The 216-foot-tall Statue of Equality near Hyderabad honors bhakti Saint Ramanujacharya to mark celebrations of his 1,000th birth anniversary
Muchintal, once a nondescript village miles from Hyderabad’s international airport in South India, is now a celebrity. On February 5, 2022, Vaishnava monk Sri Chinna Jeeyar Swamy inaugurated his brainchild, the world’s largest extolment of Saint Ramanujacharya. With pujas, dancers and laser shows, the ceremonies completed eight years of construction at Swamiji’s 45-acre Jeeyar Integrated Vedic Academy campus. Central is the Statue of Equality, the second tallest seated effigy on Earth [Thailand’s Great Buddha is 302 feet]. “It will be visible from the flights landing and taking off from Shamshabad Airport” says Yellapragada Suryanarayana, construction supervisor. “We’d like a similar announcement as the one made in the air when flights have a view of the Golden Temple near Amritsar.”
Let’s explore Ramanujacharya and the lavish campus honoring him.
Who was Ramanujacharya?
Born in 1017ce in Kanchipuram, Ramanujacharya was a Tamil philosopher-saint who continued the bhakti tradition of South Indian Alvar saints. Founding one of five major Vaishnava schools, his strongly theistic, qualified nondual Vishishtadvaita Vedanta philosophy advocated devotion to Lord Vishnu as the Supreme. He was considered the greatest critic of pure advaita and revived the Bhakti movement, his preachings inspiring other bhakti schools of thought. Several scholars followed his path, and the works of many ancient poets like Annamacharya, Samarth Ramdas, Thyagaraja, Kabir and Meerabai flowed from his theological spring.
Ramanujacharya was also a social reformer; hence the statue’s name. Spreading messages of justice and equality of rights and opportunity, he advocated against discrimination in all forms and made education accessible to those who were most deprived in those days, promoting the Upanishadic phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, “The world is one family.” Temples were cajoled by him to open their doors to all people, including those subjected to extreme discrimination. Teaching about the protection of nature, he is said to have lived to age 120 while head of the Srirangam monastery.
Statue and Campus
When Jeeyar Swamiji decided to embark on this extraordinary project, donations flowed abundantly to meet the estimated us$130 million cost. The Statue of Equality’s facade is made of panchaloha metal—an ancient alloy of gold, silver, copper, brass and zinc. “The inner core is 850 tons of steel holding up the 650-ton statue,” chief architect Prasad Sthapati told The Hindu. “The flagstaff alone is 135 feet long. It looks small but weighs six tons, and positioning it took about six weeks as it is 50 feet in the air.” Steering committee member Devanatha Ramanuja Jeeyar adds, “Ramanujacharya’s appearance is based on carved-stone images of the saint in Melkote and Srirangam temples.” Artisans created 14 models before Jeeyar Swamy approved one. Mr. Prasad says, “We did a 3D scan of the model and approached Aerosan company of Nanjing, China, a leader in making large statues. They used our data to create three-by-three f00t panchaloha pieces varying in thickness between ten and 20mm. I felt very nervous when the face was being executed. Each eye is 6.5 feet in length and three feet high and is the key to the statue’s appeal.” Sthapati spent much time in Nanjing to ensure that the facial appearance is accurate.
The sculpture sits on a 27-foot-high lotus held up by 36 massive elephants, surrounded by a musical fountain for sound-and-light shows. The lotus height represents 24 tattvas, plus soul, God and guru. The statue’s golden hue carries a 20-year guarantee from Aerosan. Although some 1,500 pieces are involved, no sign of welding can be seen. It’s mounted on a 54-foot-high building named Bhadravedi. The building has three floors for a temple, Vedic digital library and research center, ancient Indian texts, a theater and gallery detailing the works of the saint. Yellapragada Suryanarayana says “We will have details about all the great people in the world who fought for equality, including Abraham Lincoln, BR Ambedkar and Nelson Mandela.” For daily ritual worship there is a 300,000 square foot temple in Bhadravedi housing a 54 inch tall, 120kg gold murthi of the saint. On the surrounding grounds are replicas of 108 sacred shrines from across India, including Tirumala, Srirangam, Kanchi, Ahobilam, Badrinath, Muktinath, Ayodhya, Vrindavan and Kumbhakonam.
During the opening, Jeeyar Swamiji told the Mumbai Mirror, “Ramanujacharya was a true democrat. He never tried to convert anybody from the other faiths to his. He just tried to put the Hindu philosophy in its right perspective. There were many who understood and agreed with it, but chose to continue in their own religions. That was the democracy he practiced centuries ago.”