About 40 years ago, a German woman came to India as a tourist, studied the ancient religious texts and was so illuminated by the spiritual way of life that she decided to stay here forever.
A Krishna devotee and lover of cows, she is also popularly known as ‘gau mata ki aashraydaatri’ and for her extraordinary efforts towards the welfare of animals, she has been conferred with India’s fourth highest civilian honour-Padma Shri.
She is not a saffron-clad woman who practices violence in the name of animals or colors. Even though cows are a part of Indian politics for a long time now, but only if these humble animals could speak, they would have certainly said, “not in my name.”
In a heart-warming conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, this 61-year-old German gau-rakshak, Friederike Irina Bruening, who is fondly known as Sudevi Mataji speaks her heart out about being intrigued by Indian traditions, religious texts, being the mother of a cow family in Mathura and finding a purpose in life through spirituality.
Ancient texts have always been known to etch morals into our consciousness, and if you have access to this knowledge as a child, then it is no less than finding the treasure trove of your life early.
How a Tourist became a Gau rakshak?
Born and brought up in Dublin, Germany, Friederike always wanted to travel the world and learn about spirituality. It was in 1978, when she landed in India with her family after completing her studies in Berlin and fell so much in love with the ancient traditions and cultures, that she stayed here forever.
“This country is known for its age-old culture and traditions and I believed that you need a Guru to move forward in the right direction and so I was searching for one in Mathura’s Radha Kund,” she says.
She came across Bhagavad Gita and got very much influenced by this ancient text. “Great gurus have resided in India, their teachings, Upanishads, traditions, the temples built here, everything is incredible about this country. People should consider themselves lucky to have access to this knowledge even as small children without having to search for it.”
It was during her stay in Mathura that a neighbor asked her to buy a cow which transformed her life completely. She taught herself Hindi, read more about these humble animals and in 2004, she started “Surabhi Gauseva Niketan” in Radha Kund, Mathura, which is now home to 1800 sick, injured, ill-treated and abandoned cows and calves.
How we treat Animals reflect Humanity
Previously, we talked about how Mumbai’s Roxanne Davur assists 82 dogs, 35 cats, 4 ponies, a pig, a horse, and a donkey, along with just five caretakers. Like her, Friederike has been a mother to these abandoned cows for the past 40 years now. Today, 90 workers at the gaushala help her to take care of these animals efficiently.
Spread across 3,300 square yards, this gaushala is divided in such a manner that she can monitor the injured cows and the ones who need special care in an effective manner. But due to the increasing cow population in her gaushala, it is becoming difficult for her to take care of the cows. “We do not have sufficient accommodation now, but if we see an abandoned cow, we take her in, we cannot refuse them, it is their home,” she says.
Not just that, this gaushala also runs morning to evening emergency ambulance service, that goes out whenever notified about injured or abandoned cows. Every month she needs about 22 lakhs to feed these animals, for their medicines and treatment and to pay these workers.
On asking why she cannot take Indian nationality, Friederike says, that she will lose rental income from Berlin if she does that. “My father was working in German Embassy in India. My parents have helped me with the finances to run this gaushala, rest I fund it somehow. My mother has passed away and I go to Berlin to visit my father once a year.”
About the animal sacrifices in Indian tradition and consuming non-veg food items, she says, “Anything that contains a trace of violence, fear and hatred are bad for health, so I don’t believe in killing animals to satisfy our hunger. I believe food has a huge impact on our lives. There are known to be three categories in food: sattva (pure and light), rajas ( active and passionate ) and tamas (heavy, gross and violent) – meat falls into tamas and I think we are what we eat.”
Humanity would have certainly changed if instead of material value, consciousness is regarded as the highest value. “I like it here because of my inclination towards the spiritual life, which seems to be easier here and the surroundings more conductive than anywhere else in the world,” says Friederike.
What you can do
“People are carried away by greed and selfishness most of the time and it makes us human to have compassion and empathy, otherwise, we are not more than animals. Selflessly helping people is the only way to move forward in life, I believe it is God’s work,” believes Friederike.
Because of the increasing cow population, she is finding it difficult to accommodate these humble animals and therefore, she has to send them to nearby gaushalas at times. “I don’t earn so whatever funds I receive get exhausted fast and it will be very kind of people or organizations to come forward to help us,” she concludes.