It is raining statues. The Dalits want a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and they want it in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Mumbai. Parties that swear by Maratha pride want to erect a statue of Shivaji—where else but in the Arabian Sea again. Not to be left behind, the Shiv Sena wants Bal Thackeray immortalised somewhere near Mumbai’s Shivaji Park.
Maharashtra, however, has lost the race for the tallest statue to Gujarat. Shivaji will be tall, but only 94 metres to the Sardar’s 182 metres. Anyway, the Shivaji project has run into trouble and fresh tenders are being invited. “This will be an international tender; the previous attempt did not get a good response,” says Vinayak Mete, who heads the Shivaji memorial committee.
So, does an international tender mean that the land of the monolithic 10th century Gomateshwara (or Bahubali) statue—more than 17.6 metres tall—in Shravanabelagola in Karnataka cannot build a Shivaji statue less than 100 metres in the 21st century? “It’s not that India does not have the wherewithal. It’s just a mindset that we need to have international participation. Which is why tender conditions are such that only companies with big turnovers make it,” says architect K.T. Ravindran. And Ram Sutar, designer of the Sardar Patel ‘Statue of Unity’, says, “We could have made the Patel statue in India, but the contract was given to Larsen & Toubro, and they wanted to make it in time.”
The aspiration to build higher and bigger has always been around and been strongly linked to competitive regionalism. Andhra Pradesh, in trying to outdo Karnataka, erected an 18-metre statue of the Buddha in the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad in 1992. During installation, the statue had tipped over, killing ten people.
So far India has managed to touch 41 metres, with a statue of Hanuman in Paritala, near Vijayawada. This might be the tallest Hanuman in the world, but is no match for the Buddhas of China and Japan. The four tallest statues in the world are of the Buddha. And in what would give heartburn to the saffron brigade, the second and the third and fifth tallest statues in India are of the Buddha or of a Buddhist monk in various poses in Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
Even Nepal leads the way in sculpting the tallest statue of Shiva the Destroyer, which stands at 44 metres. In India, it is Karnataka that has kept the faith by building the tallest Shiva statue in India at 37 metres.
Religion is all very well, but it is in politics that the moolah is. Which is why Shivaji will tower over Thackeray. And be overshadowed by the statue of the first home minister of India. But it’s the 10th century Bahubali that draws crowds. It’s one thing to build a statue, quite another to create an icon. The Iron Man will tower over all else.