My response regarding the design of the TVP
By Ambarisa das
Dear Tattvavit prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I have received your email and have noted the contents with interest and respect. Please forgive any offense created by my responses. I am passionate about my service personally given to me by Srila Prabhupada.
Let me preface my response to specific points below by saying that of course the GBC can decide to do what it wants in this matter. We are a small, but dedicated group of disciples and grand disciples who have given ourselves over the last two years or so, to getting something done in Mayapur. We wanted a practical plan which was not contingent on the benevolence of the West Bengal communists, or raising tens of millions of dollars from a reticent worldwide congregation, or testing materials which have never been used before, or hiring a myriad of worldwide consultants who were very good at planning but terrible at execution. This had all been done before. In short, we wanted to get something done.
This was based on a simple supposition that the plan had already been given to us by the Founder/Acharya Srila Prabhupada, and it was simply a matter of executing it in the most practical way. As I have said, it is a plan. There may be other plans, but this is our plan and the GBC can stop it at any time. If this happens, the momentum and enthusiasm of many devotees from around the world will be extinguished and this small group will disband. None of us are willing to wait for a design which is generated by a committee. We have momentum at this point, so to derail this effort will have effects and repercussions. Having said this, we have always been open to suggestions from anyone who is willing to come to Mayapur, sit with our team and work with us. So, prabhu, the choice is up to the GBC, but our team feels that the time is now and with construction costs rising at 25% per annum in India, to ignore this opportunity would be a serious missed opportunity. So much has already been spent on detailed plans for the current design with the blessings of the GBC, why not let this building come up if it is the desire of the Lord? Srila Prabhupada abhorred such waste. When, as you say, the litigated Trust lands in Mayapur becomes available and money is obtainable, you all may build any other Temple design of your choice—we are not limited to one large Temple, nor to it being built by our generation in our lifetime—you build a better, more beautiful/appropriate one at any future time.
“Today we, the undersigned, representing the group, have submitted a GBC resolution proposal to change the design of the TVP. It has been sent to the Executive Committee of the GBC in the hope that it will be put on the agenda of the GBC meeting in Mumbai in October”
With no offense intended, it seems that this is not a proposal to change the design, but to stop the current plan. I have not seen one alternative or constructive suggestion over the last several months. To go back to the previous design is ludicrous as I will explain below.
“We are now trying to determine, before that GBC meeting, whether or not the majority of devotees and leaders in ISKCON approve of the Capitol design and think it is what Srila Prabhupada really wanted (we are doing this by sending articles and letters to Internet forums and Web sites and asking the devotees to vote)”
To me this is ridiculous. We know what Srila Prabhupada wanted because he said so. This will not be changed by some internet poll. There is no way that I will be convinced that Srila Prabhupada wanted an Indian style temple as the world headquarters.
“All of us much appreciate your, and your team’s, dedicated service. As the backer and the planners of the current design, you understandably hope it will be possible to complete construction of the TVP within your lifetimes, and you deserve respect for wishing to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire as soon as possible. It is not clear, however, that changing the design would necessarily have to delay the TVP for very long”
This depends on how much of a change you are talking about. Some design and detail changes are already factored in. This is a work in progress. If you are talking about scrapping the whole dome design in favor of a brand new design, then that will be time consuming and costly. The momentum built over the last two years will be lost, and so will most members of the current team. Any other new design will delay construction by years, not a year. This will increment the cost beyond my capacity; steel & other vital materials have already shot up more than 35% in the last 4 months.
“Our position is that the decision to build the current, Capitol-inspired temple should be changed in favor of a first-class Indian design”
I am not in favor of this as it does not represent Iskcon, and is so run of the mill and common. Frankly I find the whole idea boring and prosaic. Unless you spend tens of millions of dollars, you will get a cheap imitation of a Swami Narayan temple. We have neither the organization nor money to do this correctly. The planning alone would cost millions, and going to the last design will not work as it was too costly and the final model had a shikhara made of mesh. It is untested in a design like the one proposed, and fraught with problems.
“The sections that follow will be included also in the letters and postings to devotees as well as in the GBC resolution proposal.
NINE REASONS TO CHANGE THE DESIGN OF THE TVP
1) Srila Prabhupada, in mid-1976, made three brief statements (added at the end of this file) which suggested that the TVP should look like the U. S. Capitol. But he never insisted that the latter must be its exact model. He said only that the TVP, like the Capitol or the Victoria Memorial, should have a big dome. Five years before these statements, Srila Prabhupada approved Ranchor Prabhu’s very different design for the TVP, and after the statements he did not object to, and seems in fact to have approved, Saurabha’s Indian design; he allowed Saurabha to make a model of it and to display it outside the Lotus Building. It is therefore unclear to what extent he really wanted the TVP to resemble the U. S. Capitol. Hari Sauri Prabhu describes, in Transcendental Diary, Srila Prabhupada’s “extreme enthusiasm” for Saurabha’s drawings of an Indian design, in January 1976 – the very drawings that resulted in the model that was put on display. We are on safe ground if we give priority to Srila Prabhupada’s direct statements about the architecture of the TVP. The problem is that there are not many such statements. The brief and never repeated ones about the Capitol dome, at least two of which were made in the course of long conversations about other things, are supportive only of the idea that the TVP should have a big dome similar to that of the U. S. Capitol, to the extent of being a dome and big. This being the case, the exact nature of the dome should be decided on the basis of other related instructions Srila Prabhupada gave in his works. Such instructions of course suggest that the architecture should be Indian. Srila Prabhupada said that the whole world will come to Mayapura to see “the architectural culture, they’ll come to see the civilization culture, the philosophical culture, the religious culture.” (Feb. 28,
This is of course open to interpretation, but the fact remains that Srila Prabhupada in the last part of his pastimes, had pictures taken of the Capitol, and discussed this particular design with George Harrison, his most influential follower. He mentioned this particular architecture twice, whereas he never mentioned about an Indian style temple for Mayapur. This is a concoction propagated by those trying to sell the grandiose plan of the past which is overblown, overpriced, over planned and just plain over.
“2) The purpose of the planetarium, to display the Vedic cosmology, is thwarted by the U. S. Capitol design. The exterior is the first impression people will get, our first statement to the public, and it will be the only one on many pictures. But people will be puzzled as to what it is. It looks like a government building rather than a temple. With an added crescent moon and star or a cross on top of the dome it could be taken to be a mosque or a church. And Western Renaissance and neoclassical architecture symbolize a different worldview than the one the planetarium temple has as its purpose to display. The architecture represented by the U. S. Capitol was partly inspired precisely by the modern Western scientific cosmology to which the Vedic planetarium is intended to provide an alternative”
A dome certainly denotes a planetarium, and if this building reminds a visitor of power and authority, so much the better. After all, we are representing the Supreme Personality. Also, Srila Prabhupada wanted this center of spiritual education to be nonsectarian. If it looks like many religious buildings, so much the better. We do not represent just the Hindus!
“3) The design is eclectic, i. e., it represents a poor, artificial, external combination of disparate – Western and Indian – architectural elements rather than a mature, integral, credible synthesis. Suggestions please??
4) The design’s combination of Eastern and (predominantly) Western architectural elements is considered by some to symbolize the synthesis of East and West – explained metaphorically as the cooperation of a lame and a blind man – that ISKCON as a whole is often seen as representing. But this view of ISKCON is problematically one-sided. Although the idea of East-West synthesis, and its architectural and other symbolization, is relevant in the West, it is less so in the most important dhama of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in India and at ISKCON’s international headquarters. Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi already includes Western architectural elements to an extent that is controversial to some, but since it is relatively successful as an East-West stylistic synthesis in comparison with the current TVP design, this may be acceptable as a symbolization of Srila Prabhupada’s personal prioritization of the West, in the sense of his choosing to first take Gaudiya Vaishnavism there. Yet the mission of Srila Prabhupada is a global one, bringing Gaudiya Vaishnavism to all cultures and civilizations, and thus producing also other syntheses than that of the East and the West (and the East of course includes other cultures than that of Hindu India). It would therefore be wrong to symbolically link the whole of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition to the West, as the current TVP design does. The TVP should represent, neutrally in relation to all other cultures, only the Vedic tradition in the language of its architectural form”
I agree with this premise, but not your conclusion. There are many domes in India, and Srila Prabhupada wanted this building specifically for preaching to Europeans and Americans. This has of course been broadened in the past decades because of the preaching, but the fact remains that Srila Prabhupada wanted to use this center to preach to foreigners. It is the headquarters of a worldwide spiritual movement, not just to represent Indian culture.
“5) The current design gives misleading American and Disney associations and connects ISKCON with problematic, arrogantly imperialistic American politics and culture – problematic not least in view of the spiritual mission of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The U. S. Capitol is of course a Western architectural masterpiece, as are even more the European domed buildings, like Brunelleschi’s Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s in Rome, from which the designers also draw inspiration. The U. S. Capitol was also built at a time when the U. S. A. represented other values and ideas. But the very idea of building today a temple resembling the U. S. Capitol in Mayapur, India, is Disneyesque, and the kitsch features of the design add to this impression. The design will reinforce and consolidate the view of the critics who regard ISKCON as an all-American sect. The assertion by Hari Sauri Prabhu (see Dandavats) that American culture has conquered the world even suggests that the associations and the critics’ view are correct. (ISKCON’s Western leaders may even be pushing their Capitol design on the Mayapur management without its support.) The design will compromise ISKCON and diminish its, Srila Prabhupada’s, and Ambarisa Prabhu’s reputations. This central ISKCON temple should instead express only the integrity, the authenticity, the unadulteratedness, the primordiality, the bona-fidelity, the authority, and the beauty of the Vedic tradition, on which Srila Prabhupada always put so much emphasis – and which ISKCON must, to a much greater extent than today, be seen as representing in the rest of the world.
6) Tourists will want an Indian-style temple. If they want to see Renaissance and neoclassical architecture, they go to Florence, Rome, Paris, London, or Washington and get the real thing”
For goodness sake, there are plenty of Indian temples to see all over India, and better ones than we can afford. We have been outdone by Swami Narayan, even in the sphere of dioramas. They have millions and millions of dollars and volunteers which we do not have access to. After twenty years, we did not even have a credible plan, but one based on building on vested land. This is a planetarium first and foremost. It will evoke the celestial buildings and palaces and be a seat of education. This is not just another Hindu temple.
“7) Much work has already, with the support of Ambarisa Prabhu, been done on first-class Indian designs. Locating the temple in a congested area is architecturally far inferior to surrounding it with open space, and building it without provision for creating a tourism infrastructure will defeat the main purpose of attracting and hosting visitors, especially international tourists. Our efforts to overcome the current obstacles to acquiring land from the West Bengal government have been frustrated, but ISKCON’s influential members in Mumbai, Delhi, and Calcutta could become involved in negotiations with this government. Support might even be gained from the central government of India since, with the mentioned Indian designs, the project can be presented as being of even greater national importance than the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi; the government-approved Swaminarayan project did not involve a vast international community of foreigners friendly to India, as our TVP project does. A world-class Indian design, produced by the best professional architects, would be a cultural and religious project of historical importance, fulfilling in its grandeur Lord Nityananda’s prophecy. That is the only kind of project worthy of Mayapur and of Srila Prabhupada”
We have tried with only negative results to work with the West Bengal government, and frankly no one in the central government or big members have been able to do any good. We are not the Swami Narayans. As far as the previous design, the final result had to rely on a mesh material which has not even been tried on a building of that complexity. We have to face the reality that we are restricted in our land and money. To deny this is to continue on the ‘pie in the sky’ mentality which has plagued this project for many years. Also, to collect money from Iskcon members is very difficult. Leaders tend to need to keep their big donors for valid reasons. Even the Bhattacharyas who have committed to this project will not give a penny before they see a building going up.
“8) If, for some reasons, the temple must be built on the Lotus Park, one of the previous designs could be scaled down, or a new Indian one of the required size could be produced within a year or two”
You will have to get a whole new team because none of us are willing to go back to the way it was done before. We also have the parameters of height which Srila Prabhupada left us. Downsizing is not an option. Anyway, I can live with it as I have tried my best. I saw all the waste and extravagance from previous grandiose designs, and I want no part of it. We have devotees who are doing this as their service. It is a work of sacrifice and love, not a career path.
9) Dina Bandu Prabhu said (on Dandavats) that he has “not met a single person who likes this design, and a lot of people come through Vrindavan,” (Dina Bandhu lives in Vrindavana). Other reports confirm that there is widespread dissatisfaction with and opposition to the design in ISKCON. But most opponents do not speak up because they tend to think that something is better than nothing. We argue that this is not always true, and that it would be better to postpone realization of the project until the requisite land and funding for one of the previous Indian designs is available, or one of them is scaled down, or a new design of similar quality is available. The many who dislike the U. S. Capitol design have no reason not to speak up, and we hope they will do so now, before construction begins, and thus help persuade the GBC to change its decision on this centrally important issue”
I am sure you can always find what you are looking for. We have found many advanced vaisnavas who actually like the design and would be proud of it. Several millions of dollars of my money was expended on the previous Temple design, but all we had to show for it was a large expense account and very little practical architectural or structural engineering. Whereas, for the current design, after an expenditure of only a few hundred thousand dollars we have structural & architectural drawings nearly ready to go! We have based this work in India and not around the world. Half of our team are Mayapur residents.
Since we practically require a larger Temple now, and since architectural, structural engineering is nearly completed, and since I’m giving the major lead gift and the GBC Body has already approved it, where is the Krishna conscious logic to delay the construction and virtually stop it?
We are amenable to any practical suggestions you may give regarding non-structural alterations, as it is still a work in progress, but do not find any Krishna conscious reason or motivation to not go ahead with the present plan as opposed to scrapping it and waiting for an indefinite and unpredictable period of time with a massive & prohibitive cost escalation.
In fact, it seems almost like choosing between something which ‘does not exist’ and a pragmatic reality. As every endeavor in the material world is tainted by fault, this plan is not perfect. However, it is doable. Now Iskcon leaders must decide what they want: A somewhat flawed but beautiful and functional reality or another post dated check.
Your humble servant, Ambarisa das
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