As planes land and take off from Shamshabad Airport in Hyderabad, window seat passengers get a glimpse of a giant bronze figure holding a flagstaff. Travellers on Kollapadakal Road also see it from miles away.
What they are looking at is set to become the world’s second tallest statue of a seated figure, at 216 feet. And it is a tribute to Bhakti saint Ramanujacharya.
“The saint lived 1,000 years ago and travelled widely, spreading the message of equality,” says Yellapragada Suryanarayana, who is supervising the construction.
Started in 2016, the statue is in place now, while skilled workers are giving the finishing touches to the base, called Bhadravedi, that itself is 54 feet high.
Currently, the Great Buddha of Thailand is the tallest statue, at 302-feet. Once the Ramanujacharya statue is unveiled, it will become the second tallest, a distinction now held by the Guanyin figure on Mount Xiqiao in China’s Guangdong region, at 203 feet. “The inner core is 850 tonnes of steel holding up the 650-tonne statue. Just the flagstaff is 135 feet long. The flag looks very small but it weighs six tonnes and positioning it took about six weeks as it is 50 feet in the air,” says Prasad Sthapathi, chief architect of the Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi Project.
“Ramanujacharya’s appearance has been designed based on carved stone images of the saint in Melkote and Srirangam temples,” says Devanatha Ramanuja Jeeyar, who is on the steering committee. Artisans worked on 14 models before the Chinna Jeeyar Swamy approved one.
“Once the model was approved, we did a 3D scan and approached Aerosan of China, a leader in making large statues. They used the information from the file we sent to create one-metre by one-metre pieces that were shipped to Chennai and then brought here,” Mr. Prasad says. “I felt very nervous when the face was being executed. Each eye is 6.5 feet in length and 3 feet in height and is the key to the statue’s appeal,” he says. The sthapathi spent a lot of time in Nanjing to ensure that the facial appearance was accurate.
The statue’s golden hue carries a 20-year guarantee from Aerosan. Although some 1,500 pieces make up the statue, no sign of welding can be seen.
“This is a ₹1,000 crore project with ₹500 crore spent in phase one. Most of the money is from donations,” says Mr. Yellapragada. The statue is part of a religious complex with a musical fountain for a sound and light show. The base will host a library and a Dark Ride. “We will have information about all the great people in the world who fought for equality, including Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela,” informs Mr. Yellapragada.
The base of Ramanujacharya’s statue depicts 36 elephants and 27-feet-high lotus petals. It is reached by a flight of arcaded stairs carved in pink sandstone from Bansi Pahadpur in Rajasthan. Near the statue will be another idol of the saint made of gold, weighing 120 kg. “We cannot worship the 216-feet statue every day. So we are creating a temple with the idol for regular worship. It will be part of the complex with replicas of 108 temples,” says Ramanuja Jeeyar.