The 216-foot-tall Statue of Equality, inaugurated in February 2022 by PM Modi, is among the tallest metallic sitting statues in the world. It’s a likeness of the 11th-century Vaishnavaite Ramanuja, located on the premises of the Chinna Jeeyar Trust at Muchintal, Hyderabad. Namrata Kohli spoke to Sri Sri Sri Tridandi Devanadha Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamy, committee member at SRS Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi, on what this monument means to the cultural landscape of the country and the essence behind this statue. Edited excerpts:
The Statue of Equality is dedicated to Ramanujacharya. What was he trying to propagate?
“All are equal in the eyes of God”--Ramanujacharya lived his whole life following this belief. The statue teaches us how to value every human being and love them regardless of their caste, religion, and status in society.
The idea of caste has been misunderstood. Caste is nothing but some activity you perform in the service of the people. It was initially for division of roles and a group of people were assigned certain activities. Be it making pots to storing water and quenching the thirst of passersby (kumhar), or washing and ironing clothes (dhobi), or cutting the hair (barber) etc. In all villages, streets were adopted by particular communities or castes. In Telangana, we call it Kumharvidhi which is a place allotted to one particular caste. In the name of that caste, people were given the activity.
Even in American downtown, all the bigger companies, like such as banks and finance companies, are in one cluster. In big cities, you will find streets devoted to hospitals, jewellery lanes to vegetable markets – all this is done for the sake of convenience of society, ease of transportation and commute. But it is very disappointing when people start linking caste with status. Every activity has its own role in society or the scheme of things. Can we survive if the dhobis stopped their work tomorrow? We think of people as big and small, powerful and powerless. The statue of Equality is a reminder of the teachings of Ramanujacharya that all are equal in the eyes of God.
The inauguration was a big affair with PM Modi's presence. Tell us a little about the entire project
The inauguration was a part of the 12-day Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi Samaroham, the ongoing 1,000th birth anniversary celebrations of the saint.
This Rs 1,000-crore project, covering about 334 acres, was funded entirely by donations from devotees globally. The inner sanctorum deity of Sri Ramanujacharya is made of 120 kg of gold to commemorate the 120 years the saint walked this earth. The outdoor 216-ft Statue of Equality, the world's second tallest featuring a sitting posture, is composed of ‘panchaloha’, a combination of five metals: gold, silver, copper, brass, and zinc. The complex has identical recreations of 108 Divya Desams, the 108 ornately carved Vishnu temples mentioned in the works of the Alvars, mystic Tamil saints.
The 54-ft high base building, named ‘Bhadra Vedi’, has dedicated floors for a Vedic digital library and research centre, ancient Indian texts, a theatre, an educational gallery and a robust multi-language audio tour detailing many works of Sri Ramanuja Acharya.
The statue was built by a Chinese firm and shipped to India on completion. Did we not have indigenous expertise?
In this universe, there is no harm in using the right technology wherever it is available to be used for a good cause. But if that technology is used for destroying society even if it is ours, then that is not correct. But using the right technology in the right manner for the right cause from wherever it’s available, is a perfect thing.
Everything else such as the sculptor, architect, designers, labourers are from native sources.
How are people receiving it? Are they able to absorb and appreciate the idea being propagated--that of equality?
Just last week there were three buses from Gujarat and one from Bihar. People are planning special trips even in this heat. What I noticed is that initially, people are coming mainly as tourists. But after arriving, they reflect on the principle of equality and develop curiosity. No one realises the vision of Swamiji the first time. But when people come here and go back, they try to think about it. There is some impact of Ramanuja on modern minds.
How does this mammoth project bind these thoughts of Ramanujacharya and what should the biggest takeaway for the onlooker or visitor in this modern era be?
The temple is just a replica of society. Ramanuja introduced people of each and every caste in the service of the temple. In a temple set up, you have everyone from a pot maker to a dhobi to a wood-crafting person. Supporting these activities are the rulers of the state, the brahmins doing mantras, the merchants giving finance etc. More than 30 departments were created by Ramanuja to give the services to activities involving all these roles.
God is all over the universe and is present in each and every single particle. In the materialistic world, man may create restrictions but in the universe, options are equal to each and everyone to reach God.
How have you priced the tickets? The money must be going into maintenance of the facility. Is maintaining a monument a monumental task?
We have nominal charges for the access of everyone at Rs 150. That too we are charging as we need to maintain the premises and keep the ambience pleasant. We have more than 150 people for security and over a hundred for housekeeping. Since we have 108 temples we actually need 108*2 priests but right now we have only 100 and we are gathering the right set of devotional people. Then we need 25-50 cooks to offer prasadam to God and devotees. With so many employees working in this organisation, we need to give some form of honorarium though we can’t call it salary yet.
We did not want to impose money upon society but we believe if there is little money sharing from everyone, whatever devotee coming with family in the name of darshan gives away, that money can be used for maintenance.