Hindu mythological theme park planned for banks of Ganges

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lord Ram Source: Wikipedia
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Shiv Sagar, the grandson of a popular Indian TV and movie producer, is planning to build an infotainment theme park called Ganga-Dham on the banks of the Ganges River within the next two or three years. The project is expected to cost $6.4 million and one of the main investors is Alice Coltrane, wife of jazz great John Coltrane.

The family theme park, called "Disneyland on the Ganges" by the BBC News article, could probably be better compared to Disney's Epcot, since both feature an educational, interactive multimedia experience. Billed as the "world's biggest-ever mythological theme park", its purpose is to instruct the masses of Indian pilgrims who come to bathe in the Ganges with tales about the exploits of such Hindu gods as Rama, Vishnu, and Hanuman.

The focus is to be educational, not religious. "We’re not doing this as a religious project," said Sagar to India-West in an interview last September. "It’s not propaganda. We want to make it fun, a place where people can learn the Indian stories," a place that can appeal not only to Hindus but people of other religious faiths as well.

"The Hindu religion is well suited to something like this, religions like Islam are not allowed to depict forms but we have many different forms and representations of Gods," Sagar said in last week's BBC interview.

The name Ganga-Dham comes from the Indian words Ganga, for the Ganges, and Dham, meaning "place" or "abode". The park is to be built on 25 acres of land in the holy town of Haridwar, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where an estimated 18 million pilgrims a year come to ritually cleanse themselves in the river. The god Vishnu is said by legend to have left his footprint in the town.

The company behind this project is the Sagar Group. Shiv's grandfather Ramanand Sagar established a film company, Sagar Art, in 1950 and went on to make 25 films and some hugely popular serials for Indian television. Most notably, Sagar Art produced the groundbreaking TV mythological serial "Ramayan", about the Hindu god Rama. Starting in 1987, the series went on to attract worldwide attention and claim as many as 650 million viewers over a period of several years. Images and songs from their TV serials will be incorporated into the park to increase the popular draw and build on the tradition of reverence toward the Hindu gods that the series is known for.

The project has also attracted some criticism, by some who feel that the site next to the holy river Ganges is inappropriate for building, and others who do not appreciate the project's light-hearted take toward the Hindu pantheon, which they find disrespectful. However, an important hurdle has been cleared with the official support of the state government of Uttaranchal, and positive comments have been received from other interested parties who favor spreading the knowledge of Hindu philosophy by popular means.

There are other difficulties that still must be addressed, for example, a lack of infrastructure in the area to support tourism. But the Sagar Group stands to profit as they already have a Sagar Ganga Resort in the area.

The parts of the planned site, as described on the Sagar Group's website, are:

  • "High-tech" rides
  • Animated, interactive museum
  • Food courts and bazaar
  • Temple city
  • Petting zoo

Also places are to be provided for visiting non-resident Indians (NRIs) to set up "remote poojas" and other rituals over the Internet.

Construction is planned to begin later this year for completion by 2007, specifically timed to be ready for the major Kumbh Mela religious festival in 2010, which is expected to draw as many as 50 million or more visitors to the area.

Some of the park proceeds are said to be set aside for various charities. If the park is successful, the Sagar Group plans to build similar Dhams around the world, in Asia, Oceania, South America, or perhaps even in places such as London, England; Los Angeles, California or Orlando, Florida in the United States.