Serene Environs for Entertainment

Dharamshal-01 building - Curved exposed brick wall of staircase visually balancing with the long roof barrel vaults

Project: Nagaloka, Nagpur, Maharashtra

Architects: CCBA DESIGNS, PUNE

Located in the metropolis of Nagpur in central India, the Nagaloka institute is a centre for training in social work focused on the upliftment of disadvantaged communities. Here in Nagpur, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1953, leading thousands of his followers into a casteless religion that strives to seek equality, upliftment and inspiration. This makes Nagaloka a sacred precinct for searching enlightenment and equality. It is a place of the Buddha and a training centre founded by Dhammachari Lokamitra and guided by the philosophy of Dr. Ambedkar.

Accordingly, the Trailokya Bauddha Maha Shayak Gana trust was created to impart development skills, social work techniques and project implementation trainings. The activities of the trust take place through discourse, teaching, social work, active service in slums and villages, motivated introspection, constructive debate, guided questioning and free-flowing thought. There are several hundred students from across the subcontinent and abroad who study here, while thousands of pilgrims visit the site daily during religious festivals.

The Nagaloka campus includes an entrance gate, sanitary facilities, an administration building, the large Dhamma Hall for discourses and lectures, a library, classrooms, a meditation pavilion or Vihara, a catering centre, guest houses, dormitories for men and women, and dharamshalas to accommodate visitors. The central focus is a statue of the Buddha aligned on a long promenade from the entry. A statue of Dr. Ambedkar is also installed to commemorate his role in leading many followers to spiritual enlightenment and social upliftment.

Situated in the outskirts of Nagpur, the campus configuration is influenced by the
Deer Park at Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his Sermon of the Turning of the Wheel outlining the Fivefold Path. All the structures are constructed of exposed bricks, brick vaults, long-span concrete shells and Kota stone flooring. The Dhamma Hall is the main public meeting space where the Buddhist triad of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are brought together. The hall is used for discourses, meditation and public gatherings.

Hollow exposed brick-bearing walls enclose three sides of the hall. Folding wooden doors open onto the large entrance pavilion, which is also sheltered by a 20 metre-long structural shell. Within the hall, five 20 metre-long structural shells, each four metres wide, form a large column-free interior space. The Dhamma Hall is framed on either end by two large shells, set perpendicularly to it—the one on front serves as the entrance pavilion and the rear one acts as an ambulatory for the statue of Buddha.

There is a separate meditation hall, or a Vihara, for monks to contemplate. Vihara,
in Sanskrit, relates to wandering about contemplating, or visiting a reclusive grove
of trees or a garden. In short, it is a place for retreat and isolation. Originally, the Buddhist monks wandered about India and beyond, to propagate the Law of the Wheel, or Dhamma, settling in retreats during the monsoons. The meditation pavilion is, thus, completely surrounded by a secluding wall, forming an interior court. There is a vestibule or entrance structure and a shrine area. Moving in a circular pattern while entering, one loses their sense of direction. The need for orientation is replaced suddenly by the image of the Buddha aligned from the portal of the pavilion.

 

Photo credit: Ashish Bhonde

FACTFILE

Client: TBMSG, Nagpur

Principal architect: Prof. Christopher Benninger

Architecture team: Madhav Joshi, Debashish Mitra, Smita Rawoot, Khushru Irani, Jayita Sahni, Shivaji Karekar, Jagadeesh Taluri, Bhavin Patel and Rahul Sathe

Prime contractor: Khare and Tarkunde Constructions; Mohonot Constructions

Landscape design: CCBA, Pune

Interior design: CCBA, Pune

Structural design: Mr. Sharad Shah, Mumbai; Mr. Satish Marathe Consulting Engineers, Pune; P.S. Patankar and Associates; Strudcom, Pune

Utility design: EMEA, Pune

Built-up area: 9,900 sq m

Site area: 26 Acres

Year of completion: Phase I: 2009; Phase II: Ongoing