for ISKCON News on Nov. 13, 2010
A new series of books by Sivarama Swami, called Nava Vraja Mahima or, literally, “The Glories of New Vraja Dhama,” will feature a high quantity of top-notch original drawings by ISKCON artists. The series, which is set to be released mid 2012, will be that largest book yet written by Sivarama Swami exceeding 4000 pages.
Of course, the Swami is no stranger to epic spiritual writing projects: released between 1999 and 2007, his Krishna in Vrindavana series, including Suddha-bhakti-chintamani, Venu-gita, Na Paraye ‘Ham, and Krsna-sangati, was exteremely popular amongst devotees around the world. Also featuring original detailed line drawings, the books wove stories of Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana with the commentaries of previous acharyas to inspiring effect.
Nava Vraja Mahima, which Sivarama Swami began work on in 2006, embodies the same spirit as “Krishna in Vrindavana.” Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not a continuation of that earlier offering, but rather an entirely original and unique work.
The series will discuss how the original Vraja Dhama, the sacred place of Lord Krishna’s birth in Vrindavana, India, manifested itself in New Vraja Dhama, ISKCON Hungary’s famous sustainable farm community. For through the work of Vaishnavas, even an unexceptional material location—like the sheeprun New Vraja Dhama once was—can be transformed into a holy place.
The books will explore the sacred sites of Krishna’s pastimes in the original Vraja, and their corresponding recreations in New Vraja Dhama, as well as the pastimes themselves, which also have manifested in New Vraja Dhama in their own way.
Nava Vraja Mahima includes descriptions of nearly 1,000 holy places of Radha and Krishna’s pastimes, with corresponding parikrama (pilgrimage) maps. It also contains pastimes of Krishna never before appearing in an ISKCON-related publication, and the maps show several forgotten pastime sites, the knowledge of which was never recorded on paper but simply passed down through Brijbasi oral tradition. The publishers hope these books will be an irreplaceable resource for generations of Vaishnavas to come.
The series is split into two parts—the first is written in three-line stanzas, while the second is in prose. Altogether, there will be six books, with 700 pages each—meaning the whole work will run to an impressive 4,200 pages. The entire work will be released at once, with the English version coming in December 2012, and the Hungarian one in 2013.
One of the series’ most standout features, however, will be its illustrations. A team of four artists have been working in ISKCON Hungary’s Radhe-Shyama Art Studio full-time for the past three years and have created 320 illustrations so far, with a further 100 on the way.
The book’s art director, Akrishna Dasa, studied at the Hungarian University of Craft and Design, and has designed some small publications previously, although this is his first project of this magnitude.
“We work almost seven days a week, ten hours a day,” he says. “When Sivarama Swami finishes a chapter, he immediately sends it—whether it’s day or night—to editors Keshava Bharati Swami and Achyuta Prabhu, as well as to myself. I then read the chapter and think about the topics we can illustrate—there are fifteen to twenty illustrations per chapter. Next, I discuss these ideas with Sivarama Swami, and myself and the other artists do some sketches. We show these to Sivarama Swami, discuss them some more and analayse them to make sure they bring across the desired message. Finally, if a sketch is accepted, we create the illustration with Maharaja’s additional supervision.”
Akrishna Dasa, a disciple of Sivarama Swami, says that he is the best teacher, the best father, and the best well-wisher, but the heaviest boss.
“This book is his life’s work, written for the pleasure of his beloved spiritual father Srila Prabhupada and describing the glories of his worshipable Radhe Shyam,” he says. “So he has very high expectations. Krishna has to be depicted perfectly. Every illustration is created very carefully, down to the tiniest detail. Sivarama Swami even checks every single drawing himself, particulary if it depicts Radha and Krishna.”
This attention to detail spreads to every aspect of the illustrations. “We talk a lot about everything, and try to make accurate illustrations of the spiritual world,” Akrishna says. “Figures are drawn according to the descriptions in the scriptures. And structures, such as the palace at Radharani’s birthplace Varshana, are too, with as much detail as if we were going to build them in reality. Sometimes we plan an illustration for months.”
The style of the illustrations is also very unique. “They will be realistic, black and white drawings, but in the book you will see them in sepia and white,” Akrishna explains. “The idea behind this is that here in the material world, we only have three primary colors, but in the spiritual world there are endless colors—every day a new color is created for the pleasure of Radhe-Shyama. So rather than try to imitate that magnificently colorful spiritual world, we are attempting to express those unlimited colors in magical black and white, so as not to put any limitations on the viewer’s imagination.”
For the book’s many pilgrimage maps, Akrishna and the other artists will have to work in collaboration with Sanskrit editors. The books’ covers, meanwhile, will be made from artificial leather, with the title in raised golden print, and will be richly decorated and ‘beautiful as a treasure box.’
Despite all the hard work involved in the project, Akrishna says he would never exchange it all for anything, and would ‘give his right arm’ to work with Sivarama Swami.
“It’s a great honor to be a part of this wonderful project, and I am learning so much and gaining so much experience,” he explains. “What’s more, the continuous, intensive association with the pastimes of Radha and Krishna has completely taken over our consciousness. I think I can speak for all the artists when I say that now we dream of the Lord’s face almost every night!”
With its matchless transcendental content accompanied by a marvelous and uncommon design, Nava Vraja Mahima is set to become a spiritual classic.
“In my humble opinion, this book awakens our attraction to a spiritual pilgrimage within our hearts, and brings us closer to Radhe Shyama and their beautiful pastimes,” Akrishna says. “And with the guidance of the parikrama maps, we can take a spiritual pilgrimage in real life too, discovering the most sweet and secret, nearly forgotten sacred places in Vraja Dhama.”
Nava Vraja Mahima will be available from the Hungarian Publisher LAL in December 2012.For more information please visit: