Ramanuja’s Battle for Bhaktas

The Statue of Equality, which was installed in February 2022 in Hyderabad, is a monumental installation. More than the statue, it also consists of 108 temples dedicated to the various deities of the Vaishnava pantheon. This installation in the context of other large statues being installed in India (like the Statue of Unity), gives rise to the questions “what is all this about?” and “what does it teach us about where Hinduism is headed today?” This photo essay is an attempt to probe these questions along three dimensions: a) the experience of visiting the installation, b) understanding the history of Ramanuja and Vaishnavism in South India, and c) probing the way in which the Statue of Equality plays out in the political iconology of statuary in India, with specific reference to the statues of B R Ambedkar that dot the Indian urban and metropolitan landscape.

Visit

Spurred to write on the gigantic Statue of Equality (installed near Hyderabad in February 2022) given my current interests in contemporary Hinduism and its culture, I decided to see it for myself.  

I chose to visit on a Sunday as soon as the complex opened at 11 AM. The Bengaluru highway after the Hyderabad airport turnout was busy, but the approach road branching towards the temple was deserted. I saw the statue from behind on the final stretch and wondered what the hubbub about it was, until, as I neared it, the gilt figure towered. Ramanuja is depicted as young, well-formed, and amiable but not muscular (which seems like a great relief from the modern-day depictions of Rama and Ganesha as ripped superheroes in the misguided war against Islam).   

To my surprise, the parking lot already had about 800–1,000 cars by 11.30 AM. I do not remember seeing any motorcycles. There were very few buses so early in the day, and there is no train connection so far. The devotee composition seems to be solidly middle class at least till this point in time. I heard from my driver that upward of 30,000 people visited the temple on weekends.