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Ford scion plans 'Spiritual Disneyland' in West Bengal

By M Chhaya in Mayapur
Last updated on: February 26, 2004 09:37 IST
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A scion of the Ford family who became a follower of International Society for Krishna Consciousness several decades ago is making grand plans to promote the sect's headquarters in West Bengal as a 'spiritual tourism' destination.

ISKCON, more popular as the Hare Rama Hare Krishna sect, was founded by Srila Prabhupada and its members are followers of Lord Krishna.

Alfred Brush Ford, a great grandson of Henry Ford of America's Ford Motor Company, wants to build a 'Spiritual Disneyland' in Mayapur town in Nadia district not only as a tribute to the sect but also as a business venture.

Ford, who goes by the name Ambarish Das in keeping with the sect's practice of giving each devotee a spiritual name, is married to Sharmila, a Bengali. He was in India to attend a religious congregation and the opening of a new temple at the ISKCON headquarters in Mayapur.

'Spiritual Disneyland' was conceived as a one-stop religious tourism centre that one could use as a retreat to rejuvenate ones spirit and body in the Hare Rama Hare Krishna style.

Ford likes to describe it as a 'vedic planetarium' where one could pursue his/her religious quest, research Indian culture or simply relax in a spiritual environment.

The project is to come up on 400 acres of land at a cost of Rs 600crore (about $133mn) and would have hostels, hotels, cultural and religious centres and health spas.

"We are yet to get land from the West Bengal government," he told Despite several attempts, he has so far failed to meet the Communist-ruled state's chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

ISKCON sources deny Bhattacharya's reluctance to meet Ford as a having anything to do with the conflict between religion and Communism. State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta did meet Ford and enquire about his plans.

The main problem that Ford faces is in ownership of the venture. The state's land ceiling laws will allow him ownership of only 10 percent of the 400 acres of land that he has sought.

It remains to be seen if the government makes an exemption for him to keep the investment in West Bengal in view of Ford having received an offer from the Orissa government to set up the venture in Puri, another important pilgrimage centre for the sect.

"We can't wait indefinitely. If not here, then we could move this to Puri," Ford told
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M Chhaya in Mayapur
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