Big is not something that you associate with Mumbai, especially when it comes to size of its physical structures. This new structure in Northern suburbs of the city is going to change that. It is the largest stone dome in the world with no supporting pillars, double the size of the next biggest dome, which incidentally is not too far away in Bijapur. Made with Rajasthan sandstone with each weighing 600-700 kgs and joined by interlocking and lime mortar only is an engineering marvel. The green surroundings add to the vastness of the structure. From the distance it almost looks like a giant golden bell lying in the open grounds. Painted Golden it can be viewed from quite some distance and should form a good view from the air, though am not sure if it falls in an air corridor or not.
The Pagoda is done in typical Buddhist colors of Gold and Red. The ceilings of the outside corridor are red with golden engravings. People who have done the Vipassana course are allowed to go inside the Pagoda and do meditation, for others there is a visitor’s gallery from which you can see inside of the Pagoda. You would be awed by the sheer size of the dome. Right in the centre of the dome is a golden Dharma Chakra, and relics of Buddha are supposed to be on top of it. Srilanka and Mahabodhi society of India have donated the Budhha relics for the pagoda. With his relics being spread across so many pagodas being built lately, I wonder how much of the real thing really remains. The structure is modeled on Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. The periphery of the structure has spiritual messages written in Hindi, Marathi and English. There is supposed to be a big crystal on top of the Pagoda that my camera and me could not locate.
It is said that about 8000 people can meditate here at one go. I wonder if meditation can be or should be done in a congregation of this size. A replica of Ashoka pillar is being erected at the back of the pagoda. The capital on top is a replica of the one at Sarnath with 4 lions and golden dhamma chakra at top. 2 small pagodas will flank the main pagoda and they would also be used for mediation. There is a fairly huge Buddha statue in dhyan mudra wearing the golden robe.
A paintings gallery has more than 200 paintings showcasing the events in the life of Buddha. The paintings have been done very well but the name of the artist(s) is not there. You can spend quite some time here admiring the paintings and also walking through Buddha’s life. There is a simple food court where the food was very good and reasonably priced. There are boards telling you about the fact that course offered is completely free and so is the entry to the pagoda and at the same time asking you to contribute to various ongoing projects of the organization.
Land has been donated by a student who some people guess is businessman Subhash Chandra, the owner of neighboring Essel world. Project has been spearheaded and funded by the Global Vipassana foundation. You wonder how there is never any dearth of money for the pet projects of religious leaders. As the construction work is still on the premises, we saw a lot of laborers working in really unsafe conditions. There was a group of workers doing welding on a ceiling without wearing any eye protection or even helmets. We tried telling the supervisor to at least buy them simple goggles to avoid eye injury and we were ignored as if an illiterate was trying to tell something to a scholar. What an irony! Building a place for meditation based on the principles of Budhha who professed nothing compassion, ignoring the basic human rights of the people who are physically building it. I wonder what Mr. Goenka would have to say on this, or his eyes are just glistening with the golden glow of the piece of legacy he is going to leave behind.
On the way to the Pagoda, do not miss the heaps of salt on both sides of the road. On a pleasant evening, they made a good site. Being far away from the usual tourists places of Mumbai, you will have to make a special trip to see this pagoda. May be you can club it with the trip to Essel world or Gorai beach.