Situated at New Vrindaban, West Virginia is Srila Prabhupada’s smriti shrine or memorial shrine – Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. The beautiful palace that was constructed by the disciples of Srila Prabhupada in 1973 as an offering of love to their spiritual master.
Over time, large parts of the concrete domes, outer wall, balustrade railing, and steps started to deteriorate, sections of wrought iron rusted irreparably, and the roof sustained leaks.
In 2009, a Palace Restoration Committee was established. Deciding to patch up the roof until they were ready to embark on a full fix, the Committee began with more visible, smaller projects that would allow devotees and visitors to see the progress.
Palace Restoration Manager Gopisa Das describes the significance and urgency of the restoration. He states, “We needed to do something to revitalize Prabhupada’s Palace as the palace is the heart of New Vrindaban. It was built out of love by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. There would never be another place like it anywhere in the world”
Gopisa Das came to New Vrindaban for the first time in 1979 for the palace opening and to help finish the Palace’s wrought iron gates. He shares how he came into Krishna Consciousness and reveals his journey in the Palace restoration work. He also leads us into the future plans of ISKCON New Vrindaban.
How did you come into Krishna Consciousness?
Gopisa: In 1969, somebody received a small record from Apple. There was the maha-mantra on one side and the spiritual master on the other side and someone had the record player and they played it. The song kept on in my mind for the next week. A couple of years later I came back to the United States and was in a concert wherein outside I saw two devotees one with mridanga and one with kartal. This was in Florida and they were from Miami. I heard them saying, “Stay high forever.” This was pretty interesting. At that time my sister and I were already vegetarian. She visited the temple at Gainsville, Florida and my mother was wondering what was going on with her. So, she sent me to the temple. I met my sister and she asked me to meet Prabhupada who was coming to visit the temple. So, I met him, got very much attracted, and decided to move to the temple in 1973. So, that is how I came to Krishna Consciousness.
How did the idea of the domes get conceived and what are your contributions?
Well, Srila Prabhupada’s Palace was built in the 1970s. At that time the devotees were very hard. It was all Prabhupada’s disciples. Some of the things that were done, the way the concrete was poured in, the devotees learned as they went in doing. So, just because of the type of construction that was done at the time, there was some degradation. So over time as the material energy is always degrading and so too with the domes, with the roof and there was leaking on the roof.
We knew we needed to do something to bring Prabhupada’s Palace in its form and glory. So architects and engineers were hired and included in the committee that was formed. A great deal was done to see the current state and then a plan was put to see what to do. So I became involved in that at a certain point and I was working under the direction of the Palace Restoration Committee and a plan was put up. We spent a great deal of time, planning and deciding.
The new dome is actually larger than the original. The shape is more elegant, similar to the shape in Krishna Balaram Temple in Vrindavan. We also wanted to honor the temple there.
We designed on the original outlay and just enhanced it to make it even more beautiful.
The design work was originally painted black and is now changed. So everything is now quite bigger. The front dome is a little bigger. The next dome is a bit higher with the base underneath the dome. The windows that were formerly part of the dome are now part of the base. The main dome has the same base.
What were the challenges that you faced?
We ran into Covid. The shipping went up dramatically. It was difficult to find contractors. It became very challenging but at the same time rewarding because the devotees were really happy with the end result. That was a good indication that Srila Prabhupada is pleased and accepted the service.
How was your experience seeing everyone coming together and helping restore Srila Prabhupada’s Palace?
It was quite wonderful. Everyone loves Srila Prabhupada’s Palace and to see Prabhupada’s Palace restored. So, of course, the cooperation was there. We have two Corporations- ISKCON New Vrindaban and ECO Vrindavan that worked together and actually contributed to the expenses of restoring the palace. Besides the domes, we actually did the front wall and the steps. The steps were the very first thing because there was a liability issue and the walls are the first thing everybody sees. The railings were put up. So the walls were redone and now the domes and the roof have been done. Everybody contributed together by donating whatever they could.
What do you expect in the future with more and more participation in protecting the beautiful Palace of Srila Prabhupada?
Prabhupada’s Palace is a centerpiece and a center of activities. There are these wonderful Sunday brunches where they go out in the rose garden all throughout the summer which are quite wonderful. And we have Friday night kirtans. Weddings taking place. So really we want to see increased activity around Prabhupada’s Palace.
It is a big project. We have just started with the steps, walls, and roof. The entire ground outside needs to be developed. There was a restaurant and gift shop that has been closed down for many years. We also intend to fully renovate the downstairs area making sure there is no moisture there. Then we want to put in an audio-video room on one side where it will be the opening part of the tour. People come to the back first and then they will be able to experience a wonderful audio-video presentation of Srila Prabhupada’s life and the building of the palace and Srila Prabhupada’s interaction with New Vrindaban and with the palace. And with the other half, we intend to build a nice museum over there with Srila Prabhupada’s wonderful artifacts and beautiful dioramas.
We have quite a few guests coming. Till now we have around thirty to forty thousand people coming and visiting New Vrindaban a year. So we just want that to continue more and more. We have our ‘Festival Of Colors’ that happens in next month that is September and that takes place behind Srila Prabhupada’s Palace.
What are the upcoming developments we would see in New Vrindaban since the renovation of the wall, roof, and domes has been done?
Any devotees out in ISKCON who have any particular artifacts of Srila Prabhupada be it flowers from his original samadhi, from his garlands, or maybe a tooth of Srila Prabhupada or anything they would like to give to the palace and enhance the status of Srila Prabhupada’s Palace. With flowers, it would become a Pushpa samadhi and with Prabhupada’s tooth or something like that, it would actually bring it up to the highest level.
And being as unique and wonderful as Prabhupada’s palace is, it would be a wonderful legacy for whoever wishes to donate something like that. Like the clothing of Srila Prabhupada. It would be well cared for, beautifully displayed, and of course, whoever would make such a wonderful gift to the palace their direct initial would be there as well.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies