As a young man in Lille, France, Anandamaya Dasa probably never expected to live most of his adult life in India. But in 1971, he took an epic journey that would change his life, driving thousands of miles from his home to the mystical Eastern country, where he planned to spend a year traveling.
On his way home, however, he happened to stop in Bihar, where several of Srila Prabhu-pada’s disciples from ISKCON Calcutta were attending a mela. Anandamaya spoke to Tamal Krishna Goswami, and Achyutananda and Guru-kripa Prabhus, and was so fascinated with their philosophy that he followed them to Calcutta. “I joined ISKCON there in 1972, and have lived in India ever since,” he says.
India certainly seemed to be Anandamaya’s destiny—only four years later, when he was living in Hyderabad, he discovered his life’s work. “Srila Prabhupada came to inaugurate the new temple there, and was delighted to see it,” he says. “But I remember he told the president Mahamsa Swami, ‘You have only done fifty per cent of the work.’ Mahamsa’s face fell, and Prabhupada explained, ‘To do the remaining fifty per cent, you have to print all my books in Telugu.’”
The instruction embedded itself in Anandamaya’s mind. When Prabhupada requested an outside pandit named S. Krishnamurti to translate his books into Telugu, Anandamaya assisted him, printing whatever Krishnamurti translated, and the Hyderabad BBT was born.
“It was difficult and slow work,” says Anandamaya. “Bhakti Charu Swami was translating in Bengal, and later Gour Govinda Swami in Bhubaneswar. But we had no devotees proficient in the complicated Telugu language, nobody to check if the translations were accurate. I did my best, talking to the translator and systematically eliminating any philosophical discrepancies.” It wasn’t until 1984 that the first complete edition of Bhagavad-gita finally appeared, but when it did it was a victory for Anandamaya and BBT Hyderabad.
Now, twenty-four years later, and fifteen years since he took on BBT work full-time, Anandamaya is BBT Hyderabad’s Telugu branch manager. With Telugu the third most spoken language in India after Hindi and Bengali, that means he’s serving a potential audience of sixty million.
And all from a 300 square-foot office in the basement of the Hyderabad temple. Anandamaya’s not complaining, however. “It’s pleasant and cool in the summer, and the temple atmosphere is very favorable for working on Prabhupada’s books,” he says. “I feel that the BBT is not a commercial enterprise—it is a spiritual activity. So I’ve tried to keep Prabhupada in the center and keep the atmosphere here spiritual, broad-minded and open.”
A large 2,000 square-foot warehouse helps too, allowing the Hyderabad BBT to store books for dispatching to ISKCON centers, although Anandamaya estimates that it will become too small for their needs within the next five years. With a total of 197,709 Telugu books sold in 2007, and book sales of almost eight million rupees, that’s a foreseeable outcome.
“We get our inspiration from Prabhupada’s instructions, from dedicated book distributors around the world, and from ISKCON centers that encourage book distribution, such as Tirupati, Bangalore, Rajmundry and others,” says Anandamaya. “By watching them, we have managed to increase our book distribution by ten per cent every year, and expect to continue in the future.”
Anandamaya and his small team are also doing their best to make sure all of Prabhupada’s books are available in Telugu, just as he wanted them. So far, they’ve published six big books, twenty small books by Srila Prabhupada, and five books by other ISKCON authors.
“Prabhupada used to say, ‘Every time a new book is printed, I feel like I have conquered a new empire,’” Anandamaya recalls. “I never quite understood that. But when our latest release, Prabhupada’s biography, finally arrived from the printer after ten long years of so many different corrections, translators, and printing problems, I finally could truly comprehend what he meant.”
Next on the slate for BBT Hyderabad is Teachings of Queen Kunti, currently under translation, and expected by next year. Their most challenging project ever, the translation and printing of Caitanya-Caritamrita, will follow. “It’s a very difficult job that requires lots of dedication, devotion and knowledge,” says Anandamaya. “We can only start once we have managed to build a team of devotee translators.”
Translators are BBT Hyderabad’s main obstacle to large scale success. While more devotees are currently involved in editing, correction and some translation, the bulk of translation work is still handled by outside pandits. This represents a big challenge for Anandamaya—translators well acquainted with Lord Chaitanya and Prabhupada’s presentation of philosophy are hard to find. On top of that, the difficult language used by professional pandits rarely appeals to a generation that’s becoming less and less interested in reading spiritual literature.
“My prayer is that more learned devotees in Hyderabad, and worldwide, will join the BBT and contribute with their skills and knowledge,” says Anandamaya. “I feel that the BBT is not sufficiently recognized by ISKCON as one of its most important activities—fifty per cent of the mission, according to Srila Prabhupada. So I request that all ISKCON managers encourage devotees talented in writing, languages, art, graphics, composition and computer skills to help the BBT, so that Prabhupada’s mission can be fully realized.”