Friday, January 30, 2009

Indigenous tribute to the Buddha Rahi Gaikwad
— PHOTO: VIVEK BENDRE

Work in progress: The world’s largest stone dome, Global Vipassana Pagoda, near Mumbai.

Mumbai: Your eyes struggle to grasp the sense of vastness that greets you on stepping inside the dome. Sounds of hammer and chisel echo around in layers. Outside, away from the riotous sounds and smells of Mumbai, many pairs of hands are at work. Towering above them, ensconced in scaffolding, is the Global Vipassana Pagoda. One of the largest stone monuments in Asia is in its final stages of completion.

Modelled on the lines of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon, the Indian version aspires to pay homage to the Buddha and his teachings. It also stands as a tribute to Myanmar, which has through history cherished Buddhist secularist traditions and thought.

The structure stands at an imposing 325 feet. Its dome, with a diameter of 280 feet, is the world’s largest stone dome. There are no supporting pillars.

Located on the green peninsular landscape of Gorai, the pagoda is an ambitious undertaking. It is a pinkish structure of sandstone brought from Jodhpur, cut and dressed.

The stone blocks were assembled in Mumbai using the technique of interlocking, thus making it an indigenous architectural marvel in its own right.

“We have used only stone and limewater. No cement or steel. We want the structure to last for at least a thousand years,” says Madan Mutha, who supervises the project.

Many heads have come together to conceptualise, plan and erect the pagoda. A team of Sompuras experts in ornate stone were engaged for their know-how. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai was one of the consultants. IIT Chennai is working to improve the acoustics inside the dome.

The interior of the dome is a large meditation hall, a seamless expanse designed to accommodate 8,000 meditators. A giant golden wheel or the Dhamma Chakra is set in the centre from the inside. A four-tonne keystone bears Buddha relics. Two small pagodas outside the main one will also serve as meditation centres.

Large quantities of stone and much human effort have gone into the making of the pagoda. The foundation itself took 3,000 truckloads of stone, 1,000 truckloads of sand and 40,000 person-hours.

The estimated cost of construction is Rs. 80 crore, raised through donations. The site, which will be open to the public by the second week of February, covers an area of 11 acres.

The land was donated by a Vipassana student. The project has been spearheaded by the Global Vipassana Foundation.

Apart from being a wonder in stone, the pagoda is set to be an embodiment of the “non-sectarian, rational process of mental purification thorough self-observation” that is Vipassana.

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