India’s Sacred Giants: Five of the country’s biggest religious statues

Some are historic landmarks, others are more recent tributes to gods and mythological characters.  
The Gomateshwara figure
The Gomateshwara figure is the largest monolithic statue in India. Photo: Atanu Paul/National Geographic Stock

Many statues across India stand tall, but only some of them truly stand out. Here are five of the country’s largest statues that have become fascinating places of worship. Some are historic landmarks, others are more recent tributes to gods and mythological characters. They are made from sandstone, cement or granite and display excellent craftsmanship.

Dying Buddha,  Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh

According to Buddhist lore, Kushinagar (50 km from Gorakhpur) is the town where Buddha attained nirvana. A statue depicting Buddha’s final moments was excavated here over a century ago, and now rests inside the Parinirvana Temple. Carved from sandstone and painted gold, the shimmering statue of Buddha reclining on his right side is close to 20 feet long. It is believed to be more than 1,500 years old.

Gomateshwara Statue, Shravanabelagola, Karnataka

Over a millennium old, the statue of Gomateshwara in Shravanabelagola (around 150 km from Bengaluru) is one of the country’s most majestic monolithic statues. The 60-foot-tall statue was carved from a single block of granite to depict Gomateshwara (also known as Bahubali), the second son of the Jain Tirthankara, Rishabha. A staircase of 700 steps leads up to the figure which is visible from almost 30 km away. It’s little surprise that Shravanabelagola is one of the country’s busiest centres of Jain pilgrimage.

Hanuman Murti, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

At 108 feet, the Hanuman Murti is a giant of cement, watching imperiously over Shimla (around 350 km from Delhi). A brick-red beacon, the monkey god is unmistakable, standing atop Shimla’s highest peak, while real monkeys clamber across his shoulders. Built in november 2010 at an altitude of 8,100 feet, the Hanuman Murti is visible from all over Shimla, adding a splash of red to the green canvas.

Padmasambhava, Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh

Some 4,000 feet above sea level, Padmasambhava sits amid misty hills overlooking Rewalsar Lake. The concrete statue of the Buddhist tantrik in black and gold measures 123 feet. He is said to have been persecuted for his beliefs and burned alive in Rewalsar (120 km from Manali). According to legend, his spirit still resides in the lake’s islands. Thousands of Tibetan pilgrims visit Rewalsar for the annual Tsechu festival, celebrating Padmasambhava’s birthday on the tenth day of the Tibetan calendar (between January and February).

Statue of Shiva, Murudeshwara, Karnataka

The statue of Shiva in Murudeshwara (165 km from Mangalore) is set against the backdrop of the Arabian Sea, its silvery-blue hues melding into the horizon. Gardens with relatively Lilliputian statues of cows and golden chariots surround the 123-foot concrete colossus. Constructed in 2006, it is now accompanied by the more recently built Raja Gopura Temple that scales close to 250 feet.

Appeared in the July 2012 issue as “Sacred Giants”.

  • Azeem Banatwalla is a stand-up comic and humour writer. He can often be spotted scrounging for plug-points in coffee shops, or wandering sleepily through airports across the country.

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