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Meeting the Builders
The following are reminiscences shared between Arjuna Das ACBSP, the designer, and Mahadeva Das, the hands-on supervisor and builder of the Krishna Balarama temple.
Arjuna Das: Mahadeva prabhu, you were amongst the first 3 devotees to join on the farm in 1981, along with Nrsimha Tirtha Das and Chit Shakti Das. What inspired you to join at such a young age (17)?
Mahadeva Das: On hearing from the devotees on the “Law of karma” from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Understanding the reactions to sinful activities made me fearful of staying in material consciousness and wasting my life. After hearing from the devotees for about 3 months I joined full-time.
A: You have given the best years of your life to Krishna. How do you feel now after 19 years as a devotee?
M: I’m very happy. I’m always very much inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and example. Now I’m even happier than ever because after so many years of struggle, our service of constructing this temple for Srila Prabhupada’s pleasure is almost finished. It is satisfying to have seen the project develop from empty cane fields into this beautiful temple and ashram complex.
A: Yes, as my right hand man since the beginning, we have seen how difficult it is to construct a temple. Personally, this experience has made me very much appreciate our acharyas warning in the Nectar of Devotion against whimsical temple construction. What has happened here is truly the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. Without His Divine Grace, I don’t think we would have lasted so long, nor seen this successful temple opening. Can you relate to us some of the experiences that have occurred while constructing?
M: In the beginning we were living very simple in two rooms in the old stone ruins that we covered with iron sheets. No toilet or bathroom. I also remember how we used to cook feasts and take prasadam by the riverside. To help with excavation and construction work we would round up village boys who, at that time, were mostly unemployed.
A: Yes I remember how I was the butt of jokes because the first thing we constructed was a bathroom complex. Actually this temple is a renovation of the very old labourers quarters (camp) of the Beau Bois Sugar Estate. In Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo’s autobiography, he mentions that his father was born in this very building, which housed indentured labourers that came from India. What else do you remember from those early days?
M: I remember how we where about 7 devotees staying in those rooms with no doors during a cyclone and how we where trying to block the wind with our dhotis. Even though it was austere, we were actually very happy. Almost every evening, we where walking to the surrounding villages to hold sat-sangas.
A: I also remember how in those days it was very blissful being a devotee. The good old days! It is a fact that as pioneers of the Hare Krishna movement, we were recipients of extraordinary and special mercy from Srila Prabhupada, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai and Sri Sri Krishna Balarama. Srila Prabhupada had told us to set up these farming communities to show an ideal, happy way of life implementing the teachings of Bhagavad-gita. Srila Prabhupada’s motto was “simple living, high thinking”. In Vrindavan he told us that Lord Krishna would help us look after the cows and Lord Balarama would help us plough the land. Srila Prabhupada told us that by following this simple way of life we wouldn’t have to work hard like asses in factories, but rather we could happily chant, dance and eat sumptuous Krishna prasadam. I remember those early days after we had our first cows and we were getting this fantastic milk, and every morning we would make a bucket of sweet yogurt full of bananas, papayas, litchis and mangoes. I also remember, Mahadeva Prabhu, how you trained up our bullock, Balarama.
M: Yes, I remember after I trained up Balarama to pull a cart, he was pulling a load of blocks, when all of a sudden a wasp stung him on his neck. He jumped and started to run like anything, leaving a long trail of blocks in the fields behind him. We wanted to follow Prabhupada’s instructions that we should use the bulls for pulling carts and ploughing the fields. Balarama and his cart were very helpful in the beginning.
A: Can you tell us more about the actual construction of the temple?
M: In the beginning, we were constructing a simple temple with a thatched roof, using the walls of the existing stone ruins. We made a big hall with wooden rafters and a thatch roof. But this hall was hard to keep clean. Also it was risky to have a temple under a thatch roof because of fire and cyclones. Then you designed a concrete temple.
The farm in 1985.
A: Yes, people are under the impression that I’m the architect of this temple, but actually it is the direct inspiration of the Lord through all the devotees who participated in this project. I was simply the Lord’s instrument and the devotee’s servant. We built this temple with hardly any previous experience and learned as we progressed. We were our own building contractors. We learned from our mistakes!
M: I remember how for the dome construction, we hired a contractor, but he was making so many mistakes. For example, when we were casting the concrete for the dome, the formwork burst! What a disaster it was! After this nightmare we decided to do the work ourselves. Even though I had neither experience nor training in this field, because of Krishna’s guidance, we did a much better job – and at half the price.
A: Yes, actually thanks to Mr. Sudarshan Bhunjun, who advised us throughout the construction and who helped out with construction equipment, we were able to become our own contractors. I always tell everyone that without you, we wouldn’t have come this far. Initially we planned to have the temple decorations carved out of cement. But the cost would have been prohibitive. And what to speak of the maintenance. However, by the transcendental arrangement of the Lord, we found it more feasible and cheaper to import carved sandstone from Rajasthan, India. In all, we imported about 15 containers of carved stone and marble slabs. Then our Indian supplier, Mr. C.V. Singh, sent us three of his best workmen who fixed all the pieces.
M: I remember when the Special Mobile Force lent us their crane to lift up the stone pieces to the top of the dome. We had about 15 tons of stone sitting on our scaffolding that I had personally erected. I was really scared that the whole structure might collapse under the weight. My heart was beating like anything when all that stone was sitting on those three inch planks. What if this thing would break? I prayed to Krishna, “Please, My Lord, you hold up the whole universe, now try to support this structure as well. Otherwise everything will be finished.”
A: Maybe we can remember and thank those who assisted us with the construction work. Sri Arjunbhai of Laxmanbhai & Co. helped us tremendously with all the woodwork, which was crafted by Sonah Gokul of Bel Air. We would like to thank Michel, Guy and the late Tiven from Bel Air and Olivia. We also thank Mr. M. Mukan for his generous and continued donations right from the beginning.
M: I would like to thank Sripada Giriraj Swami who helped me a lot in my spiritual life, as well as Sriniketana Das and yourself for always guiding and encouraging me to become a good devotee. I’d like to also thank my family, especially my wife for her support through these years, allowing me the freedom to do my service. Then I would like to thank all the devotees, past and present for their help, friendship and association. I pray to all the devotees to forgive my offences, and bless me to always remain fixed up in spiritual life and devotional service.