Pilgrims Flood Into Mayapur’s New Full Dome Planetarium Theater

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By Madhava Smullen 

As the festival season of December to March begins at ISKCON Mayapur, pilgrims are flooding into the holy town. For many, the recently built full dome planetarium theater is a major attraction.

“The feedback we’re getting is fantastic,” says Sridham Das, project manager for the Vedic Science Museum and Planetarium Theater at the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP).

Immersive technologies are a major part of the plan for the still-under-construction TOVP, including a huge 23-meter planetarium theater under one of the temple domes.

However, with the temple opening still two to three years away, a smaller, stand-alone planetarium theater has been built to give pilgrims a taste of what’s to come. Ticket revenue will also go towards producing further exhibits.

The stand-alone theater was commissioned last year, took around eight months to build, and opened in August 2018. Located close to Govinda’s restaurant on the ISKCON Mayapur campus, it’s twelve meters in diameter, has 108 comfortable inclined theater seats, and features a tilted dome to give audiences a 360-degree perspective.

The theater is currently showing two films. The first, entitled “The Churning,” offers a unique look at the Srimad-Bhagavatam pastime of “Samudra Manthan,” or the churning of the Ocean of Milk by the demigods and demons to produce Amrit, a nectar that would make them invincible. This show utilizes classic paintings from Srila Prabhupada’s books mixed with 3D graphics.

The second film, 9 Steps to Eternity, explores the nine islands of Navadvipa, and the corresponding nine forms of devotional service to the Lord. It uses parallax motion effects against a surreal computer-generated cosmic universe.

Both films are running in alternate showings of Bengali and English, and are highly immersive.

“We add many incredible 3D graphics and other elements to take people into a different world,” Sridham says. “Also, unlike linear film, which is straightforward, these films are made in the round, taking fish-eye perspective into account. It’s a bit of a challenge, because nobody really trains you in how to make full dome films.”

The team are continuing to make new films and break new ground. They have recently purchased 360 degree camera rigs and are now making their first live action film in very high 8k resolution glorifying Mayapur Dhama.

“It will showcase all the amazing things happening here in Mayapur – the Deities, the devotees, the elephant processions, the beautiful festivals, the community, why people want to live here,” Sridham says. “We hope to have it out and showing before the Gaura Purnima festival begins.”

So far there have been twelve to fourteen shows a day at the new planetarium, with the theater sixty per cent full. But as the peak season progresses, twenty shows a day with a one hundred per cent full theater are expected.

“Major temples such as Swami Narayana’s Akshardham in New Delhi have massive theaters propagating their message, but ISKCON Mayapur has never had an audio visual experience before,” says Sridham. “We’ve had amazing Deity worship, processions and festivals, but that experience was the one thing we lacked – so it is fast becoming very popular.”

According to Sridham, the world is moving towards immersive media, whether it’s in the form of virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed realities. “So we feel that utilizing such cutting edge technologies is also the future of outreach for ISKCON,” he says. “We, as a movement, definitely need to be part of that so that we can provide high-end spiritual content to everyone.”

Videos:

Mayapur Fulldome Theater promo: Click here

9 Steps to Eternity – Fulldome Movie Trailer: Click here

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