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Hanuman statue an iconic backdrop that redefines Delhi

The image of Metro passing by the 108-foot Hanuman statue near Jhandewalan used in several Hindi films represents the coexistence of religion and modernity in the city.

delhi Updated: Nov 27, 2017 18:14 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Hanuman,Hindu Gods,Monkey God
The 108-foot Hanuman statue in Jhandewalan. The Delhi high court has recently asked authorities if it can be airlifted to clear encroachments around it in Karol Bagh and the ridge. (Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo)

In 2007, filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, was travelling in the Metro when he spotted the giant Hanuman statue near Jhandelawan station. The Metro’s Blue Line had opened only a couple of years back, and during his trips to Delhi, Mehra would often get into Metro trains randomly at any station and travel up to the last one, and then return in the same train.

“ Metro fascinated me because Delhi was changing rapidly, and nothing signified it more powerfully than the Metro,” says Mehra. “I saw at least 5,000 interesting images while travelling in the Metro. But this image of Hanuman with the gleaming Metro zipping past it, aptly represented the old as well as the modern character of Delhi,” says the filmmaker.

Mehra, born and brought up in Delhi, was perhaps the first filmmaker to use the image in his 2009 movie, Delhi-6.The Hanuman statue with Metro has since become a defining landmark of the city, regularly featuring in movies and books. It has almost replaced India Gate and Qutab Minar as a symbol of contemporary Delhi in popular culture.

In fact, there is hardly a movie set in Delhi where the Hanuman-by-Metro does not feature. Some of the movies in which the statue has been shown include Band Baaja Baaraat, Vicky Donor, Paa, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, etc.

The statue has been in the news this past week after the Delhi High Court, anguished over illegal constructions in the Capital, asked the authorities if the 108-foot statue can be “airlifted” to remove the encroachments — and the ease consequent traffic jams in the area. “Consider if the statue can be airlifted. Speak to the Lieutenant Governor… In the US, entire skyscrapers are shifted as a whole,” the high court bench said.

The court’s query has left Om Prakash Giri, the mahant of the Hanuman Temple in Jhandewalan a worried man. It’s 5pm and he is discussing the matter with his associates in his first-floor plush office inside the temple. The air-conditioned chamber has an upholstered chair, a large wooden desk with a glass panel over it, a computer and a large-screen Led TV. The mahant is trying to avoid the media and has fielded one of the senior temple priests to take questions from TV crews that have descended on the temple .

“ You see , the foundations of the statue are 40 feet deep so it is not possible to airlift it, ” says Giri, dressed nattily in saffron kurta, white pyjamas and dark grey jacket. Behind him is the picture of his father, Mahant Nagababa Sevagir Maharaj, who, he says, had a vision of Lord Hanuman and decided to build a grand statue. The work on the statue, he says, began in 1994 and was completed in 1997.

The Hanuman statue was built in 1997, according to the temple priest. (Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo)

“Babaji had engaged top statue makers from all over the country. The statue is the glory of Delhi, so many writers and filmmakers approach me wanting to know about it,” says Giri. Inside the temple one can hear the rattle of the Metro frequently moving past it.

While Giri’s concerns have more to do with faith than the fame the statue has brought to the city, many believe, Hanuman-by-Metro, today dominate the visual image of the city, since it conjures up contemporary Delhi like no other landmark.

“This image evocatively represents the coexistence of traditional and the modern in the city,” says Dinesh Khanna, a well- known photographer, who was brought up in Karol Bagh.

“It has also become a kind of gateway to west Delhi,” says Khanna.

Pramod Kapoor, founder and publisher of Roli Books, who used the image of the Hanuman statue in a photo book, Delhi Then & Now, in 2008 , says he did not imagine that the image of Hanuman juxtaposed with the Metro would come to symbolise Delhi. “This image beautifully brings out how modernity and religion go hand in hand in this fast growing city,” says Kapoor.

Talking of the relationship between Metro and Hanuman, Sanjay Sharma, a teacher, who lives in Janakpuri, says that Metro is driving the fame of the Hanuman statue. He says that he first realised the size of the statue only after he saw it from a Metro coach in 2006. “I used to drive past it on my bike and in my car, but never realised its height. Probably, while driving past it I never got an opportunity to look all the way up,” says Sharma.

“But one day I saw Hanuman statue from the Metro and realised how it dwarfs the train moving along it on the elevated line,” the teacher says.

Ravi Sarin, a line producer, who organizes most of the Bollowood shoots in Delhi, says that till the 1990s filmmakers would request him to organise at India Gate and Rajpath that symbolized Delhi as the city of power. But now they often asks him to arrange a shoot at the Hanuman statute. “ I think, it also has to do with the fact that unlike India Gate, Karol Bagh area, where the statute is located, also symbolises the living and breathing Delhi, with the Metro signifying its march into the future.”

The Hanuman statue has also opened business opportunities for people like Anup Nayyar, who owns Hotel Ridge Maidens in Karol Bagh. The hotel’s terrace provides a clear long view of the statue and Metro, and hence it is has been a favourite spot for filmmakers and photographers looking to capture both in a single frame. The crew of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he says, stayed in his hotel and used the terrace to capture the iconic image. “There are too many requests and, so we charge for allowing people to use our terrace for shoots,” says Nayyar. The charge for the shoot is Rs 5,100 for half an hour.

Landmarks help people make sense of sprawling cities both in terms of its geography and culture. Talking of Bollywood’s role in creating one of Delhi’s most iconic contemporary landmarks, Mehra says: “I do not think movies can make landmarks, they can only discover them.”

But R Balki, the director of Paa, which also has a scene showing the statue, has a different opinion. “Most filmmakers primarily go to Jhandewalan because it is a convenient location to shoot the Metro. The Hanuman statue just provides an interesting background,” says Balki.

First Published: Nov 27, 2017 18:14 IST