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A memorial for vipassana

Once Buddhism spread from India to neighboring countries, Buddha’s teachings were also preserved in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Laos. In Burma, through a teacher-student relation, the practice of vipassana was also preserved for almost 2000 years. Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899-1971), the first accountant general of independent Burma taught it to S N Goenka and ever since that Goenka has led the establishment of dhamma centers to teach vipassana free of cost around the world.

A golden pagoda, the world’s largest stone monument and the first dome in human history of this size without any supporting pillars will be innagurated in Mumbai this week. This large meditation hall which can hold upto 8000 meditators will also be holding the authentic relics of the Buddha.

This pillarless 27-meter-high dome is attracting architectural wonder considering that thousands of stones, each weighing about 600-700 kilograms, are suspended without any external support. “These massive stones seemingly float over our heads, locked into place by the interlocking principle of one stone gripping and holding another. The more weight that is added to the stones, the more firmly the stones grip and hold each other,” said M M Khandhar, a veteran construction engineer with experience of building projects in the US. When fully complete, the pagoda will be 100 meters high.

The biggest stone dome with a hollow interior built anywhere in the world before the Global Pagoda was the Gol Gumbaj Dome in Bijapur, southern India, which is 40 meters in diameter. The Global Pagoda is more than twice its size.

“We initially contemplated building the pagoda in reinforced concrete and steel. But the project aim is to build a structure to last for a thousand years, so we decided to use the basic building principles that have existed in ancient India for centuries, combined with latest construction technologies,” explained the Mumbai-based Global Vipassana Foundation that is executing the project. “The construction plans were finalized following advice from consultants and research studies, including one by the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.”

When Goenkaji first expressed his wish to have such a dome built without any pillars in the meditation hall, to avoid inconvenience to meditators, almost all consultants and technical personnel expressed their doubts, saying this was almost impossible.

Chandubhai Sompura, an Indian architect, provided the breakthrough by demonstrating the idea of the locking system of stones using bars of soap cut into the same shape as the present stones are cut. A stone has grooves cut both horizontally and vertically, and is designed to interlock in both directions and hold the stones in place. [Asia’s spectacular monument of gratitude]

One Response to A memorial for vipassana

  1. Jaffna November 5, 2006 at 7:50 am #

    Like many things Indian, here is another exaggeration. This pagoda is only 90 feet high. The dome of St Paul’s cathedral is 400 feet high. A dome of the Sultan Salahuddin mosque at Kuala Lumpur is 350 feet high. Two ancient stupas in Anuradhapura (Jetavanarama and the Abhayagiri) are between 300 and 400 feet high.

    Goenka’s latest business venture ain’t that impressive. Perhaps he should reintroduce Vipassana to Burma to quell the rampant corruption, human rights abuses and blatant dicatorship there!

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