It is happening.
The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, a project that has been ISKCON’s evasive super-goal for over two decades, is finally coming to fruition. Government permissions have been received, contractors are being hired, and the inauguration will be held in February 2010.
What’s so special about the TOVP? Well, it was back in the 1970s that ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada first expressed his desire to build a Vedic Planetarium at his society’s headquarters in Mayapur, India. “Within the planetarium we will construct a huge, detailed model of the universe as described in the text of the fifth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam,” he said.
Of course, as with everything he did, Srila Prabhupada was acting in fulfillment of the desires of previous spiritual teachers. A grand temple for Mayapur was predicted by none other than Lord Nityananda, the most intimate associate of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, some five hundred years ago. Speaking to Srila Jiva Goswami, the Lord said:
“When our Lord Chaitanya disappears, by His desire, the Ganges will swell. The Ganges water will almost cover Mayapur for a hundred years, and then the water will again recede. For some time only the place will remain, devoid of houses. Then again, by the Lord’s desire, this place will again be manifest, and the devotees will build temples of the Lord. One exceedingly wonderful temple (adbhuta-mandira) will appear from which Gauranga’s eternal service will be preached everywhere.”
Srila Prabhupada wanted this great temple to have a specific look. In July 1976, during a visit to Washington D.C., he instructed Yadubara Dasa and Visakha Dasi to take photographs of the domed Capitol building there, as a basis for the TOVP. And in the early days of ISKCON in London, he gave further detailed instructions on what different parts of the temple should look like, directing many senior devotees make drawings and models of the building.
Sadbhuja Dasa, a Melbourne-born devotee who has worked on the TOVP project for twenty-two years and is now its Managing Director, explains that the current—and final—design for the temple is what Prabhupada wanted. “A few years back, under Harikesa Prabhu’s management, we were desigining a South-Indian style temple, and it somehow never manifested,” he says. “But now that the new team—headed by Chairman Ambarisa Prabhu (Alfred Ford) and myself—have gone back to Prabhupada’s desire, everything has suddenly come together.”
The recent surge of development certainly seems like a sign from above. In just three months--May, June and July of 2009—the West Bengal government gave the project all the permission it needed to go ahead.
First off came stamped permission to build on the land, an ISKCON Trust site which Srila Prabhupada intended to be used for building a temple on and years ago sanctified with fire sacrifices and a cornerstone ceremony.
Second and third to give their permissions were the government’s environmental department, and the Municipal Department, for fire and hazard protection.
“The height of the temple—over 300 feet, or thirty storeys—had also been a problem,” says Sadbhuja, “Since government law in the area stipulated no buildings over forty-five feet. But the government gave their sealed and stamped permission for this too, creating a bylaw just for our temple.”
Finally, ISKCON had to receive clearance from the Panchayat, Mayapur’s local government. “A few years ago when they heard that we were talking about building, they didn’t approve,” Sadbhuja says. “But now that we’ve got all our stamps of approval from the West Bengal Government, the local government is very excited. Because this will create atmosphere, jobs, and revenue for the local people. So they also gave us permission.”
The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will be a stunning spritiual monument, dwarfing the already huge Srila Prabhupada Samadhi Mandir and featuring three giant gold domes. The middle, and largest, dome will house three different altars: one for the Gaudiya Vaishnava line of teachers and disciples, ranging from the Six Goswamis of the 15th century all the way to Srila Prabhupada; one for the Pancha-tattva of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates; and one for Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava and their eight principal gopi servants.
In the center of the middle dome, hanging from the ceiling, will be a huge rotating model of the universe as described in sacred texts such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Described by Srila Prabhupada in his letters, the model will be in the form of a chandelier, two hundred feet across, and will feature displays explaining how Vedic cosmology corresponds to the visible universe of our experience.
A smaller dome on the TOVP’s right hand side will serve as a separate temple for Krishna’s half-man half lion form, Lord Nrsimhadeva. And on the left hand side of the main temple, another dome will offer an enlivening tour of the various regions of the cosmic creation. Beginning from the lower planets, pilgrims will be able to travel up through the earthly realm and then on to the higher planetary systems, before passing beyond the boundary of the material universe. Within the spiritual realm, visitors will view the various spiritual planets, before finally arriving at the topmost spiritual abode of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna.
It was only one week ago that the TOVP management team handed a 300-page tender and hundreds of drawings over to contractors. “The contractors will consider these, and on December 29th they will return to Mayapur with their bids in sealed envelopes,” says Sadbhuja. “A decision on which contractor to go with will be made by some time in January.”
Meanwhile, no one is hanging around. Land is being cleared, and soon mobilization of all facilities required by the contractors will begin, gearing up for construction to commence.
At 10:00am on February 14, 2010, as part of the annual Gaura Purnima Festival, the historic inauguration ceremony for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will be conducted. The program will include a Vedic fire yajna to invoke auspiciousness for the successful completion of the temple. And four large copper plates, with various Vedic signs carved on them, will be laid at the four corners of the temple construction site. The ceremony will be presided over by one of India’s most well-known Vastu shastra consultants.
The first phase of construction—piles, foundation and superstructure—will follow the inauguration, and will take around three years. Three years after that, although detail work will continue, the deities will be installed and the TOVP will become a fully functional temple.
After twenty-two years on the project, Sadbhuja is just as amazed as the rest of ISKCON to see the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium finally being built. “It’s actually happening! Everybody is shocked and excited and happy,” he says. “Regretably, the local devotees’ lives are being completely turned upside down—the construction site is disrupting their usual peace, and the parks and gardens they were used to are gone and will be replaced by new ones. But still, they are just as excited, if not more so, than everybody else.”
“It’s not easy to predict when the entire project will be completed at this stage,” Sadbhuja concludes, “But we’re hoping it will be done within the next ten years.”