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Our Lord of Inconspicuous Consumption July 3, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses, Wow.
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Recently, my spouse and I were driving from DC out to Indianapolis, and decided to see if there was anything interesting to stop and see along the route.  We were going to have a whole day to make the drive, and we were thinking maybe there was a mound with an interesting museum attached, or some other educational point of interest.  So I hit the internet, to see if there was something at a good lunchtime stopping point, and I saw “Palace of Gold” pop up.  A Palace of Gold?  In the hills of the West Virginia panhandle? What the heck was this, and why hadn’t I heard of it?

So of course we had to stop there.  It turned out to be a lot farther off the highway than we had expected, way up in the hills, and then way way up in the hills, and then still farther up, and just when you think there can’t really be anything interesting in this nowhere place, there’s this:

Whut.

It turns out that the “Palace of Gold” is part of the larger “colony” of New Vrindiban, which is a sort of commune created by the Hare Krishnas, to get away from the distractions of the outside world, commune with Krishna, and raise cows.  Apparently it once had a population of maybe as much as 1,000, but now there’s only one or two hundred residents.

The founder of the movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was already pretty old when he arrived in the US in the 1960s.  His followers hoped that he would eventually retire to this community, and so they built him a house.  Apparently, he was a simple man with simple needs, and just wanted a basic small house.  A house plan was drawn out, just a bedroom, an office, and a temple room.  His followers had other ideas.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  When my spouse and I first arrived, we headed first for the lodge area, where their information said there was a restaurant.  We parked near this:

Alas, the restaurant was not open for lunch on weekdays, but a helpful resident told us that there was a free lunch being served at the temple:

So we joined the community for a vegetarian lunch in a side room in the temple.  Vegetable curry, dal, basmati rice, salad, rice kheer, and what I think was ginger lemonade to wash it down.  Pretty good, and what wonderful hospitality to just feed tourists who wandered in!  Some of the people there appeared to be from India, but not all of them.

There was a little shop, with expensive ghee, but cheap jewelry:

So then we headed up to the palace. The next tour wasn’t for a little while, so we strolled around outside the buildingfor a bit:

You can’t see it properly in this last photo, but this fountain is in the middle of an enormous rose garden, which was in full bloom and had hundreds of rose bushes.

We queued up for the tour, sort of.  We were the only two people on that tour.  While we were waiting, we got a couple of photos in the entryway.  Here’s one of the windows from the inside:

And then I looked up at the ceiling:

Whoa.  If you are a video gamer my age, that image probably takes you to an entirely different place.

(I guess I should explain.  Back in 1993, the revolutionary PC game “MYST” was a huge hit, and changed the way video games looked from then on.  Instead of the primitive pixellation of the previous game world, MYST brought us an immersive and almost photo-realistic world, full of puzzles and imagination.  Each time you solved a major area in the game, you were returned to the central library, with your view facing up towards the ceiling.  It looked like this:

The Palace of Gold was built in the 1970s, so they didn’t copy their ceiling from the game.  It could have been the other way around, I suppose.)

So, time to take the tour.  The tour guide was mostly interested in telling us the life history of the Swami, and there were at least three very lifelike statues of him in the place.  But I was busy gawping at the building:

Those walls are marble.  The floors are marble.  All that woodwork that looks like it’s gilded?  Is gilded.  And can you see the chandeliers?  And the stained glass?

Apparently, a “simple house” was not sufficient for the Swami’s disciples; they wanted to do better.  And bigger. They brought in expensive materials, and built the house entirely with unskilled volunteer labor.  The workers apparently learned how to do everything on the job.  It took years to complete.  The Swami visited it a couple of times while it was under construction, but never retired there.  Apparently, he never actually retired, and also, he died before it was complete.  So the disciples turned it into a monument to their departed leader.

Here’s the most amazing room:

For scale, that’s a life-size statue of their leader sitting up front.  Otherwise this looks like a room straight out of a European castle, with inlaid marble floors, extravagant gilding and hand-painted ceiling murals.  The chandelier is a 200-year-old antique that used to hang in a European castle.  The Hare Krishnas bought it at auction and then, because it was silver, gilded it.

However, the place has some real condition issues.  There’s a lower level that’s not open to the public right now, because it needs restoration.  I saw some crumbling balustrades in the outdoor railings, and places on the outside that really need paint.  I think some of the problem stems from the volunteer labor that built it; their lack of expertise is now showing in that some parts were not built to be as durable as they needed to be.  Plus, building methods that are great for India may not stand up to the West Virginia mountain winter.  The community is working on restoration, but no longer has the funds or the large numbers of volunteers that it once did.

As I toured this place, I couldn’t help but think of Our Lady of Conspicuous Consumption in DC. (The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.)  I’ve previously talked about it here. You know, this place:

The Basilica is meant to be a showpiece, and it’s in a prominent location in DC.  It was built with great wads of donated money that they solicited from their believers.  They have just finished working on it, because there was one dome that didn’t have a gilded mosaic inside it yet, so they added it at enormous cost. Like the Palace of Gold, every surface is covered in marble, or carved wood, or artwork or gold.  Being in that space makes me intensely uncomfortable with the waste of money that they could have used for something more worthwhile.

Of the two, I think I prefer the Hare Krishna palace.  The Basilica screams “Look at us!  Look how powerful and rich we are!  We’ve built this monstrosity in an expensive city, and poured every dime we can into it, because the catholic church is wealthy and important! (Now give us more money)”.  Whereas the Palace says to me “We love our leader so much that we will devote our own personal time and sweat into learning how to build this crazy house.  We’re not building it in the city for everyone else to see, we’re building it at our own remote settlement for our own appreciation.  If you’d like to see it too, great!  (Have some curry.)”

The figure at the front of each main room really captures my feelings about these places.  This enormous mosaic of Angry Nordic Flaming Jesus is at the front of the Basilica:

Grovel to me, or I will hurt you forever

Whereas the centerpiece of the palace is a friendly, life-size, realistic statue of Prabhupada:

Would you care to join me for some chanting?

I might visit the Palace of Gold again someday, since UbiDubiKid#1 has expressed interest in seeing it, and since I know how to find it now.  The view from the mountaintop is spectacular, there’s free-roaming peacocks and a lotus pond, and random statuary everywhere.  I wouldn’t mind spending a day here.

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Comments»

1. makagutu - July 4, 2018

The palace does really look nice.

Liked by 1 person

2. john zande - July 4, 2018

Impressive

Liked by 1 person

3. Nan - July 4, 2018

Thanks for the “tour.” 🙂

Liked by 1 person

4. Ellen Hawley - July 8, 2018

But the love of–or quasi-worship of–a leader has its own problems. I’m not sure whether to say it turns toxic easily or whether it’s inherently toxic.

Liked by 2 people

Ubi Dubium - July 8, 2018

Yes, I wonder how much of that “volunteer labor” was actually coercive. Did they put in hours of backbreaking work because they loved their leader so much, or because there were huge repercussions from the community or the leaders if they didn’t?

Liked by 1 person

Ellen Hawley - July 8, 2018

Good question, but even if it was 600% voluntary, I worry about any situation where people just love their leader so much. It leans toward a surrender of self, of judgment, of good sense–and that’s even when the leader is responsible and self-restrained. When he or she isn’t, ouch.

Liked by 4 people

Enock Segawa - July 10, 2018

I share your concern here. It seems to me that even if a religious leader didn’t ask for people’s money, they’d give it to him (and it’s usually a him). And what do televangelists do, they ask for it. In fact, they guilt their followers into giving them more. We need some protection for religious people from such.

Liked by 4 people


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