An enduring journey

An enduring journey

Next to survival, religious conscience demanded collective human effort in the past. This has even resulted in creations beyond imagination. And one such example is a sky-clad monolith of Bahubali in Dharmasthala.

Bahubali statues are a common attraction across the state and have, ever since their establishment centuries ago, stood tall and proud as representations of collective human will. However, what makes the monolith in Dharmasthala special is that it is the most recent addition to the list, established in 1975. While the other statues pose a big question of how, after all, they would have been sculpted, carried uphill and erected atop; this statue provides well-documented answers.


The dream of establishing a Bahubali monolith in Dharmasthala was envisioned by Rathnavarma Heggade and Rathnamma Heggade. However, it was materialised when D Veerendra Heggade became the Dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala. Renjala Gopala Shenoy, a known sculptor, was the man behind the grand task of sculpting the 39-foot tall statue at Mangalapaade in Karkala. The sculpting work began in 1967, and lasted up to 1973. 

While sculpting out a perfect form of Bahubali in stone was a challenge, what awaited next was an even bigger task. Mangalapaade lies 64 km away from Dharmasthala. The statue was estimated to weigh 180 tonnes, and 1970s was a period that did not see hydraulic engines or rig cranes to transport the statue and set it up atop Ratnagiri hill. 

Mangatram Brothers, a construction company based in Mumbai, assisted in the transportation of the monolith. Since there was no vehicle that could carry as much weight, the company took up the challenge of designing and constructing a special vehicle. First, a 20-foot tall pillar called Bramhastamba was first sent from Karkala to Dharmasthala on the trolley, and the trip took three days with a few breakdowns on the way. The mechanical failures were rectified for the next big trip.

But it was never enough. Firstly, the statue took a whopping six days to be loaded onto the trolley, and when it was finally loaded, the vehicle did not budge from Mangalapaade.

The steep road of the area made it impossible for the trolley to move, and all sorts of techniques and possibilities were tried, but none worked. Veerendra Heggade’s hopes lived after he received an anonymous letter that asked him to grease the tyres with inflammable ash, which indeed worked when every other possibility was in vain.

The transportation of the statue was a 23-day-long carnival from Karkala to Dharmasthala. As the population of Karkala bid 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.

Heggade sought the help of the railway and the military departments, which were previously known to have collaborated to construct temporary bridges. On a similar line, temporary bridges were constructed and the Mangatram trolley made it to Dharmasthala on March 20, 1973. A grand display of courage marked the end of the journey, where the statue was taken around the Manjunatha Temple at Dharmasthala. Having paid its respects to the reigning deity of Dharmasthala, the statue made its way atop the Rathnagiri hill. Two years later, the statue was installed.

Another Mumbai-based company, Hindustan Works, proposed three strategies for the installation. After a careful analysis of what 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 an iron scaffolding. Pulleys and iron ropes were attached at the shoulder level such that the statue could be pulled up with ease. 

A ray of hope

The installation phase was considered to be the riskiest, as a slight accident could mean an irreversible damage 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 angle, a new pillar was introduced under the statue so that, in case of failure of the ropes or pulleys, the colossus would not crash to the ground. 

The big day for installation came on December 25, 1975. The hilltop was filled with an anxious crowd who would not miss the opportunity to behold this spectacle for the world. There were two winches attached to the pulleys, each of them turned by 10 labourers in perfect coordination. Bahubali was finally placed firm by an eventually constructed 14-foot- tall platform.

The legacy of Bahubali at Dharmasthala is a colourful compilation of enthralling stories, big and small. In anticipation of the Mahamastakabhisheka in February 2019, people recall and admire the statue’s transportation and installation.