There is a story that is familiar to almost every resident in Chadayamangalam village in Kollam district, Kerala. Legend has it that it was on a rocky peak near the village that the mythological giant eagle of the Ramayana fell while fighting Ravana. Thereafter, the place came to be known as ‘Jatayumangalam’. Over the years, it became Chadayamangalam and the peak became Jatayupara (Jatayu rock).
Sculptor/filmmaker Rajiv Anchal heard the story over a thousand times. “It is a powerful story with a fascinating character and has driven my imagination all these years,” says the master sculptor, who spent the last 10 years bringing the legend to life.
Imagination and creativity take flight on this bleak mountain and a giant bird is beginning to spread its wings. Lying flat on its back with wings spread across 150ft, while stretching 200ft from tail feathers to head, and talons rising 70ft into the air, the Jatayu sculpture — built on top of the 1,000ft-high Jatayupara — towers above the green expanses of Chadayamangalam.
With the inauguration of his life’s work just months away, Anchal is on a high. The Jatayu Adventure Centre, which offers an assortment of rock-based adventure activities, has already been opened for thrill-seekers.
The sculpture, along with the adventure centre and a Siddha healing centre, all of 65 acres, form the Jatayu Earth’s Centre. The construction took just a few years, but the idea is decades old. “I had presented a model for this sculpture to the Department of Tourism during my Fine Arts College days in the 1980s. Although they were impressed, it didn’t take shape back then,” Anchal says. Later, when a proposal for an eco-tourism project came up, he was approached to work on it.
For Anchal, it’s not just another tourism project. There was a time when man and wildlife lived in harmony, and Jatayu is a symbol of that time. “The aim is to protect the rock and preserve Nature around it. Nothing dominates the rock — as all the construction, including the sculpture — is designed and textured to seem like a part of the landscape,” he says. Most of the area was barren when the project kicked off. Trees were planted well ahead, and today, the fallen Jatayu lies in a green haven, something straight out of Treta Yuga!
Explore the innards of the sculpture through an entrance that opens beneath one of its wings. The sculpture is, in fact, a spacious five-storied building, housing a museum and a multi-dimensional theatre that will screen an animated movie, featuring the epic battle between Jatayu and Ravana.
The virtual reality museum inside the sculpture is designed to promote the idea of harmony. With animated visuals, sounds and sculptures, the wildlife of Treta Yuga will be brought alive here. But how do you create a mythological world that no one alive knows about? Anchal explains, “Just like the planet in Avatar was a product of director James Cameron’s imagination, the Treta Yuga I am building — everything from sky and landscapes to plants and animals — will be a representation of my creative mind.”
It may be inspired by Hindu mythology, but the project is envisaged as a monument on the lines of The Statue of Liberty. Anchal is wary of how important perspective is to a project like this. A misstep can easily turn the sculpture from a cultural symbol to a religious one. “Jatayu died protecting a woman’s honour and that is what the sculpture stands for. People of all faiths have invested in the project and people of all faiths will be coming to see it. My work is for all of them. For those looking for religion, there is the old temple just outside the compound,” he adds.
For the award-winning art director turned filmmaker, the Jatayu Earth’s Centre is a movie set that will never be taken down. The biggest challenge was getting the building materials to a height of 1,000ft. Once that was solved using a winch specially made for the purpose, the sculpting kicked off in full swing. Anchal adds, “The workers were all regular construction workers. They realised it was a bird only after a couple of years. But now many of them have become skilled enough to sculpt on their own.”
When finished, the Jatayu will be the biggest bird sculpture in the world. “You shouldn’t be afraid to dream big. I learned that from my experience in movies,” he quips.
Virtual Reality is a technology that can be proven to be very helpful to the preservation of cultural heritage. It provides users with full immersion, which enhances the feeling of presence (a field which is studied by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, alongside the Storytelling and Gamification fields), making them feel like they really are inside the virtual world. With the help of this technology, museum exploration becomes more fun and interesting, which leads to more people visiting the museums that use such technologies to present their exhibitions, thus contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage.