for ISKCON News on Jan. 28, 2012
The library catalog of the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre (BRC) in Kolkata, India—which opened in June 2009 and aims to be an easily accessible resource of all Gaudiya Vaishnava literature—has expanded from 3,500 titles in October 2010 to an amazing 15,000 works today.
Naturally, these include all ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s books, and an expanding library of works by his successors. There are also all the major Puranas and Vedas, as well as some commentaries by Madhva and Ramanuja Acharyas.
However, the library also includes 2,500 works procured last year from the collection of Sri Sundarananda Vidyavinoda, one of the main scholar disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s guru.
“The collection contains nearly all the major works by acharyas in the Gaudiya Vaishnava line all the way back to the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, including most of the works by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and his father and guru Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura,” explains BRC Director Hari Sauri Dasa.
Bringing the library up to 15,000 titles is the personal collection of librarian Achyuta Dasa, which is currently on loan to the BRC. This comprises about 11,000 works on a vast variety of Vedic related topics, ranging from kirtan, to Jagannatha Puri, to 118 different versions of the Vedanta Sutra.
“Rounding out our collection are over 400 manuscripts in digital format—and we have an active program to gather many more,” says Hari Sauri.
The BRC has also lately acquired many rare and unique items—treasures of the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage. There’s a recently discovered book containing newsclippings from the 1870s of newspaper articles and poems written by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, along with a handwritten note by the Thakura. There’s a complete set of all the astronomical works published by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura—works that can’t be found even in the National Library of India. And there are two copies of the unpublished second volume of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's biography, “Sarasvati Jaysri.”
The BRC also holds an original 1896 print of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s “Life and Precepts of Lord Chaitanya,” as well as a handwritten list of the final wishes of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati recorded on December 31st 1936 at 10:30am, including his instruction to form a GBC (Governing Body Comission) for his society.
A dynamic institution, the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre isn’t stopping there. It has an active Misson for Manuscripts arm which locates and photographs or collects old manuscripts. All of which, of course, must be kept with extreme care.
“This year, we are beginning to start a special lamination technique for preserving the very old books,” Hari Sauri says. “This, as well as keeping them in a strict climate controlled atmosphere, will preserve and protect them for at least fifty to one hundred years. We can also burn the digital images of manuscripts onto metal plates locally in Kolkata for a reasonable cost. And of course, digitizing everything will help because dissemination is the best way to preserve anything.”
The BRC’s mission is one close to the heart of Srila Prabhupada, who in August 1976 requested a similar research library to be established in Mumbai’s Juhu Beach temple. Although the project never happened, the idea was reborn when Swedish ISKCON scholar Pranava Dasa realized, while doing his PhD research on Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, that there was no single place where all the works of the Vaishnava acharyas could be located and accessed.
Meanwhile, leaders of the monumental Temple of the Vedic Planetarium project at ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal, saw the need for a library to support its cosmological presentations. And so, devotees began to search for a suitable home for the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre.
In 2000, ISKCON supporters Mr. MC Shamsukha and his wife Geeta Mukherjee donated a five-storey building for exactly that purpose in south central Kolkata, twenty minutes’ taxi drive from the ISKCON Kolkata temple, and not too far from Mayapur.
Today, the building features a 1,000 square-foot temple and meeting hall, and a 1,000 square foot library, run by a host of skilled and scholarly devotees. As well as director Hari Sauri Dasa, who acted as Srila Prabhupada’s personal servant for many years and wrote a series of acclaimed books on his experiences, there’s Pranava Dasa as Academic Director, and Krsnaabhishek Dasa, who is a professor at Chicago University and is doing his doctoral thesis on Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as Academic Assistant.
Those benefitting from the BRC are also scholars and students, whom the Centre is attempting to accommodate as much as possible, with its two storey ‘Gita Bhavan’ guest house. The facility allows devotees to study and stay at the same location at a reasonable price, and it’s comfortable too—the seven double rooms are equipped with attached bathrooms, air conditioning and broadband wifi.
“We have had at least six PhD candidates stay with us this year even though we are still in our setup stage,” Hari Sauri says. “By the end of this year the library will be fully functional, offering various services through the Internet and locally such as locating rare books and supplying either physical or digital copies to clients.”
Eventually, all the BRC’s books will be digitized and made available online for researchers and students. Already, the website, www.brcindia.com, is set to officially launch this February.
Other exciting developments are also on the way. The Centre expects to publish the personal diary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, which Pranava Dasa is currently working on, by November of this year. Its Mission for Manuscripts wing will stay busy, visiting temples in Jaipur, Vrindavana, and Bangladesh to search for rare manuscripts, and soon set to acquire a unique private collection dating back around 140 years.
Staff will also be building a complete library of Vedic cosmological and astronomical works to be used to provide the necessary authenticity for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
Fundraising for top quality equipment is also on the cards. Traditional flat-bed scanners are not suitable for the BRC’s work because they entail too much human handling and damage the spines of the books. Hari Sauri, therefore, is currently attempting to raise seven lakhs rupees or US $13,500 for a professional book scanner with a V-cradle, which will be used to scan rare and delicate works without damaging them.
“We’re excited about creating a facility that is completely unique, not just in ISKCON, but throughout the Vaishnava world,” he says. “We are building something substantial that will benefit generations of Vaishnavas for many years to come. By preserving our past we guarantee our future.”
He adds, “We feel that Srila Prabhupada is very pleased with this endeavor and is giving his blessings by allowing us to create this unique facility in a short space of time. We invite Vaishnavas everywhere to join with us and help support and develop this facility. It is open to everyone from every Vaishnava community, as well as academics and students wishing to do serious research.”