Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Remembering Śilavati Devi Dasi
By ISKCON News   |  Apr 29, 2024

Gopalasyapriya Dasi with Śilavati Devi Dasi at New Vrindaban.

On April 26, 2024, Her Grace Śilavati Devi Dasi (ACBSP) left her body between 9:50-9:55 a.m. at the Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling, WV (near New Vrindaban). Srila Prabhupada personally instructed her in deity worship in Los Angeles and regularly sent devotees to her for instruction, referring to her in his letters as an “expert” and an “example of devotional service.”

Born in Oakland, California, on December 17, 1931, to an immigrant family from Portugal, Śilavati remembered her childhood as hard, living in substandard migrant housing and not experiencing much love from her family. As an adult, she became a mother to two sons and was seeking answers to her spiritual questions, “looking for love,” as she put it. A godsister, Rukmini Walker, remembers, “Śilavati was older and more mature than the rest of us, and she had led a lifetime of profound spiritual inquiry and faith, even before taking shelter of the path of Krsna Bhakti.”

Gopalasyapriya Dasi, who, along with several devotees, helped with Śilavati’s care at New Vrindaban, noted that although many of her memories had faded, there were two moments she recalled vividly. Gopalasyapriya recounted, “One day, while on the street outside her home, Śilavati met Visnujana Swami in San Francisco. After speaking for some time, he simply said to her, ‘Follow me, I’ll take you where you belong.’ She followed him directly to the temple and straight up the stairs to meet Srila Prabhupada. Śilavati remembered Prabhupada saying to her, ‘I’m going to tell you something, and I don’t want you ever to forget this: You are not that body. You are pure spirit soul!'”

Following her initiation in 1968 at age 37, she was personally trained by Srila Prabhupada in deity worship. She created the first deity worship manual, a booklet that was used by temples around the world. She played a significant role in installing Rukmini Dvarakadhish at the Los Angeles temple and was also an expert seamstress, creating many of their original outfits. “Srila Prabhupada was sending devotees from all over the world to learn the standards of temple worship from Śilavati there,” noted Rukmini. Deena Bandhu Das said, “I always looked up to her, and she was a great inspiration for me when I was sent to LA to get trained up. She worshipped Radha and Krishna so sweetly and with such devotion!”

Later, Śilavati became the pujari for the Radha Damodar Deities when They traveled with the “Road Show” across North America led by Visnujana Swami and others. Learning about the unique service, Srila Prabhupada said in a letter, “It is very much encouraging news for me. Silavati Prabhu said that this was her long-cherished dream. It has been mine also.”  After Srila Prabhupada left in 1977, Śilavati faced many difficulties in the movement and lived in several places over the years.

Her son Giresh provided a home for her in California, where she lived until he died in the 1990s. Her other son, Birabhadra, married a girl from Moundsville, WV, settled in the area, and soon Śilavati joined them, only a few miles from New Vrindaban.

Gopalasyapriya Dasi shared, “By now, she was in her 60s and found an affordable senior living apartment complex that had just opened in downtown Moundsville, so she could walk everywhere she needed.” During these years, she had little contact with the devotees, but by Krishna’s mercy, Malati Devi Dasi and other devotees who had known her ran into her and stayed connected over the years. When she turned 89, Śilavati had a feeling that she needed to be in a more spiritual atmosphere, so she reached out to Malati and started to visit New Vrindaban. “She broke down in tears when she entered the temple room, and within a couple of months, she decided to come and live here,” remembered Gopalasyapriya Dasi. Devotees, young and old, appreciated her association and, along with New Vrindaban’s exemplary Devotee Care office, served her nicely during her time in the community, even going on outings.

Bhaktin Beverly, Director of New Vrindaban’s Devotee Care, shared this beautiful story, “Because Śilavati was unwanted as a child, she was very quiet and did not speak much. This was true throughout her adult life and into her senior years.

Śilavati told me one day, she was at a grocery store, and she saw the cashier was unhappy and that she could see a shadow around the cashier that was dark. So when the cashier handed Śilavati the receipt, she took the girl’s hand and said, ‘Thank you for your kindness.’ Śilavati said she didn’t know what came over her because she never talked to strangers, but something inspired her. Then, she saw the shadow disappear, and the cashier smiled sweetly.

Śilavati told me that she felt that God spoke to her and told her to thank people for their kindness, that it will make a difference in their lives.”

In December 2023, she moved into Good Shepherd Nursing Home for 24-hour care due to her dementia. In March 2024, Śilavati fell, breaking her hip. Due to her age and health, surgery was not recommended. Devotees would frequently visit her and often find her chanting. “We were blessed to get to know her and spend so much time together. She was always smiling, and staff at the nursing home described her as very pleasant,” noted Gopalasyapriya Dasi, “We will miss her dearly and feel so thankful to have been blessed by her association.” Śilavati’s signature farewell was “Haribol! Spirit Soul!”

“To me, Śilavati Prabhu was always the pinnacle of saintliness and all Vaisnavi qualities. I pray that our dear Lordships, Sri Sri Radha Krishna, will bless her journey home to Their lotus feet!” said Rukmini Walker.

A memorial service is being planned at New Vrindaban and may be broadcast live online. Please watch the New Vrindaban Facebook page for more information. For mentions of Śilavati and links to her correspondence with Srila Prabhupada, visit here.

A special thanks to Gopalasyapriya Dasi and Rukmini Walker for biographical details and anecdotes.