THE FRONT DOOR of the Bhaktivedanta Archives flies open, and the blur of a sari swooshes past me heading for Ekanatha Dasa's office. Mamata Devi Dasi slams a transcript on his desk.
"I think I typed this before. It sounds familiar, and I just spent four hours typing it again!"
As it turned out, she was often right. As discreetly as possible, I would extricate myself to tend to a sudden pressing matter in my studio, leaving Ekanatha to quell the fires of frustration.
The memory of such scenes brings nostalgia. In the early 1980s the transcribing of Srila Prabhupada's recordings was in full swing. There were hundreds of unmarked recordings, along with copies or parts of copies acquired from the devotees after Srila Prabhupada's passing. Ekanatha, who had joined the Archives in May 1978, performed the mighty and time-consuming task of transferring everything to cassette tapes for typing and cataloging. While the transfers were relatively easy, he quickly ran into the problem of not being able to cross-reference the programs without a great deal of detective work.
This need for an archival tool to help identify, cross-reference, and correlate all the recordings was a major impetus for the development of the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. This state-of-the-art text-retrieval program allows one to search all the thousands of lectures, morning walks, and conversations by keying in a few words or a word string. Now I can immediately check whether a tape has been transcribed, and determine whether the tape is an original or a copy.
Technology for Krsna
Srila Prabhupada taught that modern technology was good only if dovetailed in Krsna's service. With this guiding principle, we have worked countless hours developing this program for devotees and scholars. I find the program invaluable for my archival work, and just as important, it has become my oracle in answering daily personal questions, regardless how mundane they may seem.
In 1987, with the advent of affordable and practical personal computers, we began digitizing transcripts of Srila Prabhupada's recordings. Adi-purana Dasa, from New Zealand, commuted daily from Berkeley (where he lived in a friend's garage) to a computer bureau in downtown San Francisco, appropriately named "Krishna Copy." It was owned by an Indian businessman, Sanjaya, who later became an ISKCON life member. Adi-purana would help Sanjaya's customers use the Kurzweil scanner (then a $50,000 machine), and in return, Sanjaya would allow Adi-purana to use the scanner for transcendental purposes. In this way, single-handedly, Adi-purana scanned forty thousand pages of transcripts and around fifty volumes of Srila Prabhupada's books. These scanned files are the core of the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. (It is interesting to note that the word adi-purana means the "original, or first, history.")
In 1990, devotees from the Bhaktivedanta Archives attended the computer industry's annual Comdex convention to look for computer search programs. In a small nondescript booth, they came across the start-up company Folio Corporation. Their program, Folio Views, was by far the best in the industry at the time, and has remained so, even though the company has been bought and sold since. In 1991 we purchased the program, and later that year the Bhaktivedanta Electronic Library, running under DOS, was published. In 1995 we released a Windows and Macintosh version and named it Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. Other versions have been released since, with many additions and new features.
More direct evidence of Srila Prabhupada's life and works has been preserved than that of Jesus, Mohammed, and certainly Lord Caitanya Himself. Srila Prabhupada's life and accomplishments are a fascinating period of Vaisnava history. His achievements as a religious leader are undeniable, and they are now being enshrined within the digital technology of the twenty-first century. With the passage of twenty-five years since Prabhupada's departure, the intensity and scope of his personal powerand achievements will begin to fade unless kept alive in the memory of his followers, and in turn become part of our verbal heritage. The Bhaktivedanta VedaBase is the technological cornerstone of this great record. It is rapidly becoming the canon of his ISKCON society.
The latest Bhaktivedanta VedaBase, version 2003.1, commemorates the Silver Jubilee. It is the most complete presentation of the direct utterances and writings of Srila Prabhupada. While the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase includes other Vaisnava authors and publications, its core will always remain the direct teachings of Srila Prabhupada.
All modern archives are increasing their use of digitization to connect with the public. We hope to develop the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase into a virtual archive that can be set up on any personal computer. Such an archive would allow access to all the materials of the Bhaktivedanta Archives, including images of all the letters, manuscripts and other documents, as well as the enormous audio, video, and photo collections.