Oct 15, 2001

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi hopes to bring heaven to earth by building world's tallest building

Neeraj Mishra
India Today
October 15, 2001
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Building heaven on earth is every religion's oldest ambition. And it is going to be a transcendental edifice in Karondi, near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Rising from a vastness surrounded by hills and paan orchards is an ashram that beats all ashrams: 108 buildings spread over 57 acres.
A mega campus of the spirit where 2,500 priests, aged between 12 and 50, chant Vedic mantras 24 hours a day to save the world. Welcome to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's maha gesture in his homeland.

This heavenward journey in concrete will start from the "navel of India", as followers of Mahesh Yogi call Jabalpur. For, a building, shaped like a multi-storied Lingaraj temple, is being built on the Brahmasthanam, apparently the divine centre.

Karondi lies on the Tropic of Cancer and, according to the Maharishi's Vedic calculations, it is the centre of India. The construction, begun in 1999, was delayed when bureaucracy collided with spirituality: an earthly tehsildar temporarily halted it by questioning land acquisition rights and declaring that it was being built on forest land.

SOUL PROPRIETOR: The ashram at Karondi houses 2,500 priests
Doesn't matter. When finished, the edifice will be 2,222 ft high with 20 million sq ft of living space distributed over 144 floors. "There are 11 other similar buildings planned throughout the 12 (Maharashi) time zones in world. But they will be 1,666 ft tall.

Construction has begun on two buildings in the US and Philippines," says P.S. Chauhan who runs the Karondi Ashram. The Maharishi believes that if 1,00,000 Brahmins sit and chant the Vedic mantras at the same time in the same place, it will "create coherence in world consciousness".

In the supermarket of consciousness, the Maharishi, at 82 years of age, is quite a formidable merchant. His Global Country of World Peace has 10 million citizens with presence in 108 countries. He has been in the soul business for 43 years and the "peace that we see in the world today is the direct result of his world peace assemblies and yogic flying".

And celebrities like Madonna, Mia Farrow and Deepak Chopra will agree with the Managing Director of Heaven on Earth Development Corporation. They star among the Maharishi's believers who have invested an estimated $15 billion (Rs.72,000 crore) in their guru - the deliverer of peace through his patented Transcendental Meditation (TM).

His followers have built for him a 10,000-acre university campus in Fair-field, Iowa, devoted to teaching the Vedas and management. The Maharishi empire has 120 universities and 1,200 study centres in 108 countries. Now they want to build the world's tallest building in Karondi.

The Maharishi's evolution is a personal saga of "East meets West". In the 1950s, Yogi became a follower of the Shankaracharya of Jyotipeeth Swami Brahmanand Saraswati along with the present Shankaracharya Swaroopanand and Swami Karpatriji. But by 1955 he realised he could not become a Shankaracharya because he was a kayastha by birth.

The next two years in his life are shrouded in mystery as he claims to have gone into the Himalayas to seek enlightenment. He descended to the real world in 1957 only on the orders of his guru. It is said that he befriended a rich widow from Kolkata, Sita Saraf, who took him to Switzerland.

In the early 1960s in London, the Beatles showed interest in his method of Transcendental Meditation. This marked the beginning of the West's love affair with his yoga techniques and of his own with celebrities. In these crucial years he also convinced the NATO armies into trying out his TM method. He ofered an easy solution to the war-wary generals: just 20 minutes of chanting a given mantra in the lotus position.

In the early 1980s, the Maharishi suddenly returned to India. His entourage was lodged in the incomplete Express Building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi for days. He later bought 600 acres of rural property in Noida where the grand Maharishi Nagar was built. The ashram is now in various stages of decline with its huge buildings badly in need of maintenance.

A huge circular building, the size of Parliament House, has also been demolished because it was later realised that the building was not built according to the tenets of Vaastu. The real reason might be the Uttar Pradesh government's interest in acquiring the ashram land worth a colossal Rs.6,000 crore. The case is in the courts but the Maharishi is now keen to shift his Indian operations to Madhya Pradesh where he has invested upwards ofRs.2,000 crore.

He had left India in the mid-1980s after allegations of strained relationship with Indira Gandhi, child molestation and death in the Maharishi Nagar campus, income tax raids and hounding by the intelligence agencies.

He set up shop in Voldrop, Holland. Since then he has built a huge $10-million wooden palace for himself which can be accessed only through choppers. But in the 1990s his return to India was better planned. He did not physically reappear here, but transported his thoughts on world consciousness, education and wealth creation.

FLYING HIGH: The property-rich Mahesh Yogi has 10 million global followers
The Maharishi Foundation runs the biggest and most well-equipped chain of 249 schools in India, of which 49 are in Madhya Pradesh. "We opened our first school in the country in 1990 and now there are 80,000 students studying in these institutions in 15 states," says J.K. Gandhi, vice-president of India operations of Maharishi International.
Each school has been built on the ancient principles of Vaastu Shastra at an average cost of Rs.3 crore, but the crowning glory is the Maharishi School of Excellence in Bhopal that has a 10-acre campus with 1,44,000 sq ft of air-conditioned space. It offers courses from kindergarten to PhD in five-star comfort.

The Maharishi seems to have come a full circle. Once upon a time, he was a mere J.L. Saxena, a junior scientist with a degree in physics from the Allahabad University at the gun carriage factory in, yes, yes, Jabalpur. Time for a gun salute to India's most ambitious, and divine, navel gazer.