Prabhupada’s Palace Restoration

Prabhupada’s Palace Tops Off Restoration With New Roof and Domes

By Madhava Smullen - 27.12 2021

Prabhupada’s Palace at New Vrindaban, West Virginia – Srila Prabhupada’s preeminent smriti samadhi, or memorial shrine, in the West – is getting a brand new roof and beautiful new domes as part of its ongoing restoration.

Devotees began building the Palace themselves back in 1973 as a residence for Srila Prabhupada, when he expressed a desire to retire to New Vrindaban and translate his books. Young, inexperienced, and unpaid, they trained themselves in construction and artisanal skills. Although orignally planned as a simple house, their love for their guru saw the building become more and more elaborate. And after Prabhupada left this world in 1977, the Palace became a smriti samadhi, or memorial shrine, to ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya, and a major attraction for tourists and pilgrims.

Over the years, however, the Palace, built without professional experience, began to decay. Large parts of the concrete domes, outer wall, balustrade railing, and steps crumbled away, sections of wrought iron rusted irreparably, and the roof sustained leaks.

In 2009, a Palace Restoration Committee was established. Deciding to patch up the roof until they were ready to embark on a full fix, the Committee began with more visible, smaller projects that would allow devotees and visitors to see the progress.

The Palace’s beautifully restored front upper steps

Starting in 2014, devotees such as Palace Restoration Manager Gopisa Das, his son Nityananda, original builders Soma Das and Tejomaya Das, Tejo’s son Gopala, and Palace Manager Tripad Vibhuti Das made many renovations. They installed a more efficient drainage system to stop water damage; restored the front steps with repurposed rose-colored granite from the original steps, durable thick black granite treads, and ornate wrought-iron railings; completely restored the outer wall and gave it new capstones and ornate new window grills and frames; renovated Prabhupada’s kitchen; upgraded the Palace’s plumbing; restored chattras and decorative castings, and fixed leaks.

Finally they were ready for the biggest task. Beginning in October 2019, the New Vrindaban construction crew, which consists of both devotee and outside workers, stripped the entire Palace roof down. The upper portions of the domes were removed to accommodate the new domes, and a temporary roof was installed by a professional construction company.

“As we stripped everything off, we removed deteriorated materials such as rafters, and new reinforcement was put in,” Gopisa Das says. “Many companies came to the pre-bid meeting with hopes of securing the contract, but when they saw the breathtaking interior, they declined to bid, fearing they might damage the irreplaceable work.”

The stripped main and center domes, with scaffolding

One local company, K&K Builders, owned and operated by George Schuster and known for their impeccable work and high-end homes, was up to the challenge.

Depending on the weather, a permanent 30-year roof will be installed this month or early next year. “It’s the longest warranty that we can get in the industry,” Gopisa says. “We’re doing everything at the absolute best quality with the best materials we can get. We’re not cutting any corners. We want to make sure we’re doing this in such a way that it’s going to last.”

Meanwhile, Tejomaya and Gopala have run a gas line up to the roof, and a full HVAC system will be installed in December too, so that Srila Prabhupada and his guests will have full heating and cooling – previously, only the temple room and Prabhupada’s altar area was heated.

Crane about to lift the first HVAC unit onto the roof

Then there are the brand new domes. 3D laser modeling of the roof has already been done to ensure that the domes will properly fit; and the steel that will support the domes has been set. Next, all three original domes will be insulated to minimize condensation and keep temperatures under them correct during the summer and winter months.

“We’re really going all out,” says Gopisa. “The fiberglass shells themselves are already fully sealed, so water doesn’t get through them. But we want to make absolutely sure we have no leaking issues. So we’re fully sealing the domes underneath and then putting the new fiberglass shells over them, so that they will be completely waterproof.”

The new domes are already pre-assembled, and will be installed in the Spring. Larger and featuring a more curved shape, they will be reminiscent of the domes over Krishna Balaram Mandir, as New Vrindaban’s homage to the original Vrindavana. As Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter dated 3/17/1968, “You have New York, New England, and so many ‘New’ duplicates of European countries in the USA, why not import New Vrindaban in your country?”

Stripped front dome with scaffolding

“We spent a year working on the design of the new domes,” says Gopisa, explaining that they will feature the same beautiful, ornate golden scrollwork designs and tilaks as the old domes; but where the old designs were flat and painted on, the new scrollwork and tilaks will be three dimensional. In addition, where the old gold coating was fading and had to constantly be recoated, the new domes will feature a long-lasting automotive paint finish. And they will be illuminated with spotlights that will come on at night.

Along with the domes, the concrete balustrade around the Palace will be replaced, with beautiful new lighting fixtures and LED lights. There will also be LED lighting at the Palace’s stained glass windows, setting the stained glass in the main temple area aglow at night.

Long-term future plans include building a new Palace entryway with bathrooms, a gift shop and a snack area; as well as an expanded parking lot. Eventually, the rear of the Palace will also be fully rebuilt.

“Our plan is to have an audio visual presentation area behind the Palace, where guests will be able to come in and begin their tour,” says Gopisa. “We would like to have a 20-minute video of Srila Prabhupada’s life and how the Palace was built for him, and a museum with artifacts related to Prabhupada. The visitors would then go from there, through Prabhupada’s award-winning rose garden, and upstairs through the Palace itself, including the temple room, Prabhupada’s study and his bedroom.”

Already, Prabhupada’s Palace has had a new level of prestige and national significance since it was recognized in 2019 as a Historical Building, and listed on the National Register by the West Virginia State Historic Preservation, the Department of the Interior, and the National Park Service.

In ISKCON, the Palace holds a unique position, as it is the first Samadhi ever built for Srila Prabhupada; the only Samadhi for Srila Prabhupada in the West; and the only Samadhi built exclusively by Prabhupada’s disciples as devotional service to him. When fully restored, there truly will be nowhere like it in the world.

Chattra being restored by Tripad Vibhuti Das

Currently, 30,000 to 40,000 people visit Prabhupada’s Palace annually. But Gopisa hopes that number will triple once the Palace is fully renovated. And if the reaction within the devotee community is any indication of the public’s response, his hopes are likely to be realized.

“I was a little unsure how the devotees would react when they saw the new domes ready to go up,” Gopisa says. “But their reaction so far has been really wonderful, with senior devotees coming up to me and telling me, ‘Wow, they’re amazing!’ Devotees have really appreciated seeing all the renovations for Prabhupada’s Palace. They’ve been needed for so long, that there are a lot of joyous hearts here in New Vrindaban seeing this work being done.”

Jaya Krsna Das, ISKCON New Vrindaban temple president, adds: “Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, a one hundred per cent volunteer effort from young boys and girls with absolutely no experience in molding, sculpting, stained glass, etching, carving, etc, was and is a labor of love. I am honored to be part of the team that does whatever is necessary and needed to restore and preserve this building, which is not just a building, but the ultimate testament of love from a student to a teacher.”