April 7, 2011

Mission for Manuscripts Update, March 2011

Our research team consists of Smt. Bharati Roy and her assistant Ashish. Bharati began working with ISKCON scholars in the early 1980s, doing extensive research for the Institute for Vaisnava Studies (IVS) headed by Garuda dasa (Dr. Graham Schweig) in Bengal and Jaipur, and also translation work for various individual scholars. She has worked for the last year as the BRC librarian but field research is where her heart is. As she told us at the inception of the manuscript program, "I am boiling with enthusiasm!"

They began their work in their home town of Halisahar, which happens to be the birthplace of Srila Isvara Puri, the spiritual master of Lord Caitanya. The temple of Caitanya Doba is said to be the actual site of his appearance.

The mahant of the temple is Sri Kishori Baba. He was friendly and only too happy to give us access to his small but precious collection of manuscripts. Bharati and Ashish photographed 16 different works over two visits. You read about this visit and see photographs of this place here LINK

From there, in 17 days they visited another ten places and photographed almost 112 manuscripts, shooting nearly 7,000 images. They visited libraries, sripats, mathas and private owners.

As well as photographing the manuscripts they also filled out an information sheet on each place recording Deities, custodians, number of mss, and other relevant information for the use of students and scholars in the future.

Here’s a few of the places visited so far:


This is Smt. Manasi Raya, widow of late Ashimananda Raya of Krishnanagara and descendent of the royal family there.

She is holding a palm leaf tal mss of the Markandeya Purana.

This is the only mss remaining from a large collection, since her predecessors thought their old collections to be useless and thus threw them in the Ganga. This one was preserved as a family heirloom. Such occurrences are becoming increasingly common and that’s why we are acting now as Srila Prabhupada said before it is too late.

Manasi mataji also had a very old printed Srimad Bhagavatam with some nice illustrations in it which we estimate to be at least 150 yrs. old. You can see the damage caused by insects on the left cover.

Sripata of Srila Vrndavana dasa Thakura, Denuda in Bardaman

On the altar is a wood and glass box containing a mss that is said to be the original Caitanya Bhagavat by Srila Vrndavana dasa Thakura.

With it there is a thin strip with what the owners claim is the handwriting of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself:

We were allowed to photograph these from the outside of the box because, following an attempt to steal it by a young man disguised as a Hindu sadhu, the box was sealed and even the current pujari can’t open it.

Gauranga Tal Mandira, Navadwip

This temple also has a glass box on its altar:

Within is a mss of the Srimad Bhagavatam written on tree bark by Srila Gadadhara Pandit. With it is another tal said to be comments written by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself (hence the name of the temple.)

Haribol Kutir Navadwip

This is an original printer's block for making a map of Gauramanadalabhumi, Lord Caitanya’s travels around Bharat varsa:

They were created and used by Haridasa Dasa,  the scholar who discovered the mss of Sri Krsna Lila Stava by Srila Sanatan Goswami after it had been missing for approximately 300 years. These maps were printed in Haridasa Dasa’s book Gaudiya Vaisnava Abhidhana in the 1940s. They depict the travels of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu around India, and also all the important holy places in Gaura mandala.

Our researchers found them lying on a heap of garbage when they visited the matha. Now because of their intervention they are being kept carefully in the temple. We were allowed to photograph many mss. here also.

Srikhanda Chittaranjan, Pathagar

Some places do value their heritage and here’s an example of some well kept manuscripts that we were allowed to photograph. Here’s Sri Uttam Sengupta, the librarian of Srikhanda Chittaranjan Pathagar, Bardhaman where the trust of Narahari Sarkar Thakura’s Sripata has donated these mss.

Sripata of Srinivasa Acarya, Yajigram

Likewise in Yajigram, where the ISKCON administered Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust has done renovation work we found some well preserved mss for our records.

Santipur Sahitya Parishad, Santipur

This is Sri Susanta Matt the Secretary of the Sahitya Parishad Santipur.

He was happy to allow us to photograph many of their mss. Of course not all the mss are of Gaudiya Vaisnava works, there are many on various other methods of worship, nyaya etc. and here we found some copies of various works by Sripad Sankaracarya.

We photographed some because Srila Prabhupada said in Juhu Bombay in 1976 that we should establish a library of all the works of the acaryas, including Sankaracarya. When I expressed surprise because Lord Caitanya warns in Chaitanya Caritmrita that anyone who reads Shankara’s bhasya is doomed, he told me, “No, we can read to know what is their arguments, to defeat them.”

After this intensive work Bharati and Ashish, under careful guidance of our new head librarian Acyuta prabhu, spent the month of March at the BRC library in Kolkata building up a catalogue of the materials. All the information gathered will be entered into our new website and library software in the coming months. Thus everything will be made available for researchers to take advantage of.