Mumbai's newest landmark, the majestic 325-feet tall Global Vipassana Pagoda, the tallest pillar-less dome in the world, was dedicated as a "world monument of peace and harmony" by President Pratibha Patil on Sunday.
The structure looms majestically over the GVF complex, spread over 13 acres of lush greenery, near picturesque Gorai in northwest Mumbai, barely a kilometre from the Arabian Sea. Pagodas are multi-tiered structures common in China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other countries where Buddhism is followed.
The structure measures 280 feet in diameter and 90 feet in height, and is flanked by two 60-ft tall pagodas.
Among the personalities present at the event were Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir, Ministers Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, state Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra and her husband Robert Vadra, several ministers, foreign dignitaries, members of the diplomatics corps in Mumbai, representatives of all religions, Global Vipassana Foundation (GVF) founder S.N. Goenka and GVF chairman Subhash Chandra.
"The people of Myanmar donated the marble used for the flooring and the umbrella placed atop the pagoda. The people of Thailand donated the golden paint typically used in pagodas, which is not available in India. In addition, a student's family donated the land while other past students of Vipassana contributed around Rs.800 million to construct the entire structure," said Chandra.
Vipassana is an ancient Indian meditation technique. According to GVF trustee Vallabh Bhanshali, it is a non-sectarian, rational process of mental purification through self-observation, practised in 140 countries, irrespective of caste, class, religion, race or sex.
Designed by Indian architect Chandubhai Sompura on the lines of the She Dagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, this pagoda is a hollow structure, having a dome of 280 feet diameter. Below it is a massive 6,000-sq pillar-less meditation hall which can accommodate 8,000 people at a time.
The dome is more than three times the size of the large masonry structure - the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Karnataka, which is 90 feet in diameter. The original bone relics of Gautam Buddha, donated by the Sri Lankan government and the Mahabodhi Society of India, have been enshrined in the central locking stone of the dome.
The pagoda is the outcome of efforts by nearly 700 labourers toiling daily for the past 11 years to make what is billed as the 8th wonder of the world.
Combining ancient building principles with modern techniques of construction, Sompura finally guided a structure using the 'interlocking principle of construction' for the huge stones - each weighing around 600-700 kg.
The entire structure has consumed over 2.5 million tonnes of Jodhpur stone, which were cut in quarries around Jodhpur (Rajasthan) and transported to Mumbai.
The pagoda, a dream project of 85-year-old Goenka, the moving spirit of VGF, has been constructed mainly with donations received from former students of Vipassana and devotees around the world.
It will be thrown open to the people and tourists Monday onwards, over 100,000 followers of Buddha are expected to visit it each year.