Abhirama Dasa

The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will be a great feat 
of engineering that will attract worldwide attention.

The following general description of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium is based on interviews with two members of the prestigious London engineering firm of Alan Baxter and Associates: Alan Baxter (founder) and Ian Stephenson (partner). Ian is the engineer for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium. The temple fits in with the firm's diverse portfolio. They have engineered contemporary construction, restored ancient stupas, and preserved and renovated such English landmarks as St. Paul's, the Tower of London, and the Houses of Parliament.

THE TEMPLE OF the Vedic Planetarium will be built five meters above the highest recorded flood level of the Ganges. The entire structure rests atop a poured concrete slab 2.5 meters thick covering roughly four acres. This slab will act as a raft to literally float the building on the muddy Gangetic delta which makes up Mayapur. (Srila Prabhupada first conceived of a large concrete raft as a foundation for the temple in August 1971.)

The temple consists of three connected domed structures. The first, the Exhibition Hall, will include many exhibits, a large planetarium, and a Garuda stambha (a column supporting the carved image of Garuda, the bird-carrier of Lord Visnu). The smallest of the three structures, the Exhibition Hall will be about nine stories high.

The second building, the Kirtana Hall, will be approximately eighteen stories tall two stories taller than Srila Prabhupada's Samadhi and features an enormous vyasasana (seat of honor) for Srila Prabhupada at its center. The third structure, the Shikar, or main temple, will stand about thirty-five stories tall. This building will house a magnificent Deity chamber, with altars for Radha-Madhava, life-size Panca-Tattva deities (Lord Caitanya and His four main associates), and the guru-parampara (succession of past gurus). The spires and inner dome of this building will be on a scale with the largest religious structures on earth, including St. Paul's in London and St. Peter's in Rome. Simply entering the temple complex will overwhelm and inspire the visitor.

Construction of the Exhibition Hall will begin in 2001 and will be completed within three to four years. After this building goes up, it will be available for use while the rest of the construction continues. It will also give a chance for the engineers to test their building techniques.

Bricks, Concrete No Steel

The entire structure will be built with bricks fired from Ganges silt. Near Mayapur an ancient Bengali palace built essentially the same way still stands after nine hundred years.

"One of the most unusual aspects of this project is that we must plan so carefully where we will acquire the building materials," Ian says. "The temple will require a concrete mixing factory built on site for the foundation, and we have yet to finalize exactly how we will acquire the bricks."

Traditional construction, both in Bengal and in the West, often relied solely on bricks. Some ancient brick and lime structures, such as Roman aqueducts, are used even today. With the advent of steel and reinforced concrete, bricks were reduced to serving as non-load-bearing infill between steel or concrete columns. Much to the chagrin of their owners, such metal-skeletoned structures often deteriorate within a hundred years. The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, built solely of bricks and concrete, will last a thousand years. If cared for, it will stand indefinitely.

To protect the temple from the possibility that the meandering Ganga herself could someday erode the foundation of the temple, the engineers have utilized the ingenious "rip-rap" system. Should water ever begin to undermine the ground near the temple, huge blocks of granite, pre-set around the foundation, will stop the erosion. Securing the building's foundation, these granite blocks, in effect, create a barrier wall and would make the temple an island. Many long-standing bridges employ this system.

Constructing the temple complex will require workers to revive traditional building skills.

"We've encountered the same situation in England," says Alan Baxter. "Buildings constructed by our fathers from steel and reinforced concrete fifty years ago are already coming down. British masons are now reviving the techniques used to build structures that have stood for centuries. Modern construction techniques engender less pride in construction and lead to less contact between the builder and the building."

"In caring for ancient buildings as our firm does, we can see clearly what has gone wrong," Alan continues. "Sometimes our predecessors used metal to repair old structures and ended up causing more harm than the original damage. Understanding this, we have omitted metal in the construction plans for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium."

From his preservation work for the Sri Lankan government on 1,600-year-old Buddhist stupas, Alan concludes, "Vegetation poses the greatest threat to buildings of this type. For that reason we'll cover the temple with a skin of lime mortar, just as the Romans used."

Rooted In Tradition

Even from an engineering viewpoint, Alan expects that the Temple will be a highly significant building.

"There are other buildings under construction using traditional techniques, but nothing on this scale. It should have a catalytic effect on the building industry and architecture worldwide."

"Much of twenty-first century architecture reflects excessive ambition and is simply overblown," Alan continues. "This temple, built from local materials, is rooted deep in tradition. It is a building of world importance, not only in scale but in architectural techniques. I can foresee this temple becoming the center of a large town, just as twelfth- or thirteenth-century monasteries became the centers of towns still thriving today throughout Europe."

When asked if the lengthy design phase is unusual, Ian says strongly, "Not at all. There is always a long gestation period for religious buildings of this magnitude. The Washington Cathedral, for example, in the capital of the most prosperous nation on earth, took nearly a century to build and was finished only a few years ago.

"As the project engineers, we are naturally very eager to see the temple go up in our lifetimes."