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Building a monument of peace

A Parnasala is coming up in the verdant environs of an ashram in a Thiruvananthapuram suburb. SANGEETHA UNNITHAN admires the design.

— Photo: S. Mahinsha

Work on: The lotus-shaped ‘Parnasala’ at the Santhigiri Ashram on the outskirts of the city.

A monument that inspires peace and serenity is a rare architectural feat, demanding creative design and a keen sensory understanding of space.

The lotus-shaped Parnasala coming up in the verdant environs of the Santhigiri Ashram at Pothencode in the suburbs of Thiruvananthapuram is drawing attention of people. Designed in the shape of a giant lotus in bloom, the white structure stands tall as a symbol of purity, rebirth and spiritual awakening.

The lotus motif has been used throughout the Parnasala, which resembles the famed Bahai Mandir in New Delhi and serves the dual purpose of a spiritual abode and a functional monument.

The 91-ft-high lotus-shaped superstructure with a radius of 84 ft has 12 lotus petals facing upwards and nine downwards. The RCC petals, covered with white Makrana marble chips, have been anchored to the core using steel bars. Around one lakh square feet of marble was brought down from Rajasthan for the project.

“It took around six months for the construction of each petal. It requires a lot of skill to perfect the curves and shapes of the lotus superstructure. The key, however, is in skilled supervision,” said Sreekumaran Nair, project structural consultant and retired Chief Engineer. It took three years to complete the fixing of marble on the superstructure, which is built on 21 monumental pillars.

“The Parnasala is a functional monument which we, the disciples of Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru, have raised as a token of our love and respect to our guru,” said Rajiv Anchal, film director, sculptor and disciple of the ashram.

At the heart of the structure is the Sarakoodam, a 27-ft-high teak wooden enclosure in the shape of a lotus bud with a marble cask inside. Atop the cask, 11 steps lead to a pedestal where a life-size gold sculpture of the guru will be installed.

Mr. Anchal explained how the engineers and supervisors went all over South India in pursuit of Krishnashila for use inside the Sarakoodam. The flooring of the sanctum sanctorum is done using a rare variety of granite.

On the first floor of the Parnasala, in 12 rooms, the articles used by the guru will be preserved. Ahead of the Sarakoodam is the foyer called ‘Baalalayam’ with intricate art and carving works. Outside the Parnasala, colourful floodlights will reflect different colours on the white lotus superstructure during night time.

Limited resources

Mr. Sreekumaran Nair said that while the design itself was not a big challenge, to build it with limited resources was indeed a huge challenge.

“Also, being a spiritual abode, it is not like any other construction site; a lot of aspects had to be taken into consideration. There are nine columns inside the structure, all of which are placed asymmetrically. In fact, we also had to shift the spot of pillars to save some trees,” said Mr. Nair, adding that maintaining the ecological balance was a priority.

“The construction of the Parnasala has been more of a spiritual experience for us. Almost all workers involved with the construction are devotees of the ashram and natives of Thiruvananthapuram,” Mr. Anchal said. The Parnasala will be dedicated to the community in September 2010.

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