A half-year report from Bodhgaya
On March 26 of this year, Siddhartha’s Intent India and Khyentse Foundation officially launched the Lighting the Mahabodhi project, the website went live, and fund raising begun. What has happened in the 6 months since then – thanks largely to donor generosity – is amazing by any standard. It’s impossible to describe in a few words, simply because the technical details of translating Rinpoche’s grand vision into reality are overwhelming.
It began 4 years ago. While practicing at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche had a vision: To make a great and long-lasting light offering to Buddhism’s most sacred shrine – the Mahabodhivihara of Bodhgaya.
For years, pilgrims have been aware of the inferior conditions that prevail in Bodhgaya and at the temple, including deteriorating physical structures and poor lighting. Despite some major improvements over the years, the authorities simply did not have the resources to do all that was needed.
From Dream to Reality
But how to turn Rinpoche’s dream into reality? Because no drawings, layouts, or site details existed, the first step was a difficult and painstaking 2-year mapping of the entire temple complex. That had never been done before. It took another year to organize the lighting project, negotiate agreements with the temple and official authorities, and attain all necessary approvals.
With the essential groundwork complete, all permits in hand, and initial funds received, SI India broke ground in April and started the on-site work. We’ve had 50 to 60 workers on site, digging 3-foot-deep trenches, laying 3 km of pipes and cables of different specifications and sizes, placing manholes and covers, building fireproofed electrical rooms, installing panels, distribution boards, and switches, and much more – all while ensuring the utmost safety and security measures for both workers and pilgrims.
We are presently replacing the temple’s entire electrical infrastructure, which was 40 to 50 years old, partly dysfunctional, prone to regular breakdowns, and much more costly to run and short-lived than today’s low-energy LED fixtures. Also, the eclectic fixtures had been installed over time in different locations as diverse pilgrim offerings arrived, so they were hard to maintain and replace because parts were not available.
The work to date has been done in the heat of summer, often in 45ºC temperatures, to avoid disrupting the busy winter pilgrimage season, when the more subtle internal aesthetic, design, and light installation work will be done.
Behind the Scenes
Hidden behind all this on-site work is a highly detailed and articulated process and management structure to ensure the highest quality at the most reasonable price. Our top experts call for proposals for each item, interview multiple vendors, test their products, negotiate prices, and maintain a meticulous accounting trail that requires purchase orders, and breakdowns of sales tax remissions, shipping charges, and more. We’ve held more than 50 technical workshops and constant site visits to oversee, supervise, and adjust the work.
Suffice to say that Siddhartha’s Intent and Khyentse Foundation have never before undertaken any hands-on endeavor of this magnitude, scale, and complexity. And the project has massively expanded since its inception. For instance, the electrical infrastructure work revealed the major inadequacies of the sound system, so we are now – with the blessing and gratitude of the local officials – replacing the sound as well as the lights of the Mahabodhi Temple.
Gratitude to Donors
None of this would have been remotely possible without the generosity of our donors, who have already contributed US$740,000 (more than half of total estimated costs) to Lighting the Mahabodhi. This amount will be spent by the end of November and we will then need US$660,000 more to complete the project.
Thanks to the usual Siddhartha’s Intent and Khyentse Foundation reliance on voluntary services at the management, executive, and public relations levels, and the generous contributions of Vana Foundation and of India’s leading lighting designers, Design Matrix, we aim to remain within the original US$1.4 million overall budget estimate.