Buddha's Pyramid at Gorai

Cybernoon.com, November 9, 2006

Pagodas have been an integral part of Buddhist teachings with more than 15,000 pagodas having been in existence during the great saint's time in different countries. ZARIN AMROLIA & VISHWANATH SALIAN discover the construction of the Global Pagoda in Mumbai (Bombay), India

Mumbai, India -- A trip to Essel World can be really exciting. With its fun rides, bumper cars and scary rooms, visitors manage to keep themselves busy and entertained all through the day.

On one such trip to Essel World, while this reporter was at the highest point on a fun ride, she managed to get her sight on the Gorai creek. The spectacle of the surrounding hills and the greenery of the numerous trees was simply breathtaking.
Out of sheer curiosity, she stepped into the vicinity and discovered that in the midst of these numerous trees, a historical splendour is being constructed.

Termed as the Global Pagoda, this structure is a sort of pyramid of Buddhists. It is in this Pagoda that Buddha's relics have been enshrined. And according to Global Vipassana Foundation, which has built the structure, this is the first time in 2000 years that Buddha's relics have been enshrined in India. The pagodas have been an integral part of Buddhist teachings with more than 15,000 pagodas having been in existence during the great saint's time in different countries.

But this is the world's highest Pagoda at 325 feet made only of stone and lime, without a pillar, without the use of cement or steel and hollow from within. It is placed on 11 acres of land that the Global Pagoda Chairman Subhash Chandra Goyal, who is also the Chairman of the Zee TV and Essel Group of companies, donated to the Global Pagoda. The construction of this site began two years back, and it will be another two years before the site is ready.

Visitors at Essel World can walk up to the Pagoda, directed by the various signs announcing the Buddhist structure. Stepping at the site, one is first greeted by a huge dome stretching 280 feet in diameter. At this site, Essel World's shrieks and music are simply on mute. It is just the wind and sun, and of course, the sound of the construction work.

An arch entrance leads us to a much cool, shaded and peaceful interior. The inside of the dome is lit by the rays of the sun, which enter from the gaps in the stone wall where 16 exhaust fans are fitted. To keep this area even cooler, the floor of the dome has four underground spaces, one, which will store a cooler, and the rest, which will be responsible to suck out the stale and hot air from the dome. On entering in, the first realisation is that every tiny sound made is picked up and magnified. In fact, on our visit, the other visitors marvelled at the echoes spoke in hushed voices surprised to hear that even those would turn into echoes.

This entire space is of 280 feet in diameter and can house six to eight thousand people at a time. Other than the arched main entrance, the dome has all other entry and exit spaces.

Just beside this huge structure, there is a smaller Pagoda. This Pagoda is complete - with the golden paint - setting an example of what the larger Pagoda will look like. This site will also have a second small Pagoda. Both the smaller Pagodas will be 23.93 meters in height.

The site also has various facilities such as car parking area of 80,000 sq feet inside the basement. The basement of 100,000 sq feet will also have exhibition rooms where the teachings of Buddha will be displayed.

Other than this, there will also be a Rainwater Harvesting Tank in the basement, which has a capacity to store 1,725,000 litres of water.

Facing the Pagodas, there is a construction named the Meditation Centre. This centre will have a hall where 10-day courses in meditation will take place. This centre has about a 100 rooms that will house those participating in the course and the Buddhist gurus. The centre will segregate the participants in terms of males and females.

The site has about 600 workers busy in the various aspects of construction. And leading them is Chief Architect of this Project Mr. Madan Mutha. Talking about this project Mutha said, "This Pagoda is an exact replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda of Myanmar, Burma, except that it's one meter less in height. It is built as a mark of gratitude towards the chain of teachers in Myanmar such as Sayagyi U Ba Khin, who preserved the teaching of Vipassana long after it was lost in the world."

Elaborating further, Mutha explained that Vipassana is a technique of meditation, which was conceived by Buddha. However, it was lost to India, but was safeguarded in Burma. "Our Guru Acharya S N Goenka was a student of Sayagni U Ba Khin and learnt this art of Vipassana from him. This Pagoda is built to spread the technique of Vipassana to the world. And since we want to teach Vipassana, which is a meditation technique that people from any religion can follow, we got permission from all Buddhist monks to make the Pagoda hollow," said Mutha, adding that this Pagoda admits all without any discrimination to religion. "We call it the art of living. We think of Buddha as a teacher and a scientist," said Mutha.

"The Meditation Centre has got a hall where the 10-day Vipassana will be conducted. Only those who have gone through this meditation course will be allowed to meditate in the Pagoda," said Mutha, adding that their Guru S N Goenka will be staying in one of the rooms of the Meditation Centre, which is facing the main Pagoda.

About the construction, Mutha said that the use of stone would ensure that the Global Pagoda would have a life of centuries. "The main portion which is the dome is already constructed. Now it is just the shape of the Pagoda that we have to build up, and then paint it golden. Because this entire structure is of stone and lime and is without any pillars, it will take some time to build. Above, at the centre of the dome, is where Buddha's relics are kept in a gold container," said Mutha.

On this project, the Global Pagoda organisation has already spent Rs 55 crore and they will be spending another Rs 40 crore till its completion. "But we do not take money from anybody. Even the 10-day courses are without a fee. Those who want to donate are free to give any amount. Our entire organisation, even this Pagoda is built entirely on the money we have received from donations," said Mutha. However, not everybody is allowed to donate. Donations are welcome only for those who have gone through the 10-day meditation course.

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