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SRIMAD BHAGWATAM of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyas
by A.C. Bhaktivedanta
3 Hardcover Volumes (First Canto)
Published by the League of Devotees, Vrindaban; Delhi
1962, 1964, 1965

In early December 2003, after years of searching for them, my wife was amazed to discover a set of Srila Prabhupada's original Srimad Bhagwatams on Ebay. Somehow or other Jahnava won the auction, and presented these books to me on Christmas day.

The Bhagwatams were listed for auction by a woman in Bronx, New York, who had purchased them from another New York bookseller. She was kind enough to research and share the details of how these books had come available. She purchased the Bhagwatams from a bookseller near Columbia University. He had acquired them as part of a personal collection of books that had belonged to a woman who lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side, at 104 Street and Broadway. When the woman passed away, her books were sold to the book buyer. We are told that that the woman was an English teacher who had an eclectic collection of books, including literature and literary criticism, history and art, but apparently few titles on Eastern religion or philosophy.

Given the close proximity of 104th and Broadway to the Upper West Side address where Srila Prabhupada lived for a time, at 100 71st Street West, it seems quite possible that she purchased this set of books directly from Srila Prabhupada, who sold a number of books after arriving in New York.

In my mind, these Srimad Bhagwatams are among the most valuable memorabilia one can have of Srila Prabhupada. The timing of their publication coincides directly with Srila Prabhupada's departure for the Western world. He left India a very short time after the last volume was printed, and it seems obvious that the completion of this task signaled the time for his departure.

This image shows Srila Prabhupada in Delhi with his Bhagwatams before departing for the US. After obtaining his passport and visa, Srila Prabhupada boarded the Jaladuta steamship in Calcutta, on August 13th, 1965. Several trunks containing 200 sets of his 3-volume Srimad-Bhagwatams were loaded aboard en route.

In this entry from Srila Prabhupada's Jaladuta Dairy, August 22, 1965, he wrote:

"At about 10 a.m. we are now in the dockyard of Cochin. The dock is peculiar because it is by nature full of small islands. Some of the islands are full with nice hutments formerly known as British Island. I saw my books from Bombay arrived in five cases and the agents loaded them on the ship at 4 p.m. on 22/8/65."

In his letter to Hanuman Prasad Poddar, written 2-05-70 in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada tells some of the history of his Srimad Bhagwatams:

".... In 1936, my Spiritual Master left this world leaving a message for me that it would be better for me to preach in English language. So I was thinking very seriously, and then, as late as 1944 I started my paper, "Back to Godhead." Gradually, in 1954, I retired from my family life and began to live alone in Mathura Vrindaban. In 1959, I was awarded Sannyas by one of my Godbrothers, His Holiness B.P. Kesava Maharaja.

Then I began translating Srimad-Bhagavatam in 1960; and, perhaps in 1961, I was your guest in the Gita Bagicha. You were very kind to help me partially for publishing my first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam through the Dalmia Charitable Trust. With great difficulty, I then published the second and third volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam until 1965, when I prepared myself to come to this country with some books.

With great difficulty, I was able to get the "P" Form passed by the Controller of Foreign Exchange, and, someway or other, I reached Boston on 17th September, 1965. I was thinking, while on board the ship "Jaladuta," why Krishna had brought me to this country. I knew that Western people are too much addicted to so many forbidden things according to our Vedic conception of life. So out of sentiment I wrote a long poetry addressing Lord Krishna as to what was His purpose in bringing me to this country.

At that time, I was sponsored by a friend's son, Gopala Agarwal, who is settled up in this country by marrying an American girl, Sally. I was their guest, and I feel very much obliged to Gopala and his wife Sally for their nice treatment and reception. I was with them for three weeks in Butler, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then I came to New York. I was getting some money by selling my Srimad-Bhagavatam, thus I was maintaining myself in New York. After some time, I rented one apartment at number 100 71st Street West, but after a few months, all my things--typewriter, tape recorder, books--were stolen. Then for some time one of my students gave me shelter at Bowery Street.

I then rented one store-front and an apartment at 26 Second Avenue for $200 per month, but without any source of income. I started my classes and sometimes, on Sundays, I used to chant Hare Krishna Mantra in Tomkins Square Park from three to 5 P.M. During this time, all the young boys and girls used to gather around me, sometimes poet Ginsberg would come to see me, and sometimes a reporter from the New York Times came to see me. In this way, the Hare Krishna Mantra chanting became very popular on the Lower East Side."

My first introduction to these original sets of Srimad Bhagwatam was back in 1969. Even in those days, they were very rare. It was fortunate that a temple would have just one set of these books, which were handled with the utmost care. Prior to publication of the newer editions of Bhagavatam, the devotees were permitted to read these original books, which were the only ones available. Given the construction and paper quality of these early India editions, they suffered a great deal of wear and tear. Many had to be repaired or rebound. Unlike the typical condition of original Bhagwatams, this newly acquired set has obviously been sitting on a shelf for the last 35 years. They're in perfect condition, as if they were just taken out of the trunk. The only flaw is a bit of discoloration on the spine of the two earliest editions. Not surprising, given that the first edition must have sat in storage in India for three years, until the third volume was printed and packed aboard the Jaladuta.

We can only speculate as to why Srila Prabhupada chose the first three volumes of Srimad Bhagwatam as his initial translation to bring West. As we now know, he could have chosen to translate any number of books prior to coming to America. Of course, Srila Prabhupada will always be known for this work, as it is often said that his translation and purports to Srimad Bhagavatam are his primary works.

When one reads these original Bhagwatams, perhaps more than any of Srila Prabhupada's other writings, you can feel the Vrindaban mood. Srila Prabhupada was there alone writing his purports, whereas the other Bhagavatams were translated and written while he was surrounded by many followers and his ISKCON movement was rapidly growing. This was quite a contrast to the circumstances surrounding his first books. Although these books were not edited as the later ones were, and thus contain some typos and English imperfections, there is absolutely no less spiritual potency. In fact, whether its sentiment or realization, to my mind these early editions are preferable, and represent one of the strongest arguments for not making any changes or 'improvements' to the Sampradaya Acarya's books after his departure.

I feel that every newcomer to Krsna Consciousness should have the opportunity to read these original Bhagwatams so they can get to know Srila Prabhupada in a more intimate way. Towards that end, we plan to make copies of these original books available here in the website, perhaps in PDF 'snapshot' format.

In my distant past I once had a set of these books, which figuratively 'slipped out of my hands', to another devotee. Since that time, I have often regretted my decision to let them go. In my mind, it is simply a divine miracle that this lost set of Bhagwatams have manifested. The devotees have sometimes been criticized for their book distribution practices, which resulted in some of Srila Prabhupada's precious books being wasted. But the fact that this set of Bhagwatams has re-surfaced reminds me that many of Srila Prabhupada's books are out there, sitting on shelves or packed away. By Krsna's arrangement, some will end up in the hands of those for whom the books will change their lives. Someone with no previous exposure to Krsna Consciousness may pass them on without knowing their value. Others, like our Ebay bookseller friend, Anne, may recognize their potential value and offer them to the world.

Of all the books that came over to America with Srila Prabhupada on the Jaladuta, we're not sure where many of the other sets are. We would like to establish a Registry for these original books, and invite anyone with information about them to contact us. If you know someone who is caring for Srila Prabhupada's original books, or is also keeping track of their whereabouts, please let us know so we can be in touch with them.

Rocana dasa
December 28, 2003