December 18, 2012

HG Pradyumna Prabhu Helps Identify Important Documents

We were graced for several days in December 2012 by the presence of Sriman Pradyumna prabhu, Srila Prabhupada’s Sanskrit editor since 1968. Pradyumna prabhu traveled with Srila Prabhupada more than any other disciple and is probably the foremost scholar on Gaudiya Vaisnava literature in the world today.

He spent considerable time in the library, offering much useful advice and information. However his most exciting contribution was his discovery of a rather battered-looking folder containing some hand written letters and drafts of articles from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura as well as some letters written by some leading disciples such as Sripad Bhakti Pradipa Tirtha Maharaja, Bhakti Hrdaya Bon Maharaja, Sripada Bhaktisaranga Goswami, and others.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati signed his letters [above] “Nityashirvadaka Siddhanta Sarasvati,” i.e., “Your ever-wellwisher” [nitya – eternal; ashirvad – blessings or well-wishes; daka – I am].

The above letter is from Bhaktipradip Tirtha
who was sent along
with Sambidananda dasa to
London in the 1930s to preach.

July 30, 2012

Complete Set of Nadia Prakash Fully Preserved and Bound

We previously reported the acquisition of the Bookeye 4, a professional, high resolution scanner. Since its arrival, we have been busy scanning beginning with the more delicate works, in particular the 31 bound volumes of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s daily newspaper Nadia Prakash.

We are happy to report that the scanning of Nadia Prakash is now completed – a huge task which resulted in almost 40,000 (forty thousand) images!

All 31 volumes have now been:
laminated with acid-free sheets;
re-assembled in volumes ready for re-binding;
fully indexed 

July 24, 2012

BRC Acquires a First Class Scanning Machine

Our chief goal this year was to obtain a professional, high resolution scanner. With nearly 15,000 books in our catalogue this was a top priority. We are extremely happy to report that on July 24 2012 after six months of fund raising, we took delivery of a Bookeye 4 scanner (see photo above) by a German company ImageAcess.

Thanks to the enthusiastic support we received since we launched our scanner appeal in January we were able to purchase a better scanner than the Atiz Bookmini mentioned in our last newsletter. Costing almost 15 lakhs (approx. $27,000.00) the Bookeye 4 is a state-of-the-art machine capable of scanning 600 pages per hour.

It has a scanning area of 16×26″ (full newspaper size), a flat/V-shaped cradle, Self Service Scanning to USB, touch screen controls, Integrated 19″ preview screen, and 600 DPI software with OCR for very high resolution searchable images. Readers interested in seeing the technical details can do so here.

Along with the Bookeye 4 we also purchased a dedicated computer plus upgraded our on-line uninterruptable power backup system. The Bookeye can be used as a self-contained kiosk for quickly scanning documents, or with the additional computer it becomes part of our main server system with 5 terabytes of storage.

After receiving two days training our staff have now begun serious scanning, beginning with the multiple bound copies of Nadia Prakash, the daily newspaper of the Gaudiya Matha from the late 1920s.

Images will be uploaded to our website as they become available.

July 19, 2012

Rare Set of Astronomical Periodicals Found

We continue to be amazed at the contents of the collection of Sri Sundarananda Vidyavinoda. A recent search revealed the entire third year of publication, 1904, of Jyotir Vid, an astronomical periodical edited by both ‘K. Dutt’ and ‘Sri Bimala Prasada Siddhanta Sarasvati’.

June 25, 2012

Manuscripts Mission Update, West Bengal Report Part 2

Mission for Manuscripts continued in April with a second foray into the mathas and libraries of West Bengal. All told our intrepid team of Smt. Bharati Roy and photographer Ashish visited another eight repositories and photographed a further 81 manuscripts, making a total of 200+ so far. Here’s a few highlights:

Sripat of Srila Rasikananda 

We visited the Sripat (asrama) of Srila Rasikananda Prabhu at Gopiballabhpur in Midnapur. There is a beautiful temple with a repository of all the Goswami literatures. This place is about 400 years old.

Srila Rasikananda was one of the most prominent followers of the Six Goswamis and a contemporary of Srila Shyamananda. His Sripat has a set of his footprints, melted into the rock.

The current Mahanta there is Sri Krsna Kesava Dev Goswami, who comes in direct disciplic succession from Rasikananda.

He was very friendly and gave our team access to all their manuscripts:

Govinda Virudavali
Gitagovinda by Jayadeva
Radhika Sahasranama
Alamkarakaustubha by kavi Karnapura
Gopala Campu by Jiva Gosvami
Govinda Lilamrta by Jiva Gosvami
Uddhava sandesa by Rupa Gosvami
Caitanya candramrta by Pravodhananda Sarasvati
Tattva Sandarbha by Jiva Gosvami
Gitavali by Rupa Gosvami
Vaisnava Vandana by Daivakinandana
Pramabhakticandrika by Narottama Thakura.

Apart from the digital access, an actual manuscript copy on handmade paper of Caitanya Chandramrta by Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati was presented to the BRC.

Phulia Shantipur Museum 

April 8th our team went to the Phulia Shantipur Museum where the library has 11,000 books along with the works of Sri Krittivas who was the celebrated translator of Ramayana into Bengali. He was a contemporary of Kasiram dasa who did a similar translation of the Mahabharata, and Jayadeva Goswami the famous Vaisnava poet. There we took photos of various paintings depicting the Ramayana.

Krishnanagar Public Library 

The secretary there is Deba Babu and he gave full access to their manuscripts library. In reciprocation Bharati returned on April 18 and presented a set of Srila Prabhupada’s books to their general library.

Sri Monami Roy Museum

A visit to an extensive private museum in Krishnanagar that was established by the late Sri Mohit Roy was also fruitful. Thousands of artifacts are on display. One old newspaper, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, dates back to 1780. They also have an extensive library of manuscripts and literature.

Sri Monami Roy and his mother are the current custodians of his father’s legacy and they were happy to give us full access for digital copying.

The Sudarsanlala Mandir 

The Sudarsanlala Mandir in Navadwip has an extensive collection of printed works by the Six Goswamis and their followers. The Mahanta there, Sri Bhagavat dasa allowed us to photograph sixteen books, and he also presented us with a manuscripts of the Skanda Purana which is now on display in the BRC library (seen here next to a photo of the Sudarsanlal Deity)

Other notable places visited were:

The Dwijendra Pathagar, Krishnanagar, the place of the great poet Dwijendralal Roy who wrote Dhana Dhanye Puspe Bhara and Vande Mataram, two famous songs which are used as popular anthems of India. This is an old library and the librarian Mr. Apurva Kundu allowed us to photograph eleven manuscripts here.

Bally Sadharan Granthagar Howrah District — 7 manuscripts;
Chandannagar Pustakagar Hoogli District — 2 manuscripts;
Vasanti Durga temple, Baharampur in Murshidabad District

March 25, 2012

Specialised Preservations Begin on Nadia Prakash

After consulting experts in the field of historical preservation, we have decided on the best method of preserving particularly delicate publications. It involves paper lamination as an effort to arrest their deterioration and to enable us to handle them without causing any damage.

In March 2012 we initiated this program, beginning with Nadia Prakash.

A special acid-free tissue is applied both sides of the document, with a thicker half-inch gutter that can be used for binding. The tissue is pasted down with water soluble glue so that the process can be reversed easily if need be. Paper lamination extends the life of the document by at least 50 years.

Because the lamination tissue is opaque the text becomes somewhat obscured. However, despite this, our new Bookeye scanner produces clear, easily readable images at 600 DPI.

Our goal this year is to laminate at least 30 bound volumes of Nadia Prakash as well as multiple volumes of the other periodicals — Sajjana-toshani, Harmonist, Gaudiya, and Bhagavat.

March 18, 2012

A Sampling of BRC's Rare Acquisitions of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura

Highlights of the Sundaranand Vidyabinode Collection related to the great devotional works of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura:

The section is entitled Thoughts on Popular Topics or Occasional Notes by Baboo Kedar Nauth Dutta Dy. Collector and Magistrate (see picture above).

It includes his famous poem about the perils of drink:

Alas for those that spend their days
in festive mirth and joy!
The dazzling, deadly liquid forms
Their hearts for e‘er employ!

Also included are the full ten verses of his poem, Stanzas on the Samaj of Haridas on the Sea Shore at Puri, about Srila Haridasa Thakura which contains the famous verse #9:

He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavs die
When thou art living still in sound?
The Vaishnavs die to live and living try
To spread a holy life around!

Another book discovery is a full commentary by Bhaktivinoda Thakura on Bhagavad Gita:

Haridas was the son of a Cazee who lived within a few miles from Delhi. While yet a boy, the religious sentiment received a very great development in him and he could understand that pure spiritual love was the only absolute religion of man. He was very much averse to cruelty to animals and turned out a Vaisnava in preference to the faith of his race. The Cazees and others met together and ordered him to be beaten very hard in the bazaars of Delhi. We read it in the “Chaitanya Bhagbat” that when he was being cruelly beaten, he was praying God that his enemies might be pardoned.

It is said that Haridas after leaving Delhi came to Bengal and lived for sometime in Santipur, on the banks of the Ganges. The great “Chaitanya Provoo” of Nuddea was born long after Haridas had come to Santipur. But when “Caitanya Provoo” came to age and began to preach the highest truth of Vaisnavism Haridas very gladly enlisted himself as a follower of the “Provoo.” In a short time Haridas accompanied him to Puri of Jagannath and there lived till the time of his death. His remains were interred by “Caitanya Deba” on the sea shore.

A large portion of the beach at Puri goes by the name of “Chakra-tirtha” in which the Samaj or tomb of Haridas is found. Popularly the place is considered sacred.

Finally, the following page has a few lines of handwriting, which after comparing to a known sample, we believe to be of the great Thakura:

All are welcome to our BRC Library in Kolkata to see these amazing works in person.

February 15, 2012

Rare Documents at BRC Related to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura

As we were indexing the Sundarananda Vidyabinode collection, we found a single hand written sheet entitled Last wishes of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada dated 31st December 1936 at 10.30 A.M. – in effect a record of his will, witnessed by three disciples. Of the thirteen items #2 stands out. It reads: "form a Governing body of 10 to 12 persons for management of Mission’s work, but Kunja Babu will manage as long as he lives."

We also found two copies of what was intended to be the second volume of a six volume series entitled Sarasvati Jay Sri, an extensive biography of Srila Sarasvati Thakura. The first volume was published in 1935 but the rest never made it to print. The second volume was printed in draft form and given to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to correct, but was never published. It comprises of interviews taken with him in which he describes his childhood and upbringing, so it is virtually an autobiography. The BRC will be publishing this work in due course. It includes His Divine Grace’s birth chart, as shown above.

Another bit of nectar we cataloged was this government map of Burdwan and Nadia districts from 1917-18. This is the year that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura took sannyasa and began his preaching through the Gaudiya Matha.

Present day Mayapur was in those days called Miapur bil and was simply rice paddies — seen here above, north of the Jalangi/Ganges confluence.

This small collection of books pictured above is the most complete set of astronomical works of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura we believe to exist. These books do not exist even in Kolkata National Library. 

Two of the volumes are bound editions of his astronomical magazine Jyotir Vid. There is also Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s commentary on Bhaskaracarya’s commentary on Surya Siddhanta entitled Siddhanta Siromani.

January 31, 2012

Preservations Efforts Update

An observant reader will have noticed the very delicate condition of many of the books, some of which date back 100-140 years. They have been attacked by bugs, acid, humidity and time. Preservation is therefore a priority and BRC is employing several methods to achieve this.

Every book will be scanned and put online on our website. Dissemination is the most effective means of preservation.

Fumigating rids the books of destructive bugs.

Strict climate and temperature control also help to preserve the works for many more years than normal.

The most delicate books have been carefully laminated by a team of professionals. A special acid-free tissue is applied both sides of the page, creating a half inch gutter that can be used for binding.

The tissue extends the life of the paper by at least 50 years. It can also be removed and replaced at a later date without damage to the paper.

The disadvantage is that the tissue is opaque so the text becomes somewhat obscured. However, after scanning it, the image can be manipulated by computer so that the text becomes clear again.

The lamination can be seen in the above sample. The page on left is a typical acid-affected, brittle page. A similar page after lamination is on the right. The top right damaged corner is squared and a one-inch gutter has been created down the left side to enable the book to be rebound.

Another system is to have important works reproduced on metal plates. Locally there is a system for exact reproduction of any image onto thin zinc plate. What this means is that the writing on any ancient manuscript can be exactly copied thus preserving the original work as it is. If carefully handled these metal plates can last thousands of years!