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.
Rajiv Anchal, sitting on the wing of the Jatayu sculpture
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.
Speaking of movies, Anchal says he can’t wait to get back behind the camera. It will be a project as big and as mythical as the one he is about to finish.
What is Jatayu Earth’s Centre? Jatayu Earth’s Centre is a ₹100 crore eco-tourism project designed on a BOT (build-operate-transfer) model between the Government of Kerala and Guruchandrika Builders and Property, a company owned by Rajiv Anchal. The company has leased the Government-owned land for 30 years. Although the project took flight in 2008, construction began only by 2011. The Jatayu sculpture, a building with a 15,000 sq ft floor area, is made of roller-compacted concrete (RCC), except for the talons which are stainless steel. Investors expect the project to break even within five years of opening.
Soft launch: In March, the sculpture and the cable car ride will be opened to the public. Visitors can scale the wings of the Jatayu to reach the chest and click a selfie with the bird. The entry fee will be ₹250. The official inauguration will be towards the end of 2018, after the completion of the museum, the theatre and a Siddha healing centre.
Reaching the zenith: Apart from the 500 metre cable ride, there is a 1.5-km granite stone walkway built by 70-year-old stone mason Balan Pillai, who chiselled 60,000 stones by himself. A heli-taxi service will be launched in future.
Jatayu Adventure Centre
Brave the rocks: From climbing up an 82feet rock-face and rappelling down a 45feet cliff, to crossing a tricky Burma bridge and trekking up a mountain, the Jatayu Adventure Centre offers all this and more. Built onto a side of the peak, it offers a variety of activities designed around the natural rock formations. For a group of 10, the cost is ₹3,500 and includes lunch, water, juice and snacks.