Chaitanya Charitamrita Appears in Czech for the First Time
For the first time ever, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, producer of all ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s books, has published the entire Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita in Czech.
The ancient Bengali work detailing the life and teachings of Gaudiya Vaishnavism founder Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, with commentaries by Prabhupada, was first published in English in the 1970s, in a seventeen-volume edition.
Since then, it has been printed in sixteen more languages: German, French, Swedish, Finnish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Oriya, Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, and now, Czech.
In contrast to the original English edition, the Czech translation of the work appears in an economic four volumes—Adi-lila, published in 2007; Madhya-lila Part One, published in 2009, Madhya-lila Part Two, published in 2010, and Antya-lila, published in late 2011.
Each volume clocks in at between 1,500 and 1,700 pages, giving the books the highest page count of any work produced by its printer, major Czech printing company Ekon. In total, the work runs to an incredible 6,447 pages.
The books, which feature 32 classic BBT paintings of Sri Chaitanya’s pastimes in each volume for a total of 128, also stand out by virtue of being printed on extremely high quality thin print paper.
“The paper, binding, printing, and overall production quality is so high that the books are expected to have a minimum shelf-life of 80 to 100 years,” says Trilokatma Dasa, who oversees printing and coordinates the Czech Republic’s BBT translation team.
It’s not surprising that the Chaitanya Charitamrita is amongst the last of Srila Prabhupada’s books to be translated into Czech—it’s his second biggest and most elaborate work, after the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and a new foreign language edition is always a major task for the BBT.
Translation began as far back as 2002, with Asvahari Dasa at the helm.
“Although he had had no experience with literary work, and even admitted to only a poor knowledge of grammar, Asvahari proved to be an excellent choice as he is a powerful preacher, used to speaking fluently and convincingly, and has a deep zeal for doing this service,” explains Punya Palaka Dasa, another key figure in the project.
Taught the basics of the Bengali language at Prague’s Charles University, Punya Palaka was the work’s Bengali editor. He complemented the Bengali Pronunciation Guide and made sure the word for word translations were correct. He also carefully combed through Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s Bengali commentaries on the Chaitanya Charitamrita, in order to provide clarification and better edit the Czech translations of Prabhupada’s purports.
Bhakta Jan Mares, meanwhile, was the Czech editor, charged with making sure the translation was exact.
“We also had to create our own Czech transliteration of Bengali names and terms, as there were no precedents in Czech literature,” he says.
The job of proofreading and finalizing the work, including compiling its huge indexes, went to Vrindavana-priya Dasi. A particular challenge for her was to compile the index of Indian place names used in the book. Because Czech pronunciation is different, place names must also be spelled differently. Orissa, for instance, becomes Urísa, while Jessore becomes Džašohar.
Another key aspect of the work, as with all BBT productions, was the layout.
“Because Sanskrit Devanagari script presents its own unique problems, we use our own proprietary software,” says project manager and layout man Hare Krishna Dasa. “It’s created by a skilled devotee programmer, Ramakanta Dasa, who also created the Vaishnava email service PAMHO. It makes the job about twenty times faster for us than any commercial software.”
The final result of all this work was received with boundless enthusiasm by the Czech devotees, many of whom didn’t speak any other language besides their native tongue and thus would be reading the Chaitanya Charitamrita for the first time ever.
“Sometimes devotees ask why we have to publish Srila Prabhupada’s books in all the small languages,” says BBT International Director Brahma Muhurta Dasa.
“Czech, for instance, is only spoken by ten million people. But even for devotees who can read English—which is not everyone—it’s essential to have an edition in their own language. Because you have to read in your mother tongue in order to fully understand the complexities of a text, and for it to fully reach your heart.”
Determined to make Srila Prabhupada’s books available in every language, the BBT continues to work tirelessly—staff around the world are now working on no less than 160 titles simultaneously.
“Most ecstatic for us is our work on Srila Prabhupada’s core texts," says Brahma Muhurta. "And each time we receive one from the printer, it’s a festival day for us. We feel so strongly how Srila Prabhupada is pleased when his books are translated and published and then distributed in the local languages.”
Next off the presses will be the final two volumes of the nine-volume Russian edition of Chaitanya Charitamrita, a decade-long project edited by GBC member Bhakti Vijnana Goswami.
“We hope that Czech and Russian speakers everywhere will dive into the nectar of the Chaitanya Charitamrita, and embrace Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s preaching spirit by distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books all over their countries,” Brahma Muhurta concludes.