An increase in the culture of reading Srila Prabhupada’s books is in the air.
One of the catalysts for this was the 2017 Sanga for Gurus, GBCs and Sannyasis (SGGS) in Mayapur, West Bengal, at which it was felt that there should be a worldwide effort to increase reading amongst ISKCON members and leaders. Following this, ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission made a resolution in February 2020 to introduce an annual “International Sravanam Week.” The week ran from September 3rd to 9th and featured online study groups, webinars and daily Zoom interviews about reading Prabhupada’s books.
Meanwhile, individual devotees are also spearheading their own efforts to promote reading. Among them is Sulalita Devi Dasi, a second generation Russian devotee who grew up in Moscow and has lived in Mayapur for the past eight years. Sulalita’s podcast Sravanam Diaries, in which she reads daily from Srila Prabhupada’s books, is available on all major platforms and recently passed its 100-episode mark.
Attending Moscow’s Bhaktivedanta Gurukula since the age of three, Sulalita was always surrounded by Prabhupada’s books. After doing a variety of services in the arts, education and deity services over the years, in more recent times she has been maintaining the social media pages for her guru Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Swami.
When B.B. Govinda Swami gave his disciples the challenge to read all of Srila Prabhupada’s books, Sulalita managed in just two years, amazed that she had succeeded in completing a task she had always seen as massive and unattainable.
“One of the things that really helped me was audiobooks,” she says. “Whenever I did housework, I would read by listening. It was so inspiring – I felt like if only I had read all of them ten years ago, then my japa would have been so much better, and different situations in life would have been dealt with in a different way.”
To keep her own reading life stable amidst her busy services, to fulfill her guru’s instruction to her to preach, and to inspire and help others to systematically read Prabhupada’s books, Sulalita started a podcast.
During the early days of lockdown, she learned from Youtube how to professionally record and produce a podcast. With support and encouragement from her husband, Mayapur Community Hospital dentist Yasoda Jivan Das, the first episode, “The Original, Clear Consciousness,” was released in July, and by mid August episodes were being released on a daily basis.
Sravanam Diaries is relished by devotees, but is aimed more at the general public, who come across its intriguing titles – such as “Love and Faith are not Blind” and “How to Turn Time Into Our Eternal Asset” while searching for interesting podcasts.
“The first question every marketing specialist asks is, ‘Who is the target audience?’” Sulalita says. “But I believe that Srila Prabhupada’s books are universal – anybody can connect to them.”
Sravanam Diaries is available on twelve main podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. Episodes have been downloaded by people from about twenty countries. Each one is about ten to fifteen minutes long – an easily digestible size.
Throughout the podcast, Sulalita reads Srila Prabhupada’s books systematically in a similar order to study programs like Bhakti-Sastri. She has started with small books, such as The Perfection of Yoga, Easy Journey to Other Planets, Beyond Birth and Death, and Raja Vidya: The King of Knowledge, which she is currently reading.
So far, she has read 8 out of 52 volumes (or 80, depending on the editions) in Srila Prabhupada’s vast bibliography. From the small books, she will move on to works like Sri Isopanisad, The Nectar of Instruction, and The Nectar of Devotion, before reading Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam and finally Sri Caitanya-caritamrita.
Although the podcast consists mostly of Sulalita simply reading Prabhupada’s books daily – “I try to keep it less of me, and more of Prabhupada,” she says – she does share some reflections.
“Pre-reading can help avoid some mistakes in podcasts, but I don’t do that,” she explains. “Because I want to have real, live reactions to what I’m reading. For instance, in the small books some of the analogies really struck me, and so I said a few words on how I find them genius, and how they apply to my life.”
Listeners amongst the general public also relate to this sentiment, and some avail of the link to purchase the current book that Sulalita provides with every episode. One listener, after hearing a passage from Srila Prabhupada’s 1955 book “Message of Godhead” about free will, commented, “This is brilliant, I bought the book!”
The podcast, according to Sulalita, will also serve as “Practical evidence that one can read all of Srila Prabhupada’s books in less than five years, without spending many hours a day.”
“And we should,” she comments. “Prabhupada wanted us to know his books like lawyers know lawbooks!”
In the future, Sulalita hopes to expand by interviewing senior ISKCON members, new devotees, and youth about their favorite book, how Prabhupada’s books changed their life, their reading techniques, book distribution stories, and more. She also plans to use her graphic design skills to create illustrations depicting analogies from Prabhupada’s books, which will be posted to Sravanam Diaries’ Facebook and Instagram pages.
Meanwhile a website, www.sravanamdiaries.com, is under construction and is set to launch on December 25th, Gita Jayanti Day. The site will include all the episodes recorded for each book for convenient navigation, a catalog of Srila Prabhupada’s books along with links to read and purchase them, introductory articles to ISKCON and Bhakti-Yoga, a countdown of the podcast’s progress in reading all the books, book-related comics and sketches, interview videos and more.
“I hope listeners receive a connection with Srila Prabhupada,” Sulalita says. “I hope that these books will change their lives, and will bring them closer to the association of Vaishnavas, and the lotus feet of Krishna.”
Listen to Sravanam Diaries here: podlink.to/sravanam