Collective human will is a wondrous power, tested and proved by time since men began coordinating for good. What draws collective human will other than survival is spiritual conscience – a dynamic that has inspired men to do miraculous things that would otherwise never have been conspired.
Standing true to every word state above is a 39 feet tall sky-clad colossus of a spiritual symbol of Jainism at Dharmasthala. Sure, Bahubali statues are a common attraction around the state of Karnataka and have, ever since their establishment centuries ago, stood tall and proud as representations of collective human will inspired by spirituality. However, what makes the Bahubali monolithic statue at Dharmasthala special is the fact that it is the most recent addition to the list, just over 4 decades old, having been erected in 1975. While the other statues pose the big question of how, after all, they would have been sculpted, carried uphill and erected atop them; this statue at Dharmasthala provides well documented answers.
The dream of establishing a Bahubali monolithic at Dharmasthala was envisioned by Late. Shri Rathnavarma Heggade and Late. Maatrushree Rathnamma Heggade. However, it was Dr. D Veerendra Heggade, who ascended the position of Dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala at a tender age of 20, who ferried the vision to completion. Renjala Gopala Shenoy, a famed 65-years-old sculptor was the man who accepted the grand task of sculpting a 39 feet tall statue at Mangalapaade in Karkala. The sculpting work began in 1967, and lasted up to 1973 – it took six long years of sweat and toil for the statue to take form out of 100*58 feet monolithic.
While sculpting out a perfect form of Bahubali in stone was a challenge, what awaited next was an ultimatum for the determination that sought to achieve this dream. Mangalapaade, where the statue was being sculpted, is a spot at Karkala that lies 64 kilometres away from Dharmasthala. The statue was estimated to weigh 180 tonnes, and 1970s was an era of no hydraulic engines or rig cranes which could pick up the statue and set it up atop Rathnagiri. The transportation and installation phases of the colossus had more skepticism than physical challenges to overcome.
After a lot of deliberation, Dr. Heggade approached Mangatram Brothers, a construction company based in Mumbai for the transportation task. The company took up the challenge, and the then owner of Mangatram Bros, Deenanath Oban himself overlooked the process. There was no vehicle that could carry as much weight, so a special vehicle was designed and constructed that weighed 20 tonnes, was ferried over 64 wheels with 250 HP engine. The trolley was in itself an attraction that drew onlookers from afar; but it had to be tested for its reliability before the 180 ton vision was entrusted on its steel shoulders. A 20 feet tall pillar (named the Bramhastamba) was first sent from Karkala to Dharmasthala on the trolley, and the trip took three days with few steering problems on the way and wearing off of a couple of tyres. The mistakes were rectified for the next big trip.
But it was never enough. Firstly, the statue took a whopping six days to be loaded on to the trolley, and when it was finally loaded, the vehicle not so much as budged from Mangalapaade. The slightly uphill road of the area made it impossible for the trolley to move, and all sorts of techniques such as installation of planks underneath the tyres, utilizing elephants to pull the trolley were tried but none worked. A miraculous thing happened when everyone almost lost hope. An anonymous postcard arrived addressed to Dr. Heggade, where someone had asked him to try greasing the tyres of the vehicle with inflammable ash. Having tried everything in vain, Dr. Heggade decided to give this technique a try, and believe it or not, that worked where elephants and 250 HP engine didn’t.
The transportation of the statue was no short of a 23-days long carnival from Karkala to Dharmasthala. As the population of Karkala bid their sad yet hopeful goodbyes to the statue, all other towns and villages on the way welcomed, celebrated and acknowledged the statue with rituals and cultural displays. One of the major challenges on the journey included ferrying the statue over bridges at five places along the way. For security purposes, the existing bridges were not used. Dr. Heggade sought and received generous help from the railway department and the military, which were previously known to have collaborated to construct temporary bridges for transportation of ammunitions. The same kind of bridges were constructed for the trolley out of reusable steel, and later dismantled. Slow and steady, the Mangatram trolley made it to Dharmasthala on 20 March 1973. A grand display of courage marked the end of the journey, where the statue was taken around the temple of Lord Manjunatha at Dharmasthala against everyone’s cynicism. Having paid its respects to the reigning deity of Dharmasthala, the statue made its way atop Rathnagiri where it was to be established.
For two years after, the statue patiently awaited its erection as its finishing touches were completed by sculptors and Dr. Heggade fiercely deliberated ways to pull his giant baby on to its feet. Another Mumbai based company, Hindustan Works, was finalized for the task who proposed three strategies for the installation. Carefully analyzing which strategy would ensure success, the idea to install railway tracks from the base of the statue to the exact spot of erection was executed. Once the tracks were placed, the statue was framed within a thick layer of hay for protection, and then iron scaffolding. Pulleys and iron ropes were installed at shoulder level such that the statue could be pulled up with ease.
The installation phase was considered to be the riskiest, because a single mishap could mean irreversible damage, and even a scar on the statue would be an unpardonable offense on the legacy. Hence, as a matter of precaution, Hindustan Works constructed metal pillars of varying heights to be introduced beneath the statue when it was being lifted up. At every different angle, a new pillar was introduced under the statue so that, in case of failure of the ropes or pulleys, the colossus would not come crashing to the ground.
The big day of installation came on 25th of December 1975, at 12.30 PM. The hilltop was unbelievably crowded with people who wouldn’t miss the opportunity to behold this spectacle for the world. There were two winches attached to the pulleys, each of them turned by 10 laborers each in perfect coordination. Slowly, the statue was lifted to an angle of 50 degrees on the first day and 90 degrees on the next day. Bahubali was finally in a vertical position, affirmed to his place by an eventually constructed 14-feet tall platform.
There was so much celebration that followed, but what was accomplished from 1967-1975 was a divine miracle in the pages of history. The legacy of Bahubali at Dharmasthala is a colorful compilation of enthralling stories big and small; but the Olympic phases of transportation and installation are simply never elaborated enough. Even as Bahubali braces himself for his second Maha Mastakabhisheka of the century in February 2019; like parents recalling their kids’ childhoods, we still recall and admire the statue’s initial days of toddling to accomplishment. For the generation of the millennium, there would hardly be an accomplishment of this scale to experience.
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