Bhaktivedanta Research Centre Saves Rare Literary Treasures

By Madhava Smullen on 22 Oct 2010
With over a year under its belt since its inauguration on June 30th 2009, the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre (BRC) in Kolkata, India—which aims to carry all existing Gaudiya Vaishnava literature—has made some major progress and some exciting new acquisitions.

Bhaktivedanta ArchivesWith over a year under its belt since its inauguration on June 30th 2009, the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre (BRC) in Kolkata, India—which aims to carry all existing Gaudiya Vaishnava literature—has made some major progress and some exciting new acquisitions.

The library already carries nearly 3,500 titles, including all ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s English language books, twenty-five per cent of the foreign language editions of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, all the major Puranas and Vedas, and some commentaries by Madhva and Ramanuja Acharyas.

But now it’s just received an exciting donation from His Holiness Bodhayan Maharaja—current leader of the Sri Gopinatha Gaudiya Math—consisting of over 2,500 items from the private collection of Sri Sundarananda Vidyavinoda. A Sanskrit professor, disciple and leading editor of Gaudiya Math founder Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, Vidyavinoda was responsible for the publishing of the ‘Gaudiya,’ the monthly publication of the Gaudiya Mission.

BRC staff were thrilled to find some rare, out of print treasures amongst his collection. There was an original print of Bange Samajikata, the first book written by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1899. There was an edition of the Padma Purana in Sanskrit by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s father and guru. There were samples of the handwriting of both Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. And there was a hand-written copy of the Madhya-lila of Sri Chaitanya Caritamrita—a book on the life of Gaudiya Vaishnavism founder Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—dating back almost 400 years.

Perhaps most astonishing of all, however, was a copy made by Vidyavinode of the personal diary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, now in the process of being published.

“Bodhayan Maharaja’s donation was made possible through six years of negotiation by our Academic Director Pranava Dasa from Sweden, who was researching the life and works of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura,” says BRC Director Hari Sauri Dasa. “There are still many documents, correspondence and other loose records that are yet to be detailed, but the whole collection is one of the most valuable finds we could hope for.”

Many of the books in Sundarananda Vidyavinoda’s collection are nearing one hundred years old, and were caught in the nick of time before being destroyed by bugs and neglect. The BRC staff manage their manuscripts with a high level of professional care—they have just completed cataloguing all of the Sanskrit, Bengali, English and Telegu books in the MSExcel format, as well as individually cleaning every book by hand. They are now in the process of fumigating them before placing them on the library shelves.

As well as acquiring ancient titles, the BRC is also steadily adding to its Vedic cosmology section and is building up its stock of current Gaudiya Vaisnava authors—Bhanu Swami, Bhakti Vikas Swami, Gopiparanadhana Dasa, and Hari-sauri Dasa have all donated sets of their publications for the library.

“The BRC is actually the culmination of a project going back to Srila Prabhupada himself,” Hari Sauri explains. “As early as 1972, he instructed his disciples to make film records of the writings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura at Bir Nagar, to preserve them for future generations of Vaishnavas. Then in correspondence with Yadubara and Achyutananda Prabhus, he expressed a strong desire to preserve the ancient manuscripts and writings of our previous Acharyas. In 1975, Prabhupada discussed the possibility of opening a Vedic university in Mayapur with one of his early Phd. disciples, Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, a preliminary requisite of which would be a first-class library.”

In 1977, shortly before his departure, Srila Prabhupada began a strong push to start his biggest and boldest project, the Mayapur Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP). This was to feature a state-of-the-art planetarium along with other exhibits, as well as a comprehensive library containing all the works on Puranic and Siddhantic cosmography and astronomy.

Now, in 2010, the TOVP is finally under construction and is expecting to open its doors in 2016. And the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre in nearby Kolkata is the perfect accompanying library.

It’s also very convenient for researchers and Mayapur-based or visiting devotes, as it offers the unique combination of a library and guest house facility.

“Our Gita Bhavan guest house affords students and scholars the opportunity to stay in comfort and fully utilize the library facilities,” says Hari Sauri. “This year we have hosted a number of researchers and scholars such as Dr. Edith Best (Urmila Dasi), founder of Padma books; Yadunandana Swami, Principle of the Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium; and Dr. Kenneth Valpey (Krishna Ksetra Dasa), who is doing research for a translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam to be published by Columbia University Press.”

Looking to the future, the BRC currently has librarian Bharati Roy compiling a list of books written by previous Gaudiya Vaisnava acharyas, beginning from the Six Goswamis to Srila Prabhupada. Its next task is to ensure a complete collection of these works on the shelves and computers of the BRC.

“We aim to digitize all our books and make them available online via our webpage,” Hari Sauri says. “Although the website is still under construction, we are working with Indian library software NewGenLib to create a complete digital library. We firmly believe that dissemination is the best way of preservation.”

Many of the BRC’s titles have already been digitized, and the work will be ongoing for many years. Although the Centre only has one small book scanner at present, more powerful, automated machines will be added to its library facility as more funding is received.

In accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s expressed desire from 1972, the BRC also intends to start a manuscript retrieval and preservation project. Its target are the many thousands of old manuscripts lying neglected and forgotten in small libraries, temples and homes throughout Bengal, Bangladesh, Orissa and other centers of Gaudiya Vaisnavism such as Jaipur.

“Srila Prabhupada referred to these manuscripts as a ‘treasure house of Vaisnava lore,’ and unless something active is done, it is likely that vast and lasting damage will be done to this historical body of literature,” Hari Sauri says. “But it is not yet too late to rescue them, and the BRC would like to play its part.”

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