Empowered Biographer of the Lord

Lord Caitanya

THE AUTHOR OF Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, born around the beginning of the sixteenth century, was a disciple of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami, a confidential follower of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's. Raghunatha Dasa, a renowned ascetic saint, heard and memorized all the activities of Caitanya Mahaprabhu told him by Svarupa Damodara Gosvami. After the passing away of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Svarupa Damodara, Raghunatha Dasa, unable to bear the pain of separation from these objects of his complete devotion, traveled to Vrndavana, intending to commit suicide by jumping from Govardhana Hill. In Vrndavana, however, he encountered Srila Rupa Gosvami and Srila Sanatana Gosvami, two of the most confidential disciples of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They convinced him to give up his planned suicide and impelled him to reveal to them the spiritually inspiring events of Lord Caitanya's later life. Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was also residing in Vrndavana at this time, and Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami endowed him with full comprehension of the transcendental life of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

By this time, contemporary and near-contemporary scholars and devotees had already written several biographical works on the life of Sri Krsna Caitanya. These included Sri Caitanya-carita, by Murari Gupta,Caitanya-mangala, by Locana Dasa Thakura, and Caitanya-bhagavata. This latter work, by Vrndavana Dasa Thakura, who was then considered the principal authority on Sri Caitanya's life, was highly revered. While composing his important work, Vrndavana Dasa, fearing that it would become too voluminous, avoided elaborately describing many of the events of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's life, particularly the later ones. Anxious to hear these later pastimes, the devotees of Vrndavana requested Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, whom they respected as a great saint and scholar, to compose a book narrating these episodes in detail. Upon this request, and with the permission and blessings of the Madana-mohana Deity of Vrndavana, he began compiling Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which, due to its literary excellence and philosophical thoroughness, is today universally regarded as the foremost work on the life and profound teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

Krsnadasa commenced work on the text at a very advanced age and in failing health, as he vividly describes in the text itself: "I have now become too old and disturbed by invalidity. While writing, my hands tremble. I cannot remember anything, nor can I see or hear properly. Still I write, and this is a great wonder." That he completed the greatest literary gem of medieval India under such debilitating conditions is surely one of the wonders of literary history.

From the Introduction to 
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta

Scholarly Praise

As with Srila Prabhupada's other books, scholars greatly appreciated his presentation of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Here we present excerpts from one of many favorable reviews when the book first appeared.

The appearance of an English translation of Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami's Sri Caitanya-caritamrta by A.C. Bhaktivedanta (founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) is a cause for celebration among both scholars in Indian studies and lay people seeking to enrich their knowledge of Indian spirituality. … It will fill a most serious lacuna in our libraries and in our courses on the religious traditions of India.

For the first time we possess a readily accessible edition for this great religious classic that will provide opportunity for scholars in Indian literature and followers of the Krsna conscious tradition alike to compare the original text with a modern English translation and become acquainted with the deeper spiritual meaning of this work through the learned commentary of Sri Bhaktivedanta.

Anyone who gives a close reading to the commentary will sense that here, as in his other works, Sri Bhaktivedanta has combined a healthy mixture of the fervent devotion and aesthetic sensitivity of a devotee and the intellectual rigor of a textual scholar. At no point does the author allow the intended meaning of the text to be eclipsed by the promotion of a particular doctrinal persuasion.

These exquisitely wrought volumes will be a welcome addition to the libraries of all persons who are committed to the study of Indian spirituality and religious literature, whether their interests are sparked by the motivations of the scholar, the devotee, or the general reader.

Dr. J. Bruce Long
Department of Asian Studies
Cornell University

Bringing Out the New Edition

In 1975, Srila Prabhupada called on his disciple Dravida Dasa to help edit the first edition of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Nearly twenty years later, leaders of the BBT (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust) again called on Dravida to help produce a special Srila Prabhupada Centennial project: an updated reprinting of the entire work.

The project shows how much technology and ISKCON itself have changed in twenty years. In 1975, ISKCON and the BBT were best established in America, and all the production took place at BBT headquarters in Los Angeles. Today, help to assemble the new printing came from flourishing BBT divisions not only in America but in India, Europe, and Australia. In 1975, devotees painstakingly laid out every page of the seventeen-volume Caitanya-caritamrta by hand, using razor blades and wax to affix the typeset galleys to "boards." And the indexes were compiled using, well index cards. Today you can do all that by computer.

But since for the new printing there were no original computer disks to work from, devotees had to start from the already printed volumes.

In India, Naresvara Dasa, a BBT trustee, engaged a crew of skilled Bengali editors to key in the original Bengali script. Another editorial crew in Korsnas Gard, Sweden, set right the Roman-letter transliterations of the thousands of Bengali and Sanskrit verses, and supplied nine new Bengali-Sanskrit indexes using sophisticated computer programs. In America, the Bhaktivedanta Archives supplied the scanned text of the entire book.

When the revised transliterations had been entered into the master files, Dravida printed it all out at his office in San Diego about ten thousand sheets double spaced. He began reading the text, comparing it often to the original transcripts of Srila Prabhupada's dictation from the Bhaktivedanta Archives. As Srila Prabhupada had previously entrusted him to do, Dravida occasionally made editorial adjustments, improving the English as needed, without changing the meaning. In the course of his work he found remarkably few mistakes he changed far less than one per cent of the text. Those he did find had generally grown out of the breakneck speed at which the original version had been produced fourteen of the seventeen books in two months.

Dravida engaged Grahila Dasa, a veteran BBT indexer living in Florida, to redo all the subject indexes. So that editions in other languages could use them easily, Grahila indexed the text by chapter and verse rather than page number. To re-index the text took him a year.

Language scholar Gopiparanadhana Dasa, another veteran from the original book, double-checked the Bengali and Sanskrit texts while working in Sweden, Russia, and North Carolina. He and Dravida, who used to pass work back and forth in adjoining offices, now swapped huge files across the Atlantic by e-mail.

In September 1995, Dravida flew to Brisbane, Australia, to oversee the final stages of layout, proofreading, and production. After some final work with Naresvara on typefaces, dust covers, illustration captions, and other details, the new nine-volume sets were printed in Melbourne, ready to ship to readers around the world during Srila Prabhupada's Centennial year.

Reflecting on his work, Dravida Dasa said, "When I think about my great good fortune in being able to work on Srila Prabhupada's Caitanya-caritamrta, my heart fills with gratitude. I really possessed no special qualification to do this work no degree in English, no special knowledge of Sanskrit or Bengali. But I have always had a strong desire to help the part of his mission most dear to Prabhupada: the spreading of Krsna consciousness through producing and distributing his books.

"Lord Krsna put me in the right place at the right time the old Brooklyn temple in 1973, where I joined to take up the service of proofreading and then editing. Now all these years later I am still doing the same service. I have no desire to do anything else. I simply pray that Prabhupada accept my insignificant efforts and bless me with the opportunity to render him similar service, birth after birth."