By Narasimha das
Before Srila Prabhupada’s first revised editions of Srimad-Bhagavatam were complete, we used to study and have classes from Srila Prabhupada’s India editions of the first three cantos. The devotees loved these editions, even though it seemed they were “irregularly composed” and contained some obvious typos. We thought Srila Prabhupada’s English was exotic and beautifully poetic, but perhaps dated or influenced by British prose from the 1800s. We later learned that these editions were edited by an old man in India connected with Srila Prabhupada’s first book publisher in New Delhi. This man must have been a great soul to be blessed by Srila Prabhupada with this service. Srila Prabhupada had obviously wanted to engage him, by His causeless mercy. Yet, as we later learned, Srila Prabhuapda’s English was perfect, even from a contemporary American point of view. This became clearly obvious when devotees discovered His early writings in Back to Godhead Magazine, His poems, and His first editions of Sri Isopanisad and Easy Journey to Other Planets. Thus, it would seem, there may have been another reason why Srila Prabhupada allowed an unqualified man in India to edit or proof His first editions of Srimad-Bhagavatam: to glorify the prediction of Srila Vyasadeva Himself.
Srila Prabhupada very humbly writes in His Preface to Srimad-Bhagavatam: “I must admit my frailties in presenting Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but still I am hopeful of its good reception by the thinkers and leaders of society on the strength of the following statement of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.5.11:
‘On the other hand, that literature which is full with descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, form and pastimes of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a transcendental creation meant to bring about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though irregularly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.’ ” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, Preface, 12/15/1962)
Srila Prabhupada later engaged some of His educated disciples for the sake of making some of His books technically more presentable for the wider academic community (“the thinkers and leaders of society”), and under His direct supervision, they engaged in this service. Srila Prabhupada accepted their service and finalized those authorized editions.
On the other hand, when Lord Chaitanya was playing His pastimes of being a scholar, before He manifested His pastimes of pure devotional service, He used to try to debate devotees on topics of philosophy, grammar, and logic. These pure devotees, although competent to debate these topics, would run away because they did not like discussions not directly about Krishna. Then one day Nimai Pandit happened to meet Srila Isvara Puri in Navadvipa and offered him obeisance. Isvara Puri stayed in Navadvipa Dhama at the house of Gopinatha Acharya for a few months, and Nimai Pandit would go regularly to see him. Srila Isvara Puri then began to teach Nimai Pandit his book, Sri Krishna-lilamrita. After a while, Srila Isvara Puri requested Nimai Pandit to point out the mistakes in his book (Sri Krishna-lilamrita) and indicated his desire to correct the mistakes under Nimai’s guidance.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravasti Thakura comments as follows: “Hearing his words, The Lord condemned mundane scholarship and spoke the following invaluable nectarean words: ‘First of all, this book is composed by such a pure devotee as Puripada, and, moreover, it is full of topics about Krishna. Therefore, whoever finds faults in this book is certainly an offender. The poetry of a pure devotee, in whatever form it may be, is always pleasing to Krishna. There is no doubt about it. The Supreme Lord never sees any grammatical faults in the statements of His devotees. A person who finds faults in the statements of a devotee is himself full of faults. No one is so audacious as to find faults in the descriptions of the Supreme Lord by a pure devotee like Puripada.’” (Sri Chaitanya-Bhagavata, Summary of Chapter 11)
In 1977, Srila Prabhupada noticed some changes in his Srimad-Bhagavatam that he did not authorize. He therefore instructed devotees to go back to printing the original ISKCON editions he had previously authorized. He also several times instructed that no additional editing or changes were needed in any of his books. Leaders of the present-day iskcon have repeatedly ignored his instructions in this regard and continue to promote and sell unauthorized versions of his books, some with numerous changes done without Srila Prabhupada’s approval.]