In Mayapur, West Bengal, construction on ISKCON’s flagship temple—the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium—is progressing quickly, heading towards a 2016 grand opening, in honor of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary.
Here at ISKCON News, we’ve been taking regular looks at different facets of the temple, each of which is unique and fascinating.
There’s a lot to explore. The project will have a 300 foot-high dome inspired by Washington D.C.’s Capitol building, a huge, detailed chandelier model of the universe as described in the fifth canto of the ancient Vedic text Srimad Bhagavatam, a planetarium theater, and an ornate altar housing Sri Sri Pancha-Tattva, Sri Sri Radha-Madhava, and the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana. Fifty engineers, 800 laborers, and dozens more team members are hard at work on it.
But of course, such a grand temple would not even be possible without raising large amounts of funds. So this week, we spoke to the TOVP’s Director of Development, Vraja Vilasa Dasa.
Originally from South India, Vraja Vilasa has worked for major IT companies in India, and has also lived in the USA, where he worked as a consultant on Google Products for American railroads. During his spare time, he would work on ISKCON projects, such as organizing the Ratha Yatra festival in Jacksonville, Florida, and coordinating the collection of funds for it.
But he kept an eye on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium project, which had always captivated him. Finally in January 2011, inspired by the prophecy of 19th century Vaishnava saint Bhaktinode Thakura that such a temple would rise, as well as the vision of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada and the dedication of project chairman Ambarisa Dasa (Alfred Ford), Vraja Vilasa left his prosperous job in the US to serve in Mayapur.
“As construction of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium started to move rapidly, fundraising became a top priority,” he says. “We started to have official fundraising campaigns as soon as I moved to Mayapur.”
And there’s a lot of funds to raise. The Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will be constructed in three phases, with an estimated total completion cost of 60 million US dollars.
Phase one—establishing the location, design, size and most of the superstructure of the temple—is already well underway, and its cost of $30 million will be largely funded by Ambarisa Dasa.
“Phase two, the basic internal finishing, will cost approximately $15 million and be completed by March 2016,” Vraja Vilasa says. “Although to move the Deities into the new temple around this time, which is the plan, will require at least $22.5 million. Finally, Phase three—remaining internal finishing and external finishing—will cost approximately $15 million, but inflationary increments and unforeseen circumstances must also be taken into consideration.”
About $22.5 million of the total $60 million cost has been collected so far, leaving $37.5 million to be raised at current budgetary projections.
Ambarisa, great grandson of Ford Motor Company Founder Henry Ford, has already donated more than $20 million towards the construction of the Temple sub- and super-structures. Dr. Bhattacharya and Madhavi Bhattacharya have donated about $1 million, and pledged much more. Sri Nathji Dasa of ISKCON Mumbai has donated $1 million towards building the TOVP’s Nrsimhadeva Temple. And the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International has donated $350,000 and pledged more.
“Meanwhile, thousands of others have donated whatever they can afford, moved to be part of a project of such momentous size and spiritual significance,” Vraja Vilasa says.
He is helped in his fundraising efforts by Campaign Chairman Ambarisa Dasa; as well as Kalakantha Dasa, president of the Krishna House in Gainesville, Florida, who has worked in the fundraising field. Kalakantha is helping to design the TOVP’s campaign, while a team of devotees is being put together to represent the TOVP throughout India and the world.
“As this is truly an international temple, we would like the whole world to take part in this historic project,” Vraja Vilasa says.
He explains that fundraising is essentially making friends with people and inspiring them. “Within India, we carry on fundraising campaigns in co-operation with the local ISKCON centers and ask for their support in getting their congregation involved,” he says. “Recently we held fundraising campaigns in Mumbai, Kolkata and South India which inspired many influential people of those areas. Similar campaigns are planned for the other major cities of India as well as globally.”
Those who have the financial capacity to donate towards building significant parts of the temple will have the opportunity to have them named in honor of their gurus, parents, children or other loved ones.
Of course, all contributions are significant. Two hundred years ago, Bhaktivinode Thakura, who predicted the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, personally went door to door requesting one rupee from each house to construct the Yogapitha Temple at the holy birth place of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In a similar mood, TOVP fundraisers are requesting as many people as possible to donate a minimum of one square foot of the Temple area for $150.
Vraja Vilasa explains why the Temple of The Vedic Planetarium is a worthy cause.
“Such a spiritually unique and potent project, predicted by Lord Nityananda to Sri Jiva Gosvami, envisioned by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, and designed by ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada, is obviously a rare transcendental opportunity for all,” he says.
“Ambarisa Prabhu, who was personally instructed by Srila Prabhupada, has courageously taken up the leadership to make this Temple a reality. He has personally given a munificent donation and is also leading the fundraising campaign. This is going to be the largest Vedic Temple built in the last one thousand years. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Those who contribute to the Temple will reap great spiritual benefits and receive our public appreciation which will be recorded for all future generations to see.
“God has kindly given each of us some money, and we all have ideas on how to use it. Yet coming together for His service pleases Him most of all. If we come together to cooperate for building this magnificent Temple just as Srila Prabhupada envisioned it, then our own individual desires to serve Lord Krishna will also be fulfilled.
“Mayapur is like the root of the ISKCON tree. When the root is watered, all the leaves and branches benefit. Every person giving to this project will be more connected to Srila Prabhupada’s mission to fulfill Lord Nityananda’s prediction and the vision of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur.”
To donate to the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, please visit http://tovp.org/en/donate/how-to-give-a-donation.