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Of Statues And Symbolism: The Race To Conquer The Tallest

Perhaps beyond the political dividends that the sculptures hope to bear, the statue building spree is rooted in an assertion of power and dominance.

World's tallest Shiva statue to be unveiled in Rajasthan toady.
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Claimed to be the ‘tallest’ in the world, the 369-foot-tall Shiva statue 'Viswas Swaroopam' installed in Nathdwara town of Rajasthan's Rajsamand district is all set to be inaugurated by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot today. With this, we erect yet another grand structure to add to India’s statue-building spree that has gained momentum across the political spectrum in recent times. 

Perhaps the politics of claiming space and of conquering symbolism has backed the ambition to pierce the skyline, the higher the better. From unity and equality, to peace and prosperity, the metallic figurines have acquired a life of their own in more ways than one. Here are a few recently constructed statues from around the country!

Gujarat, Statue of Unity: Sardar Patel

The 182-meter tall statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, erected atop the Sardar Sarovar dam, was inaugurated in 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Built at an approximate cost of a whopping ₹ 3,000 crore, it is indeed a remarkable ode to the charismatic leader, as well as a spectacular sightseeing location. 

However, a figure of such grandeur can still fall short on pressing on “unity.” On October 31, 2018, as the PM arrived to inaugurate the statue of unity, more than 75,000 tribals opposed its unveiling in Narmada district. "No food will be cooked in 72 villages affected by the entire project, as we will be mourning on that day. The project is being carried out for our destruction," Dr Praful Vasava, a tribal leader, told NDTV

Tribal unions alleged that their land was seized by the government without offering adequate and suitable compensation, and where monetary compensation was doled out, the promises of jobs and cultivable lands remained unfulfilled. According to a report published by NDTV, over 72 villages were affected by the land grabs, and nine tribal districts joined a state-wide bandh to demonstrate against the statue’s inauguration.

Also Read | Bigger, Taller, Wider: Size Matters When It Comes To Statues

Rajasthan, Statue of Peace: Jainacharya Shri Vijay Vallabh Surishwer Ji Maharaj

The 151-inch tall statue was unveiled by PM Modi in November 2020 and is yet another architectural marvel situated in Pali in Rajasthan. It deployed the use of Ashtadhatu or 8 metals, with copper being the largest constituent. 

The grand ceremony to commemorate this statue coincided with widespread protests across the state due to the rising levels of unemployment. On November 17, as per a report in India Today, the Rajasthan Berojgar Ekikrat Mahasangh staged a demonstration against the state government and vowed to boycott the Congress government in the next assembly polls. 

This even prompted netizens to share their frustrations on twitter, with one user tweeting “Dear Narendra Modi, after unveiling the "Statue of Peace", also inaugurate the "Statue of Employment.” Another tweeted “Once upon a time we had peace and unity in our country, now we have statue of peace and statue of unity... !!”

Also Read | Statues And The Construction Of Memory

Telangana, Statue of Equality: Ramanujacharya 

In February 2022, another 216-foot tall magnificent figurine of the Vedic Philosopher Ramanajucharya came up in Hyderabad, costing nearly ₹ 1,000 crore. It is made from the panchaloha technique of using five precious metals. But more than its grandiose structure, the statue is a reminder of the philosophy of universal brotherhood, harmony, and belongingness. 

Ramanujacharya was an 11th century social reformer, credited with propounding the philosophy of “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” i.e the world is one family. He dedicated his life to fight against social injustice of all kinds – supporting temple entry movements for the lower castes, fighting gender inequality, and demanding just and fair treatment for the socially marginalised in royal courts. 

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This statue, too, found its origins caught in the midst of a controversy, wherein a report published in The Economic Times revealed that the metallic structure was actually made in China and cost roughly ₹ 135 crore, raising an ire on the shadow of corruption that falls on it. Perhaps equality cannot be bought and sold, and certainly not erected. 

Karnataka, Statue of Prosperity: Nadaprabhu Kempegowda 

After fitting unity, equality, and peace in metal-tight structures, prosperity is now all set to be unleashed in a 108-feet statue of the 16th century chieftain of the Vijayanagara empire, Nadaprabhu Kempegowda, in Bengaluru next week. 

Built at an expense of 85 crore, its extravagance goes beyond its grandeur. By invoking Kempegowda’s image as representative of the aspirations of the Vokkaligas, the second most dominant community in Karnataka after the Lingayats, the ‘statue of prosperity’ is construed as  a symbol of unification and the BJP’s ploy to woo a major portion of the electorate ahead of the state assembly polls due in 2023.

Also Read | Decolonising Our Icons, One Statue At A Time

With the tallest Shiva statue set to be presented by the Congress-led government in Rajasthan today, the timing is presumably eerie. The ₹₹856 crore Mahakal corridor in Ujjain was inaugurated by PM Modi earlier this month, which marks a get-set-go! for the race to present oneself as the chief patron of God.  

Perhaps beyond the political dividends that the sculptures hope to bear, the statue building spree is rooted in an assertion of power and dominance. Furthermore, by charging a “viewership fee” to visit these statues, we receive a stark reminder that these virtues of unity, equality, peace, and prosperity really do come at a great cost and have remained reserved for the select few. 

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