Ambarisa and the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium

In response to Tattvavit and Janaki Rama Prabhus’ effort to have a GBC resolution to change the design of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (ToVP), Sriman Ambarisa wrote a heartfelt response, which you can read here.

My first impression on reading his response was of empathy. I put myself in his shoes and felt the exasperation and impatience of having spent millions (!!!) of US dollars on a project that turned out to be unusable, and now another several hundred thousands US dollars, to again hear cries for change. I completely identified with his message of “hey, look, this is what we’re doing, and if you don’t like it, find someone else to do it!”. I personally feel that I would have walked off the program several hundreds of thousands of dollars ago. So, in the end, my respect and appreciation for his service increased even more.

Having said that, he did seem to open a window of opportunity for some change on the design, in regards to exterior facade, dome shapes, etc. (though he seemed quite adamant in not changing the structural aspect or footprint of the design, which, I believe, will influence the GBC to NOT request a significant change of the design, despite popular appeals).

So, I pray that Krishna grant him and his team the extra patience and insight to at least re-design the exterior of the current project, taking into consideration public opinion.  After all, there is no such thing as serving Prabhupada, if you don’t also satisfy Prabhupada’s servants. People from all around the world, from GBC’s to bhaktas, from scholars to simple folks, are requesting a change of the design. To ignore this, seems to me, to risk staining the herculean task Sriman Ambarisa has taken on.

What kinds of change? Well, for one, many people have remarked that the current domes look very “mosque-ish”. Prabhupada did not approve of this.  Here is the exact reference from Vedabase:

“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. ”

– Letter to: Kirtanananda  —  Sydney 18 February, 1973

I thus suggest that Ambarisa Prabhu and his team take seriously the popular outcry for change and accommodate it in their service, within the boundaries of their patience and the reality on the ground. They should propose new exterior designs, show it to the public, ask for their opinions, etc. A website could be set up, where the public could vote on different design choices created by his team. They could open a direct channel to the general public, where devotees could send in their comments and suggestions on different aspects of the design.  By taking this approach they would have very little to lose and a lot to gain.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Ambarisa and the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium

  1. ccd108

    I do not think that prayers alone are sufficient in this case, one needs a strong pressure on the members of current team and clear resolution that current author Bhavananda is not the artistic director of the design, I would also suggest that Satadhanya das, his friend is also removed from the management of this major project. We are loosing a lot more, then just a design, if they are kept on the payroll of this independent company that came up with the design. The outrage on the quality of design and personnel responsible for it, is a clear indication from Krishna and all Vaishnavas, that something went terribly wrong.

  2. ccd108

    Srila Prabhupada had laid corner stone for the new temple – twice! And in different locations. It may be the ‘transcendental’ reason for the uncertainty or delays. One corner stone was laid with Brahmananda in the fields towards the Taranpur village, close to the location or in the direction of 1990s design proposal. Second corner stone was laid in the proximity of the present day pushpa-samadhi. So I guess the argument that was based on a simple supposition that the plan had already been given to us by the Founder/Acharya Srila Prabhupada” need some disambiguation.
    Of course first corner stone was laid in the location where we did not own the land and second time he laid the corner stone for the design that was already approved, in 1977, but that design would not fit on the land ISKCON owned. It was sadly coincidental with the period when terrible tensions resulted in a violent conflict and some deaths, and imprisonment of the GBC man in Mayapur as a result, so the original approved version of the design was reviewed and shelved.
    We need to be honest and straightforward. If this is the design that Ambharisa Prabhu and his friends want, then we should say, let them build it, after all book distribution does not generate money for the design as it was supposed to do, or does it? BBT does not pay for it from the Indian fund or does it? So money talks. If that what it is lets improve this design and make it practical and as much as possible not just a mix of a few western or Mogul prototypes.
    But is this what Ambharish just said: he does not consider the taste of the devotees who comment on the design important at all? He also does not seems to anticipate an opposition of Church-like building from both neo-Hindu fundamentalists and the communist government, who has every right to stop such an oversize project. But does anyone have a desire or a power to change the views of Ambharish Prabhu? I just can not see anyone who can. I would however insist that a local bank issued a performance bond to any work, as to ensure if work is not completed, someone will pay for completion. It would be a form of insurance to see that the disaster of shutting over the budget did not occur. One have to be honest and admit that the hight of the domes leave us at the benevolence of the West Bengal communist officials, and we will not have much support from central government as well, as the design of the domes is pseudo-christian or even resembling the mosque.

  3. ccd108

    Well it looks like it is a lost case, since nobody wants to mess with him.

  4. news

    Recently, Ranga Nitai Prabhu, whose professional architectural firm in Europe is making a computer model of a new concept of the TVP, wrote to a representative of the Indian Regional Governing Body and asked to come to New Delhi in mid-January to show it to the IRGB.

    The IRGB’s executive committee invited Ranga Nitai to make a
    presentation at the IRGB meeting in New Delhi in mid-January.

    Sadbhuj Prabhu, representing Ambarisa Prabhu’s design team, will also be there presenting a revised model of the TVP, which will reflect the IRGB’s recommendation to Ambarisa’s team to make the design look more Indian.

    The GBC body and the GBC Mayapur Committee have not expressed interest in a new concept, not least because it would delay the TVP and the land issues are complicated. But at their meetings in October, both they and Ambarisa Prabhu accepted the revised design recommended by the IRGB in September.

    Basu Ghosh Prabhu, the IRGB’s representative to Ambarisa’s team, told Ranga Nitai that the IRGB can take a look at his new concept and that it is possible the IRGB may recommend something therein.

  5. tattvavit

    Dear Ambarisa Prabhu and Hari Sauri Prabhu,

    PAMHO. Thank you for your letters.

    Hari Sauri wrote:
    > Bhakta Marko and Ranga Nitai . . . appear to have been misinformed as to
    > what kind of input they may have in the TOVP.

    No. They were informed that Ambarisa and the GBC will not take their presentation seriously. However, out of enthusiasm and the desire to offer their best professional advice, they still invested time, and the India RGB Executive Committee invited Ranga Nitai to make a presentation in New Delhi.

    Ambarisa Prabhu wrote:
    > Although I appreciate the recent submission of design as a very sincere
    > effort, I cannot see how it is relevant to the current realities.

    Since then, Ranga Nitai and Marko have been preparing a revised design scaled down to the size of the Lotus Park, i.e., “relevant to the current realities” (it should cost no more than the current TVP and would take just a year to develop).

    Ambarisa may wish to see it, but everyone knows he is not considering starting over.

    More in pursuance with the IRGB resolution approved by the GBC, Bhanu Swami and Pancaratna have gathered photos of five domes similar to the Capitol and decorated in Indian styles, which may inspire Ambarisa to modify the dome design.

    Ambarisa Prabhu:
    > We have been very accessible in our design process, except in areas
    > regarding direct instructions from the Founder/Acharya, Srila Prabhupada,
    > who wanted a domed building reminiscent of the U.S. Capital for Mayapur,
    > along with certain other parameters.

    “Changing the Design of the TVP: Reply to Hari Sauri” (on Dandavats) showed that in the summer of 1977 Srila Prabhupada did not ask Surabhi’s team “Where is the Capitol design?” when he instructed them in Bombay to go ahead with the Indian design made by Surabhi.

    Srila Prabhupada’s idea regarding the Capitol dome, in 1976, was a suggestion to have a big dome like that, but he did not repeat this in 1977. Rather, he asked that Surabhi’s Indian design be developed and constructed (in his letter to Gurukripa and his conversations with Surabhi). Only his physical demise and the need to construct his samadhis prevented this from being realized.

    Since we wear dhotis and tilaka and cook and eat in Indian ways, and Srila Prabhupada did not preach in a pants and a shirt or use a knife and a fork, or call Ambarisa “Mr. Ford,” it seems strange to us that the design team and the GBC have agreed that a resemblance to American architecture is the most appropropriate TVP design. We think that this design could charm uneducated devotees and simple Indians, but doubt that it will inspire educated devotees and nondevotee intellectuals, modern Westerners or even modern Indians. Professionally, it will be regarded as an artificial imitation and mixture of historical styles. The majority of visitors will be Indian and will not see the TVP building as part of their culture but as a Western transplant. ISKCON’s leaders in India emphatically stated this and raised the question, How will rich Indians be inclined to donate for a temple that they see as not representing their culture?

    Ambarisa Prabhu:
    > I am taking my orders from the GBC whom Srila Prabhupada mde the ultimate
    > authority of Iskcon. I would think this is especially relevant in the
    > World Headquarters.

    Two-thirds of the GBC agree that the current design suffices — for the sake of getting the TVP built. Half feel that the design will not serve as an icon of Caitanya Vaisnavism for hundreds of years.

    Ambarisa Prabhu:
    > We think we have substantially improved the design
    > over time to look like a very majestic religious and learning center.

    The design team could get more professional architectural analyses of the existing project, describing its strong and weak points in a structured way.

    The opinons of the professionals we have heard have not been published, since they asked us not to publish them because they were negative. Thus we have refrained from engaging in what Hari Sauri called “attempting to sap Ambarisa’s enthusiasm.” We want Ambarisa to get full credit for fulfilling Srila Prabhupada’s request to build the TVP.

    Whether this design would have been approved by Srila Prabhupada we cannot know. Ambarisa has put his faith for this in some GBC leaders.

    However, neither these GBC leaders nor Ambarisa Prabhu addressed all the concerns in our three articles called “Changing the Design of the TVP”. Ambarisa Prabhu is stubborn, and the GBC does not wish to reject his offering, so the TVP could end up looking Disneyesque, with gold stars on a blue Capitol dome.

    –ys, td

  6. Vikram

    what a shame
    ..but alas …if krishna wants it built, it will be …even if it’s meant to teach some impatient children a lesson in the long run

    ..but if the fate of the organisation depended on it and i had to choose the current design …..i would rather not build anything!!!

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