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.
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-purusa 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-purusa would help Sanjaya's customers use the Kurzweil scanner (then a $50,000 machine), and in return, Sanjaya would allow Adi-purusa to use the scanner for transcendental purposes. In this way, single-handedly, Adi-purusa 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-purusa 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 power and 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.
In 1966 before the coming of Western disciples, before the establishment of an ISKCON, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, (Srila Prabhupada), purchased a reel to reel tape recorder for $54.02. A short time later he recorded an "Introduction to the Geetopanisad". This program remains the earliest recording we have in the Bhaktivedanta Archives.
I listened to that recording, knowing his struggle to endure in a foreign land and seeing him, a solitary figure seated in a studio apartment on New York's West 72nd Street, the slow turning tape representing the wheels of history absorbing his every word. To realize that he spent pennies on sustenance, yet dollars on that tape recorder. I can't help marvel to know he was preaching at that moment to little more than four walls and a microphone while his delivery contained a boldness and limitless view to the future audience of you and me and generations to come, and to draw the strength of conviction to preserve his selfless legacy and feel obliged along with my archival colleagues to help transfer those spoken words along with the millions of other expressions into this Bhaktivedanta VedaBase.
This new version 2003.1 is the latest dynamic synthesis involving countless hours of assembling the first hand records from the direct utterances and writings of Srila Prabhupada, backed up by provenance from the collection preserved in the Bhaktivedanta Archives. While it is understood that the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase has now taken on a broader Vaisnava platform by incorporating other authors and publications as related addendums, it remains however at its core, the direct teachings of Srila Prabhupada in fulfilling the instruction of his Gurudev in the line of Parampara, "…to preach in English the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu…"
I hope you will join me in taking benefit of this unique spiritual storehouse of knowledge, born out of humble technological beginnings in a one room studio apartment in the winter of 1966, and allow it to become not just a research tool, but, more as a daily travel companion and rudder in life's journey across the vast ocean of nescience.
Director of Preservation
Founded in 1978, the Bhaktivedanta Archives is the official repository for the documents, manuscripts, correspondence, audio recordings, photographs, films, and other memorabilia of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In the 32 years since it's founding, the Bhaktivedanta Archives continues to be dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of the teachings and personal life of His Divine Grace though its conservation and preservation work and the publication of over 70 volumes of conversations, lectures, and other works. Not least among these achievements has been the creation of audio ministries for distribution worldwide. The texts of the audio recordings all culminate in the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase®, a text retrieval computer program for the student and scholar alike.
Perpetuation however is the second part of our creed "to preserve and perpetuate"; it is the conservation and preservation that is taking priority right now to assure the purity and integrity of the entire collection. In order to preserve the artifacts, words, images and teachings of His Divine Grace it takes the dedication of time, talent and funds. We are confident we can fulfill the time and talent part, however, we are very much dependent on the generosity of well wishers to complete the preservation (archival) process.
Ekanatha Dasa - Joined ISKCON in Amsterdam, Holland in 1971. He went on to assist in the development of the Bombay Project before joining the Bhaktivedanta Archives in 1978. Ekanatha headed up the transcribing and cataloging of all the recorded material. He continues this service and is currently the project leader for The Bhaktivedanta VedaBase®.
Parama-rupa Dasa - Joined ISKCON in London in 1976 and came to Los Angeles in 1977 were he founded with the help of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Press, the Bhaktivedanta Archives. He initially dedicated himself to collecting the audio and written materials of Srila Prabhupada from around the world. He now works in conserving and preserving those items along with producing audio offerings from the Bhaktivedanta Archives.
Nitya-trpta devi dasi - Joined ISKCON in Los Angeles CA in 1975, joining the BBT photo department and later the Bhaktivedanta Archives until 1985. Co-founded Krsna Vision in Italy while working with NE BBT on ISKCON Interactive and the Gita Interactive. Worked as a design consultant for the New Delhi exhibitions. Returned to complete the image collection archival work in 2008