Special Features: Pagoda of peace in Mumbai 

Special Features: Pagoda of peace in Mumbai 

The structure is as tall as 30-storey building

Global Vipassana Pagoda, a huge and grand golden-coloured conical structure along the Gorai creek, could be seen miles away from the fringes of Western Mumbai. 

The structure is a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon in Myanmar--the tallest in the world-- and is built to show the gratitude of India to Myanmar for preserving the non-sectarian Vipassana form of meditation, in its pristine purity, when it was lost in the country of its birth, India. 

Pagoda in the financial capital of India can be accessed by road from Bhayender in Thane district and by ferry along the Gorai creek in Mumbai. It is built on a piece of land donated on a peninsula between Gorai creek and the Arabian Sea.

The structure, measuring 325 feet in height, is as tall as a 30-storey building and is just one foot shorter than the Shwegadon Pagoda, which, according to the legend, was built 2,600 years ago. The Mumbai Pagoda was built combining ancient Indian and modern technology to enable it to last for over 1,000 years.

The Global Vipassana Pagoda has several firsts to its credit―it has the biggest pillar less stone dome on earth (280 feet in diameter) and is three times the size the Gol Gumbaz (90 feet), the previously largest known stone dome structure situated in Vijayapura in Karnataka. 

The Pagoda is hollow inside and serves as a very large meditation hall with an area covering more than 6,000 sq m. The dome can accommodate 8,000 people at one time. It is also one of the world’s biggest stone pagoda and one of the tallest stone buildings in the world. 

Planning for the construction of the Global Vipassana Pagoda began in 1997, while actual building work started in 2000. The Pagoda consists of three sub-domes. The first and largest dome was completed when bone relics of Gautama Buddha were enshrined in the central locking stone of the dome on October 29, 2006, making it the world’s largest hollow stone masonry structure containing relics of the Buddha. The relics were found in Bhattiprolu in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. They have been donated by the Mahabodhi Society of India and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to be kept at the Global Vipassana Pagoda. Second and third domes, along with an auxiliary dome adjoining the second dome, sit atop the first dome. Construction of the third dome was structurally completed on November 21, 2008.

The Mumbai structure was built under the guidance of late Satya Narayan Goenka, popularly known as S N Goenka (January 30, 1924-September 29, 2013), a foremost guru of Vipassanā meditation. He was trained in Vipassana by Saya Gyi U Ba Khin of Burma, the principally known as a leading 20th century authority on Vipassana meditation and an influential leader of the Vipassana movement. Goenka and his wife, Elaichidevi, also a co-teacher of meditation, who is reverentially called Mataji, are credited with bringing Vipassana back in a big way in India. 

“Guruji always said we should not attach any monetary value to ‘dharma’ and hence a visit to the Grand Vipassana Pagoda and Vipassana teaching is absolutely free and anyone willing is welcome to join in,” says Lokesh Goenka, the grandson of the late SN Goenka. 

“A lot many people are coming in now. We are seeing an increase in number of footfall,” said Goenka Jr. 

An inaugural one-day meditation course was held at the Pagoda on December 21, 2008, with S N Goenka in attendance as the teacher. The Pagoda was inaugurated by the then President Pratibha Patil on February 8, 2009. 

“Today the technique which Buddha taught 2,500 years ago is once again flourishing. Pagoda is just a place to make the common man aware of the teachings of Buddha, Vipassana meditation,” said Shantaram Shinde, an assistant teacher of Vipassana.

“The foundation of the dome consists of basalt, while the dome itself is made from sandstone brought from Rajasthan. The individual blocks of sandstone weigh 600-700 kg each and are kept in place due to the unique design of the bricks. The red and golden yellow paint was imported from Thailand,” said Goenka Jr. 

The Pagoda complex has a Dhamma bell and a Dhamma gong, which have been donated by people of Myanmar and Thailand, respectively. It also has Ashoka pillar, which is a symbol of gratitude towards the legendary king who spread Buddhism. 

Everything in Pagoda is linked to Buddhist tradition. “The Bodhi tree (peepal tree) has a unique history,” Goenka Jr said. “From a distance, it might seem like an ordinary tree, but it is not. Buddha got enlightenment in Bodh Gaya under a Bodhi tree. The great emperor Ashoka’s eldest daughter Sanghamitta embraced Buddhism and was ordained into Theravada Buddhism Order. She became an Arihant MahaTheri,” he said.

When Ashoka decided to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka, his daughter took a branch of the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka. “The sapling was planted and was known as Jaya Sri Mahabodhi and it still exists in Sri Lanka. As a sign of gratitude, the branch from the same tree was planted in the Pagoda in 2014. Hence, in a way the cutting of the same tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment has returned to its motherland after so many centuries,” he said. 

In fact, Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has a long Buddhist culture - and the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation is promoting it as part of the Buddhist circuits. “The circuits in the coastal area of Nalasopara, Chaityabhoomi in Dadar, the Mandapeshwar Caves in Borivali, the Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Elephanta Caves are definitely going to increase the flow of tourists in the state,” Minister of Tourism and Employment Guarantee Scheme Jaykumar Rawal said.

The grand golden-coloured pagoda and the huge statue of Lord Gautam Buddha leave visitors mesmerised. “The aim of the Pagoda complex is to express gratitude to Gautam Buddha for dispensing a universal teaching for the eradication of suffering, to reveal the truth about the life of Buddha and his teaching, and to provide a place for the practice of Vipassana meditation,” said Goenka Jr.

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