I n South Kolkata, a treasure trove of Vaishnava literature can be found in ISKCON Mayapur’s Bhaktivedanta Research Centre. This library is a gem hidden in a quiet Kolkata neighborhood, in which can be found copies of almost every book written by the previous acharyas going back to Srila Rupa Gosvami, and many rare and out of print books, such as Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s compilation of commentaries on the Padma Purana and his commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita. The library also contains scans of many original, handwritten manuscripts, as well as many of the original manuscripts themselves, such as the only known copy of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s personal diary, dating from 1904 -1906.
The Bhaktivedanta Research Centre was established to fulfill several of SrilaPrabhupada’s instructions:
In 1972, SrilaPrabhupada instructed that film records be made of the original writings of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura so that these valuable manuscripts could be preserved.
In 1975, Srila Prabhupada discussed the possibility of opening a Vedic University in Sridhama Mayapur. This university would require a first class library.
In 1976 in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada instructed his temple managers to construct a first class library with all of his own books, the books of the previous acharyas, and all the Vedas. He said that scholars should be able to come and study our philosophy very deeply and become devotees.
In addition, Srila Prabhupada gave many instructions about the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium and how its presentation of Vedic cosmology according to the Srimad-Bhagavatam would counter the theories of contemporary scientists. The ideas that will be presented in the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will undoubtedly be challenged, and a research center and library of Vedic cosmology is necessary to supplement and support the construction of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’s interplanetary chandelier.
In 2008, it was with this in mind that His Grace Hari-sauri dasa, the coordinator of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’s cosmology team, and His Grace Pranava dasa, who was at the time doing his doctoral research, planned the opening of a Vaishnava study center. This coincided with the opportunity to obtain a very important collection of books, a collection which dated back to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s residence in the Bagh Bazaar temple in the 1930s. The collection had been held by Sri SundaranandaVidyavinoda, a leading Gaudiya Math member and former secretary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, since 1937.
A building that had been donated to ISKCON in Kolkata was allocated by ISKCON Mayapur to be used for this library, and funds were arranged so that the building could be renovated and turned into a suitable modern library. In June of 2009, the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre officially opened.
Now, the library is home to the collection of SundaranandaVidyavinoda, which was loaned to the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre by His Holiness BB Bhodayan Swami from the Sri Gopinatha Gaudiya Math, as well as thousands of other works.
Some of the prominent works from the SundaranandaVidyavinoda collection are the personal diary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, some original handwritten articles by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and a 200 page songbook handwritten by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
The library also contains works from Birnagar, the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. In 2013, Hari-sauri dasa visited Birnagar and connected with the Bhaktivinoda Ghosti. Impressed by the work being done at the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre, the Bhaktivinoda Ghosti allowed the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre to catalogue, scan, and preserve all the work in their library, which includes approximately 25 manuscripts written by Bhaktivinoda Thakura. In their collection was also found a handwritten letter from Srila Prabhupada to Lalit Prasad Thakur, the younger brother of Bhaktisiddhanta SarasvatiThakura, sent from Moscow in June 1971.
The Bhaktivedanta Research Centre has collected many additional works. They have collected and scanned approximately 2,000 ancient manuscripts, including a complete copy of the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta handwritten in 1760. The Centre has worked to create and maintain very good relationships with many libraries and private collectors in Bengal, and continues to work with them to catalogue and scan all their manuscripts and to map out the whereabouts of all of these important literatures.
The library is open to anyone who is doing serious research. Many scholars, both members of ISKCON and others, have come to stay in the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre’s guesthouse for anywhere from two weeks to two months to do research work. The Centre aims to become affiliated with a government recognized educational institution in the future, such as the University of Calcutta, so that it will be able to offer its own PhD courses and thus affect the entire worldwide community of scholars interested in Vaishnava philosophy. Eventually, once the Mayapur University is built, the Bhaktivedanta Research Centre will become the main library for the whole university.