Majestic pagoda looms over Mumbai with message of peace

February 2nd, 2009 - 11:57 am ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilMumbai, Feb 2 (IANS) Standing 325 feet tall, the building boasts of awesome dimensions, but what is more significant is that the Global Vipassana Pagoda comes as a soothing balm for the people of Mumbai which was ravaged by the Nov 26 terror attacks.To be dedicated as the World Monument of Peace and Harmony, the pagoda constructed by the Global Vipassana Foundation (GVF) will be inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil Feb 8.

The tall pagoda building looms majestically over the GVF complex, spread over 13 acres of lush greenery, near picturesque Gorai in northwest Mumbai, barely a kilometre from the Arabian Sea. Pagodas are multi-tiered structures common in China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other countries where Buddhism is followed.

At the centre of the pagoda building, the tallest pillar-less dome in the world has been constructed measuring 280-ft in diameter and 90-ft height, flanked by two 60-ft tall pagodas, claimed Vallabh Bhanshali, a GVF trustee.

“Apart from becoming a must-see tourist destination, we expect it will become the international centre of peace and meditation, spreading the message of Lord Buddha and the universal practice of Vipassana, much needed in these troubled times,” Bhanshali, chairman of Enam Group and a vipassana master for two decades, told IANS.

Vipassana is an ancient Indian meditation technique - “It is a non-sectarian, rational process of mental purification through self-observation, practised in 140 countries, irrespective of caste, class, religion, race or sex,” Bhanshali explained.

The original bone relics of Gautam Buddha, donated by the Sri Lankan government and the Mahabodhi Society of India, have been enshrined in the central locking stone of the dome, he added.

Designed by Indian architect Chandubhai Sompura on the lines of the She Dagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, this pagoda is a hollow structure, having a dome of 280-ft diameter. Below it is a massive 6,000-sq pillar-less meditation hall which can accommodate 8,000 people at a time, he said.

It is more than three times the size of the large masonry structure - the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Karnataka, which is 90 ft in diameter.

The pagoda is the outcome of efforts by nearly 700 labourers toiling daily for the past 11 years to make what is billed as the 8th wonder of the world.

“The sheer size, grandeur and architectural style will reinforce the country’s image as the foremost spiritual land in the world,” Bhanshali said.

Combining ancient building principles with modern techniques of construction, Sompura finally guided a structure using the ‘interlocking principle of construction’ for the huge stones - each weighing around 600-700 kgs.

The entire structure has consumed over 2.5 million tonnes of Jodhpur stone.

“Unlike cement and steel structures, the use of stone and lime mortar gives it strength and longevity, it ensures that the structure becomes more stable with increased height and weight placed on it as the stones grip each other more rigidly to defy gravity. It is expected to last for more than 2,000 years,” Bhanshali said.

The pagoda, a dream project of 85-year-old S.N. Goenka, the moving spirit of VGF, has been constructed mainly with donations received from former students and devotees around the world.

An official of the Enam Group, of which Bhanshali is chairman, said each of the stones used here was cut as per minute specificications in quarries near Jodhpur, transported by trucks to Mumbai and installed at the site.

“For instance, the people of Myanmar donated the marble used for the flooring and the umbrella placed atop the pagoda. The people of Thailand donated the golden paint typically used in pagodas, which is not available in India. In addition, a student’s family donated the land while other past students of vipassana contributed around Rs.800 million to construct the entire structure,” the official said.

A day after the inauguration by the president - herself a student of vipassana - the complex would be thrown open for the public daily after 4 p.m. Over 100,000 followers of the Buddha and tourists are expected to visit the monument each year.

Bhanshali said though Goenka’s GVF started in Igatpuri, around 120 km away from Mumbai, it has grown into a worldwide phenomenon with independent vipassana meditation centres.

“And, no, we do not have plans to construct a similar monument anywhere in the world - this can be the centre of peace for mankind,” he smiled.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

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