The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium is rapidly taking shape in Mayapura, Bengal. Here is the latest film about its conception and progress, and details of the interior. And a well made film too, I thought. My congratulations to all who are making the temple a reality. Its a triumph of sheer determination. When completed it will draw the crowds, and the crowds will hear something of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the spiritual culture of bhakti, and they will marvel at the vision of the spiritual master on whose order it is being built.
Because if the founder-acarya of ISKCON had not ordered this, and had not repeated the order on many occasions, it would not be the obvious choice of location for such a large religious building. The normal way in which townships develop – and with them places of worship – is after certain more fundamental human needs have been met. People tend to settle where a trade route intersects a river, for instance, or where abundant supplies of a particular raw material can be found; or where fortifications can be made to protect a garrison of soldiers or a vulnerable village.
A building that big on the flood plains of Bengal, surrounded by rice fields, far from any large city and connected only by pot-holed and mad-driver roads and the slowest of slow railway tracks? Its a far cry from most of ISKCON’s other temples, as near the centre of their cities as possible.
But the construction of this temple follows another logic, the logic that is apparent in some of Europe’s oldest cities, where the cathedral is the beautiful heart of the community. In many European cases the cathedral was built for the glory of God in an existing pilgrimage place, and the city then developed around it. India, too, follows this more spiritual logic, where the divine connection is the raw material that is to be treasured. Temples are built in places where an avatar appeared on the surface of the earth, or where a great saint lived and had his mystical visions.
The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium is yet another temple that Srila Prabhupada ordered to be built in an otherwise unlikely spot; but a spot where the city has now sprung up around it. The Bombay temple of ISKCON was built on swampy land at Juhu, in those days outside the city. Now its a place where many aspire to afford to live. Vrindavan temple was built in a quiet, rural spot outside the town; as was Bhubaneswara. Now these temples are always busy, and the streets around them are bustling with people.
Of course, there’s an extra spiritual logic at work in Mayapura. Its the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of Krishna for Kali yuga, and therefore the strategic centre of all centres. That one fact makes it of ultimate importance as a place of spiritual pilgrimage. But the main reason for its coming into existence is that Srila Prabhupada wanted it built. Not only that, but he spoke about it for years, described the dimensions and the details of the interior.There have been a couple of cornerstone-laying ceremonies. I was even at one myself in the 70s. But here it is taking shape and it looks good after a lifetime of talking about it.
Those who have been most involved in the lifetime effort to make it a reality will surely be amply rewarded by Krishna. Srila Prabhupada asked them to help him to build it – and to fund it – and they took their spiritual master’s order and made it one with their life. What great devotion to their guru they have shown. We and future generations of Vaishnavas owe them our immense gratitude.
It takes more than a big building to spread a spiritual movement – and sometimes big buildings can even make people think the job of mission has been accomplished – but a temple such as this invigorates all who enter it, and even those who merely learn of its existence. It will be a remarkable and beautiful experience for pilgrims. They will be educated and awed by it. Certainly the whole of India will know about it, and it will be one destination that foreign travellers to India will surely have to see for themselves.