Original article By Sudeshna Banerjee published in The Telegraph – online edition magazine on Aug 8, 2018.
A gigantic blue dome is all that visitors to Nadia’s Mayapur have been seeing of the temple under construction for the past seven years. Last February, a gold-plated chakra, weighing two tonnes, was installed on it with fanfare.
Mayapur: A gigantic blue dome is all that visitors to Nadia’s Mayapur have been seeing of the temple under construction for the past seven years. Last February, a gold-plated chakra, weighing two tonnes, was installed on it with fanfare.
But what they, or even those walking into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) headquarters complex, would be unaware of is the activity going on inside, under the dome. For it is there that the “cosmic chandelier” will be installed.
The chandelier, hanging at a height of 145ft from the floor, will be the centrepiece of the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, as the main temple is called. It will be radically different from other planetariums on three counts.
It will not follow modern cosmology, but the cosmic manifestation described in the fifth canto of Srimad Bhagavata, showing the movements of the heavenly bodies as well as the higher philosophical realms leading up to Sivaloka, Vaikuntha and Goloka Vrindavana.
The idea for the planetarium was derived from a letter by Iskcon founder Prabhupada, where he writes: “The model… will be engineered to suspend from the structure of the dome and rotate according to the real movement of the planets….”
Explained Sadbhuja Das, director of the planetarium and an electrical engineer from Australia who had helped build the first nuclear electrical plant in Melbourne: “Unlike in other planetariums, it will not be projections but solid structures that you will get to see. Each structure will move at speeds corresponding to their real time movement. This will require intricate engineering and precision computer programming.”
The planets will be represented as deities, seated on chariots pulled by horses, the details of which are drawn from the Puranas. So expect Rahu to hover near Moon during a lunar eclipse. Each planet will be a light-weight construction, about 60cm in height, and will be illuminated from inside through electrical fittings.
At the lowest rung will be the giant serpent Ananta Nag supporting the seven subterranean planets, shown as discs vertically stacked on each other. Each ring will display scenes of activities associated with that realm. Above this will be earth or Bhumandala, shown as a central three-dimensional island amid oceans and smaller islands.
All the display elements will be attached to a central support pole suspended from the inner apex of the dome. Since parts of the planetary display will rotate, the structure will be further stabilised with cables attached at various heights and fixed to the inner walls.
“No one before has tried to represent Vedic cosmology so accurately,” Sadbhuja Das said, adding that the chandelier will be almost 200ft, or 19 storeys, in height.
There will be two viewing galleries to allow viewers to take a closer look at the higher levels of the chandelier.
“There will also be exhibits in each gallery pertaining to its closest level. Sanatan Goswami’s fable Brihat Bhagabat Amrita, on a living entity who visited all realms, will be narrated through diorama,” said Sridama Das, project manager for the TOVP exhibits and planetarium department. A New Zealand citizen, he has double masters in mass communication and digital video production methodology.
The temple’s west wing will be a Vedic cosmology museum with four levels of exhibits which will look at all forms of cosmography – Siddhantic (which the almanacs follow), Puranic and modern.
“In the exhibition space, we will utilise all media platforms including projection mapping technology, virtual and augmented reality and holographic effects other than traditional diorama, mechanical models and light and sound,” Sridama Das adds.
A 300-seat 23m domed planetarium theatre will provide immersive experiences through shows. A seven-member executive committee, including cosmology scholars, are developing content, creating scripts based on their research and identifying the talent and technology that will be needed for it.
“As test run, we have built a 12m dome planetarium theatre for which two films have been created – on churning of the ocean and on the nine islands of Nabadweep – which are being told on a 360º immersive platform where you are not just the viewer but also part of the experience,” Sridama Das explains.
“Mayapur now has six million visitors a year. Once the temple opens, the figure will go up to 12 to 16 million. We have to carefully decide the show timings,” he said.
The project cost was revealed to be $75 million when the temple was announced in 2013. The authorities are hoping for an opening in 2021.