Episode 6: Plan It… Do Your Best… and Pray Hard!
(When I heard that the temple intended to contract for some billboards to be erected around the city of Calcutta, I submitted a few sketches with ideas for what those billboards might look like. In the top left corner of the drawing is a photo of how the artists interpreted this theme into a huge colorful billboard.)
“So do it carefully…” – A phrase that Srila Prabhupada would often cite.
“But in 1970 we worked for two months straight and built the three big carts, basically the same ones we use now. Also we had all kinds of publicity — TV, billboards, posters. And Srila Prabhupada came to that Ratha-yatra. So a lot of people came, maybe twelve thousand people. It was big — a tremendous success. We had a few mishaps, though. One cart broke down in the middle of the parade. And it was a bitter cold day.” – Inside Ratha-yatra…With an Old Insider, Back To Godhead #12-06 1977 p.??
I am a firm believer in the concept: “A failure to plan is a plan to fail” and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. So the first thing I did was draw up a complete set of detailed plans for the purpose of showing everyone what I intended to build. This was also the most effective way to price out just how much it would cost to build the jumbo-rath and that was something the temple had been asking me to do. Once I had a complete parts list I could then figure out what the necessary supplies would cost in India.
The enthusiasm at the temple was contagious. I was told that management would rent twelve billboards six in English and Six in Bengali to be placed around Calcutta advertising the advent of the ISKCON Jumbo Rath. That inspired me to also draw up some ideas for what I thought those billboards might look like.
It was at this time that I also began to realize that I could not rely on getting much general construction help from the temple devotees. Although I loved my Bengali guru-bais, none of them seemed to show a propensity for working with tools all day long and besides they were already fully engaged. The only place I saw that was with the local katha Mistris (Carpenters) when I hired them to hang doors or do brick work for the Mayapur temple. There was no question of expecting a team of new bhaktas to step forward and help out to weld, cut wood or sew huge bundles of fabric into a chariot top. I had to manage the fact that I would pretty much be doing this project on my own and I would have to locate and contract out with professionals in each field to get all these specific things done.
To do that required that I figure out exactly what each part needed to do and look like. I then had to communicate that to the respective craftsmen in each field with detailed technical drawing so they could then make exactly what I needed to according to those specifications. So as I thought over how to make Lord Jagannath’s chariot appear in Calcutta, I realized it was going to be quite a different experience then the way things got done the previous year in N.Y.
During this time I studied the requirements for a new way to lift the canopy top safely and easily. Krishna eventually gave me the insights needed and I drew up the plans for what I proudly referred to as the “20th Century Telescope”. It worked using cables, pulleys and a repeating pattern of round and square steel tubing strategically stacked inside each other. (See Drawings posted in Episode 2) This was in fact what Jayananda had been asking me to help him resolve way back in N.Y. three years before but I simply didn’t understand what it was that he was talking about back then. Now it was finally done right.
All of this went smoothly, but as I designed the wheels I recalled all the stories Jayananda prabhu told me about how the first attempt to make steel wheels in San Francisco turned into a fiasco. Those wheels did not have enough spokes and the outer rim wasn’t reinforced adequately to carry the load of the two ton chariot. Consequently; as the carts proceeded thru the parade the rim between the twelve spokes slowly got beaten into a dodecagon. (doe-deck-ua-gon /)
“Jayananda Prabhu: In 1975 I tried out making steel wheels, but the chariots were so heavy they flattened the steel and made the ride very bumpy for the Deities. So now we’re back to the standard wooden wheels.” – Inside Ratha-yatra…With an Old Insider, Back To Godhead #12-06 1977 p.??
What started like a normal rotating wheel mutated into a 12 sided polygon that went clunk-a-dee-clunk as it was thrust forward from one flattened edge to the next. The end result was that the deities would hop up and down as the wheel lunged from one flattened spoke edge to the next. Meanwhile the pujaris got tossed around the deck and had to hold on for dear life like a boat flailing in a raging ocean storm. Whoa…! Clunk-a-dee-clunk!
(Image of Progress Evaluation & Review Technique PERT Chart mapping the timeline for building the new Calcutta Chariot. )
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