ISKCON’s flagship center – the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, West Bengal – has just reached a major milestone with the grand opening on February 13th of its massive 100,000 square-foot pujari seva facility to serve Sri Sri Radha Madhava.
As it was held during the annual Gaura Purnima festival, three to four thousand devotees from around the world, along with ISKCON India leaders, sannyasis, and all the members of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission were in attendance.
The event began at 9:00am with an elephant procession in which the small utsav deities of Sri Sri-Radha Madhava, as well as Nityananda Paduka (Lord Nityananda’s sacred shoes) and Srila Prabhupada were carried to the TOVP Seva Office.
Planetarium Director Jayapataka Swami and TOVP Chairman Ambarish Das then hoisted a victory flag inscribed with a sun and moon, after which Fundraising Director Braja Vilasa Das gave an introduction, describing the the TOVP pujari facility as unprecedented.
“Nobody holds a grand opening for a pujari floor, because pujari floors in other temples are generally one or two rooms,” he says. “This has sixty-nine rooms, and a space covering more than 1.5 acres.”
Many senior devotees, including Ambarisa Das, his wife Svaha Dasi, Jayapataka Swami, Sivarama Swami, Radhanath Swami, Bhakti Purushottama Swami, and Mayapur head pujari Jananivasa Das then spoke. Throughout their speeches, they emphasized how important it was to open the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium by 2022 for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada, and encouraged all donors to keep up their financial pledges so that the temple could open in a timely manner.
They then appreciated and recognized all the devotees who have sacrificed time and money for the project, presenting them each with a small model of the TOVP as a gift.
After a fire yajna performed by students of the Mayapur Gurukula to create auspiciousness, the small deities of Sri Sri Radha Madhava were taken to each room on the Pujari floor, with Braja Vilasa Das reporting to Them what the room was for.
Once the deities had seen Their new facility, all the assembled devotees made their way through the floor to watch GBC members officially open twenty-five of the main rooms.
Each GBC member had been allotted a room to open: Sivarama Swami, for instance, opened the Utsav Kitchen; Jayapataka Swami the Radharani Kitchen; Bhakti Charu Swami the Madhuram Kitchen; Radhanath Swami the dressmaking unit for Radha Madhava; Devamrita Swami the dressmaking unit for Pancha Tattva; Gopal Krishna Goswami the Nrsimhadeva jewellery area; and Anuttama Das the head pujari’s quarters.
Rather than the Western method of ribbon-cutting to open a new construction, the GBC members used the Vedic tradition, lighting a lamp in each room.
The event concluded at 2:00pm, with Sri Sri Radha Madhava returning to Their temple, and the devotees tucking into a huge prasadam feast sponsored by Ambarisa Das.
The TOVP pujari floor, devotees observed, is a five-star facility, filled with marble, pillars, intricate gold filigree, and chandeliers. It includes five kitchens, such as the Radharani Kitchen for general use; the Madhuram Kitchen for cakes and sweets; and the Utsav Kitchen for festivals; along with many rooms for associated activities like cold storage, bhoga storage, and plate transfer.
Meanwhile the dressmaking units for Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Pancha Tattva and Lord Nrsimhadeva cover a nearly 10,000 square-foot area, with sewing rooms and other facilities.
“Currently we only make two or three dresses for Their Lordships per year,” says Braja Vilasa. “With this facility, we will be able to make at least six or seven.”
The pujari floor also includes a 7,000-square foot festival preparation room that can host over 500 devotees at work to create ISKCON Mayapur’s massive festivals; a 7,000 square-foot deity dress storage room; a 4,000 square-foot flower garland-making room; a conference room; and pujari residential quarters.
In addition, the pujari floor features an elevator up to the altar area, so that bhoga, outfits and more can be transported handily back and forth. “This temple is huge, and getting from one area to another can be difficult,” says chairman Ambarisa Das. “So we’re trying to make it as easy for the pujaris as possible.”
“This is a major milestone for the TOVP,” Braja Vilasa adds. “It shows every devotee who has sacrificed for this project that things are happening, and shows Srila Prabhupada that we are behind his dream one hundred per cent, and are sure that we will make the planned grand opening date of 2022 a reality.”
The next milestone will be the opening of the temple’s Nrsimhadeva wing in 2021, followed by the Deities moving into Their new home and the grand opening of the TOVP’s temple floor in 2022.
This grand opening will be celebrated with five opening festivals over two months during the Gaura Purnima period (starting in mid January 2022), to accommodate the vast number of devotees who will want to participate in such a historic occasion.
The first opening will see Lord Nrsimhadeva installed in His new temple for the protection of the devotees. During the second, the fifteen Guru Parampara Deities will be installed. On the third, Pancha Tattva, the main Deities of the TOVP, will move into Their new temple. On the fourth, Sri Sri Radha Madhava and Their Asta Sakhis will appear. And the fifth will be a special opening festival for VIPs. Each opening will be followed by ten days of cultural festivities.
Seeing the TOVP finally come to fruition is a special moment for Ambarisa Das, who has been working hard to realize it for his beloved Srila Prabhupada for decades.
“I feel that we’re honoring Prabhupada through this temple,” he says. “As we say every day, ‘all glories to Srila Prabhupada.’So all the glories of this temple really belong to Srila Prabhupada, who struggled so hard to bring us the gift of Krishna consciousness, especially in the beginning in New York when he had nothing. So we want to reciprocate with him by offering him this temple.”
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