An overview of the three main
aspects of the Sri Mayapur Project.
The chief architect for the Sri Mayapur Project is Pada Sevanam Dasa, a Ph.D. candidate at the Prince of Wales's Foundation of Architecture in England. Recently, he presented plans for the Mayapur Project to Prince Charles, who founded and oversees the Foundation and is well known as an aficionado of sacred architecture. The following overview of the Sri Mayapur Project was adapted from Pada Sevanam's presentation to Prince Charles.
SEVERAL OF Prabhupada's disciples, working as the Sri Mayapur Project Development Committee (SMPDC), have accepted as their life's mission the development of Sri Mayapur and the building of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
Says SMPDC director Abhirama Dasa, "A truly wondrous temple can neither stand in a vacuum nor rely on society's uncertainties to create an appropriate setting." Thus the Committee's mission defines a united vision for the Mayapur Project in three parts: the temple, the city, and the region.
THE TEMPLE: "To design and construct the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium with proportions, geometry, exhibits, and decor that express the Vedic cosmology while sheltering the Deities and the congregation."
Though built from the mud and terra cotta of Bengal, the 360-foot-tall temple is designed to stand for millennia. It will be the mother temple to a worldwide congregation of Krsna devotees. Its architecture will reflect grander aspirations and the sacred design principles of India.
THE TEMPLE CITY: "To design the infrastructure to support pilgrims and residents while framing and complementing the temple architecture."
To preserve the peace of two distinct communities (pilgrims and residents), town designers will knit to-gether around the temple two towns within one. Using principles of simplicity, sustainability, and traditional Bengali design, they will put in place a standard architecture for residential, commercial, and institutional buildings that frames and reflects the original temple structure.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: "To develop sustainable livelihoods and living practices for the enduring benefit of all people in the region."
As the Mayapur project unfolds, everyone in the region should enjoy an enriched quality of life. Besides providing educational and cultural opportunities, project leaders will seek to revive and enhance traditional trades such as weaving, agriculture, and handicrafts, bringing local products to national and international markets.
Abhirama Dasa explains: "Developing a world-class pilgrimage and tourism center in Mayapur will unleash dynamic economic growth throughout the immediate region. The SMPDC will aid that growth in this impoverished and flood-prone region while continuing to provide residents with generous emergency food and health care."
Here are more details of the temple, city, and regional development.
The central sacred space of traditional Hindu temples is relatively small, low, and dark, often requiring worshipers to stand in long lines for brief glimpses of the Deity. This design deliberately represents a journey within. The sankirtana movement, however, originated in Mayapur by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, emphasizes ecstatic congregational singing of God's holy names. Such worship is by nature open, lively, and expressive. The large, well-lit, soaring spaces of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium reflect Lord Caitanya's attitude of open congregational worship. Many thousands of devotees will be able to simultaneously enjoy the audience of the Deities.
Through exhibits based on rigorous scholarship, the temple will educate visitors in the Vedic world view while expressing the enthusiastic devotional spirit of the worldwide Hare Krsna movement. This combination of knowledge and devotion invokes the memory of Srila Prabhupada, who received from his Godbrothers the title "Bhaktivedanta." (Bhakti means "devotion," and vedanta means "the end of all knowledge.")
Vedic Cosmology In The Temple
With the publishing of Srila Prabhupada's translation of the Fifth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, many people were startled by its seemingly fantastic detailed description of the universe. Yet Prabhupada chose to include a planetarium as a centerpiece of the Mayapur temple to express the Vedic cosmology for the common man.
In preparing for the planetarium, head researcher Sadaputa Dasa (Dr. Richard L. Thompson) has uncovered remarkable parallels between the Vedic model and modern science. For example, Vedic cosmology centers on Bhu-mandala, a vast universal disc. A series of seven concentric ring-shaped oceans and islands mark the surface of Bhu-mandala, surrounding a central island called Jambudvipa. The colossal Mt. Meru stands in the middle of Jambudvipa.
Sadaputa Dasa has discovered that when Jambudvipa is centered on earth, the distances between the seven islands are strikingly close to the distances between the major planets [see BTG, Nov/Dec '97]. Modern reason dictates that the ancient Vedic sages had no means of calculating such distances so accurately. Yet the Vedic model of Bhu-mandala provides a remarkably accurate map of our solar system.
Sadaputa has also discovered that the general description of Bhumandala closely resembles descriptions of the universe found in many other ancient cultures in Asia, Europe, and South America.
The design of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium reflects the form of Bhumandala. The tall central structure represents Mt. Meru, and the four surrounding buildings represent the four mountain ranges surrounding Mt. Meru. Circling these central structures are seven rings in the form of pathways and gardens, drawing a parallel with the seven islands of Bhumandala. The temple itself will also be a huge astrological instrument, carefully designed to harmonize with solar solstices and equinoxes.
The Temple City
Sri Mayapur lies 140 km north of Calcutta on the plains of the Ganges in West Bengal. Followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu revere Sri Mayapur, His birthplace, as a sacred place of pilgrimage. The Ganges and Jalangi rivers converge at Sri Mayapur, creating an idyllic setting and natural boundaries surrounding the new temple. The temple's construction will naturally increase the number of Lord Caitanya's devotees who wish to visit or reside in this holy land.
Using traditional Vedic guidelines (see sidebar at right), project planners are designing a city of fifty thousand surrounding the temple. Pilgrims will find all necessary facilities, including many varieties of guest houses, dining rooms, educational opportunities, and places of worship. Residents will live and work in sections of the city dedicated for intellectual, administrative, business, and artistic pursuits. Both the residential and commercial buildings, including shops, offices, libraries, and other institutional structures, will borrow design elements from the temple itself.
To set the location for the center of the temple,which is the centerpiece of the roughly four-mile-square Mayapur City, planners drew an east/west axis due west from Srila Prabhupada's samadhi (on the west side of the Maya-pur Project land), and a north/south axis from Caitanya Mahaprabhu's birthplace to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's house. The point where the two axes intersect will be the center of the temple.
The master plan for the city will unfold in phases. As in the famous Italian city of Venice, canals will be used to divert flood waters. To heighten the experience of entering Mayapur, plans call for a grand canal from the Jalangi to deliver pilgrims to the doorstep of the temple.
The city's master plan also emphasizes cottage industries involving a variety of skills and crafts. For instance, the handloom weaving industry, long diminished in the region, can be invigorated through training, use of organic dyes and colors, and enhanced international marketing efforts. Similarly, a research institute for sustainable dairy and agriculture will support these important local industries.
The international effort to build the Mayapur temple and city will bring in fresh resources to one of the most impoverished regions on earth. Thus plans for the Mayapur Project include the people of the surrounding region. In this regard, the SMPDC takes its lead from Srila Prabhupada, who showed his compassionate spirit by starting regular massive distribution of prasadam (food offered to Krsna) in Mayapur, a program that has continued uninterrupted for over twenty years.
To give practical shape to the vision of regional development, in 1997 members of the Mayapur community set up the Sri Mayapur Vikasa Sanga ("Sri Mayapur Development Association"). International supporters include ISKCON, the United Nations Development Fund, and the Department for International Development, UK (DFID).
A growing network of village workers is helping the Sri Mayapur Vikasa Sanga (SMVS) address the health, educational, and vocational needs of some sixty thousand people in thirty villages. These devoted workers, trained by SMVS and its partners, promote better health practices among the villagers. They have assisted villagers in starting their own savings banks and credit unions and in developing cottage industries. SMVS also provides village clinics, a community-supported ambulance service, and several formal and informal educational programs.
New SMVS programs include a project sponsored by the United Na-tions Development Programme (UNDP) for setting up com-munity financing of local health needs. SMVS is also work-ing with the India-Canada Environment Facility in a crucial effort to purify arsenic-tainted drinking water that has sickened many in the region. The DFID has partnered with SMVS to increase the capacity of urban communities by helping them draw up their own indicators of sustainable development.
The leadership of the devotees involved in developing the Mayapur Project has attracted diverse international investment in the Mayapur region. By the Lord's arrangement the devotees are thus able to bring both material and spiritual enrichment to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who live in and near Mayapur.
By combining traditional building materials and modern engineering, the Sri Mayapur Project Development Committee will create one of the largest religious structures on earth. Already they are the first people in centuries to design a building meant to last more than one thousand years.
The SMPDC intends to join the divine with the practical and fulfill Srila Prabhupada's vision of a functional, harmonious, and sustainable spiritual city, centered on the precepts of Lord Caitanya, to benefit the region and the world.