The global Vipassana pagoda, rising magnificently in a verdant landscape, promises to be a haven of peace—and a tourist attraction
The first sight of the hall of the global Vipassana pagoda is awe-inspiring. There is a spaciousness and expansiveness about it that offers an immediate sense of tranquility, especially for one who lives in a crowded city. And this, though the pagoda is still under construction.
At its completed height, the pagoda will soar 300 ft high and will be one of the world’s largest dome structures built of stone. And it is being built with the ancient technique of interlocking stones instead of concrete, cement or metal.
The pagoda has currently reached the 100 ft mark, forming the base on which three more domes will be constructed. A total of 55,200 stones have been used so far. Brought from Jodhpur, they weigh 500 kg each, says Rajesh Singh, the chief engineer of the project.
The massive meditation hall inside the first dome can seat 8000 people and as I stand under the great dome, I am struck both, by its sheer size and the determination of those who have set out to construct it.
When I climb my way up to the top of the dome, I can see trees all around and vast open spaces. On one side is the Gorai creek, on the other, Essel World. And in the distance, one can see the numerous buildings of the townships of Borivili, Marve, Bhayandar and Dahisar.
The land for the project, around 10 acres, has been donated by Subhash Chandra, chairman of the Essel group, and a Vipassana practitioner himself. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs 80 crore. According to Madan Mutha, a trustee of the Global Vipassana Foundation, the project is funded entirely by donations. “We have received donations ranging from Rs 1 to Rs 10 crore,” he says.
“The original relic of the Buddha will be kept here,” he continues. These are the ashes of Gautama Buddha, which have been brought from the Mahabodhi Society in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC) would enshrine relics of the Buddha in pagodas or stupas as they were then called, because it was believed that they would emit positive vibrations. In the global pagoda, the idea is that the Buddha’s ashes will also emit positive vibrations for those who are meditating.
On Sunday, October 29, these relics will be enshrined in the centre of the dome in a special ceremony in the presence of State Home Minister R.R. Patil and other dignitaries.
Vipassana meditator Ajit Parekh says the pagoda has been built along the lines of the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon in Myanmar. “It was only in Myanmar that the teachings of the Buddha were preserved in their pristine form and they were brought to India by S.N. Goenka, (founder of the Vipassana Foundation), who was born and brought up in Myanmar,” he says. “So we are trying to say thank you to Myanmar with this pagoda.”
With the Foundation having 125 centres worldwide and a membership of 50 lakh, Vipassana practitioners from all over the world are expected to make their way here.
Inside the hall are a group of Sri Lankan visitors. One of them, V.R.K. D’Silva, the former CEO of the Lakehouse newspapers group, one of the largest in Sri Lanka, says: “This is a stupendous achievement. But I must make the point that the ancient Sinhalese kings used the same type of material 2000 years ago.”
But then, that is the precisely the charm of this modern-day dome – that it puts a modern face to an ancient technique.
What is a pagoda?
From Java to Mongolia to Japan, the pagoda or stupa was built as a memorial to a great leader. Pagodas have been built from ancient times. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, it has been mentioned that ten stupas were built to house the remains of Gautama Buddha.
Emperor Ashoka, a staunch follower of Buddhism, built 84,000 stupas, each of which had a relic from the original ten. The best preserved is the one at Sanchi.