Preserving the Vani of Srila Prabhupada
Posted September 10, 2007
On February 2, 1966, before he founded ISKCON or initiated any Western disciples, Srila Prabhupada purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder and brought it back to his apartment on New York's West 72nd street. At $54.02, it cost almost as much as his rent for a month, but it was an invaluable investment; for as he sat down to record his "Introduction to Geetopanisad," he was leaving us his legacy - The Bhaktivedanta Archives.
More than ten years later in 1977, his disciple Parama-rupa dasa moved hundreds of reel-to-reel audio tapes from the front room of Los Angeles, Golden Avatar Studios to a location where they would be watched over for safe keeping. "The 'safe' location was a converted kitchen in the local brahmachari ashrama," recalls Parama-rupa, now preservation director of the Archives, "but it was a beginning."
When Srila Prabhupada passed away the next year, an official archive was established to collect and preserve all of his recorded instructions, history, images, correspondence, and paraphernalia. Parama-rupa began to travel around the world collecting these items.
"It was quite an adventure," he says. "In 1979, Amogha Prabhu and I were looking for someone in Australia who had moved away from the devotee community, and was reported to have many original slides and photos of Prabhupada. After a long search, Amogha found the man who agreed to meet him in the middle of the night and hand over three hundred slides and two hundred photographs in exchange for a pile of curd pakoras."
Other less dramatic, but equally fruitful searches yielded philosophical discussions recorded by Hayagriva Dasa, tape and photo collections from early Prabhupada disciples; Govinda Dasi and Hamsaduta Dasa, and photos from Yamuna Devi- including some of Prabhupada with George Harrison while recording the album, *The Radha Krishna Temple*. Many devotees also gave their personal letters received from Prabhupada, and in one case a devotee willed his personal collection of Prabhupada items when he passed away.
In 1987 came new developments, when the advent of affordable and practical personal computers made it possible to scan transcripts of Prabhupada's recordings as well as pages of his books. By 1995, the Bhaktivedanta Archives had released the first edition (DOS version) of the *Bhaktivedanta Veda Base*. Their goal is to one day develop this into a virtual archive that will include all of the letters, manuscripts, audio, video, and photo collections in their possession, which will then be viewable on any personal computer.
Modernization continues as well. Now based in Prabhupada Village, North Carolina, The Bhaktivedanta Archives are currently transferring all their audio from DAT format to a digital format, WAV. The same transfer to digital is true for images, documents, books, etc. This is a normal preservation archival procedure to transfer to a new medium or reproduce material for longevity.
Ranjit dasa, says everything is going digital; "We're also scanning all the slides from 1967 to 1985. The earlier ones featuring Prabhupada are completed. The later ones are important too, because they show that the movement continued to grow from Prabhupada's efforts, even though he wasn't physically there."
Manuscripts of the books are also being scanned, with 60% of * Srimad-Bhagavatam* and *Caitanya-caritamrita* completed, as well as * Bhagavad-gita*, *Nectar of Devotion*, and others. This scanning and ongoing preservation of the manuscripts is an example of the work carried out by the Bhaktivedanta Archives that can and will facilitate other activities in our society, such as the BBT project, The Editing Audit Trail, which will help make the editorial decisions transparent and leave no debate as to the authenticity of Prabhupada's work.
Ekanatha dasa says that doing this incredibly important work isn't cheap, and the simple day-to-day running of the Bhaktivedanta Archives adds up. Equipment and the ongoing maintenance of such, audio files and images must still be transferred to digital, fluid for deacidification and encapsulation materials must be purchased. Then there's the added costs of electricity , insurance, and utility bills must be paid to run the computers and all the associated equipment, including the purchase of many large hard drives, costing well over $200 each, to be purchased to back up files. In a word, Prabhupada's legacy must be preserved and now with current support funding running very low, help is needed.
The archival effort is a worthy cause, possibly a unique one in the history of spirituality. With at least 2,500 hours of audio, 10,000 pages of transcripts from Prabhupada's translations, 18,000 slides, handwritten items, and much more, the Bhaktivedanta Archives may hold the most data "As it is" ever recorded of a prominent spiritual leader.
You can learn more online about the project and how you can help at: www.friendsofthebbt.org/archives