The Rising Moon of Mayapur
By Abhijit Toley
In West Bengal, in a little-known village on the bank of the Ganges, an extraordinary temple is taking shape.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), or the Hare Krishna movement, is gradually being recognized all over the world as an authentic spiritual tradition with roots in ancient Vedic scripture and culture. Throughout history, the great spiritual traditions of the world have gifted mankind many grand monuments that serve as lasting, inspiring reminders of the glorious traditions they represent. The upcoming Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (ToVP) will be one such monument, representing ISKCON in particular and Gaudiya Vaishnavism in general. Combining modern technology, ancient science, timeless wisdom, and lively culture, the ToVP promises to be a popular spiritual destination.
The Mayapur Connection
The ToVP is rising on the banks of the Ganges in the holy town of Mayapur, West Bengal, India. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the father of the modern-day Krishna consciousness movement, narrates in his Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya how Lord Nityananda spoke to Srila Jiva Goswami (both contemporary devotees of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) about the future of Mayapur. Lord Nityananda prophesized: "When our Lord Chaitanya leaves this world, by His desire the Ganges will swell. Its water will almost cover Mayapur for a hundred years, and then the water will recede. Then, by the Lord's desire, Mayapur will again be manifest, and the devotees will build temples of the Lord. One exceedingly wonderful temple (adbhuta-mandira) will appear from which Lord Chaitanya's eternal service will be preached around the world."
Because Mayapur is where Lord Chaitanya appeared, Srila Prabhupada chose it as ISKCON's international headquarters. Lord Chaitanya, who is Krishna Himself in a golden form, appeared in Mayapur a little over five hundred years ago with the mission to flood the world with the highest love of God, a love rarely revealed. He spread the Hare Krishna mantra throughout India and prophesized that one of His "commanders" (senapati-bhakta) would one day deliver the holy names to every town and village in the world. In 1965, at seventy years of age, Srila Prabhupada arrived in the USA. Within twelve years, he inspired the founding of 108 temples in cities around the globe. Now, forty-seven years later, ISKCON continues to spread Lord Chaitanya's mission with the goal of fulfilling His prediction. ISKCON has about five hundred temples, farm communities, restaurants, and schools, and the number is growing.
It's significant that Srila Prabhupada chose Mayapur as ISKCON's international headquarters. Even today Mayapur is not well connected with the rest of the world; he didn't choose it for its material assets. Rather, he well knew the incomparable spiritual significance of Mayapur. Here Lord Chaitanya first revealed his superexcellent presentation of Vaishnavism: Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Mayapur is the highest seat of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. With the construction of the magnificent ToVP, Gaudiya Vaishnavism could become a well-known spiritual tradition all over the world, attracting millions from all walks of life to its sublime philosophy and culture.
Temple or Planetarium?
In Mayapur, Lord Chaitanya started His sankirtana movement of the congregational chanting of the holy names. The main activities of the Mayapur ISKCON temple, on whose campus the ToVP is being built, center on sankirtana and gorgeous deity worship. Whoever visits Mayapur, for whatever reason, gets a chance to experience and practice Krishna consciousness, thus ushering auspiciousness into the visitor's life.
Srila Prabhupada had a clear vision for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, one he often expressed. He wanted a unique Vedic planetarium to present the Vedic perspective of life, including a gigantic display of the material and spiritual worlds that visitors could view from different levels as they traveled through the planetarium. He wanted something startling and state-of-the-art to attract people from around the world to Mayapur.
Srila Prabhupada recognized the hold modern atheistic science has on most people. He wanted to challenge the mechanistic understanding of the universe. To educate people in the principles of Vedic cosmology is a crucial aim of the ToVP. Cosmology studies the origin and structure of the universe, and Vedic cosmology goes further, giving extensive information about its purpose and the subtle laws that govern it.
A fundamental concept pervades Vedic cosmology: Everything and everyone has a relationship with, and depends on, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, the source of the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the manifested worlds. The Vedic Planetarium and Science Center will attractively present this profound understanding. It will also provide scientific evidence that supports the idea that there is a supreme conscious intelligent being, Krishna, who is responsible for the order and complexity we observe in the universe. And the ToVP will challenge atheistic claims about human ancestry by showing through evidence and logic that life cannot come from matter and that humans could not have evolved from apes.
Five hundred years ago Mayapur was a center of learning in logic, philosophy, and theology. Today, ISKCON Mayapur hosts primary-school students as well as adults taking advanced courses in Vaishnava philosophy and practice. Mayapur's leaders, headed by His Holiness Jayapataka Swami, plan to build a university. Along with an academic education, Mayapur students also experience a practical way of life centered on devotion to God. The ToVP will be the hub of this spiritual education.
The ToVP's aim is the aim of any true temple: to attract people to God and educate them about Him. Thus, even with the emphasis on the Vedic planetarium, the ToVP is most definitely a temple—a temple with a difference, the first of its kind: the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium.
Grand and Exquisite
The ToVP will be the largest Vedic temple built in the last thousand years. Srila Prabhupada is the original ToVP architect. In letters and conversations, he clearly outlined its key features. In July 1976 he expressed his preference for the outer design of the temple. While visiting Washington, D.C., he instructed his disciples Yaduvara Dasa and Vishakha Devi Dasi to take detailed photos of the US Capitol building, which would serve as a prototype for the ToVP. The most prominent external feature of the ToVP will thus be its three towering domes. In consideration of Prabhupada's various instructions, the highest and central dome, more than three hundred feet tall, will house three sets of deities. On the left will be the disciplic succession of spiritual masters in which Srila Prabhupada came. In the center will be huge, effulgent Panca-tattva deities: Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Nityananda Prabhu, Sri Adwaita, Sri Gadadhara, and Sri Srivasa, who are already being worshiped today in the present Mayapur temple. And on the right will be the gorgeous Sri Sri Radha-Madhava and Their intimate servants the eight principal gopis (cowherd girls). The combined presence of all these deities on the 140-foot-wide ToVP altar will offer a deity darshana (viewing) unmatched in the world.
The huge temple space around the central deities will hold ten thousand devotees. The high ceiling of the dome will remind visitors of the greatness of God and inspire humility and submission to Him. Hanging inside the central dome will be a chandelier with a difference: a moving 3-D model of the structure of the universe as described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Visitors will be able to study the universe from multiple levels. At each level will be galleries and exhibits to explain the various aspects of the universe, along with its purpose. The highest level will take visitors on a tour of the spiritual world.
The inside walls of the central dome will be of the best marble, ornamented with gold inlays. Onyx, known for its translucence and delicacy, will adorn the altar. Two smaller domes will flank the central dome. The dome on the right will house the deity of Lord Nrisimha. Its interiors will be South Indian style and dominated by black. The dome on the left will house the Vedic Planetarium. The temple will use green architecture. For example, a state-of-the-art system for natural airflow will ventilate the central and right domes. In contrast, the Vedic Planetarium, consisting of multiple floors and seminar halls, will be fully air-conditioned.
The towering domes will be visible from miles away. Beautiful landscaping, with lawns, fountains, and ponds, will surround the temple. The massive size of the complex will awaken visitors to the temple's immense significance. The outside walls will be clad in various exquisite shades of blue, white, and gold marble of the highest quality, from the quarries of Turkey. True to its purpose of being a world temple, its architecture will be an eclectic blend of Vedic and non-Vedic styles of sacred architecture. The main entrance will be like that of a classic Vedic temple with pillars and a courtyard. The domes will be elaborately ornamented with weavings of gold. An astronomical clock similar to the famous Prague Astronomical Clock will sit above the entrance to the central dome. Eight staircase towers all around the structure will lend delightful symmetry. At night, the play of light will create another breathtaking scene. Apart from these major features, innumerable finer aspects will lend unprecedented beauty to this magnificent temple.
An Inspired Team
Srila Prabhupada requested his disciple Ambarisha Dasa (Alfred Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford) to help build the ToVP. Taking this instruction as his very life, Ambarisha Dasa is covering a major portion of the cost. The temple construction started in 2009 and is well under way. Srila Prabhupada talked about the ToVP most with his disciple Bhavananda Dasa, who was involved for many years with the early development of the current Mayapur temple. He now serves as the creative director for the ToVP. Íadbhuja Dasa, a 22-year Mayapur veteran and project coordinator for the completion of Srila Prabhupada's Pushpa Samadhi in Mayapur, is now project director for the ToVP. Working under him are Pundarikaksha Govinda Dasa as the site project coordinator and Vilasini Devi Dasi as the consultant coordinator for architects.
Gammon India, one of the largest construction companies in India, is building the temple. Mr. Vibhuti Choudhary is the consultant. The plan is for the superstructure to be complete within the next three years, with the possibility that the deities could move in at that time. The completion of the external decorative work will take some years. As a token of love and immense gratitude for the unfathomable gift of Krishna consciousness Srila Prabhupada gave to the world, the ToVP team desires to present this grand temple to him in 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of ISKCON.
Srila Prabhupada said that the ToVP already exists—Bhaktivinoda Thakura saw it. Whatever the Lord desires will manifest. What remains is to put the bricks and cement and steel and paint in their place. Srila Prabhupada explained that Krishna showed Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra that He had already killed Arjuna's enemies and Arjuna only had to fire his arrows and become an instrument for the victory. Similarly, whoever helps build the ToVP will become an instrument of the Lord in fulfilling His cherished desire to see His message spread everywhere in the world.
Srila Prabhupada named the present Mayapur temple complex "Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir." Chandrodaya means "rising moon," indicating that the moon of Lord Chaitanya's mercy will rise in Mayapur and spread around the world. Srila Prabhupada once said in reference to the ToVP, "The plans and contemplations are going on in different phases; now when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu will be pleased, it will be taken up." That time has come. With the rise of the ToVP, the resplendent moon of Lord Chaitanya will ascend further and bathe the world with the most pleasing moonlight of love of God.