Friday, January 30, 2009

Indigenous tribute to the Buddha Rahi Gaikwad

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.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sri Lankans mull an end to war

After the Sri Lankan army took the last key rebel-held town of Mullaitivu on Sunday, people across the island told the BBC about their hopes and fears for the future.

It has not been possible to contact people living in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.


Manaf Razack

I don't think this will make the country a safer place

I was extremely happy about the capture of the last rebel base. The entire country has been suffering ever since I was young.

I have heard only of war in this country. This achievement is something none of the previous governments have been able to do. The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]have always recaptured territory in the past.

The LTTE never stuck by their word. Despite a peace agreement, they continued with suicide attacks. I don't blame the government for not negotiating with them now.

But I don't think this will make the country a safer place. The war will be over and we are happy about that. But most people expect an insurgency like in Iraq.

There is just a bit of jungle left to capture and once that is done the government should opt for a political solution. They should not treat Tamils as they did in the 1980s.

As a Muslim, I am a minority myself but I love my country. I know many Tamils who do not trust the government. That is what they are taught to think.

We must now think of the people of the north and east and the government must look after their needs now.


Nimalka Fernando
From the manner in which the Sri Lankan government developed its military strategy over the past few years, it was very clear that they were not interested in coming to any political negotiation.

There was never any hope from my side that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would deliver any political solution to the ethnic conflict because the whole psyche of the Rajapaksa regime is a psycho of being a victor.

If you look at the songs that were written about him during his election campaign - they were calling him the king. If you have a king, you must have a kingdom.

The latest developments can be described as a geographical victory. But this is not the end of the struggle for Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka.

Nor will this provide a solution to the aspirations of the Tamil people as well as the aspirations of the Sinhala people who want a democratic country, democratic values, media freedom, human rights protected.

The actual struggle for Tamil nationalism will take a different form. Those who are lighting crackers in celebration have been given crackers for free by the civil defence corps. I am yet to find a poor Sinhalese family go into a shop to buy crackers.

This will definitely not bring security to Sri Lanka. This is a short-term military strategy that has gained access to certain territories that the army couldn't go hitherto. That has not given a solution to the ethnic conflict in this country.

We will see another cycle of violence.


We are not feeling any different. Nothing has changed. As usual the government is pressing forward with its military advance.

We feel that the TNA [Tamil Nationalist Alliance] is the most representative Tamil body and they back the rebels broadly.

The government promises a lot of money for rehabilitation - that is just a political stance
We have been asking for a political solution for a long time but no solution has been forthcoming. We don't know how the government will react after it has claimed a full victory.

I don't know if it will help or abuse people. The government needs to give some solution but I don't know if all the Tamil people will accept what is on offer. We want a peaceful end to this, I don't mind about not having a separate state.

I don't think there will be any difference to my personal safety. I don't know if this is a victory.

The government promises a lot of money for rehabilitation. That is just a political stance. So far what they have done is not worthy of applause.


The whole country was ecstatic. But there is a sense of disappointment that the LTTE, in their desperation, are causing harassment and problems to civilians who are in Mullaitivu and surrounding territory.

The government has announced a massive development programme for the area.

I think Sri Lanka will be a safer place now. Everybody wants to know where Prabhakaran [the rebel leader] is. He has said he will commit suicide if apprehended but who knows?

The most important thing is to give proper recognition to Tamils and acknowledge their rights. That can only be done with the support of the opposition party.

When the advance was announced, crackers were going off all over the place. People were so happy. There is a lot of goodwill towards Tamil people here. This is not a war against Tamils. No one is even thinking on those lines.


Everybody is very excited because everyone wants this war to end. Everybody has big hopes that it will finish soon. We are fed up with it. Every day people are killed.

Sri Lankan troops (file photo: January 2009)
The government has won a string of military victories in recent months
We don't have a problem with Tamil people - there are many Tamil businessmen in this area. It's just with the LTTE leader who wants this war.

I went all over the eastern provinces which used to be under Tiger control right after the elections. People seemed much happier, they can travel, vote.

The government is saying that right after they get the LTTE out they can call elections in the north.

People here are firing crackers, hoisting the Sri Lankan flag on vehicles, on homes. The people celebrating include many Tamils. The local shop-owner is Tamil and he says that whenever the LTTE set off a bomb he was worried about reprisals from Sinhalese people. They have had to close the shop before because people have thrown stones.

As a property agent I know there are people who want to buy property on the east coast. I see the area can boom. Once the war is over, Tamil people can come and invest. I know Indian clients who are looking to open boutique hotels in the north.

Everybody is optimistic.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Indian PM 'stable' after heart op

Manmohan Singh 1 July, 2006
Mr Singh is likely to be in hospital for at least a week after surgery

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "conscious and stable" after undergoing successful heart bypass surgery in Delhi, his team of doctors said.

During the 11-hour operation, surgeons performed five bypasses on the 76-year-old leader.

He is expected to remain in hospital for seven to eight days and should be "fully functional" in six weeks.

The ruling Congress Party says he will still lead the party in the forthcoming general election which is due by May.

"The entire country is rejoicing because our prime minister has come out successfully from the operation," Congress spokesman Veerappa Moily was quoted by AFP as saying.

Mr Singh, who previously had bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2004, had complained of chest pains earlier in the week.

He was admitted to hospital on Friday. The operation began at 0845 local time (0315 GMT) on Saturday and ended at 1930 (1400 GMT), his personal physician said.

The operation was performed at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India's top state-run hospital, by an 11-member team of doctors.

Succession speculation

According to the BBC's Jill McGivering, this is not a good time for the prime minister to be removed from the political fray, given tense relations with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Dr K S Reddy (R) and Dr Ramakant Panda at AIIMS, 24 Jan
Mr Singh's physician Dr KS Reddy (right) says he is "very, very stable"

Congress has so far dismissed concerns that Mr Singh's health would interfere with its current election campaign.

But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country's next prime minister.

Mr Singh has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but he recently underwent prostate surgery and has also had cataract treatment.

Mr Singh, who studied economics at Cambridge and Oxford, became India's finance minister in 1991 when the country was plunging towards bankruptcy, and is widely regarded as the architect of the country's economic reform programme.

The quietly spoken economist-politician is also seen as the cleanest politician in India, a subject dear to voters' hearts.

Government officials said that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will take charge of cabinet meetings during the prime minister's absence.