Changing the Design of the TVP: Reply to Ambarisa
By Tattvavit Dasa
Dear Ambarisa Prabhu,
Please accept our humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Thank you for your response, which we have read with interest and carefully considered.
We all respect the positions you have taken and find much that, from your perspective, is understandable. We hope that you will read our point-by-point reply in the same spirit as that in which it was written. We want to make a constructive contribution to the TVP project, and hope a result that is satisfactory to all of us can be achieved, with preserved devotional unity in the service of Srila Prabhupada.
We understand that we protest at a late stage of the planning, but hope you will consider that the only reason for this is that some of us had not seen the planned design before the appearance of the 3D animation video. The discussion that led to the protest started when Janaki Ram posted it on the VAST conference in April.
You wrote: “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.”
We think that, with us, everyone respects your dedication and your motives. But we question your view that there is a real need to get something done right now, if this means overriding decisively important, long-term considerations. As the main ISKCON temple in Sri Mayapur, at ISKCON’s international headquarters, it is likely that the TVP will, for centuries, become an emblem, a symbol, of the whole movement. We submit that, in pressing ahead with the current design, which will become a liability and an embarrassment to ISKCON, instead of a design of the kind we recommend or a radical modification of the design in the same direction, you are missing a wonderful opportunity for service of historical importance, and risking not just your own but Srila Prabhupada’s and ISKCON’s reputation.
However, we submit that, if the idea of waiting for more funds and more land to become available is unacceptable to you and the GBC, it will still be possible for you to get something done now on the terms you describe without the current kitsch Capitol design. At the very least you could accept the modifications of the design recommended by the Regional Governing Body (RGB) of ISKCON India on the first of September. The RGB’s resolution reads:
“The Indian RGB appreciates the enthusiasm, commitment and determination of His Grace Ambarish Prabhu to complete the Mayapur Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TVP) as soon as possible and pledges its cooperation in any way possible. Although the majority of its members preferred the previous design, the RGB appreciates the practicality of modifying the present design.
“After some discussion regarding the project and this design, a vote was taken with only one person agreeing to this design but with changes. All other members of the RGB body were not inspired by this design for these reasons: (1) This design gives the impression of a mosque or a church. (2) In the present design the Vedic elements are not prominent enough. (3) The combination of Eastern and Western architectural elements are not harmoniously combined.
“Concerns: (1) The managers in India, with some awareness of local perceptions, have some concerns regarding impressions the Capitol design will give to prospective donors, critical sections of society, and other religious groups. (2) A lack of enthusiasm from the local India managers does not bode well for its running and maintenance in the future.
“Modifications: Keeping in mind the hard work of the present team in time and energy, the RGB feels that the structure could remain the same with some modifications to the exterior, such as (1) To change the color of the dome; suggested: gold. (2) The decorative elements below the dome should not imitate the Capitol dome so closely; more Vedic elements such as lotus petals could be used. (3) The main dome should be surrounded with smaller domes, or chattris. (4) External cladding could be in white marble for practicality and cost saving.
(5) Put more emphasis on the whole front façade with huge arches carrying around all four sides with jalis; fewer columns around the walls. (6) The dome above the front gate should be bigger and in proportion to the side domes. (7) To incorporate more deep intricate carving, depicting pastimes of the Lord, and decorative, traditional architectural motifs.”
You wrote: “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.”
No one denies that Srila Prabhupada gave us a plan for building a planetarium temple at Mayapur. What this discussion is about is only the design of this temple. For this reason, we take your formulation to mean that your “simple supposition” was that Srila Prabhupada wanted the TVP to look like the U. S. Capitol to the extent that the current design does.
The question then arises: why was this supposition suddenly made two years ago? For thirty years, ISKCON was planning for the TVP without making it. You personally supported and negotiated in favor of at least one of the Indian designs of that long period, and millions of dollars were spent on them. Only two or three years ago did you and your team suddenly make the supposition, and base your wish to get something done on it. Why?
As we showed, Hari Sauri Prabhu is well aware of Srila Prabhupada’s approval of other designs both before and after the Capitol statements, having himself reported on Srila Prabhupada being “extremely enthusiatic” about drawings and plans that led to Surabha making a model of a TVP with an Indian design, and having provided the information that Srila Prabhupada did not say anything against the Indian design he was shown even after the Capitol statements.
Recently, Arjuna Prabhu sent around his drawing of this same Indian design and wrote, “While working under Surabha in the Bombay construction office I drafted the attached drawing under Surabha’s and Murti das’s supervision, and can confirm that we did design it according to Vastu Shastra principles. As architects and designers we were all fascinated with the Vedic science of sacred architecture, and I remember hearing that Srila Prabhupada very much liked our presentation.”
In 1973, Srila Prabhupada wrote: “My Dear Kirtanananda, Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated January 20th and February first along with your enclosed plans of the Radha Govindaji Temple in New Vrindaban. From these plans everything seems to be in order except the domes are making the temple look like a mosque. Therefore you please eliminate these domes and consult the Mayapur plan which can be obtained by writing Calcutta for design of the domes.” (Sydney, 18 February, 1973).
The point of citing this letter is that Srila Prabhupada asked Kirtanananda to consult the Mayapur plan, which means he approved that plan in its 1973 version: he says the domes should be like those of that plan, i. e., neither mosque nor U. S. Capitol.
Recently, Vishakha and Yadubara wrote, “Srila Prabhupada was in Washington D. C. for the two-hundredth anniversary of American independence (July 4, 1976), and that evening we all went with him downtown to see the fireworks. That’s when he saw the Capitol Building, and the next morning during mangala aratika, called Yadubara and me into his room and asked us to take pictures of that building. . . . Both Yadubara and I feel that the Capitol Building was to serve as some form of inspiration; that Srila Prabhupada was not fixed on that design but offered it as an option for consideration.”
It is obvious that Srila Prabhupada liked the U. S. Capitol. In our Nine Reasons, we say it is an architectural masterpiece, and also signal appreciation of the political principles and values it originally symbolized. Srila Prabhupada on several occasions expressed appreciation of Western architecture, i. e., the real thing. But this does not mean he wanted it imitated by ISKCON in India. You and your team say, “We know that Srila Prabhupada likes this design.” But you and your team know nothing about what Srila Prabhupada would have thought about the current kitsch imitation of the Capitol, which he of course never saw.
You wrote: “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.”
The argument about the enthusiasm of many devotees from around the world is in our view the strongest argument, and indeed the ONLY strong argument, from you and other defenders of the current design. It is also one reason why we added the poll to our Nine Reasons. We want to know what the devotees really think, and what alternatives those who disapprove favor. If a majority, or a significant minority, actually approves of the current design, and their enthusiasm will be extinguished, changing the decision to build this version of the TVP is problematic for that reason, even if it is warranted for all other reasons. We therefore found it important to get at least a rough idea of what the devotees think. Further action on our part should be adjusted accordingly, and the GBC would be given the opportunity to take it into account, should it decide that this is warranted. What we want to contribute is constructive criticism, criticism which has as its goal to accomplish something that would be better for ISKCON and Srila Prabhupada’s misson than the current plan – not criticism that is destructive of the enthusiasm of too many sincerely dedicated devotees.
But we also had the impression that a majority is against the current design, and this impression has turned out to be confirmed by the voting this far. The number of votes is still small – 125. But the results are:
12% approve of the existing design (option 1)
3% go along with it (option 2)
1% want changes like those recommended by the India RGB (option 3)
3% want another design (option 4)
32% want an Indian design (option 5)
49% want the current project to be stopped (option 6).
It is not our position that the poll should decide the matter – only that the devotees should be heard and that the result should at least be taken into account by all parties, including the GBC. We submit that the enthusiasm of a small minority that is in favor of the current design, and of those who have produced and promoted it, is not a sufficient reason for ISKCON to build it, given the negative effects it will have for very many more devotees, for ISKCON as a whole, and for Srila Prabhupada’s mission, as described in our Nine Reasons.
You wrote: “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.”
As is clear from the rest of your letter, you accept only suggestions of adjustments of the current design. Whether or not that is satisfactory of course depends on the extent of the adjustments. With sufficient adjustments, we grant that this may be the best solution.
Our poll will, we hope, help to give all of us an idea of how many favor such adjustments. And of course some devotees may be willing to come to Mayapur and work with you. Surely there are architects who will jump at the chance to improve the design for this historic temple.
You wrote: “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.”
Our position is that the tens of millions of dollars that actual construction would cost you would be a waste and worse. Abhorring waste, Srila Prabhupada would of course prefer a comparatively small waste that is unavoidable – already a fact – to a huge one that was avoidable. We submit that the money you are so generously willing to use for this project should go into a truly worthwhile version of it, a version that is worthy of you, your “forefather”, and your whole family.
The remarks about the construction costs and the “serious missed opportunity” seem to suggest that it is unlikely that it will ever be possible again in the future for ISKCON to build a temple like this in India. If this is so, it opens up vast questions about ISKCON, its current situation, and its prospects for the future, questions that are being discussed elsewhere but which it would take us too far afield to enter upon here. Suffice it to say that it is our position that, in view of the problems with the current design as explained in the Nine Reasons, the mere fact that it is possible to construct the current version of the TVP, that there is now an opportunity to do so which will be lost in the future if construction costs keep rising, is not a sufficient reason to do it.
You wrote: “When, as you say . . . land 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.”
Here you suddenly suggest that not just land but money WILL become obtainable, that we ARE not limited to the temple you now want to build, that AT ANY FUTURE TIME we may build a better, more beautiful/appropriate one – thus, it would seem, cancelling the opposite argument you just set forth.
Do you mean to say that your current project should be the TVP, and the other, future temple should not? If so, it is another discussion, not what we are talking about here. It seems quite clear to us that it will be possible to build other and better temples in the future, even if we cannot know exactly when; but this discussion is about the TVP only. Or do you mean to say there should be two TVPs at Mayapur in the future? That seems unlikely. Or that the future temple should be the TVP and your current one an ordinary temple? That too seems unlikely.
But whichever of these alternatives is the one intended by you, our position is that, for the reasons explained in the Nine Reasons, the current design is problematic in itself and will not become less so if another and better temple is built in Mayapur in the future.
You wrote: “With no offense intended, it seems that this is not a proposal to change the design, but to stop the current plan.”
We do not find this offensive. Although what we propose is that the design be changed, it is also explicit in the last of our Nine Reasons that if no alternative is possible, now or in the foreseeable future, it would still be preferable to just stop the current plan. It is our hope that you understand that by this, no offence is intended on our part.
You wrote: “I have not seen one alternative or constructive suggestion over the last several months.”
We have here limited ourselves to the general suggestion that the design should be Indian, but are of course also willing to discuss, as we have done on VAST, the various possibilities within this framework; and to some extent this will be done below in response to your arguments.
You wrote: “To go back to the previous design is ludicrous as I will explain below.”
This is a strong formulation. But if it is not possible to go back to the previous design, we suggest in the eighth of our Nine Reasons that a new, Indian design be produced. We are also prepared to accept radical changes in the current structure as a possible solution.
We wrote and you responded: [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.”
This is another strong formulation. We are not advocating a “democratic” majority decision, and fully accept that your wishes – as the wishes of the sponsor of the project – are much more important than those of others. Yet it seems to us it is reasonable to attempt to hear what the ISKCON members think about the design of a building that will affect all devotees for centuries.
You wrote: “We know what Srila Prabhupada wanted because he said so.”
Again, this can only refer to Srila Prabhupada’s statements about the U. S. Capitol design. We have already shown in detail, in the first of our Nine Reasons as well as in our Supplementary Document, that from what he said, the ONLY thing that it is clear that he wanted is a big dome. Below, you yourself accept that the statements are open to interpretation.
You wrote: “This will not be changed by some internet poll.”
The purposes of the internet poll are the ones explained above, not to change what Srila Prabhupada wanted and said. We agree that normally internet polls and similar expressions of opinion should not override what Srila Prabhupada wanted and said. We do insist that what we know Srila Prabhupada wanted and said is not what you say it is.
You wrote: “There is no way that I will be convinced that Srila Prabhupada wanted an Indian style temple as the world headquarters.”
We find this to be a somewhat strange attitude. If clear evidence were produced that Srila Prabhupada actually wanted the world headquarters to look like the U. S. Capitol, we would certainly be convinced that this was what he wanted. And again, only a few years ago you yourself appear to have been convinced that Srila Prabhupada wanted an Indian-style temple.
We wrote and you responded: [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.”
We accept that changes sufficient for an acceptable result may be factored in. We included this as the third option in our survey: “I disapprove of the present design, but I am willing to keep the same basic structure, with some substantial improvements that minimize the controversial features.”
You wrote: “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.”
It is clear from our letter that we are not against a design with a dome. That there should be a big dome, and that the TVP should be like the U. S. Capitol in that very limited respect, is quite clear from Srila Prabhupada’s statements, and it is ALL that is clear from them. Only we suggested it should be an Indian dome, or the equivalent of a dome – either in the Orissan style of the previous design, or in some other Indian style that is acceptable in this location. The India RGB’s resolution instead calls for modifications to the dome.
You wrote: “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.”
This again gives the impression that this is somehow the last chance for ISKCON to build even the kind of temple represented by the current version of the TVP – something which, again, would raise large and very serious questions about ISKCON. But our position is that even if this were so, the right thing to do would not be to build the current version of the TVP, for the reasons explained in our Nine Reasons. It would only further aggravate what would be ISKCON’s predicament.
It is clear that it is possible today to build the current version. If it is true that it is not possible to go back to the previous design, and if it is also true that it is not possible to produce a new Indian design of similar quality, it seems it would be possible to produce an Indian design of the same size, and to build it at the same cost, as the current one, and to do so without unacceptable delay. Our position is that even if it is not a design of the same quality as the previous one, but merely of a quality similar to that of the several other excellent Indian-style ISKCON temples, it would still be vastly preferable to the current design.
We wrote and you responded: [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,”
This we find to be a remarkable position: a first-class Indian design would not represent ISKCON? Does this mean you hold that all of ISKCON’s already existing, excellent Indian-style temples do not represent ISKCON?
You wrote: “and is so run of the mill and common. Frankly I find the whole idea boring and prosaic.”
We find these to be highly idiosyncratic views. If, after having recently funded and negotiated in favor of the wonderful Orissan version of the TVP, you now suddenly disapprove in these strong terms of the continuation of the historically existing traditions of Indian architecture, we want to mention that in the discussions on VAST which led to our current protest, much stress was laid on the wonderful potential of creative innovation WITHIN these traditions, as evidenced precisely by the previous designs for the TVP, by other ISKCON temples, and by many other new Indian-style temples. We have much respect for the architectural traditions of India.
You wrote: “Unless you spend tens of millions of dollars, you will get a cheap imitation of a Swaminarayan temple. We have neither the organization nor money to do this correctly. The planning alone would cost millions,”
If this were so, we would find it much preferable to a cheap imitation of the U. S. Capitol. But we dispute it: surely an Indian design of acceptable quality, i. e. a quality that is at least higher than that of the current design, is possible without inordinate expenses. As we suggest in the eighth of our Nine Reasons, the temple does not necessarily have to be larger than the current Capitol design. The decisive thing for us is the change of the design, so that we would also find an Indian design of the same size as the current one, or sufficient changes in the latter, acceptable.
You wrote: “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.”
If this is so, our obvious suggestion is that the new Indian-style temple be built with tested materials – as ISKCON has done so often before.
You wrote: “This [the first of our Nine Reasons] 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.”
Here you grant that Srila Prabhupada’s statements are open to interpretation, and we welcome and appreciate this. Since it is quite clear that Srila Prabhupada’s statements are the only reason why you and your team have chosen the current design, and since, on the condition that your interpretation is correct, it would on our analysis, if the current poll results are reliable, be the only tenable argument in favor of it, we will, in what follows, continue to refute, in some detail, this interpretation.
As we have shown, Srila Prabhupada simply does not say that the TVP should look exactly like the U. S. Capitol and that the latter should be its model. He only says that it will be like the Capitol. Then when Harrison says “A big dome,” Srila Prabhupada says “yes.” Perhaps if Harrison had gone on to say something else that described the Capitol, Prabhupada would have again replied yes – or no. We will never know. Prabhupada said it would be like the Capitol, but whether or not it would be like the Capitol in any other respect than having a big dome, and, if so, in what respect, we do not know.
Clearly, in the two or more years you and your team have been working on the current design, you have taken the statements to mean much more than this. We again wonder why. If Srila Prabhupada’s statements were taken to mean that he wanted the TVP to look like the present design, and as direct instructions to that effect, why were they blatantly disregarded for thirty years? Why did ISKCON involve all the consultants and spend so many millions of dollars on the exquisite Orissan and other designs in the first place? Were ISKCON’s decision-makers all the while thinking that the temple should really look like the U. S. Capitol instead?
We suggest that if the statements were known, it was correctly understood that they should not and could not be taken to be instructions to build a TVP that looked like the U. S. Capitol. The mystery suggests, however, that the GBC and others involved, including you, simply did not know about the statements until a few years ago. It suggests that there was no general knowledge of them among the ISKCON leadership and the devotees in charge of the project, and that they were not marshaled as support for a U. S. Capitol design until a few years ago. If this is so, these are remarkable facts which in themselves show that the statements cannot be taken as the instructions that (what we think we have shown is) your misinterpretation takes them to be. Who discovered them? How were they brought to your attention? Although your reference to the statements may not be just an ex post facto rationalization of your suddenly decided new plan, as it could seem, we submit that the statements in themselves can hardly explain and do not legitimize the curious decision in favor of the current design.
As we showed, after the statements, in the last part of his pastimes, Srila Prabhupada was again shown an Indian design, and did not disapprove. So unimportant were his Capitol suggestions to him, in the context of the overall planning, that he did not even see to it that the people in charge of the project followed them. On the contrary, he let them keep working on an Indian design. The Capitol statements seem to have been meant only to emphasize that there was to be a big dome, impressive enough to match the Capitol, but they were not regarded by Srila Prabhupada as so important as to be repeated elsewhere, in some more relevant connection than long conversations about other things, or to be written down, etc. The actual statements as they can be studied in our Supplementary Document – brief mentions in the course of long conversations about other things – are not the way in which one gives instructions for such an important aspect of a project of decisive, historical importance for all Gaudiya Vaishnavism. If Srila Prabhupada wanted such an extremely remarkable thing as that the most important temple at the most important Gaudiya Vaishnava dhama should look like the U. S. Capitol, he would have written at least one clear letter about it. But he let his statements be quickly forgotten, and the work on Indian designs continued as before, with his approval.
In the room conversation in Washington, D. C. on July 6, 1976, there is brief mention of taking photos of the Capitol. Identified in the tape transcript as present as speakers are Srila Prabhupada, Yadubara and Vishakha (the photographers), Hari Sauri, Svarupa Damodar, and two unnamed devotees (named by Hari Sauri in his “Transcendental Diary” as Brishakapi and Rupanuga). It does not seem that you were there. The other recorded mention of the Capitol was a talk between Srila Prabhupada and George Harrison on July 26, 1976. Identified in the tape transcript as present were Mukunda, Pradyumna, Jayatirtha, Gurudasa, and Hari Sauri. It seems unlikely that the GBC could have been unaware of Srila Prabhupada’s statements for thirty years, if all of these devotees were present and heard them. Why should they – including Hari Sauri, for whom they are now so crystal clear and all-important – watch the project develop for decades without even bothering to say anything? Why did they not make the statements generally known, if they thought they were instructions of decisive importance for the project? Some of the devotees who had heard the U. S. Capitol references were out of the decision-making circles or had stepped down from the GBC. But this would in no way have prevented them from simply saying what they knew Srila Prabhupada wanted, if that was what they thought they knew. And the devotees present were, are again, or have always been leading ones. If they thought they knew what were Srila Prabhupada’s wishes and instructions, they would have made them perfectly well known to all from the beginning.
If it is suggested that the reason why they did not do so is that they assumed that Srila Prabhupada, being personally present and personally in charge, would communicate his wishes to whomever needed to know at the right time, we must ask why they continued to keep quiet even when Srila Prabhupada failed to do so. Srila Prabhupada very definitely did not repeat the purported instruction, and we argue that since he did not, and given the nature of the project, the statements cannot be interpreted as you have interpreted them. If it is argued that the reason why Srila Prabhupada did not properly communicate the supposed instruction is that this was so late in the last part of his pastimes that he was already beginning to leave this world, the same counter-argument would be valid: those who knew his wishes would then, noticing this, have revealed them in his place. But it is also a fact that Srila Prabhupada remained in this world for one and a half years after the statements, and did very many things in this relatively long period. If he actually wanted the most important temple in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition’s holiest dhama to look like the U. S. Capitol, very few things would have been more important for him to prioritize than making such a highly unexpected wish absolutely clear when he was beginning to leave the world.
As we understand it, Srila Prabhupada personally instructed you to fund the TVP, but not to fund a temple that looked like the U. S. Capitol. But if it was so overwhelmingly important to Srila Prabhupada that the temple look like the U. S. Capitol, you would have been the first person to be instructed on or informed about this. If he did not tell you, it cannot, it seems to us, have been important to him or his real intention.
If Srila Prabhupada’s statements were confined for so many years to the archives, it can only be said that this is simply not where they would have ended up if they were intended as anything more than indications that the temple should, like the U. S. Capitol, have a big and impressive dome.
In the 1980s, Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi was prioritized, so that serious focus on the TVP again emerged only in the 1990s. But by that time, Srila Prabhupada’s conversations were published and the VedaBase appeared. You mention George Harrison as Srila Prabhupada’s “most influential follower”. The conversations with Harrison – who apparently did not say anything about the Capitol statements either – will have been immediately read by very many devotees. Still, the teams in charge of the project continued to work only with Indian designs.
You wrote: “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.”
A dome, as such, does not denote a planetarium. Renaissance and neoclassical domes like the current one have not, to our knowledge, been used for this purpose before, so there is no such convention that speaks in favor of the current design. Of course there must be a dome, but there is no reason why it should not be an Indian dome, which can easily be quite as big and impressive as the current one, and equally suited to displaying the Vedic cosmology. The general reasons why an Indian design is alone suited for the planetarium temple in this location we have already given in our Nine Reasons. We add here that it is part of the traditions of Indian temple architecture to incorporate symbolization of the cosmology in the architectural structures themselves.
The idea of representing today in Mayapur the power and authority of the Supreme Personality, Lord Krishna, through what, despite the values it originally represented, has tragically come to be the best known symbolization of the often highly Kali-yugic worldly power and authority of the U. S. A. of today, is an idea that we prefer to refrain from characterizing in any more precise terms. We do not understand how it can be seriously entertained.
You wrote: “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!”
We find this idea of the TVP looking like churches and mosques being in line with what Srila Prabhupada meant by “nonsectarian” highly problematic for a number of reasons which we cannot, within reasonable space, discuss here. It is true that ISKCON does not represent just the Hindus, inasmuch as it is unclear to what extent people not born Hindus can become Hindus. But “representing” Christians and Muslims in its international headquarters, in the most sacred dhama of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, through a centre of spiritual education that looks like a church or a mosque, takes ISKCON far in the direction of the kind of cheap, unqualified, superficial, and watered-down syncretism that is all too common in our age – and that is normally precisely as eclectic and kitschy as the current design. Kirtanananda’s ISKCON precedent at New Vrindavana is hardly encouraging.
Cultural bridgebuilding and integration are of central importance for ISKCON in other parts of the world, and also to some extent in India, but to achieve the real thing in this area requires much more than the current effort. There is no reason to make it the central feature of the exterior of a temple in Mayapur. Architectural bridgebuilding or synthesis exclusively between India and the West is not called for in the historical heart of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and at ISKCON’s global headquarters. If, despite this, it is for some reason contemplated, it would have to be done much better than in the current design.
You wrote: “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,”
As we explained in the Nine Reasons, the purpose of preaching to Europeans and Americans, as well as to others which the purpose has been broadened to include, is thwarted by the Western Enlightenment, neoclassical architecture.
You wrote: “but the fact remains that Srila Prabhupada wanted to use this center to preach to foreigners.”
That seems clear – Europeans and Americans and others. As we argued in the Nine Reasons, they will want an Indian building. The real Renaissance and neoclassical architecture the Europeans and Americans already have at home, and if other foreigners want to see them, they go to Europe and America and get the real thing. Foreigners of all kinds will find nothing interesting in a cheap, kitsch imitation in India.
You wrote: “It is the headquarters of a worldwide spiritual movement, not just to represent Indian culture.”
With the current design it will be seen as representing a worldwide American empire. In the fourth of our Nine Reasons, we have explained that precisely BECAUSE it is the headquarters of a worldwide spiritual movement, the current design is unacceptable and an Indian design, or a modification of the kind suggested by the India RGB, are called for.
You wrote: “For goodness sake, there are plenty of Indian temples to see all over India, and better ones than we can afford.”
This does not mean that we should use the limited resources we do have for something that is spectacularly worse than these temples and what ISKCON too has built elsewhere.
You wrote: “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.”
The plan at least represented the right ambition and cultural sensibility. It would in itself earn ISKCON some of the respect and recognition it needs to overcome the criticism it has received during its prolonged era of pop culture and kitsch. But again, there are further alternatives.
You wrote: “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.”
It is a planetarium that will display the Vedic, or, if you will, Hindu cosmology. The planetarium aspect has been much neglected, while so much time and energy and money has been put into the architecture. There are several devotee-critics who insist that ISKCON is not yet ready to produce a planetarium display of this cosmology, and who for this reason would welcome a further postponement of the project.
Although the architecture in itself may qualify, their current use, by various governments, unfortunately makes it provocative to suggest, in this connection, that the U. S. government buildings evoke the celestial.
You wrote: “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.”
We will certainly not become more like the Swaminarayans (in the sense you intend) if we build the Disney Capitol. What ISKCON desperately needs in order to get the right kind of attention from state and central governments, big members, scholars, and the educated public is to move decisively away from its kitsch, pop-culture image in many areas. The current design, in our view, will demonstrate to the world precisely what many believe is wrong with ISKCON.
You wrote: “As for 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 suggest the design be revised so that it does not rely on this material, or that another be produced that does not do so.
You wrote: “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.”
Being restricted in land and money requires more intelligent decisions than just to build whatever happens to be feasible with the scanty resources, which will only make us even more restricted. The restrictions hardly exclude using a more Indian design.
You wrote: “Also, to collect money from ISKCON members is very difficult. Leaders tend to need to keep their big donors for valid reasons.”
It will not become easier with an imitation Capitol in Mayapur. The India RGB felt that if money is needed to complete this project and maintain it, it will be difficult with the existing design to attract donations from wealthy Indians.
You wrote: “Even the Bhattacharyas who have committed to this project will not give a penny before they see a building going up.”
Let the kind of building we advocate go up.
You wrote: “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.”
It does not have to be done in the way it was done before, although that would be good inasmuch as it involved an astounding world-class design that made it well worth waiting, and working, for the funds and the land. It could be a matter only of a new, modest Indian design, of the same quality as other Indian ISKCON temples.
You wrote: “We also have the parameters of height which Srila Prabhupada left us. Downsizing is not an option.”
The new Indian dome does not have to be smaller or lower than the current one.
You wrote: “Anyway, I can live with it as I have tried my best.”
Yes, and we hope you understand that we all respect your sincere efforts.
You wrote: “I saw all the waste and extravagance from previous grandiose designs, and I want no part of it.”
This is still no argument for sticking with an inferior design. The current team is making its own mistakes, although wasting a lot less money. In pushing to build as quickly as possible, the team is not pursuing adequate architectural reviews and getting the cosmological content right.
We suggest that what would be needed for the realization of one of the grandiose designs, which we defended as desirable, is patience, and a reconsideration of ISKCON’s general cultural attitudes and policies, so that shortcuts and surrogates like the current version of the TVP are avoided in principle, and quality placed above quantity in projects of this kind.
But again, we do not insist on the previous grandiose designs as the only possible alternatives.
You wrote: “We have devotees who are doing this as their service. It is a work of sacrifice and love, not a career path.”
No one has ever suspected it is a career path. All respect and praise the sacrifice and love.
You wrote: “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.”
We also think there are some such Vaishnavas, and we want through our poll to find out more exactly how many they are. But surely you will not have had to look for those who do not like it. We happen to know that some of them have protested to you before, and that others have probably protested to Bhavananda Prabhu.
You wrote: “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.”
Again, why did you spend that money if you are so clear that Srila Prabhupada wanted a U. S. Capitol TVP?
Even if it was not yet practical, you did achieve the production of a world-class design, which, in sharp contradistinction to the current version of the TVP, was in itself of great merit and value for ISKCON.
You wrote: “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.”
Only a few hundred thousand dollars – it sounds as if you could bear the loss, the unavoidable waste that is small in comparison with the tens of millions of dollars that you will lose by going ahead with the current design: the waste that is still avoidable. With just a little more expenditure, your team could actually have a greatly improved design.
You wrote: “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?”
Here it is: the construction must be delayed or stopped since the current design will be an obstacle to the spread of Krishna consciousness, among foreigners as well as among Indians.
At the very least the design must be modified as suggested in the resolution by the India RGB.
You wrote: “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.”
We think we have already given the reasons, which we hope are Krishna conscious, for not going ahead. But scrapping the current structure in its entirety may not be the only alternative.
You wrote: “In fact, it seems almost like choosing between something which ‘does not exist’ and a pragmatic reality.”
It is like choosing between working for a good design and sticking with a bad one. We suggest that Americans are sometimes too focused on what they conceive as the pragmatic reality. Our position is that in this case, that which does not exist is better than what you consider to be pragmatically possible now. We also suggest, however, that other and better alternatives are in fact also possible.
You wrote: “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.”
We point out that there is much that is doable that should not be done. We do think that, contrary to the current design, our suggested alternatives are both doable and such that should be done. Yet we will not write a post-dated check. Unlike you and your team, we cannot build another temple. We do not claim or pretend that we can and will. But we do suggest that the people who can do it exist in India, since ISKCON has built notable temples in New Delhi, Tirupati, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Ujjain, Bangalore, Rajamundhry, Anantapur, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Siliguri, Baroda, Mumbai, Madurai, and Tirunelveli.
All we are doing is to try to ascertain what the devotees think about the current design and about possible alternatives to it; to propose a secret GBC vote that will ascertain the GBC members’ opinions of the current design and, with a possible addition, of the RGB’s suggested modifications; and to persuade you, your team, and the GBC, as well as the community of devotees, to seriously consider our arguments against the current design and for our suggested alternatives.
We want to repeat and strongly emphasize how much we respect your generous contributions and your sincere effort to serve Srila Prabhupada in this project. If we risked extinguishing, as you put it, your and others’ enthusiasm, and those feeling such enthusiasm were a majority or a significant minority of the devotees, we would consider the rightness of our continued protest uncertain. It is our hope that a result acceptable to all of us can be achieved in a friendly and respectful devotional spirit of constructive cooperation for the shared purpose of pleasing Srila Prabhupada and fulfilling his vision.
Your humble servant,
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