By ISKCON News Staff on 2 Jan 2010
Rasajna Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who inspired many through her creativity and devotion, passed away in Austin, Texas on December 28th. Her last days were spent in the company of her husband Greg Schroen and other loving family and friends, chanting Krishna’s name by her bedside.
As she breathed her last, her friend Sumati Dasi placed a sacred tulasi leaf, dust from Krishna’s birthplace Vrindavana, and water from the sacred lakes Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda on her tongue. A recording of Srila Prabhupada chanting played in the room.
Rasajna’s sister and her friend Sumati performed the final bathing rites, anointing her with Narasimha oil from the holy town of Mayapur and marking her body with prominent tilak. She was dressed in a yellow sari, and as Sumati reported, looked just as radiant and beautiful as ever even in her final repose.
Born Andrea Sittler in Germany, Rasajna Dasi had studied theater first in her homeland and later in New York City. She performed internationally with the Munich Bach Choir for five years and acted in thirty productions during her nine years with the Player’s Workshop in New York.
In 1972, she appeared in the role of the screamer in Franco Zefferelli’s production of “Cavaleria Rusticana” at the Metropolitan Opera House. Life was going well for Andrea—she was just on the brink of a very successful career.
But in 1973, she renounced it all for Krishna consciousness, joining ISKCON and taking initiation from Srila Prabhupada.
Rasajna continued to act, however, simply using her talent to portray Krishna’s pastimes and inspire devotion in others; and in so doing, she realized that this was the pinnacle of her career. When she played the lead female role in the Brooklyn temple’s production of “Krishna Kidnaps Rukmini,” Srila Prabhupada, who was in the audience, commented, “All the players were good, but Rukmini, she was the best.”
After the play, as all the actors were removing their make-up, Prabhupada’s servant Mohananda came and told them that Prabhupada had said, “This is better than reading my books.” And later, while giving class on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, he advised, “All my disciples should act in plays because when you play the part of any of these characters, you get the feeling of what it’s all about. It becomes more real.”
Impressed by Rasajna’s talent, Srila Prabhupada often sent her to perform for ISKCON’s annual festivals in Mayapur, attended by devotees from all over the world.
In 2003, Rasajna recalled, “At the 1977 festival, although he was sick and not giving lectures, Prabhupada would come to see our plays and then go back to his room.
“I remember we were doing a portion of the Ramayana, and I was playing the demon Ravana’s sister Surpanaka. When he saw me coming up the stairs in the back, Srila Prabhupada started clapping and laughing. During the exchange between Surpanaka, Lord Ramachandra, and Lakshman, he was laughing hard and slapping his legs with both hands. I looked out for just a moment, and all the devotees were watching him. He was the only one who was watching the play. Then he stood up and gave a standing ovation. It was ecstatic.”
For eighteen years, Rasajna performed for her beloved spiritual master at Rathayatra festivals and other events throughout India, England, Spain and France. She also became famous for her popular dramatic readings of Krishna’s pastimes.
Later, she performed Indian classical dance and recorded “Vandanam, Offering Prayers,” a chanting of ancient Vedic mantras with accompaniment on bamboo flute, tamboura and tabla.
For the last decade of her life, Rasajna lived in Austin, Texas, with her husband Greg. Opening her home to the local devotee congregation, she held gatherings for which she would cook and do her famous dramatic readings.
She had been in good health, and so when she was diagnosed with cancer in October 2009, it came as a shock. Yet even as her health steadily decreased, say those close to her, her spirits remained strong.
Messages of concern flooded in to Rasajna from those around the world whose lives she had touched. On December 19, not much more than a week before she passed away, she wrote, “I want to express my deep gratitude for the outpouring of love and support through calls, emails, gifts and cards that I have received from so many of you around the planet. You have touched my soul and have given me strength to know how much I am loved! I am very sorry that I have not been able to talk to or see more of you personally, but I feel your support.”
It was clear where Rasajna’s mind and heart lay during her last days. “At this time I ask that your prayers be focused on helping me to have faith and courage, and to experience the highest Prema Bhakti (Love of God),” she wrote. “As you pray for me, I invite you to allow the power of divine prayer into your hearts as well and let your path to be enlightened through the medium of prayer and devotional Kirtan… May Lord Chaitanya continue to dance in my heart and may Krishna’s flute bring sweetness to my ears.”
Three days after her auspicious passing, a memorial service was held for Rasajna at her home on Thursday December 31st. For those who were not able to attend, we include a memorial of Rasajna from her Godsister Rukmini Dasi below. ISKCON News also welcomes others to recount their memories and appreciation of Rasajna in the comments section following Rukmini’s article.
By Rukmini Dasi
Every devotee will remember Rasa as someone they would wish they could emulate in so many ways. She was one of eight children, a middle daughter of a family of intellectuals—brilliant and talented people. Yet she often said that she was the ugly duckling. Beautiful Rasa, an ugly duckling? Never! And yet what a swanlike devotee she grew to become! She was an immensely talented actress [Prabhupada said she was “the best!”] with the finest sensibilities, and yet she was always kind and inclusive to everyone. Anyone who ever performed with her remembers her as a caring and wise mentor and director. She was the one who would wake the asram, walking gracefully through the still sleeping devotees, singing softly with a tamboura like a feminine goddess form of Narada. She was the one who would always want to massage the back, and the feet of her god-sisters.
She cherished Srila Prabhupada [a couple of months ago she told me that when she watched him on one of the DVDs, how his eyes were like bumblebees, as he looked around at all the devotees]. She cherished all devotees, young and old [one year she read the whole Caitanya Caritamrita over the phone with a younger devotee who needed her friendship and thrived in her care]. And she cherished service to all devotees [cooking, acting, making all exquisite arrangements for their pleasure].
Her worshipful service was always personal to the nth degree. She never told anyone in Spain that when she dressed little Radha and Krsna in the cold stone building, first she held their little clothes over a heater to warm them up. Much later in New York, during a diffcult time, little Krsna came in the dream of a fortunate godsister asking her to thank Rasa for heating up His clothes.
She was genuine, down-to-earth, with an impish sense of humor, and always, her prideless service was on the level of the sublime.
In her last days, she was crying, saying that she wasn’t really a devotee, that she had never done any service for Srila Prabhupada. Sumati and I were just shaking our heads, telling her that this is the attitude of a real devotee. Before Rasa became sick, Sumati had a dream that Prabhupada was carrying Rasa. How mystical it was that Sumati later became her caretaker, smoothing the path so that Rasa could take shelter of Srila Prabhupada without distraction. Toward the end, when Rasa hadn’t spoken in over a week, her mother and two brothers came to see her. Prabhupada on CD was chanting japa near her bed. Sumati told Rasa’s family that Rasa would be so happy if they would chant with Srila Prabhupada. They began to chant, and Rasa opened her beautiful eyes and gave them all a big smile.
She spent her final moments surrounded by dear devotee friends, their voices rasied in kirtan of Krsna’s Holy Name. Surely Srila Prabhupada is carrying her, and all of us, and carrying what we lack, back to the lotus feet of her beloved Radhe Shyam.
My eternal, loving obeisances to you, my dear sister, Rasa.
Your indebted servant,