When I came to Vrindavan in 1923 there were many dangerous four-legged wild animals; now there are many more two-legged ones. – Gopal Mata
Vrindavan, 2017.30.01 (Nirguna Dasi) “I came to Vrindavan eighty-two years ago when I was twenty-one, and lived in the forest for the first twelve. A lot of people say ‘crazy lady, crazy lady,’ but what do I care? It is just like an elephant who walks with dogs barking or people throwing stones at it. But the elephant is not bothered; he continues to walk. I, too, ignore what people say, and feel that my sins are being washed away by their insults.
“One time I was standing by the bank of the Yamuna River and I heard a voice telling me, ‘Pick me up, pick me up,’ and that is how I found this Deity, this Gopal Krishna. I find Deities all the time in the Yamuna, then I leave them at various temples.”
Gopal Ma was 104 when we met her. She recalled with clarity that she came to Vrindvan in 1923, when she was 20 years old. She had chosen this life over the conventional life of being married and so forth. For many years she lived as an ascetic—she said she had knee length jata (dreadlocks), and she slept under a tree every night from the time she got here. Her routine was to bathe in the Yamuna and do Parikrama around Vrindavan three times each day. A glass of milk in the evening sustained her body. This is what she was still doing when we met her, though there were no more free or peaceful places for her to sleep as before, and often she would stay in someone’s home temporarily. It was hard for her she said – she didn’t like such continuous proximity to people very much.
We met with her once at the house of a Brajwasi family she was staying with briefly. She showed us her beautiful Goverdhan shilas, intricately painted by her, and an exquisite and rare shaligram shila. The next time I saw her a few months later, she said she had moved as there was a lot of violence around the area. Gopal Ma told us that she once found an antique ashta dhatu Deity in the Yamuna (she hears these Deities talking to her and has found many and picked them up—this was confirmed by many people who know her along Kesi Ghat).
This Deity was appropriated by the Archaeological Survey of India and Gopal Mata was taken to meet the president of India. She told me the name, but I forget which President it was. Whilst she was in Delhi she said Krishna scolded her and asked if this is what she had come to Vrindavan for. So she returned immediately.
Gopal Ma hardly speaks we were told and it was quite unusual that she spoke to us as much as she did. She has been quite active in Vrindavan when she first got here with helping widows etc but these have all been stints as ultimately she has the heart of a solitary ascetic. She carries her little Gopal Deity (also recovered from the Yamuna) in a basket. We heard that the pandas of Bankey Bihariji put her Thakurji on the altar when she goes there.
If we did not know her story she would appear to be like any old lady in white with a shaved head, whom we sometimes mistakenly call ‘widows’.
[This article was originally published at this link in 2010. Gopal Ma passed away several years ago. The photo of her included in this article was taken by Lakshmi Greenberg. – Ed.]