“Death is not extinguishing the light;
it is putting out the lamp
because the dawn has come.”
Janavi Held, also known as Sri Jahnavi Devi Dasi, left behind an eclectic collection of work spanning across various mediums of expression, including artistic photography, cinematography, essays, short stories, digital art, and especially, poetry. Her voluminous literary oeuvre consists of over four thousand poems, which will be curated for a series of anthologies.
Perhaps most remarkable about this artist is the beautifully poignant manner in which her later work chronicles the tension she felt between her own vibrant, spiritual core, and the deteriorating body which encased it. Despite having unexpectedly fallen ill at the age of forty-six—just as her bourgeoning career as a writer and professional photographer was peaking—Janavi processed the intense physical pain that characterized her illness through her artistry, and, especially, through her heartfelt faith in the ancient Bhakti tradition she adopted early in life.
Janavi was first drawn to the spiritual practices of the Bhakti Yoga tradition at nineteen while attending Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Shortly after, she dedicated herself to her spiritual practice in earnest by moving into an ashrama in Denver. Having come from a family of publishers and writers, Janavi dedicated herself to the study and distribution of literature on vaishnava philosophy. Later, Janavi graduated with honors from Goddard College (2005-2009) where she studied poetry, photography, dance and media.
Originally born, Judith, she first began writing poetry and wandering around with her father’s camera as a child in New York. Later, her spiritual father, Hridayananda Das Goswami, bestowed the name Sri Janavi Dasi upon her, as per the Bhakti yoga lineage tradition.
In August of 2017, Janavi’s deep immersion into her Bhakti Yoga practice took the shape of her publishing debut, with Letters to My Oldest Friend (Krishna West Press, August, 2017), a book of both poetry and the author’s original monochromatic nature photography.
According to author Joshua Green, the book echoes of ancient Hindu love mystics like Mirabai and Chandidas, for her elegant verses “chronicle the arrhythmia of a heart in love with Divinity…. [as] she gently cautions that we are victims of speeding postmodernism at risk of losing of souls, and that we will find the tools of our salvation in the quiet, unassuming details of everyday life. Here is a much needed roadmap to our inner geography, chartered by a gifted voice of conscience and our own better selves.”
Shortly after publishing her first book, two of Janavi’s poems were shortlisted for the prestigious Hamilton House International Poetry Prize awarded by the University Centre Grimsby. As such, she became one of 25 writers—out of thousands—whose poems appeared in the annual Hammond House poetry anthology, appropriately titled Eternal. That same year, Janavi became a leading contributor to Bhakti Blossoms: A Collection of Contemporary Vaishnavi Poetry. The following year (2018) her devotional poetry appeared in Goddess: When She Rules.
In the last two years leading up to her departure, Janavi received personal and caring spiritual mentoring and inspiration from her spiritual father, while working on a moving series of digital, self-portrait collages and poems.
In this final autobiographical body of work Janavi gave a voice to the usually intangible space between life and death, and the potential contained within it for powerful spiritual transformations. Bedridden and challenged by a relentless and incurable illness, she bravely turned her own faith and creative process into comforting death doulas, powerfully ushering her deeper and deeper into the divine, to finally meet the subject of her book: her “Oldest Friend”.
The “Oldest Friend” of whom Janavi speaks is Lord Krishna—the divine cowherd depicted in the ancient Sanskrit texts of India—who lovingly frolics in fields full of cows, bees, flowers and butterflies with his divine older brother Balarama. Over the last year of her life, Janavi made these divine brothers her whole meditation, and engaged sweet butterfly metaphors to describe herself in her poems and artwork. Then, on December 8, 2018, Janavi finally emerged from her physical cocoon to fly into eternity.