for ISKCON News on Feb. 14, 2013
Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham founder Gopiparanadhana Das, who passed away in September 2011.
When Sanskrit scholar Gopiparanadhana Das passed away unexpectedly at his home in Govardhana, India on September 15th 2011, the ISKCON world was shocked.
One of the society’s first scholars, he served as an editor and translator for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in the 1970s under Srila Prabhupada, and helped complete the Srimad Bhagavatam when Prabhupada passed away.
Later, he translated and commented on other Vaishnava works published by the BBT, including Sanatan Goswami’s Krishna-lila Stava and Brihad-Bhagavatamrita. So his loss was a big blow.
But with his passing, the biggest question was what would happen to his Sanskrit school, Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham.
Established at Govardhana in 2005, the school aimed to train the younger generation of devotees to become prospective Sanskrit translators and editors for the BBT, taking into account that many veterans such as Gopiparanadhana himself where now in their twighlight years.
The school’s three-year Bhagavat-Sastri course taught not only Sanskrit grammar, spoken Sanskrit, kavya (poetry) and nyaya (logic), but also instilled in students high levels of bhakti and brahminical qualities.
Before Gopiparanadhana’s passing, between sixty and seventy-five students took the course, from a variety of countries including India, Russia, South Africa and various European countries.
On October 1st, 2011, just two weeks after his departure, a new group of twelve students were set to travel to Govardhana and begin the course. Who would run the school? Would it continue on?
Enter Matsya Avatara Das, an Australian devotee who had been Gopiparanadhana’s student since 2003, helped him develop the curriculum for the school, and been his right hand man since its inception.
Becoming the new headmaster, Matsya Avatara oversaw and continues to oversee the school’s development according to Gopiparanadhana’s vision, and to implement changes that he had been discussing just days before his passing.
One of these was to move the school from Govardhana to Vrindavana, also in the Braj area where Lord Krishna once enacted His pastimes.
“Vrindavana is a more accessible place for devotees to come and study, and there’s a wider devotee community here, which provides more spiritual support for the students,” says Matsya Avatara.
Moving from the former hospital building it had been renting at Govardhana, the school settled into two side-by-side apartment blocks near Food for Life’s Sandipani Muni school in Vrindavana, where it remains to this day.
The larger apartments are used as classrooms, a temple room, and a prasadam dining room, while the smaller ones are used as residential facilities for the students.
Students, who are all men and currently all celibate brahmachari monks, stay and study for free at the donor-funded school, which has a similar time-table to a temple or ashram. Students rise early every morning for the traditional mangal arati, darshan, and guru-puja services, attend a class on the Srimad Bhagavatam, then take three classes of the main curriculum before lunch and afternoon free time.
All students attend the morning program, including Bhagavatam class, at the school
The curriculum, which lasted three years in Gopiparandhana’s time, has since been streamlined and compressed to just two years so that it’s easier to commit to—although no essential elements have been cut.
“We’ve just pruned down some of the hard theory and kept more to the practical points,” Matsya Avatara says.
Students are taught the art of reading past acharyas’ commentaries on the Srimad-Bhagavatam and translating Sanskrit devotional texts into English. They take courses on Sanskrit Kavya (poetry) and nyaya (logic), and learn to speak Sanskrit with ease and elegance.
They take a systematic course on Srila Jiva Goswami’s masterpiece, the Sat-sandarbhas, foundational to Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy and practice.
And they master the entire grammar of the Sanskrit language, not using either modern textbooks or ancient Indian ones such as Panini’s Grammar, but rather another work by Srila Jiva Goswami—the Hari-namamrita-vyakarana.
“It’s a way to learn Sanskrit that is very devotional,” says Matsya Avatara. “All the example sentences are about Lord Krishna’s pastimes, and all the sutras that teach you grammatical principles are made up of Krishna’s names. It’s the same work that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught his Sanskrit students when he returned from Gaya after receiving initiation from his guru. It was a turning point for him, because as a result of his making everything so Krishna conscious, some of his students left him because they thought he was mad, while others became his disciples in the devotional path.”
After graduating, some Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham students have continued to stay at the school as teachers’ aids. Some have used their skills in traveling and preaching, or sharing their knowledge at their home temples. Others, such as Madana Mohana and Krishna Balarama, have been inspired to apply for sannyasa, the renounced order of life.
Meanwhile, many have joined the staff of Giriraj Publications, a division of the BBT established by Gopiparanadhana just weeks before he passed away, as editors and translators.
Located in Vrindavana in the same building as Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham, Giriraj was given permission by the BBT to posthumously publish several of Gopiparanadhana’s translations of classic Vaishnava works, so that they could be fast-tracked.
This is news that should delight devotees around the world, as is the fact that further works will be translated by students of the Sanskrit school.
First off the presses are three books from Gopiparanadhana himself.
In May 2013, Jiva Goswami’s Tattva Sandarbha, will be released. The first of six Sandarbhas, it discusses the ten pramanas, or means of ascertaining truth. It then establishes sabda-pramana (learning through authority) as the ultimate means, and the Srimad Bhagavatam as the ultimate authority.
Matsya Avatara Das teaches a class at Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham.
Next, in September 2013, we’ll see Rupa Goswami’s Laghu Bhagavatamrita. This work describes each incarnation of the Lord in detail and how they appear differently in different kalpas, or cycles. It also gives various arguments as to why Lord Krishna is considered the original Supreme form, and discusses different grades of devotees.
The last of Gopiparanadhana’s posthumous works to be published will be the second of Jiva Goswami’s Sandarbhas, Bhagavat-Sandarbha, in September 2014. This book deals with an understanding of the Absolute Truth in general, and the Brahman aspect in particular.
The remaining four Sandarbhas will be translated by Giriraj Publications staff in due course of time, including Paramatma Sandarbha and Krishna Sandarbha, which deal with the Lord’s Paramatma and Bhagavan aspects respectively.
Meanwhile, three works translated by Matsya Avatara will be released soon: Citra Kavitvani, a short collection of poetry by Rupa Goswami, will arrive in May 2013; Harinamamrta-vyakarana, Jiva Goswami’s Sanskrit grammar work taught at Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham, in January 2014; and Alankara-kaustubha, Kavi Karnapura’s textbook on Vaishnava poetry and rasa (relationships), in September 2014.
Finally, two graduates of the Sanskrit school will also release their translations of classic Vaishnava texts.
In September 2013, we’ll see the Dana-keli-kaumudi, translated by Nityananda Das. A drama by Rupa Gosvami about the Lord’s tax pastimes at Dana-ghati in Govardhana, it contains very cunning and humorous arguments between Krishna and the gopis.
And in January 2014, Govinda-damodara-stotram, translated by Prabhupada disciple Mukunda-datta Das, will be released. This is a series of verses composed by Bilvamangala Thakura about Krishna’s beautiful form and pastimes, each of which contains the refrain “govinda-damodara-madhaveti.”
In the meantime, Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham is inviting new applicants to enroll for its next Bhagavat Sastri course, which will begin on November 8th.
“We’re hoping to get more candidates from English-first language countries such as America, Canada, Australia and England this year,” says Matsya Avatara.
In the future, the school aims to move from rented accommodation into a permanent base, which staff will begin fundraising for late this year.
In the long run, Matsya Avatara feels that Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham will serve several purposes. It will, of course, train a select few to be lifelong translators and editors. It will provide ISKCON devotees with a Vaishnava method of academic scriptural study, rather than the critical, skeptic mood encouraged by Indologists at modern universities. It will provide ISKCON with scholars who can engage with Western academics or scholars from other sampradayas in India. And it will create a generally deeper level of learning in ISKCON.
“Being able to read the acharyas’ commentaries is very helpful for preparing classes or giving seminars, and opens up a lot of information that can enhance the devotional experience,” Matsya Avatara says.
“You always get a deeper understanding by reading a work in its original form,” he adds. “There’s a lot hidden away in the Sanskrit language.”
To donate towards a permanent building for Srimad-Bhagavat Vidyapitham, or to enroll for the next Bhagavat-Sastri course at the school, please contact Matsya Avatara Das at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for enrollment applications is November 1st, 2013.