A giant eagle is soaring several thousand feet up the sky on one of its routine flights, settling down to a glide to conserve energy and occasionally flapping its ageing wings to maintain altitude. The creatures and materials in the distant earth below are not as defined as it used to be to its once sharp eyes some twenty summers ago. Yet there is nothing like a daily relish of uncluttered wide open skies, reliving memories of more zestful flights of bygone years that opened up skyscapes of shifting hues and new vistas of freedom. The reverie is broken, all of a sudden, by an unusual object, sighted across the horizon, making a fast approach towards its trajectory. As it advances closer, the shape gains in clarity. It is the Pushpak Viman, the celestial aircraft bedecked with flowers, constructed by Vishvakarma, the divine architect, to serve as aerial vehicle of the gods. As the eagle is within striking distance of the Pushpak, it is able to hear a woman crying out for help, struggling to extricate herself from the hydra-headed demon Ravan. The demon is speeding away, abducting the woman, identified as Rama’s wife Sita. The eagle intercepts the aerial vehicle and assails Ravan with its talons in a valiant attempt to rescue Sita from the demon’s clutches but is unfortunately vanquished by the mighty foe who chops off one of its wings in the mid-air combat. The heavily bleeding bird flutters down, eventually falling on a hilltop awaiting its end. As it lay dying, Rama passes by, in search of his wife. The grievously injured bird, before dying, communicates to Rama about Sita being taken by Ravan who was heading to his kingdom in Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka).
The narrative heretofore is an episode from the Indian epic Ramayana and the giant eagle is Jatayu, a friend of Rama. The epic is etched deeply in the minds of a great majority of Indians through stories spelt out by family elders, depictions in performing art forms such as Kathakali, and television serials. An infuriatingly cold, precise, ratiocinating engine of a brain fuelled by a wholly egocentric passion may vainly try to aver that aerial vehicles originated out of early twentieth century development of the Wright Flyer and subsequent refinements thereof and, hence, the aircraft in the story a figment of someone’s imagination. Delving deeper, however, even the sceptic is bound to warm up to the realization that universe in its entirety cannot be divined merely through rationale but by combining rationale with devotion. As when gazing at the flamboyance of a flower; while rationale understands what the flower is, devotion occurs in appreciation of the flower and sense of wonderment at its beauty. Rationale operates in the realm of reality whereas devotion is the quintessence of mythos arising from early history, often progressing through fantasy, and transcending limits of the known. Hence myth is more overpowering than reality. Lauri Honko, the Finnish folklorist, puts it comprehensively when he says, “Myth is a story of the gods, a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation, the fundamental events, the exemplary deeds of the gods as a result of which the world, nature and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms society’s religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behavior to be imitated, testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of cult”. Similar to literary cycle emerging from Matters of Britain, France and Rome, Jatayu wings its way into eastern cosmology from the Matter of Bharat Varsha, and symbolizes an era when humans and animals cared for one another and subsisted in perfect harmony with nature.
The hilly region, comprising the rocks on which the injured Jatayu fell, came to be known as Jatayumangalam, meaning the ‘auspicious place of Jatayu’. Jatayumangalam in due course corrupted to Chadayamangalam, as the place is known at present. Located in the southern Indian state of Kerala, around 38 kms away from Kollam city, it is reachable in about four hours drive from my home in Kochi. The tranquil beauty of the region inspired Rajiv Anchal, a famed sculptor and art director, into conceiving a giant sculpture of Jatayu atop the hill. The execution of the project took him ten years, to erect the sculpture on the hill crest at an altitude of 1200 feet. Linked to the highway by exquisitely laid out roads, signage, parking lots, helipad, food courts, amusement centre, it is connected by a cableway offering panoramic views as the cable car winds its way up the hill elevating visitors to the marvelous work of art. In artistically recreating an episode from the celebrated epic, the complex, sprawled end-to-end over twenty six hectares, has transformed a rugged country side into a spectacular feast for the eyes, capturing minds with an intense resonance of avian chivalry that met with a fatal end while trying to protect a woman’s honour, an event reverberating through corridors of history and lore. Lying flat on its back with wings spread across 150 feet, while stretching 200 feet from tail-feathers to head, and talons rising 70 feet into the air (see pics featured here), the Jatayu of the epic towers over the verdant expanses of Chadayamangalam, making it the world’s largest sculpture of a bird.
Eagle occupies a significant place in the world’s mythologies. In the Rigveda, Garuda (Sanskrit, meaning a giant eagle like bird) is a divine eagle, hailed as a personification of valour, one who is fast, capable of shape-shifting into any form to enter anywhere. Garuda is the vehicle of Vishnu, who has made him into an iconic symbol of king’s duty and power, an insignia of royalty and dharma. Referred to as Garula in Pali, it is the golden winged bird in Buddhist texts, often shown as sitting and listening to the sermons of Buddha. Garuda is the national emblem of Thailand and Indonesia. In Greek mythology, Aetos Dios was a giant golden eagle which served as personal messenger of Zeus. Once a king named Periphas it was, whose virtuous rule was so celebrated that he was honoured like a god. Zeus, in anger, arising probably out of jealousy, smote him with a thunderbolt, but Apollo intervened and transformed the king into an eagle and set him beside the throne of Zeus, who later sent the eagle to carry the handsome youth Ganymedes to heaven to serve as cupbearer of the gods
Viewing works of art is often thought of as an indoor experience, shuffling through museums and galleries to immerse in the beauty of paintings and sculpture. Yet Jatayu Earth Centre, as the site is described, is an affirmation that some of the best art must have an outdoor setting, blending seamlessly with nature. The allure of art and scenic environment is a delectable combination enabling viewers to mill the grounds and fan out to individual spaces spending time in quiet contemplation, to eventually return with mental images framed in sepia brown and lush green tones of Chadayamangalam.