While the enlightening books of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada have been available in English for many years, dedicated servants in far flung corners of the world continue to translate his works into their native languages, despite busy family lives and professional careers.
Nandapriya Das, an oncologist at one of Scandinavia’s largest hospitals, spends his spare time translating Srila Prabhupada’s books into the language of his native Georgia, a Eurasian country formerly part of the Soviet Union.
“I joined ISKCON in 1985, when Krishna consciousness was illegal in Georgia,” he says. “I was looking for spirituality at a time when believers were outcasts. And I found my answers in Prabhupada’s books. They completely convinced me. And since then, I’ve always been serving his books—all the most ecstatic spiritual experiences in my life have been related to his books.”
When devotees discovered that Nandapriya was highly educated and had a university degree, they immediately asked him to translate Prabhupada’s books into Georgian.
Although he could speak English, Nandapriya wasn’t fluent and had never thought about translating anything in his life. He didn’t feel qualified to do it.
But Krishna set him on his path when he spoke to one of his father’s friends, a prominent philologist. Although a strict Christian, the language expert offered to help him translate one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, advising him that this would be the best way to become more fluent in English.
With his friend’s help, Nandapriya improved quickly.
“I pounded away on an ancient typewriter all day long,” he recalls. “It made so much noise that it drove my mother crazy.”
By 1988, Nandapriya had published Easy Journey to Other Planets himself underground. But it was in 1990, when he moved to the BBT’s European headquarters at Korsnas Gard in Sweden, that things really picked up.
There, a small group of devotees consisting of Nandapriya, his wife Narayani Dasi, Deva Mata Dasi, Archa-Vigraha Dasi and later Muktihetu Dasi and Rasarani Dasi translated, edited and produced many of Srila Prabhupada’s books in just three years.
These included Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Science of Self Realization, the first three cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam and many others.
By 1996, they had also translated, but not published, the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Although economic instability and an increase in Orthodox Christianity following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 made Srila Prabhupada’s less hugely popular in Georgia than in nearby Russia, they were still well received.
But in 1996, the Georgian group at BBT Sweden disbanded. Some started families, and had to find ways to support themselves.
Moving to Denmark, Nandapriya Das returned to his profession as a cancer specialist, and became well-respected in medical circles.
But he could never forget Srila Prabhupada’s books. In 2004, he began translating the remaining books with the help of a sympathetic professional philologist and a couple of other devotees, all busy family people.
“I’m in extreme demand at the hospital,” Nandapriya says. “Sometimes I work double shifts, sixteen hours in a row, and get only four or five hours sleep in the whole day. And when I get home, I have three kids and so many responsibilities waiting for me there too. So I work on Srila Prabhupada’s books on my commute to and from work. I take the train, open up my computer, and translate for at least one hour every day.”
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Nandapriya is currently translating the Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, the only major work by Srila Prabhupada not yet translated into Georgian. With Adi-lila Part 2 nearly completed, he’s finished the most challenging part of the text and expects to complete the rest of the work quickly.
But he and the other Georgian devotees working part time on BBT books are also re-editing some books which have been translated but not yet published, such as the Srimad Bhagavatam Cantos four to twelve; and many other books that have already been published.
“In the early days, we worked to produce books very quickly—not just in Georgian, but in all languages including English,” Nandapriya says. “Later, when we had matured, we looked back on the books and found that the quality had suffered and the books needed to be re-edited.”
With no full-time BBT staff in Georgia, Nandapriya doesn’t know when re-editing of the books will be completed, nor exactly when the Chaitanya Charitamrita and the remainder of the Srimad-Bhagavatam will be published.
What he does know is that when they are completed—as they undoubtedly will be—all the effort put into them will ensure translations of the highest quality. And there will be a solid audience for them in today’s reformed, more peaceful Georgia.
“I hope that Krishna gives me the opportunity to use my retired years to finalize the books,” Nandapriya says. “There are two Bhagavatas—the person Bhagavata, and the book Bhagavata. And I am the servant of both. This is my life. I want to do everything I can to make Srila Prabhupada’s books available.”