the brahmanas, everyone. When she was coming to Shiva’s temple, they would bring her the flowers and she would offer them. She would do abhisheka as the great sadhus do. People fell in love with her for her simple and cordial love to Krishna.
Although she didn’t know the local language, nor did she know English, she was preaching! She only knew “Bhagavan Sri Krishna,” in Sanskrit. She would preach half in Azerbaijanian, half in Russian, but people were able to understand because she was speaking from her heart.
The news and the story were spreading and more people were coming to see her and have Nrsimhadeva darshan. The priest had to start coming every day and open the temple. That’s how the worshipping of Nrsimhadeva resumed on a daily basis. Finally, the news reached journalists of a newspaper of that region. They came and wrote an article about it, which blew the media. The article was being reprinted all around India. It was published in Azerbaijan and Turkey as well. People began coming from everywhere, just to see this woman and the Deity.
Mayor of the state of Andhra-pradesh read the article and was amazed: “This happens in my state?”
“We have to see that woman!” he told his wife.
They came with an escort and winking lights and climbed up the mountain to see Pada Sevanam. Everything was happening around her, all people were doing something and she was in ecstasy worshiping the deities.
Imagine, in the beginning, to get water she had to climb down several kilometers, take bath and bring drinking water. That’s how she lived before people started helping.
When the Mayor saw that, he said: “We call ourselves devotees of Krishna, but who we are, actually? Look what is a condition of our temple and compare it to our houses! We made facilities for ourselves, but not for Krishna! We left Him here and worshiped Him once a week! This is all to begin with me.” This is how he addressed the people. “I take responsibility”, he said, “to collect enough money to make facilities, build a road, bring electricity, water, ensure access to the temple and dignify the temple in order to ensure proper worship of our Nrsimhadeva.”
He started a foundation and built a road to the mountain, parking with marble steps to the temple for tourist groups. They also built Hanuman temple and refined everything. For Pada-Sevanam they built a brick house. When I heard about this all I was really impressed. The main point is – we don’t know anything about this woman, who is leaving now. I had to let devotees know right away.
Perhaps, some of you received my message about this Mataji; it went to Facebook. I sent it on Ekadasi day and by the end of the day replies from devotees started coming. They were thanking me, gratifying Pada Sevanam, some broke into tears. One said: “My husband had a breakdown, he has not chanted the Holy Names for two years and after reading this article he cried and began chanting again.”
Passing from this world
2016: In the morning, I woke up and saw Ganeshwara’s message on skype. He wrote that the main priest called him and said she left the body last night. The circumstances of her departure were remarkable though. He sent me some pictures.
On that morning of Dvadasi first devotees came in and as always, they would first come to Pada-Sevanam for darshan, to get the blessings. Then they would go into the temple to see the Deities. Pada-Sevanam used a plastic chair, an Asana for Krishna. She would take Krishna from the altar, put Him on the chair and feed. When devotees came in, they saw her on her knees embracing Krishna’s feet. Under her arm, she was holding the Bhagavad-Gita. Devotees thought she was sleeping. The priest knocked on the table: “Mata?”
She didn’t respond.
He asked women to check up on her and help her up. They touched her and realized that she had left the body.
Pada-Sevanam means, “the one who worships the feet”. She left this world embracing Krishna’s feet and holding Bhagavad-Gita, which brought her to the perfection of her life. This is a remarkable example that we have.
There are two little additional stories about Pada Sevanam. The main priest told one of them.
Once upon a time, I closed the temple at night and began going down the mountain when I heard screaming and the sound of banging dishes. I thought: “Maybe a monkey attacked.”
The next morning I came up and everything was as usual, Pada Sevanam was worshiping. I asked her: “What happened yesterday?” She said: “Nothing, it’s all good. I heard the banging of dishes and your scream. Oh, that’s just Nrsimhadeva; he didn’t want to eat I was swearing.”
The priest said to me: “I don’t understand what kind of woman she is.” She also said to him at some point that Nrsimhadeva told her that she would incarnate in this place for 10,000 years and then He would take her to Goloka.
Ganeshwara told the other story, he asked her once: “At the beginning everything was somewhat rough, were there any dangers, perhaps wild animals, any problems?” I just wanted to know how she lived.
She said: “No, no problems overall; just a cobra bit me once in a leg. That’s it.”
“Wow! That’s it?”
“I just went to Nrsimhadeva and said: “I want to serve you, but a cobra bit me. If you want to take me, so be it. But if you want me to serve you, tell me what to do. He told me to wash the wound with Caritamrta. I did and everything was fine.”
(From a lecture by A.C. Bhagavatamrita Keshava Swami. Barnaul, Russia December 18, 2016)
Translated by Ramananda das (Roman Zilber), Edited by Radha-Vilasa (Ranetta Zilber). Apologies for any mistakes and incorrect use of grammar.