We offer our respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder-Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, who has delivered the light of the Bhāgavata to the whole world. We are pleased to present for his pleasure this publication of his sublime work Light of the Bhāgavata.
Of all His Divine Grace’s writings, this work is perhaps the most unique. It was written in Vṛndāvana in 1961 in response to an invitation to attend a world conference, the Congress for Cultivating the Human Spirit, held in Japan. As most of the participants to the Conference were from the Orient, Śrīla Prabhupāda considered deeply how he could best present the timeless teachings of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam suitable to the Oriental people. The original Bhāgavatam was written over five thousand years ago as an extremely large book composed of eighteen thousand verses. Participants to the conference would not have the time to hear it all. He therefore chose one chapter from the original version for presentation.
The chapter he selected was a description of the autumn season in Vṛndāvana, the place of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s appearance. Śrīla Prabhupāda knew that the Oriental people were very fond of hearing descriptions of nature and that the time of the autumn season is particularly auspicious to them. Presenting spiritual philosophy by examples from nature would be best for their understanding. For each seasonal phenomenon, a parallel teaching could be given. For example, the dark, cloudy evening of the rainy autumn season when no stars are visible is compared to the present materialistic, godless civilization when the bright stars of the Bhāgavata’s wisdom (the devotees and scriptures) are temporarily obscured. Altogether Śrīla Prabhupāda composed forty-eight commentaries to go along with the verses of the chapter.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s plan was that the organizers of the conference should find a qualified Oriental artist to illustrate each verse, and he wrote directions from which the artist could design each painting. He hoped that the paintings and their accompanying explanations would make an impressive display for visitors to the conference. If possible, he wished that there might be published a book containing the illustrations and the texts.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Śrīla Prabhupāda was unable to attend the conference, and the whole project of Light of the Bhāgavata was postponed. In fact, at the time of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance the Light of the Bhāgavata still remained unpublished and the illustrations not yet painted.
The task of completing this great project was therefore left in the hands of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the publishing house dedicated to keeping all of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books in print. Particularly, the work was assigned to the Hong Kong branch of the Book Trust, since Śrīla Prabhupāda had meant the book especially for the Oriental people. After much searching it was our good fortune to secure the help of the renowned artist Madame Li Yun Sheng, whose mature creative talent and sensitive brushwork alone could properly complement Prabhupāda’s beautiful descriptions of the autumn season. Thus the beautifully effulgent light of the Bhāgavata may now shine upon the world.
The book has been divided into two sections to accommodate the tastes of different readers. Those who prefer to gaze with poetic imagination will appreciate the first section which contains the beautiful color reproductions of Madame Li’s work, forty-eight paintings completed in less than a year’s time, meticulous in their detail despite her advanced age and sometimes failing eyesight. Undoubtedly, this collection presents the culmination of her long distinguished career as one of the great artists of modern China. Her Gongbi style of painting together with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s poetic descriptions which appear along side make for a unique blending of the world’s two oldest cultural traditions—India and China.
Those readers who wish to go more deeply into the philosophy of the Light of the Bhāgavata may turn to the black and white section of the book. There they will find the complete commentaries written by Śrīla Prabhupāda along with small miniature reproductions of the paintings to help identify the painting being described.
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