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The Golden Wonder of Maharashtra: Global Vipassana Pagoda

The Global Vipassana Pagoda stands tall and majestic on the horizon, not only as an architectural marvel but also as a symbol of peace and meditation. Situated on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, this remarkable structure has attracted millions of visitors from around the world, seeking solace, tranquility, and spiritual enlightenment. As a monumental representation of Vipassana meditation, the Pagoda holds cultural, historical, and spiritual significance, drawing people from diverse backgrounds to explore its teachings and embrace the path of self-discovery.

A pagoda is a conical structure where relics of  Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, are enshrined.
Global Vipassana Pagoda by Pradeep717 via Wikimedia Commons

What is a Pagoda?

A pagoda is a conical structure where relics of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, are enshrined. It is just like a huge tower, but it tapers as we go higher and is generally gold in color. Found across South-East Asian nations, pagodas symbolize reverence and gratitude towards Gautam Buddha and his teachings.

Origin and Purpose of the Global Vipassana Pagoda

In 1969, an Indian by origin, S.N Goenka, decided to leave Myanmar, his birthplace, to come to Bombay to fulfill his mentor's (Sayagi-U-Ba-Khin) vision of reviving the Buddhist teachings and culture among Indians. Here, he found himself traveling across the country to teach Vipassana, a meditation technique propagated by Buddha, that emphasizes introspection and self-awareness to attain wisdom, compassion, and liberation from suffering. With his efforts, the philosophy of Vipassana became popular not only in India but also around the world. His passion for the Buddhist philosophy led Goenka Ji to build the Global Vipassana Pagoda, a center to preserve and promote this ancient practice.

Art and Architecture of the Global Vipassana Pagoda

The Pagoda's architecture is a testament to human ingenuity and dedication. Its construction began in 2000 and was completed in 2008. On the exterior, the Global Vipassana Pagoda replicates the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. One of the primary motives behind the replication of the pagoda is to honor Myanmar for preserving the Buddhist Teachings in their pure form and bringing them back to the land of their origin.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar by Marcin Konsek via Wikimedia Commons

The structure follows the traditional design of Burmese-style pagodas. Rising to a height of over 325 feet with a diameter of approximately 280 feet and a seating capacity of around 8,000 people, the Global Vipassana Pagoda has the largest hollow stone dome in the world. The relics of Buddha are enshrined at the center of this dome so that people may feel his vibrations during meditation.

Over 3 million tonnes of basalt stone were used in its construction. While the sandstone transported from Jodhpur was used in the main building, the marble used for flooring, the umbrella placed atop the pagoda, and hand-carved wooden main doors were imported from Myanmar. Even the gold paint that is specifically used in pagodas was donated by Thailand.

Dome of the Pagoda where the relics are enshrined, by Joe Ravi via Wikimedia Commons

Two small pagodas, facing North and South, 60 feet high, are built next to the Global Pagoda. The smaller South Pagoda consists of 108 meditation cells and is the central cell for S.N. Goenka and his wife, Elaichi Devi Goenka. Meditators take Vipassana courses at Dhamma Pattana.

The beautiful Burma Gate has been built at the outer entrance to the Global Pagoda. There are many accommodation facilities built which are similar to the Burma guest house. Tonnes of rainwater harvesting tanks are already functioning, and additional 600,000-litre underground tanks are being added.

There is also a 70-foot parikrama or circular pathway around a Dhamma pagoda, which is covered with a unique marble stone imported from Burma. The temperature of the marble changes with the change in atmospheric temperature i.e. it turns cool in summers and warm in winters, to ensure the comfort of visitors walking barefoot in the parikrama.

Another interesting fact about the Global  Vipassana pagoda is that it has no pillars because of the unique design of the bricks.

Another interesting fact about the Global Vipassana pagoda is that it has no pillars because of the unique design of the bricks. Each brick interlocks with the one next to it and lime mortar is used to fill in any remaining gaps. The entire golden pagoda is truly an incredible combination of modern and ancient Indian technology, strong enough to last centuries.

The basement consists of an enormous gallery that comprises the world's largest collection of paintings, precisely illustrating some key events in Buddha's life. All artwork in the Global Vipassana Pagoda was designed by well-known artists from Burma, Thailand, and India. The exterior is adorned with intricately carved stone and topped with a golden umbrella or "hti," representing the crown of Buddha's enlightenment.

The Pagoda represents the Inner You

Every part and aspect of the Pagoda's architecture has a deeper meaning. According to Buddhist philosophy, progress on the path of Dhamma is achieved by the consistent elimination of impurities, beginning with the gross ones and then removing more and more subtle ones. The Pagoda architecture also represents the same ideology by having a wide base that gradually tapers to a single-pointed diamond. While the broad base signifies suffering, i.e. Dukkha that results from ignorance, the square terraces represent the root causes of our hardships: craving, aversion, and ignorance. In this way, the Pagoda symbolizes the entire path of Dhamma i.e. morality, concentration & wisdom.

Vipassana Meditation Center

Beyond its architectural splendor and historical significance, the Global Vipassana Pagoda serves as a hub for Vipassana meditation courses and retreats. The meditation center, adjacent to the main pagoda, welcomes people from all walks of life who wish to learn and practice Vipassana meditation. Irrespective of one's religious or cultural background, the center invites individuals to immerse themselves in the teachings of Gautama Buddha and experience the benefits of mindfulness, compassion, and self-awareness.

Impact and Global Outreach

Since its inauguration, the Global Vipassana Pagoda has touched the lives of countless individuals, both locally and internationally. It has become a focal point for seekers of inner peace and a refuge for those seeking respite from the fast-paced modern world. The center's courses and meditation programs have helped people cope with stress, anxiety, and the challenges of daily life. Additionally, the Pagoda's outreach extends beyond its physical boundaries through digital platforms and online resources. Videos, talks, and guided meditation sessions are readily accessible, providing a global audience with valuable insights into Vipassana teachings.

The Global Vipassana Pagoda stands tall as an architectural wonder, a spiritual sanctuary, and a beacon of peace. With its grandeur and the ancient wisdom it houses, the Pagoda continues to inspire countless individuals to embark on the transformative journey of self-discovery and inner harmony. As visitors explore the depths of Vipassana meditation and the teachings of Buddha, they find solace and guidance in the quest for a more peaceful and compassionate world.

Divya Balvally is a content writer at Pratha


Divya Balvally

Pratha Content Writer

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