(*Click on photo to see a larger image of Srila Prabhupada and Kaliya the cow.)
In 1976, when Srila Prabhupada visited New Vrindaban for the last time, the community was caring for four working teams of oxen and over 150 cows. A new barn had been erected in Bahulaban, and Prabhupada visited it to see the cows and four new-born calves. He let one of them lick his hand as a devotee told him how the cows were yielding about 120 gallons of milk every day, which they were turning into ghee, cheese and buttermilk. Prabhupada was pleased.
But there was one cow he still hadn’t seen. Kaliya, now fourteen years old, was the retired matriarch of New Vrindaban’s herd. She had given birth to eight calves herself, and up until the previous year, had still been producing about six gallons of milk a day for the Lord and the devotees -- despite having maladies common to aging cows of her breed, such as blindness in one eye and respiratory problems.
Writing in Brijbasi Spirit magazine, cowherd Amburish Das described how Kaliya -- the smallest cow in New Vrindaban at 800 pounds -- never pushed and shoved to eat grain as the other cows did, but stood patiently waiting her turn. “There may be some mild cows, but Mother Kaliya is even more than mild -- she is a devotee,” he said. “Her humility is unmatched.”
This rare soul was finally reunited with Srila Prabhupada after seven years in a meeting that left an indelible mark in the minds and hearts of those who witnessed it.
Towards the end of his visit, Prabhupada walked with a large group of devotees to go see Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Nath in the farmhouse temple at the old Vrindaban farm, where Kaliya resided. It was a beautiful morning, the rays of the rising sun shining hazily through a light mist.
As Prabhupada rounded a curve and spotted the Vrindaban farmhouse in the distance, one of the devotees, Advaitacarya Das, pointed to a small herd of cows far up at the top of “Govardhana Hill,” which rose to their left. “Srila Prabhupada, look!” he said. “There’s Kaliya. She’s our first cow. You used to drink her milk.”
Suddenly, as Prabhupada looked up at her, Kaliya broke away from her herd and made her way alone down the steep bank. Matching the devotees’ pace, she stepped out right in front of Srila Prabhupada, and began walking with him as if she were his pet calf.
“Ah,” Srila Prabhupada said simply. “My dear old friend Kaliya.”
She continued to walk with him for some time, a quiet connection hanging between them that the devotees all felt. Then, finally Kaliya picked up her pace and disappeared over the horizon.
“For me, it was a mystical experience,” says Advaita. “Srila Prabhupada was always preaching that we’re all trying to get to Vrindavana, where Krishna and his cowherd boy friends are eternally playing and taking care of the cows. And to see Kaliya come down the hill and walk with him like that just made it all very real.”