The library of ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Research Centre (BRC) in Kolkata, West Bengal, India has been acquiring rare and precious Gaudiya Vaishnava works since it opened in June 2009. And this year it added one of its most exciting acquisitions yet to its existing library of 15,000 works.
On April 7th, 2013 BRC Director Hari Sauri Das signed an agreement with the Bhaktivinode Ghoshthi, the managing committee of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura’s birthplace at Dvadasa Mandir in Birnagar.
In the agreement the BRC agreed to help Dvadasa Mandir by cataloging and scanning all its original works by the great Vaishnava saint, who was the father of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
The BRC also agreed to properly preserve the works by de-acidifying them, and then either laminating or encapsulating them in archival mylar, a plastic-like material that is used for professional preservation of delicate works.
After this process the original works will be returned to Dvadasa Mandir, while copies will be kept at the BRC.
The BRC has already catalogued and is currently scanning the collection, which includes around twenty-five works that were either written, edited or compiled by Bhaktivinode Thakur.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur's birthsite in Birnagar
Amongst them is the never-before published Rasa Rasodaya. As with all the others, the BRC will first scan and preserve the original work.
“Then with the agreement of the Bhaktivinode Ghoshthi, we intend to translate it from the original Bengali and publish it for the pleasure of the devotees in the not-too-distant future,” Hari Sauri says.
The collection also includes a further 125 works writen by Bhaktivinode’s son Lalit Prasad Thakur, and one or two by his diksha guru, Bipin Bihari Goswami.
The acquisition would surely please Srila Prabhupada, who first asked ISKCON devotees to preserve these works back in 1972.
“I have asked Yadubara to come there to Birnagar from Bombay for photographing all of the manuscripts in the possession of Lalita Prashad Thakura page by page very completely before it is too late,” he wrote to Achyutananda. “The pages are in very decrepit condition, so best thing is to request Lalita Prashad if we may take care of them by treating them against insects and storing them in a tight, dry storage place where they may be preserved for future generations of Vaisnavas to see the actual handwriting and words of such great saintly persons.”
He added: “These items are very, very priceless and are a great treasure house of Vaisnava lore, so be very careful in the matter and take all precautions to guard them.”
While Yadubara did take photographs, which are now kept at the Bhaktivedanta Archives in North Carolina, he never completed the project.
Hari Sauri signs an agreement with the managing commitee of Bhaktivinode Thakur's birthplace
It wasn’t until early this year that Hari Sauri again came across Srila Prabhupada’s letters about Birnagar.
Eager to see the condition of the works, he visited Bhaktivinode Thakur’s birthplace, and met with Bhaktivinode Ghoshthi president Vamsidas Babaji.
Seeing the collection of original works, which were falling apart, he explained, “These works are in great danger. They’re rotting away. And in forty or fifty years time, there might not be anything left.”
Vamsidas Babaji agreed that something needed to be done. Hari Sauri showed him the BRC library in Kolkata and offered to help preserve the precious written works. And finally after presenting the plan to the other members of the Bhaktivinode Ghoshthi, Hari Sauri signed the agreement.
As well as Bhaktivinode Thakur and Lalit Prasad’s works, the BRC has made several other wonderful acquisitions within the past six months.
In December 2012, while staying at the BRC’s guesthouse, veteran Sanskrit editor Pradyumna Das discovered a battered-looking folder containing fifty pages of handwritten letters by Srila Prabhupada’s guru Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, as well as many drafts of articles he had written for The Gaudiya weekly periodical.
The folder also contained letters written by some of Bhaktisiddhanta’s leading disciples, such as Sripad Bhakti Pradipa Tirtha Maharaja, Bhakti Hridaya Bon Maharaja, and Sripada Bhaktisaranga Goswami.
Meanwhile in January of this year, with funding from India’s National Mission for Manuscripts, the BRC’s Manuscripts team visited the small village of Nayagarh in Udaypur, Orissa. There, they discovered the Dasarathi Pattanayak Library, which has a huge collection of 17,000 manuscripts and 40,000 ancient books. The team will catalog the collection, and select specific Gaudiya Vaishnava works to scan for the BRC.
Bhaktivinode Thakur's autobiography, part of the collection from Birnagar
Next, in February, the Manuscripts team visited the District of Sylhet in Northeast Bangladesh, which was part of Bengal prior to 1947 and was the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s father, Jagannath Mishra.
There, at a place called Iswara Patasala in Coomilla, they discovered a private library of 9,000 manuscripts and 60,000 books. Since none of it was catalogued, and all the works were in danger of rotting away, the team offered to catalog them and show the 87-year-old custodian there how to preserve them. He gladly accepted the offer.
“Many of our leading acharyas, such as Narottam Das Thakur, came from what is now Bangladesh,” Hari Sauri says. “So who knows what we’ll find there? There may be some very old manuscripts of Vaishnava works that we’ve not even seen or heard of before.”
The BRC has also recently made some interesting acquisitions related to our own Srila Prabhupada. In March, Hari Sauri and Jananavisa Das discovere,d in an almira in Prabhupada’s rooms in Mayapur, around twenty previously unknown postcards that had been written to him by various godbrothers between 1949 and 1950.
“We also found two original prints of the Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 1, Volume 1 and Canto 1, Volume 3,” Hari Sauri says. “We also found the famous Truth and Beauty edition of Back to Godhead from 1958, and two issues of Bhagavat Darshan, the Hindi version of Back to Godhead, from 1957.”
Staff at the BRC work on preserving ancient manuscripts
The BRC is keen to continue its manuscript location and preservation program. It aims to collect a cosmology library for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, as well asworks by Vaishnava acharyas of other Sampradayas such as Ramanuja and Madhva, and new works by ISKCON authors.
It’s also developing its publishing arm, with two imprints planned—one for devotees and the general public, and the other for scholars and academics.
As well as Bhaktivinode Thakur’s previously unpublished Rasa Rasodaya, the BRC has several other publishing projects in the pipeline.
A copy of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s personal diary dating from 1904 to 1936, which devotees previously didn’t know existed, is currently being translated and will be published later this year.
The BRC is also translating the second volume of Sarasvati Jayashri and plans to release it next spring. The first volume, which was the official biography of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, was first published in 1934. But the second volume was never published.
“It’s about 135 pages, and is virtually an autobiography of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati,” says Hari Sauri. “It’s a series of interviews with him, wherein he recalls his experiences growing up as the son of Bhaktivinode Thakur until his 18th year.”
Although it has an impressive collection of 15,000 of these kinds of precious works, the BRC is only just beginning.
“There’s a huge amount of material out there,” says Hari Sauri. “And if somebody doesn’t make the effort, we stand to lose a lot of these very valuable works. As Prabhupada noted in his letter to Achyutananda, these items are very very priceless, and they must be preserved no matter what the cost. So we’ve taken that to heart, and we’re doing our little something to preserve all these writings for future generations of Vaishnavas.”
To assist the BRC in its work by making a donation, please contact Hari Sauri at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.