A city in the US follows building
principles set in the Vedas
As I basked in the beauty of the Iowa countrysidevast rolling fields, farms of corn and soya, and cattle-on my drive from Cedar Rapids airport to a town called Fairfield, I was least prepared to see and hear passionate expositions of Vedic principles and philosophy. At the same time, I felt embarrassed at my limited knowledge of our precious heritage. All this I experienced when I arrived at the new Vedic City.
This city, designed and carefully laid out on the town planning and architectural principles set in the Vedas, is being set up in Fairfield. It was incorporated on July 25, 2001 by the City Development Board of Iowa and is the 950th city in the state. "The increasing number of residents and the pace of development necessitated a formal approval as a city," said Bob Wynne, who is slated to be the first mayor. By incorporating it, the city can get access to state funding, issue bonds and levy taxes.
The first phase is being planned on 700 acres; the masterplan is based on 10 mandalas-nine circles, with each circle having a radius of one sq. km and the central circle with the main gardens and a man-made hillock.
Tim Fitz-Randolph, one of the developers, said the idea occurred in 1991 in The Netherlands during a Transcendental Meditation (TM) programme. (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the founder of TM and his Theory of Scientific Intelligence and Natural law has gained worldwide adherents.) Research had revealed the beneficial effects of group meditation and the idea of creating a permanent structure for 10,000 practitioners who could jointly raise the consciousness and health of the world began to take root.
Fairfield became an automatic choice because of the location of The Maharishi University and the presence of 3,000 TM experts. What was originally conceived as the Maharishi Centre for Perfect Health and World Peace evolved into the Vedic city because of the financial advantages of incorporating it as a city.
Four couples-Bob and Maureen Wynne, Rogers and Candace Badgett, Doug and Francie Greenfield and Chris and Dee Johnson-are the driving force. All of them are long-time practitioners of TM and are closely associated with the Maharishi. Their confidence and faith in the project has been so intense that they have already spend $5 million of their own money in setting up a master sewage plant, a 500,000 litre water tank and some of the main roads. However, they need more money. The developers have also donated 50 acres for the expansion of the Maharishi University of Management (MUM), which is to become an essential part of the Vedic City.
Hotels, private homes, businesses and condominiums have already been built. From the current population of 125, the city expects to host over 5,000 people when fully commissioned. The total value when completed is estimated at $1 billion.
The Vedic city could be one of the first American cities where the majority of the population are vegetarians, by choice. Chris Johnson, who owns Rukmapura Hotel, said that organic farming will be encouraged within the city. The Rukmapura Hotel is also the home for the Maharishi jyotish team that offers astrological predictions and guidance through tele-consultation as well as personal visits. Pandit Srinand Pandey of Allahabad is being assisted by an English speaking interpreter.
The developers have further filed for a $10.5 million grant from the $190-million Vision Iowa fund for another proposed project that could become a major tourist attraction-the Maharishi Veda land. Bob Wynne, one of the prime movers of this project, said the Veda land proposal would comprise an indoor theme park, an observatory, botanical gardens, and a golf learning centre.
The park would be located on the sixth mandala. "First, people will feel wonder, and it will expand to awe as the incredible mysteries of creation unfold before their eyes," said Maharishi about the Veda land. "After the first visit, one will never see the world the same way again."
On another mandala, a fully equipped outdoor Vedic observatory, similar to the Jantar Mantar in Delhi, has already been set up. This observatory has the full complement of 10 instruments that measure astronomical events such as precise solar time, movements of the equinox, solstice, decline of Venus and so on. "It took us four years of travel to different parts of India to obtain these instruments," said Fitz-Randolph. "By spending a little time at the observatory and gazing at it, an individual can correct his imbalance in relation to the cosmos," he said, when asked about its relevance.
The botanical gardens will comprise 16.5 acres on the ninth mandala. There will be gardens comprising Iowan medicinal herbs, wild flowers, orchards, nature trails and wildlife habitats. The Universe Golf and Learning centre will be set up on the sixth mandala.
How did the people in this small American town, which is traditional and conservative, become open to a philosophy that is so alien to them, I wondered. The answers left me squirming. "The Vedas are not a religious text. It is timeless and eternal and intended for mankind. We are grateful to India for having preserved these ancient writings," were some of the replies.
Over the last few decades, Fairfield has seen 3,000 people coming in, more jobs being created and more money being pumped into the local economy. And with more buildings coming up, the city would get an increase in revenue through taxes. The MUM has begun to attract global attention as one of the outstanding colleges offering a variety of courses and one that has become a centre of excellence in research. "With a new set of buildings coming up, according to the ideal vastu, this seat of learning is bound to send reverberations across the world," said Craig Pearson, MUM executive vice-president who had come to stay for a year and remained for 27 years. MUM must be one of the only campuses in America where only vegetarian and organic food are served for students and teachers at 'Annapurna', the dining hall.
Neil Dickie, from the Office of Public Affairs at MUM, summed up the concept of Vedic City: "This unique community will offer the best of east and west. The eastern influence offers Vedic meditation, health care, architecture, music, astrology, agriculture, all revived in accord with the Vedic texts." He said that the university provided support with techniques to enliven the full brain potential of the student and cutting-edge knowledge in each discipline.
The Maharishi and his organisation have more grandiose projects on the anvil. Twelve Maharishi towers of world peace are to be built, one in each time zone of the Maharishi global administration. Construction plans are already underway in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the third largest city in the world. "These buildings have to be perfect in every aspect: the tallest, the largest, the most advanced, most intelligent, and most beautiful ever built on earth, to mark the rise of pure consciousness in the world," said Dr Eike Hartmann, chairman of the department of Maharishi Sthapatya Veda (MSV) at Vedic University in Vlodrop, Holland.
MSV is based on the ancient system of country, town, village, and home planning which is in harmony with natural laws that connect individual intelligence with cosmic intelligence. To put it simply, people who live and work in buildings designed according to MSV architecture would be able to think more creatively, make better decisions, feel healthier, enjoy refreshing sleep and experience greater peace of mind.
As Maharishi said: "Living in a proper vastu can eliminate 60 to 80 percent of the problems we encounter in life." For instance, the ideal position is with the entrance facing east. "When the morning sun falls on your front door, it indicates an ascending sun, bringing with it enlightenment," said the Maharishi.
"Scientific studies have shown that brain neurons fire differently depending on what direction we are facing," said Dr Alarik Arenander, director of MUM's Brain Research Institute. "When we live or work in buildings with improper orientation or proportion, the firing patterns of the neurons are reset in the wrong way. This can contribute to anxiety, illness, lack of creativity and failure in family and professional life."
The placement of the rooms should be in their ideal location inside the house, and their proportions are based on precise mathematical calculations. This is done by checking individual planetary positions and the alignment of the stars, as interpreted through Maharishi jyotish, the ancient science of astrology.
The central core, the brahmastan, is the heart of the house. I was surprised to see this in almost all the homes and the office buildings. Invariably, there was an atrium with skylights. The brahmastan is almost like a sacred place as it links it with the rest of the rooms. "There are sceptics," said Jonathan Lippman, chief architect of Maharishi Global Construction which functions as a consultancy offering MSV designs for buildings.
But, as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Families seemed satisfied because children seemed to be enjoying school better, were relaxed and were thus able to get good grades. "Our teenage boys are much more orderly," said Carl and Suzanne Stone. As a girl said, "I am able to focus better and concentrate for longer periods."
This may not be surprising as most of the children in Vedic City and nearby Fairfield go to the Maharishi school where every student and teacher practices TM twice a day and the children learn Sanskrit with emphasis on recitation, rhythm and listening. Sanskrit is taught because Vedic literature is in that language and the intonation of the verses generates powerful vibrations that trigger certain neurons in the brain, said Dr Pearson. The experts studying the effects of TM and Sanskrit and all the related areas at the school and the college, said that this consciousness-based education is the missing link today. The academic and extracurricular results of this school of 500 students have astounded the state of Iowa. In state tests, the school scored 99 per cent consistently.
The use of vastu as the basis for one's own home has not just caught the fancy of people in America alone. In 1999, at the Annual Housing Expo in Lappeeranta, Finland, the 'Veda House' and its unique designs caught the attention of Finns. At Nasu town in Japan, a palace, inaugurated as the Spiritual Centre, has been established. Designed in the style of Japanese palaces built 1,200 years ago, it is the largest wooden structure in Japan and is the first structure to be built according to MSV.
The Maharishi and his organisation have an effective global marketing machinery that swings into action to promote these concepts. It helps that there are six million TM practitioners worldwide. Furthermore, architects and civil engineers from different countries participate in training courses that are held in the Maharishi Brains Trust in The Netherlands.
"When I conceive of a building, I have these principles in mind, so the design will be a better expression of natural law," said Michael Chelnov, an American architect, who had been to one such training course.
With more and more architects being exposed to these timeless principles, it was but natural to see all types of buildings coming up across America projecting the MSV designs-a warehouse in Florida, a dermatology clinic in Kentucky, a medical centre in Bakersfield, a corporate headquarters in Oklahoma and numerous independent houses across America and Canada.
"With MSV, a home is not just a box where you put your stuff in," said Tony Lawlor, an architect. "It is a place for dwelling on the earth that puts you in harmony with the processes of nature."
I saw the finishing touch at the departure lounge of the Cedar Rapids airport. Looking up, I saw a modern day sculpture hanging suspended from the ceiling, called Planets/Cosmos, depicting the nine planetary positions based on the astrological signs of ancient India. Michael Peter Cain, professor of art at MUM, made this award-winning sculpture and it was to wish travellers good luck.
The imprint of ancient India was unmistakable.
Published in Week magazine.