Sometimes when we see a need, the solution is to step forward and fulfill it ourselves.
This is what Arjun Bhattacharyya, a young devotee known in ISKCON as a photographer and assistant to Deena Bandhu Das, realized when he decided to volunteer his own time to add the original Bengali script that had been missing from the digital version of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
The service meant a lot to Arjun personally.
“I am born and brought up in Kolkata,” he explains. “So Bengali is my mother language. When I was in high school, I had to study the history of Bengali literature for two years. In our study course, there was some of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita and other Vaishnava literature, as those are the pillars of our modern Bengali language.”
When Arjun came to ISKCON in 2008, he had just finished college and didn’t have the money to buy a physical set of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita books. Upon discovering that Srila Prabhupada’s entire literary output was available online at the BBT-authorized https://vedabase.io/en/, he felt elated at the prospect of being able to study Sri Caitanya-caritamrita without having to purchase and carry around the heavy books.
To his dismay, however, there was no Bengali script above the English transliteration for each verse online, as in the print books.
“As Sri Caitanya-caritamrita is in my own mother language, it is extremely difficult for me to read the English transliteration,” Arjun says. “We all know that the verses of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita are filled with nectar, and that it is the sweetest literary work on earth. But without reading the original Bengali, I couldn’t relish it. So I stopped reading altogether, hoping that ‘someday’ ‘someone’ would surely bring the Bengali script online.”
Arjun explains that the Bengali script available to the BBT is in a legacy font which was used many years ago, and is not currently supported by the Internet or handheld devices. While the legacy Devanagari fonts in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita were converted to modern Unicode Devanagari fonts for web display and devices, a similar conversion was never done for the Bengali fonts.
After waiting for ten years, Arjun says, “One day I told myself, that ‘someone’ has to be me.”
Arjun contacted Ekanatha Das, who is in charge of the Bhaktivedanta Archives and Vedabase software, and Ekanatha provided him with the entire Bengali script for the Caitanya-caritamrita in the legacy font.
“At the time, I was a software developer and was working for a prestigious company in Detroit,” Arjun says. “So I thought of using my software skill and making a conversion program which would convert the entire document in one go. My friend Sudhir Chandekar and I worked hard to develop a software program for the conversion. We learned about the mapping of legacy fonts to Unicode fonts and we had almost done it. Then one day Sudhir told me that his computer had crashed. That ended our months of hard work.”
But Arjun didn’t lose hope. With the help of an already available digitized version of the first seven chapters of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila on the e-Bangla-Library website, he began editing the script to match the printed BBT version.
Vedabase online developer Prahlad-nrsimha Das then enabled Arjun to add the Bengali script for the first three chapters of Adi-lila to the Vedabase website on May 21st, 2019.
Continuing his work, Arjun used Google Doc’s OCR facility to read the scanned copy from the printed Caitanya-caritamrita and edit it. For some verses, when there weren’t good results from Google Docs, he had to type the entire script using Bengali typing software.
Helping with editing work was Bengali devotee Somnath Nandy. “He did an excellent job,” Arjun says. “I’m very grateful to him for all the tireless help that he provided unconditionally.”
Since Arjun is a volunteer, other work often took priority over the next several months. However, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, he was able to resume the work seriously. Finally, on October 11th, 2020, during the sacred month of Purushottam, he completed and published the Bengali script for all 17 chapters of Adi-lila.
Arjun says that the response was overwhelming and surprising. “I thought nobody would be interested other than my Bengali friends,” he says. “When I finished the entire Adi-Lila and made a Facebook announcement recently, I was shocked by the amount of good wishes and encouragement, mostly from people I don’t even know and those who don’t know Bengali. A few devotees even called me up asking how they can contribute, although Bengali is not their mother language.”
The first verse of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita on Vedabase.io shows Arjun's Bengali script work.
Arjun plans to start working on the Bengali script for Madhya-lila after Kartik this year, and hopes to finish within six months’ time. Then he will go on to Antya-lila, the final part, completing an important service for many people.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Arjun explains, is not only a valuable scripture for Gaudiya Vaishnavas but also a pillar of the history of Bengali literature. What’s more, Bengali is the native language for 230 million people worldwide.
“Bringing this work to the digital platform will benefit not only devotees, but also students of Bengali literature, historians, and literary scholars,” Arjun says.
His service is also sure to please Srila Prabhupada and the previous acharyas. In his purport to Sri Caitanya-caritamrita Adi-Lila 8:39, Prabhupada writes, “If one reads the original Caitanya-caritamrta in Bengali he will relish increasing ecstasy in devotional service.” And Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura said, “The time will come when the people of the world will learn Bengali to read Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.”
Hoping to serve that vision, Arjun Bhattacharyya says, “For the people who love Bengali and who can read Bengali, this will enable them to read the entire Sri Caitanya-caritamrita in Bengali online. And for those who don’t read Bengali, it’ll enable them to easily learn the script by looking at the English transliteration.”
He concludes: “The entire work of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita is done by Srila Prabhupada himself, and it feels great to be a part of its publication. Back in 1975, Srila Prabhupada told Ramesvara Prabhu that he would personally take everyone who served in the famous effort to produce seventeen volumes of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita in just two months back home, back to Godhead. A group of devotees made that possible. Somehow, I also hope to please Srila Prabhupada through this tiny service of bringing the Bengali script online.”
Read the Bengali script in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita here: https://vedabase.io/en/library/cc/
(Click on the text numbers to see the script)