Implementing the Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam in the New Temple in Māyāpura (08/22/06)
Dear C____ Dāsī
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Thank you for your email reminding me of my duty to contribute whatever information I might have towards the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda in fulfilling his desire to build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP).
I have gone through the material in your email several times. I humbly wish to point out what I think to be an inaccurate conclusion that has been made at the outset, as well as to provide you with some additional information and also to make some comments of my own.
Here is a quote from the introduction of the Concept-Paper on the TOVP.
“The first record we have of Śrīla Prabhupāda speaking about the TOVP concept is from a 1973 conversation with HH Śrīdhara Mahārāja. That conversation was mostly in Bengali, and we are still awaiting translation of the Bengali sections. From the transcriptions of the English sections, we can understand that Śrīla Prabhupāda¹s concept was already quite well formed, including details about the great physical size of the building and the incorporation into its vertical structure of the four dhāmas mentioned in the Brahma Saṁhitā verse 5.43.” (quoted from the first paragraph 1 Historical Development)
I would like to point out that in the paragraph above, it is assumed that Śrīla Prabhupāda¹s concept for the TOVP was already quite well formed. Thus the subject is approached thinking that Śrīla Prabhupāda was not interested in, or going to be influenced by any outside participation from anyone else. However, it actually appears that Śrīla Prabhupāda is eager to have Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s opinions about the conceptual details of the project, thus indicating that the theological concept of the temple was not really “quite well formed” but was actually still in the stage of development and needed much more clarification.
From the English transcript of the conversation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja, it is evident that Prabhupāda, after referring to the verse from Brahma-saṁhitā (5,43), clearly asks Śrīdhara Mahārāja how it will be depicted?
Prabhupāda: “So Maheśa-dhāma, how it will be depicted? Pārvatī-wise?” (See attached document A)
As the conversation continues, it seems that Śrīla Prabhupāda happily extracts from Śrīdhara Mahārāja some of the gems of Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s far-reaching knowledge and insights of the śāstra, and is willing to accept his knowledge and thus apply it to the TOVP.
So our point here is that to think that the TOVP and its development was solely the idea and conception of Śrīla Prabhupāda is to limit the possibilities of the TOVP ever becoming what it was intended to be from its conception. In other words, Śrīdhara Mahārāja and his knowledge played an important part in the TOVP from the very beginning and must certainly be valued today as Śrīla Prabhupāda¹s disciples endeavor to fulfill this great dream.
It has been acknowledged that this conversation is the first record wherein Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks about the TOVP. However, it appears that the topic that Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja are discussing is a topic that they
are both already familiar with. In other words, it seems that Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja had discussed this topic on previous occasions possibly earlier that same day, or even as far back as 1967 when Śrīla Prabhupāda visited Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s āśrama in Navadvīpa. In any case, both parties seem to be well abreast of the topic they are discussing, as if they have discussed this topic before.
According to the recollection of Śrīdhara Mahārāja recorded in 1982, Śrīdhara Mahārāja was actually the person to put forward the idea to Śrīla Prabhupāda to build such a grand temple in the first place. Accepting this proposal from Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda later referred to the temple as the “Temple of the Vedic Planetarium”. (Note: We have no reason to doubt Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s version of the story as he has always shown himself to be a dear friend of Śrīla Prabhupāda and a well wisher of ISKCON.) Śrīdhara Mahārāja had the following to say in this regard:
Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “I asked Śrīla Swami Mahārāja (Śrīla Prabhupāda) to construct a temple where the whole Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy will be demonstrated. I had a mind to construct such a temple here, but that was too ambitious and I could not do it. When I was told that he would build a temple there (in Māyāpura), I humbly put forward my desire. I wanted a temple to be built according to the Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam of Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī. The whole structure of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy will be represented there in that temple. Bhūr, Bhuvar, Svar, Mahar, Janar, Tapo and Satyaloka will be
shown in a spiral way, and then Virajā, Brahmaloka, Paravyoma, Goloka-Vṛndāvana. The idea is to demonstrate the structural position of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, and from where Kṛṣṇa has come down to this world to very kindly give us the clue to how we can be uplifted there, to the highest place. That should be dealt with in a scientific way.” (See document-B)
In the conversation that took place between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja in 1973, Śrīdhara Mahārāja replies to Prabhupāda¹s question by stating that everything is explained by Sanātana Gosvāmī in Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam.
Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “It has been already described by Sanātana Gosvāmī in Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam.” (See document A)
Furthermore, in Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s recollection in 1982 (see document B), he again states that the guidelines for the TOVP project are given by Sanātana Gosvāmī in Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam..
Thus, it is our humble suggestion that Bṛhad-Bhāgavatāmṛtam. by Sanātana Gosvāmī and the knowledge of Śrīdhara Mahārāja in this regard should play an important role in developing the TOVP along with the other literatures that Śrīla Prabhupāda has suggested.
In support of this view, we give you the following quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda. In February 1977, four years after the 1973 discussion on the TOVP Śrīla Prabhupāda still maintains his keen interest in Śrīdhara Mahārāja¹s participation. This was the last meeting between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīdhara Mahārāja.
Śrīla Prabhupāda speaking to Śrīdhara Mahārāja: “So, let me make that arrangement, Mahārāja. That Planetarium also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money, the lame man and the blind man policy.”(Room Conversation 1977, Original Bengali translated by Bhakti Caru Swami of ISKCON, see Document C¹)
Overall I think it is wrong to approach this topic thinking that Śrīla Prabhupāda already had a fixed idea of the TOVP, that he was not open to additional input, or that he was simply having a meaningless conversation with Śrīdhara Mahārāja. I strongly believe that a more productive thinking would be to approach the subject knowing that a general idea for the TOVP was firmly seeded in Śrīla Prabhupāda¹s mind, but that he was also open to discussion and that he wanted his dear friend, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, to play a significant role in the TOVP development. Of course, Śrīdhara Mahārāja is no longer present on this planet, but from his recorded comments regarding the TOVP, we can understand in what way he would have contributed towards Śrīla Prabhupāda¹s project.
Since little or no actual progress has been made over the past 30 or more years towards developing a clear understanding of how and what the TOVP is to depict, I would humbly suggest that the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam be the next text to be studied in this regard. Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam consists of two spiritual quests, that of Nārada Muni, and that of Gopa Kumāra. In both instances, there are journeys throughout the universe and beyond and these are made in direct relation to a devotees progress towards the ultimate goal of life, back to home, back to Godhead. On the other hand, the Fifth Canto of Bhāgavatam also deals with the phantasmagoria of the material world, but it does not do so in a linear way to show us the direct path to spiritual perfection.
When reading the Concept-Paper for the TOVP, with its numerous stimulating quotes by Śrīla Prabhupāda, it very much reminds me of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ in which essential clues for the project are given but the ‘Keystone’ is missing. I strongly believe that the missing ‘Keystone’ is Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam .
When Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam is adopted as the principle outline for the TOVP, then the structural position of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, the philosophy that Śrīla Prabhupāda presented to the world, the depictions for the universal order and from where Kṛṣṇa has come down to this world etc. will quickly fall into place. Then what remains will be to decide on issues of size, design and technologies to be used for the presentation.
There are also some other points and suggestions that I would like to make with regard to the final Deity arrangements in the TOVP, technology for presentations such as virtual reality, holograms and dioramas, etc., but I earnestly feel that if the above points and suggestions are not welcomed for discussion by the TOVP development committee, then it is doubtful that any of my other suggestions would be of interest to them. So until I hear back from you on the above, I have no further comments to make at this time.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Hoping this meets you well.
Swami B.G. Narasingha