Today, April 25, Jhanu Saptami, is the disappearance anniversary of Arca-vigraha dasi, a renowned artist from South Africa who left her cancer-ridden body in Vrindavan twenty-one years ago. Her desire that other devotees also have a proper facility to spend their last days in the beautiful spiritual atmosphere of the dhama inspired the creation of Bhaktivedanta Hospice, which is serving both local devotees and disciples and followers of Srila Prabhupada from throughout the world. To honor the occasion—and the service of the devotees connected with the hospice—I quote from a talk by Bhakti Bhrnga Govinda Swami. —Giriraj Swami
The work of the hospice is really such an important thing, and such a valuable gift to ISKCON.
I had the good fortune of assisting Mother Arca-vigraha in Vrindavan, and it was such a rewarding experience. Her previous name was Angel Lipkin, and her name, Angel, indicated her nature. She was actually an angel. She had breast cancer, and it got into the lymph nodes, and the lymph nodes were strangling her esophagus and nerves, and it was quite painful. Arca was a bit of a hardhead. She was one of those natural-type people who would never want to take pain medication; she would take only some homeopathic tablets that were less strong than even aspirin. Sometimes I would see her in the depths of pain, but people would come to her door and say, “Arca, I have a problem.” They would come in, and she would speak to them with such nice Krishna consciousness.
We were neighbors, so I would also pop in—morning, noon, and night. One night I came into her place and she was alone, sitting on her bed crying. I went over and said, “I have to give you some medicine.” She said, “No, I don’t take medicine.” I said, “No, I have to give you some medicine.” I opened the Krsna-bhavanamrta and sat and read to her about Krishna, and hearing about Krishna, even in that painful condition, she became totally transformed. By nature she was an energetic person. And after hearing for some time, she would become animated and exclaim, “Ooh! Ooh!”
Arca attracted so many nice devotees to come and be with her. Devotees would come just to speak to her about Krishna and read to her about Krishna and have kirtana with her. Tamal Krishna Maharaja used to visit her. Sometimes we would sit around her bed and read Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Vidagdha-madhava. We would play different roles, each of us—Sivarama Swami, Kesava Bharati Maharaja, Giriraj Maharaja, Tamal Krishna Goswami, and me—reading the parts of different characters. It was so nice. And she was always so sweet and so humble; she was wonderful.
Over time, Arca-vigraha’s condition became worse. And she made a specific request to her spiritual master, Giriraj Swami Maharaja, and me that we should think of establishing a hospice. In the course of time, I have been pulled in another direction, to the other side of the Himalayas. But it is wonderful that Giriraj Maharaja has taken up this project and that you all have formed a committed and dedicated team to see that it actually takes shape. It is the fulfillment of a wish, the wish of a Vaishnavi.
It is so wonderful that people actually create facilities like this for terminal patients—what to speak of doing it for Vaishnavas, what to speak of doing it in Vrindavan. So it is a very important service, and I am sure that by this service you will all be blessed by Srila Prabhupada—and certainly by Vaishnavas everywhere—for taking the burden and carrying the activity of helping Vaishnavas peacefully depart this world. And I am sure that you will receive an abundance of mercy from the angel Arca-vigraha as well, because she was really an angel. She really was an angel.