The Shoe-Keeper Who Donated ₹61 Lakh to Vrindavan’s Cows

People

The Shoe-Keeper Who Donated ₹61 Lakh to Vrindavan’s Cows

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

O

nce upon a time there was a destitute widow, who arrived in a strange land and sat outside a temple in service of her Lord, collecting pennies, until one day she amassed a fortune of ₹61 lakh and give it all to the cows.

Fact they say is stranger than fiction, but the story of Yashoda Dasi is the strangest of them all. Draped in a ragged orange sari, the wizened old woman sits outside the Banke Bihari Temple in Mathura and guards the shoes of devotees, as she has done for the last 40- odd years. You’d walk past her without giving her a second look but that would be a mistake. Yashoda Dasi is a person we all should know.

Advertisement

Born Phoolmati in Madhya Pradesh’s Kanti village, Yashoda didn’t have any inkling about the turn her life would eventually take. She got married and had children at a young age, and up until the age of 30 she lived a fulfilling family life. She is hazy about when she arrived in Mathura, but it must have been in the summer of 1977 because that was the year her young son, daughter, and husband were killed in a fatal road accident. Once a family woman from a flourishing home in Madhya Pradesh, overnight the 30-year-old found herself on the streets – heartbroken and penniless, and made her way, like thousands of women had before her, to the land of Lord Krishna.

Vrindavan has a long history with widows. Every year, thousands of widows descend upon this holy town and find refuge here, the one place they are not considered inauspicious. Cast out by their families, or simply alone in the world, many travel hundreds of miles to get to Vrindavan to serve the one man who can never betray them – Lord Krishna. Most of these women end up begging outside temples but Phoolmati took up station at the temple door to guard footwear left outside by devotees when they stepped into the temple to pray and took the name of Lord Krishna’s foster mother, Yashoda. It was a rite of passage, without any rituals of initiation.

Yashoda Dasi’s story might have ended there and she might have joined the thousands of forgotten women who live and die in this dusty North Indian town, had she not suddenly arrived at the gaushala one day to hand over a cheque of ₹61 lakh.

The cows have given a lonely widow great joy over the years, and Yashoda Dasi decided very early on that she was going to pay them back.

Yashoda has been living the life of a monk for the last 40 years. She starts her day as early as 3 am, and the next hour is spent in ablutions. Then it is time to go to the temple to pray, from where she goes to the gaushala. In the wee hours, she is seen lovingly feeding the cows and the bulls.

Yashoda is not clear when the gaushala, with its soft-eyed beasts, became a permanent fixture of her day. Their association with Lord Krishna, known as the protector of cows, is perhaps what first got her there, but what kept her on was the contentment she felt by feeding these gentle beings. The emotional bond she formed with the cows helped her distance herself from her tragic past.

By 7.30 am every day, Yashoda returns to the temple to greet the first devotees. The steady stream of devotees keeps her glued to the temple door until noon. By 1 pm, she is back home – a single-room quarter paid for by the temple trust. After a frugal lunch, Yashoda makes another visit to the gaushala to be with her beloved cows. Back at the temple when it reopens at 4 pm, she gets back to guarding the shoes, sandals, and slippers of the devotees. At 8 pm, when the temple closes its door for the night, she returns home. Shalu Goswami, a temple worker, said that he has been seeing Yashoda Dasi from the time he was a boy. He vouches for the fact that she has not missed a single day of work.

Gaurakshaks

Draped in a ragged orange sari, the wizened old woman sits outside the Banke Bihari Temple in Mathura and guards the shoes of devotees, as she has done for the last 40-odd years.

Her monk-like existence is evidenced in the frugality of her possessions – two yellow saris, a few utensils, two Tulsi malas, and a pair of spectacles is the sum total of all that she owns. The utensils have now become extraneous to her life and may be given away one day. “I used to cook but no longer do. Either I eat at an ashram or at any of the many community kitchens – the Bhandara – which keeps this city running,” she says. Her two square meals, for as long as she can remember, comprise a steady satvik diet of dal-chawal and bhaji-roti. She does not desire anything else. Yashoda is living the life of a sanyasi without taking a formal oath. It is a rigidly disciplined existence which mere mortals are seldom capable of.

But this way of life is perhaps what explains how she reached the pot of gold. Yashoda makes an average of ₹800 per day, and thanks to her life choices, nearly every rupee of it has been carefully deposited in a local bank with a single goal in mind – to donate ₹50 lakh to the cause of the cow. The cows have given a lonely widow great joy over the years, and Yashoda Dasi decided very early on that she was going to pay them back. She would build them a gaushala at Barsana, the village where Lord Krishna’s beloved Radha is believed to have been born. She had no other earthly use for her money.

Gau Rakshak

Cast out by their families, or simply alone in the world, many widows travel hundreds of miles to get to Vrindavan to serve the one man who can never betray them – Lord Krishna.

Yashoda’s roommate for the past many years has been another widow, Pushpa Devi. Pushpa is in awe of Yashoda and is inspired by her seva to Krishna and the blazing clarity of her goal, as are other widows around her who live from hand to mouth. Survival and perhaps a life of comfort, being their only goal. Pushpa has always known that Yashoda has never had such expectations from life. She seeks no comfort and accepts no alms. She has worked hard for every penny and cuts herself no slack. No trinkets. No sweetmeats. No small luxuries. Her salvation is only service and devotion to Lord Krishna’s noble deed of protecting the cows.

All those who seek salvation with such commitment, usually find it. In April last year, Yashoda reached her goal of ₹50 lakh and made her final deposit. It had taken her 40 long years to collect the money. To this amount she added ₹11 lakh, the proceeds from the sale of two houses in Kanti, and arrived at the gaushala with her astonishing cheque of ₹61 lakh.

More than a year on, Yashoda continues to live the simple life, saving every penny she earns, maybe for another donation. Today, on the day of Janmashtami, as devotees throng to Vrindavan to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birthday, Yashoda sticks to her routine of collecting shoes and visiting the gaushala. For her, every day is a celebration of Krishna and his bovine beauties.

Comments