India to Construct World's Largest Buddha Statue

Peter Popham
The Independent (London)
June 18, 2001

The biggest Buddha statue in the world will soon begin to rise in India's poorest state, Bihar. Construction of the vast image, which will stand nearly twice as high as America's Statue of Liberty, is due to begin in September and be completed in 2005.

The Buddha Maitreya, the "Buddha of the Future," will be 500 feet (150 meters) high and the eye-boggling centrepiece of a 35-acre (14-hectare) garden, close to the pilgrimage center of Bodhgaya.

It was under a peepul tree in Bodhgaya 2,500 years ago that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, attained enlightenment. He subsequently began preaching the dharma (Buddhist law) that established one of the great religions.

The vast Buddha will sit on a throne, which is itself a 17-story building. Within the structure, additional Buddhas will be on display—a 40-foot statue of Maitreya in the atrium and 100,000 small Maitreyas, called tsa-tsas, covering one wall.

"From the main atrium, elevators will convey visitors up to a large Shakyamuni Buddha prayer hall, shrine rooms, and rooftop terraced gardens," says the press material describing the project. "From there, visitors can travel upwards into the body of the statue, where there will be more shrine rooms in various levels."

For Spirituality or Tourism?

The project, Maitreya Project International, is budgeted at U.S. $150 million, which is being raised from donations of the faithful.

The U.K. engineering firm that has been given the project, Mott MacDonald, has been told to come up with a structure that will "operate for 1,000 years without major renewal works, while enhancing the lives of those using the project and the lives of those living in the region."

Allan Ockenden, its project director, told The Independent, "The two primary spaces inside will accommodate 6,000 people at one time. We estimate there will be two million visits per year."

But among the impoverished peasants in the vicinity, the project has aroused deep misgivings.

The Gram Granrajya Manch, or Forum of Village Republics, has written to the project's directors saying: "Bodhgaya is being developed not so much as a center of spirituality but as a focal point of the tourism industry."

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