Today, Jahnu Saptami, is the disappearance anniversary of Arca-vigraha dasi, a renowned artist from South Africa who left her cancer-ridden body in Vrindavan twenty-four years ago. Her desire that other devotees also have a proper facility to spend their last days in the beautiful spiritual atmosphere of the holy dhama inspired the creation of the Bhaktivedanta Hospice. The year of her departure, Bhurijana dasa’s Vyasa-puja offering to Srila Prabhupada glorified her and Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna’s mercy upon her:
My dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to you. We pray that your powerful preaching potency continues forever.
As I write this, Mother Arca-vigraha is still alive. By the time this offering is read by the devotees, she will be gone. She now lies bedridden within her Ramana-reti house; her thin, almost white hair is cropped close and with sikha. The May Vrindavan heat glares, and her body burns as if filled with poison from one thousand scorpions. Only her left arm near the shoulder is fat, for there the cancer spreads from her lymph gland. The rest of that arm lies thin and useless at her side, like the arm of a doll, but burning with pain.
“ ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ in the material world are the same thing. [They] are mental creations. All is actually distress, for we must die. Human life is meant for Krishna consciousness. Why should we lose this chance? A Krishna conscious person is not under the laws of material nature.” (All quotes are from a 1969 New Vrindaban lecture by Srila Prabhupada.)
Arca-vigraha was a famous South African artist. She took initiation from His Holiness Giriraj Swami years ago and developed deep faith in you, her guru maharaja, Krishna consciousness, the holy name, Vrindavan dhama, and the Vaishnavas. Now, in her final days, her face is gaunt; deep crevices rim her eyes. Yet she is neither miserable nor morose nor fearful. Mother Arca remains either silently Krishna conscious or jolly.
“One who is Krishna conscious is never afraid or disturbed in any condition of life. This is the effect of Krishna consciousness. Therefore Narada is trying to convince Vyasadeva, ‘You preach Krishna consciousness. Whatever you have so far written is useless. Now you write something that by reading, one will become immediately Krishna conscious.’ Srimad-Bhagavatam is so nice that by reading, immediately one can capture the Supreme Lord within his heart. Our whole program is that Krishna is very kind, always kind upon us.”
She hasn’t eaten any solid food for about seven weeks and has been subsisting on less than 500 milligrams of juice a day. Her life has been sustained by krsna-katha, which she longs to hear constantly. And Mother Arca still preaches. Despite her pain, as long as she can speak, she greets all with good spirits, encouragement, and Krishna conscious advice: “Most problems don’t seem important from this perspective, do they?” “The body is useless, isn’t it?” “Jaya, jaya Sri Radhe-Syama!” Devotees approach her to offer solace but find shelter in her Krishna conscious strength.
“The pure devotees, if they are put into difficulty, they think, ‘This is Krishna’s grace. It is Krishna’s grace.’ They take it in this way. ‘I was to suffer hundreds of times more due to my bad activities in my past life, but You are only giving me a little of it. So it is Your grace.’ ”
We do not know when Krishna will actually take Mother Arca. She almost left just after Gaura-purnima, and we rushed to her bedside at 11:00 p.m. to find her gasping and wheezing and unable to breathe. The cancer is gradually closing off her windpipe. But Krishna wouldn’t take her then. She is now quite ready to go and awaits His call. She chants more or less constantly in her mind.
“Hypnotized. It is so nice—hypnotized! Otherwise, why are these boys working so hard? They can earn money, but they are hypnotized here. Krishna is so nice. He is all-attractive. He hypnotizes His devotee. Just like the Pandavas. They are all Krishna’s friends. Narada met Krishna, and because he was a devotee, he could speak to Krishna with a little criticism: ‘My dear Krishna, by becoming Your devotees, have Your Pandavas become happy? They have lost their kingdom. Their wife has been insulted, and now they are banished for twelve years. Is it a very good thing? But the wonderful thing I see, in spite of all these inconveniences, is that they have increased their love for You!’ So Narada is asking, ‘What kind of hypnotism You do I don’t know. In spite of being placed in so many inconveniences, their love for You has increased.’ That is the position of a bhakta.”
Both her breathing and swallowing are now strained and painful. I used to ask her if she had anything remaining to accomplish within the world of matter. Her last anxiety was spiritual, to finish the remaining true-to-size drawings for the 6’ x 3’ panels at the back of your samadhi mandir. She wasn’t physically capable, but she strained and sat up and directed the remaining work to its end. “See, I told you I’d finish!” No further work remains for Mother Arca-vigraha within this world.
“Anyone who has associated with Krishna consciousness, he cannot forget . . . He cannot give it up. If one once surrenders sincerely, ‘Krishna, I am Yours,’ Krishna will never leave you. He will protect you.”
Prabhupada, you have already bestowed your mercy on this fine devotee, Mother Arca-vigraha. We, out of affection for her, nevertheless pray to you for her eternal welfare. We also beg you to continue giving us the association of exalted and exemplary Vaishnavas.
Praying to serve you eternally,
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Devotees can read about Mother Arca-vigraha in the chapter about her in my book Many Moons: Reflections on Departed Vaishnavas and in the section “Mother Arca-vigraha—An Inspiration” in Chapter 2 of my book Life’s Final Exam: Death and Dying from the Vedic Perspective.
May Mother Arca-vigraha’s mercy shower down upon us all.
Yours in service,