Monday Morning Greeting 2024 #4 – The Passing Away of Sridhara Mali

January 22nd, 2024

The Passing Away of Sridhara Mali[1]

This may be a relatively simple Monday Morning Greetings, but sometimes things can be superficially simple, but in essence very deep. This is about my (our) very simple, but deep friend Sridhara Mali. Our story:

When I first came to Vrindavan there was one taxi and one phone in the whole town. The phone was at the police station. Communication with the outside world was near impossible. I don’t know exactly how it worked, but to call the USA you had to call Mathura, which would call Delhi, which would call the USA, and you were rarely successful. But there was also a certain joy in that level of technological solitude. The parikramā road was still a bumpy dirt road, and halfway around you started entering the forest of Vrindavan. Those who came with me on parikramā over twenty-five years ago remember Hari Bhajan, the saintly forest sādhu whose hermitage was right off the path, and how with his charm and unbounded enthusiasm he would pull you into his forest ashram for prasādam, and then have you sit and do kirtan until it was ready. I’m just trying to give you a sense of the quietude of Vrindavan when I came and some years after that. And then suddenly, about twenty years ago or so, everything changed. The once rustic Raman Reti, where our temple is located, became the center of a burgeoning mini metropolis with traffic jams on the weekends. And that’s where the story of Sridhara Mali begins.

My service has always been sharing Vrindavan with people, but about that time new people arriving began to notice the increasing urbanization. They would become either upset or confused, expecting it to be just a little more like the description they read from Krishna Book—a place filled with flowers, birds, and cows. To facilitate my service, I began a little search for a place nearby to introduce people to the real Vrindavan. One day, instead of walking to the right on the parikramā path where it suddenly veers towards Madan Mohan, I veered left off the path to a dirt road that seemingly went to nowhere. After wandering for about only thirty meters, I saw on my left a small narrow alley leading in the distance to a mysterious black door that piqued my curiosity, so I walked to that door and pushed it open. I was stunned—acres of untouched flower gardens lush with roses, marigolds, tulsi, and a variety of fruit bearing trees. I kept walking towards the Yamuna through the gardens, carefully navigating though the faintly crushed grass paths, until I hit a long makeshift barbed fence. What I saw on the other side further astounded me—a small dirt path running parallel to the main parikramā path lined on the right with small flower garden farms and to the left by hundreds of acres of fertile farms with an unobstructed majestic view of the stately Madan Mohan temple in the distance. I managed to get through the fence and began to walk along that timeless path, and just when I decided to search for a way to get back to the main road from there, I saw a makeshift wooden gate to my right. I entered and began to walk a twenty-meter small rose garden lined path leading to what looked like—from the distance—a humble hermitage. There I was warmly greeted by a very friendly family led by an elderly sādhu, the head of the clan who insisted I take lunch. His family immediately started cooking. All I can say is that I was transported to another world. It was as if I had entered Krishna’s original village, and those Brijabasi rotis, those thick ghee ladened rotis, were like nothing I had ever tasted before. It was the home of what would soon become my good friend Sridhara Mali, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and their many happy and playful young children. They begged me to come back, and I did, bringing whichever people who would visit me. It worked! They were also transported to another world by the natural love for Krishna in the hearts of these simple Brijabasis, and by those rotis. To this day I challenge anyone after going there to look me in the eyes and with all honesty tell me that they have ever tasted anything so ambrosial as those rotis. Since then, I have taken hundreds and hundreds of people, who have all been received with the same unbounded hospitality. I especially enjoy watching how our sophisticated “New Yorkers”[2] sit in awe as these simple Brijabasi ladies, sitting on the floor and cooking on small mud stoves stoked with twigs and cow dung, make “the supreme personality of rotis”[3] with just the repeated pats of their hands. One day my Russian friend insisted on bringing one hundred and fifty people there despite my resistance to the idea. No problem. The Brijabasi lady team just made two additional chulhas (mud stoves), the children helped, and voila! One hundred and fifty Russkies also transported to the spiritual world!

As more and more people started to come and bathe in their hospitality, I built them a small, thatched pavilion to host their guests. It only cost three hundred dollars. I often joked that for three hundred dollars “my temple” in Braja—that thatched pavilion—has turned more people towards Krishna than the majestic temples that our mission is building in India costing millions of dollars. But in a sense it’s true, at least in terms of the hundreds and hundreds of international people, not yet committed devotees, who were transformed by their visit.

To this day when walking in New York near the Bhakti Center people still come up to me, and sometimes I don’t even know who they are, to remind me of the time they visited the home of Sridhara Mali with me and the lasting impression it made on them.

So that is the story of a humble man who opened his hermitage and heart to the world and carried a deep message that Śrīla Prabhupāda often taught—that simple living and high thinking puts to shame our increasing anxiety ridden and confusing techno world.

Sridhara Mali ki jaya!

Epilogue: All is not lost. His family will carry on. When I have my retreat in Vrindavan in two weeks, our group will honor him by again relishing rotis there. Hopefully we will also have a special ceremony there to remember his kindness. I also plan on building a simple shrine there to help remember him. And my challenge remains: After visiting the ashram of Sridhara Mali, look me in the eye and tell me you ever tasted something so sublime!



[1] “Mali” just means “gardener”.

[2] I initially brought groups from New York as that is where I would preach in the west, but it soon expanded to groups from other places who contacted me.

[3] “The supreme personality of” is my own term for something superlative, especially a food preparation.


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