Just for the record: An overview of some of the biggest and oddest ones set in India
Talking to record holders, you hear the same thing over and over — “I just wanted to go down for something; I wanted my name in the books”. The activity with which they eventually achieve this goal is often incidental. Yes, the man with the most tattoos loves tattoos and the stories they can tell. But the man with the largest number of toothpicks in his beard, the woman who spun the world’s largest hula hoop, or the couple with the record for the longest kiss, they just wanted to get into the books. Sometimes it’s even a pastiche of different talents, thrown together to create something that is unique largely because no one else thought of it — like the young man with the record of the most Rubik’s cubes solved while riding a unicycle.
To ask what motivates people to set or break records, one must ask what motivates them to begin with. There are generally three classifications within which all human motivation falls: — the needs for achievement, power, or belonging (affiliation).This is an old, established, and accepted theory of needs, put forth by David McClelland in the 1960s. The three needs are abbreviated nAch, nPow, and nAff.
In a world where the mountains have all been scaled and the remotest islands long discovered, a burning need for achievement can tap into a talent and see a person end up at the Olympics or, in the absence of a Phelpsian ability to snake through water, pick a random niche to own.
The truth is, there’s a record seeker in everyone. Each of us has awarded tags to ourselves in our heads, or out loud: most popular in the group, most attractive, one who can drink the rest under the table, one who gives the best gifts, or throws the best parties.
What tempers the drive to excel, in most humans, is the counter-balancing need to fit in. A person wants many of the same things as the rest of the species — comfort, companionship, something to nurture or care for — and so they make peace with being the one in the group who gets the most Facebook greetings on birthdays and don’t aim for the global tag of most tattooed man or woman.
It helps that there are other kinds of records. There are the high school yearbooks and slambooks where most people have a shot at being “most likely to” something or “best at” something else. There are the workplaces and communities, Rotary Clubs and associations that recognise and, from time to time, reward, the varied contributions of members.
It gets a bit more complicated when nations go after records of their own. What does it take to have the world’s biggest dam or tallest statue, and which one is the better goal? What happens to the way a country sees itself when it consistently has the world’s largest defence budget, or the smallest? What does it mean to the ecology when two powerful neighbours compete to drill higher and higher into the Himalayas?
Here’s a look at some of the records India, and Indians, have set in recent years, and the impacts they have had.
Statue of Unity
Tallest statue in the world, 182 metres (the height of a 45-storey building)
Almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, which inspired its name and location on the island of Sadhu-Bet in Gujarat, the Statue of Unity — a monument to Vallabhbhai Patel, the Gujarati freedom fighter and first deputy prime minister of India — overlooks the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river.
The dam was a dream of Patel’s. Completed in 2017, it supplies irrigation and hydroelectric power to four massive states — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Many would argue one is the kind of monument we need; and the other isn’t. Some would say we should think carefully about both. It’s tricky getting it just right in the world of monuments — that soft power tool used by people and nations to represent to the world who they are and what they would like to be remembered for.
The statue has made few people happy. It’s been talked about around the world, which was largely the point of its record-setting size. But much of the conversation has been about whether it can justify (in tourist numbers mostly) its massive ₹3,000 crore price tag; and its possible environmental impact.
It’s had a rocky start on the ground too. The top of the statue leaked rainwater during the monsoon and the monument had to be closed to visitors; a 30-ft-tall under-construction replica of the Rajasaurus narmadensis dinosaur, meant as an adjacent attraction, collapsed. The police are also investigating what happened to crores in missing revenue from ticket sales. Members of the on-site staff have been arrested.
The statue has drawn in crowds though. In the first year after its inauguration on October 31, 2018, it received a reported 15,000 people per day. And it has become a popular tourist destination.
The Statue of Unity could lose its status as tallest statue on the world to another such project in India, once the Shiv Smarak statue of the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji comes up on its own island in the Arabian Sea. Set to be built by the Maharashtra government, it’s expected to soar to 212 metres.
Atal Rohtang Tunnel
World’s longest high-altitude tunnel, 9.02 km
This is a project that aims to tell the world that India is prepared for anything. It’s a tunnel through a Himalayan mountain range, built with an eye on defence, and also ushering remote valleys that were frozen in time into the 21st century.
The engineering marvel, a term deservedly used almost as often as its name, was 20 years in the making. It took seven years just to drill through the Pir Panjal range, sometimes at the rate of half a metre a day.
The tunnel — a crucial transit way for the Indian Army, which can now use it to send supplies faster and more reliably to the India-China Line of Actual Control — also opens up the possibility of further such developments at Leh and Ladakh, further north.
Already, the Atal Tunnel has shrunk the distance between Lahaul and Manali from 43 km to 9 km, and travel time from 4 hours to just 10 minutes.
For local residents, it’s an all-weather game-changer. Lahaul need no longer be marooned in winter. Supplies and medical help are now a short ride away.
Increased traffic has brought the first robberies to the valleys, though. An entire village also tested positive for Covid-19. And drifts of litter — tourists’ plastic bottles and chips packets, mainly — now litter their once-pristine landscape. The benefit also needs to be weighed against the impact of the tunnel, and the others that may follow, on the highly sensitive ecology of the Himalayas.
Tiger census 2018
Largest camera trap wildlife survey; nearly 27,000 locations across 141 sites
The world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey was conducted over an area of 1.21 lakh sq km, spread across 20 states in India. It captured 35 million photographs, including 77,000 images of tigers and another 52,000 of leopards.
This was the most scientifically and statistically accurate effort ever made to estimate India’s tiger population — a vital number for a species that was so endangered as recently as the 1970s that a national project was launched to save it.
At the time, there were about 1,000 left in the wild. Happily, there are about 2,967 of the magnificent beasts living in the wild today — still a small number in itself, but good news in that it’s up from 1,411 in 2006. And an upward tick that’s a joy to the world, since the species found here (the Royal Bengal tiger) is found nowhere else on earth outside the subcontinent.
Before the camera traps, tiger surveys were conducted on foot, by forest officers and naturalists who studied pugmarks and scat to try and tell one tiger from the other. As the technology used has become more advanced, the number has steadily risen — partly because the counts are more accurate; partly because the populations are growing in clusters.
As with most things, there’s good news and bad. The bad news is that habitats are shrinking. India currently houses 75% of the world’s tigers (including the other species) in about 25% of the world’s tiger habitat space. Even within what’s left here at home, roads are being built through reserves, encroachers are constructing homes that range from huts to high-rises in buffer zones.
The surveys are conducted every four years, and, soon, the massive operation will begin all over again. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in association with various state forest departments and conservation NGOs, will send hundreds of forest officials, scientists and volunteers trekking across 100-sq-km grids, to plant motion-sensor camera traps wherever signs of a tiger’s presence can be detected.
It takes about 18 months just to finish the survey, study the findings, use software to match stripe patterns and extract a final count.
Meanwhile, as the gorgeous tiger attracts all the attention — alongside other popular beasts like the elephant and dolphin — we risk losing sight of the bigger picture. The pangolins, the little frogs, lizards and butterflies in the Western Ghats that are found nowhere else on earth. The reserves themselves, under constant attack as we try to maximise the resources they hold beneath the ground. Which is why, as they say, a little good news can be such a bad thing.
Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan
Cheapest successful mission to Mars
In September 2014, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) became the only space agency in the world to reach the Mars orbit on its first attempt. The real kicker was that it did it on a budget so small — $74 million — in a time frame so brief (18 months to design and deploy) that it established ISRO as the people to contact if you want to send something somewhere off the planet quickly, effectively and for as little as possible.
Only three other space agencies had made it into the Mars orbit when Mangalyaan hit its target — The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Russian and European space agencies.
After being launched on the indigenous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in November 2013, the Mars Orbiter journeyed on an immense but precise route that took it 666 million km in 300 days. Six years on, MOM is still in orbit, helping India map the red planet.
Sadly, because the mission was kept so light, it carried instruments to study surface features, morphology, minerals and atmosphere, but not enough to make complex scientific findings. The methane sensor was additionally found to contain a design flaw that kept it from contributing at all. Still, it got there — famously — for less than it took Alfonso Cuaron to make the film Gravity in the same year. Talk about a blockbuster.
Most bank accounts opened in one week (August 23 to 29, 2014)
18.1 million , under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana
It was one of the biggest schemes announced in the year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, a flagship financial inclusion programme launched during his first Independence Day speech.
Following the announcement on August 15, a drive that stretched from August 23 to 29 saw 18.1 million accounts opened across 36 banks in India. A year later, the number had swelled to 175 million accounts opened.
The idea was to provide at least one zero-balance account to every household in the country that wasn’t already in the banking system. Each account came with a debit card. This way, benefits from various employment and relief schemes could go directly to the recipients without getting lost or siphoned off along the otherwise complicated and indirect delivery chain.
There have been glitches. Among the estimated 400 million PMJDY accounts now in existence, some are fake, set up specifically to siphon off benefits; other have been opened by legitimate beneficiaries but are being operated by those misappropriating funds. But the accounts have helped the government reach out to the most vulnerable during the coronavirus disease pandemic, directly transferring cash.
World’s largest basketball lesson
Kevin Durant and 3,459 kids across 5 cities
It’s not the ball you’d expect so many Indian children to be carrying, but when the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s most valuable player is visiting, it’s got to go one-on-one. In 2017, NBA champion Kevin Durant conducted a record-breaking basketball clinic for India’s most talented basketball players. The Guinness record to beat was 627, previously held by Itzehoe, a town in Germany.
In its inaugural year, the NBA Academy was going to make a splash, in an effort to grow the sport in India. At their new elite basketball training centre in Delhi, they invited male and female students. In all, 3,459 kids joined in the largest basketball lesson ever, with 1,150 at the training session and the rest tuned in virtually while playing at multiple venues in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
To achieve the record, the lesson had to be for at least 30 minutes, with all children participating. The record was set. The Itzehoe record was broken.
As India becomes the market to be in, for everything from cellphones to edu-tech, there will likely be more efforts to woo the prime buying population of 15- to 34-year-olds, who number an estimated 422 million.
Over the past decade, exclusive universities have opened offsite campuses here or tied up with private universities in order to gain a toehold. Service providers from Netflix to Amazon have charted their futures with India in mind. Sports, from wrestling to football to basketball, have seen Indians join the top leagues globally and celebrities stop by in India as part of larger attempts to build a base.
In 2015, Satnam Singh became the first Indian-born player drafted into the NBA. In 2006, the Great Khali became the first Indian pro wrestler to be signed by WWE. More records could be in the making.
Most diamonds on a single ring (12,638)
By Harshit Bansal of Renani Jewels
Diamonds are 25-year-old Harshit Bansal’s best friend. Specifically, the 12,638 that he used to break the world record for most diamonds in a single ring. He calls the ring the Marigold.
Three years in the making, this ornament was designed to break the existing record, held by Kotti Srikanth of Hallmark Jewellers, another Indian business. That ring held a mere 7,801 diamonds, but it was part of what is now an unbroken chain of five Indian companies to set new records for most diamonds in a ring, over the space of five years.
It all began when the Jaipur-based Savio Jewellers placed 3,827 diamonds in a ring shaped like a peacock, in 2015, and became the first Indian company to break a record held by a Ukrainian company called the Lobortas Classic Jewellery House. The Lobortas House had placed 2,525 diamonds in ring called the Tsarevna Swan.
In 2018, the Savio Jewellers peacock ring record was merrily shattered by Surat-based Vishal and Khushbu Agarwal, with a lotus ring that held 6,690 diamonds.
The following year, Lakshikaa Jewellers set 7,777 diamonds in a ring inspired by the Lotus Temple. They held the record until October 2020, when Srikanth released his Hallmark flower. And now they can all sit back and sigh at Bansal’s Marigold, certified by Guinness on November 30.
Bansal was still in college when he first noticed this record race heating up. He started Renani Jewellers two years ago, but had begun conceptualising the ring even earlier, while studying jewellery design. He harboured an immense passion, he says, to create a record-breaking diamond ring himself.
“I just had to figure out a way to maximise the surface area to set the diamonds,” Bansal adds. “By 2018, the design was ready.”
The Marigold is made up of eight layers of asymmetrical petals. The diamonds weigh a total of 38.08 carats. “We sifted through lakhs of diamonds to find the perfect ones to fit the ring,” he says. “It feels good. My family is happy, and I think the whole market is happy!”
Each of the record-breaking rings costs crores. Bansal is even planning on mass manufacturing his design. It’s an interesting record for India to hold — reflective, at the same time, of the country’s intense love for bling, its willingness to go the extra mile to make a splash and its sense of newfound aspiration.
EXTREME SOLO EFFORTS
It’s been called a national pastime. Just last year, Indians set and broke a total of 80 Guinness records, amid applications to break thousands more. Guinness does not approve every record-setting idea, so, to accommodate the growing and rather amoebic ambitions, new record-registering books have come up in recent decades. While the Limca Book of Records just turned 30, there’s also the India Book of Records, which published its 16th edition in 2020, the Golden Book of Records and Wonder Book of Records (founded in 2010). Take a look at some of the most recent and most outrageous individual record-setters from India.
Longest hand-painted sari (9.38 metres)
Sindhu KP, 45, a costume designer from Malappuram, Kerala, used a traditional white-and-gold kasavu sari as her canvas during the lockdown, setting records in the India Book of Records, Asia Book of Records and others.
Sindhu owns and runs Sapthavarna, a textile studio that specialises in hand-painted saris. With business slow in the lockdown, she decided to paint a timeline of the tragedy unfolding around her on a sari.
She storyboarded 20 frames on how Covid-19 was spreading and 26 frames on how to keep it at bay. “I needed a longish sari to paint this on, and so I ordered one of the required length from a village of traditional weavers,” she says.
On the garment, she painted policemen and women, frontline workers, sanitation drives, with the virus lurking in and around the frames as it spread in maroon through her monochrome palette. She captured Kerala’s early success with taming the virus, and the state’s food distribution campaigns. There are even imagined scenes from inside a Covid treatment centre.
As we slowly learnt to live with the virus, Sindhu switches her brush to colour. The last image on the sari is that of a woman with the earth in her womb. “The idea is for us to take notice of the earth, which must be protected with the same amount of care we would a woman with child,” she says.
From conceptualisation to finishing touches took Sindhu 75 days. “Sooner or later, when things return to normal, I plan to showcase my sari at exhibitions and galleries, so people never forget,” she says.
28 records over four years
Prabhakar Reddy P
Nellore-based martial arts master Prabhakar Reddy, 37, has too many records to list. He’s been at it since 2017, breaking some gripping, life-endangering and noteworthy records.
One video that went viral recently was his attempt to smash the most coconuts around a person’s body, with a hammer, while blindfolded. Reddy trained for this record for five months, executing various exercises, including replicating the stunt with a wooden dummy.
Over the years, Reddy has set records for most walnuts smashed with a nunchaku in one minute (108; record set in 2017), most hits of a person with water balloons in one minute (48; set in 2018), most watermelons chopped in one minute while positioned on a person’s head (47; in 2019).
While many of his old records have been broken by other martial arts daredevils from around the world, Reddy has been busy breaking four more during the pandemic.
Along with the coconuts record, he broke the records for most bottle caps removed with the head in one minute (68), most watermelons chopped on one’s one stomach in one minute (38) and most watermelons chopped on someone else’s stomach in one minute (64).
“Making these records is my way of showing the world the power of pursuing physical and mental fitness, as well as showcasing India’s talent on the international stage,” he says.
The man with 17 records, highest number currently held by an Indian
A few years ago, somebody told Ramkumar Sarangpani, 41, that world records were meant only for superhumans to make and break. It was just the motivation he needed to pursue a childhood dream.
Since then, this UAE resident has set 18 Guinness world records, and still holds 17 of them — more than any other Indian currently.
Last year alone, he went on a record breaking spree and set 13 records — including one each for world’s smallest playing cards (three times smaller than a nano SIM card), largest sentence formed with bank notes (he wrote “GWR DAY 2020” (GWR for Guinness World Record) using 5,005 Re 1 notes), and longest line of plastic cards, which he arranged in a zig-zag manner to form the flag of his adopted country, UAE.
“I love working on themes that speak of ‘largest’ and the ‘longest’ simply because it connects with Dubai, a city dotted with massive structures,” Sarangpani says.
Sarangpani is a numismatist and collects bank notes too. Setting records, he says, has become a way to ease the stress of running his business.
He set his first record in 2017, with the world’s longest chain of magnets (50,201 cubes used to form a chain that stretched over 500 metres). It took him two hours to assemble.
Sarangpani has also created the world’s largest greeting card (made for the 49th UAE National Day) and its largest playing card (a King of Hearts 1,041 times the size of a regular playing card).
“I never even imagined in my wildest dreams, that I would be the highest world record holder of a country with 1.35 billion people,” he says.
His aim now is to break 100 world records in his lifetime. “Through my achievements I want to convey to everyone that it takes no superpowers to break records, just ingenuity, innovation and a determination to reach your goal,” he says.
World’s largest marker pen
It took three grown men to help Muhammed Dileef write with his world’s largest marker pen. As the Guinness record holder stumbled along, the word “INDIA” took shape on a whiteboard.
The pen is 9 ft long and 1 ft wide, made of PVC pipe, wood and sponge, among other materials. It took him two months to create, and he made the effort, or so he told the Guinness committee, with the aim of inspiring and motivating youngsters to read.
A political cartoonist, Dileef also runs a chain of galleries with spaces in Bengaluru, Kochi, Coimbatore, Madurai, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode and Doha in Qatar.
The record set in September 2020 is the latest of many. Dileef set his first record in the Limca Book of Records in 2011, with the world’s largest caricature — a drawing of Mahatma Gandhi spread over 3,333 sq ft.
In 2017 he entered the Arabian Book of World Records with a record for the largest ride-able bicycle — 9 metres long and 5.5 metres high. He’s also been working on the world’s largest hand-written Quran.
Largest laddoo in the world (29,465 kg)
PVVS Mallikharjuna Rao
You’ll break a tooth faster than you’ll break this record. When PVVS Mallikharjuna Rao, 54, who runs a sweetmeats business in Andhra Pradesh, set the Guinness record for the largest laddoo in the world in 2016, he pretty much sealed the deal.
Weighing close to 30 tonnes (almost three times the previous record) and costing over ₹50 lakh to make, it has a diameter of 12 ft.
This was not the first mega laddoo Rao had made, but it was the biggest. His obsession with giant sweetmeats started in 2011, when he decided to make a laddoo weighing 500 kg or over half a tonne and gift it to the Khairatabad Ganesh, one of the tallest Ganesh idols in Hyderabad.
He did this continuously for five years, with the weight of the laddoos increasing steadily each year. By 2015, his laddoo weighed more than 6.6 tonnes.
Each year, Rao would then take upon himself the arduous task of transporting the laddoo to the idol 450 km away, where it would be blessed and then distributed among devotees.
“It had to be transported slowly and carefully. I would follow in my car,” he says.
A sweetmeats shop next to Rao’s held the record for world’s largest laddoo all this time. A record it set in 2011 and broke four times in as many years. In 2015, the then record of a laddoo weighing over 8 tonnes was broken by the Arasuri Ambaji Mata Devasthan, a Gujarat-based temple trust. Their orb came in at over 11 tonnes.
Rao decided to outdo everyone in style. Over 100 people were involved in the preparations. For three days before they started constructing the laddoo in a giant bowl made of stainless steel mesh, they readied dizzying amounts of gram flour, almonds, cashews, sugar, cardamom and ghee. Traditional sweet makers laboured over giant vats, doing meticulous calculations at every step.
Assembly alone took over 24 hours, one giant tub of boondi at a time. Scaffolding around the bowl allowed workers to start compressing the ingredients in place with instruments that looked like giant potato mashers.
The Khairatabad association had informed Rao that they could not handle his mega laddoos anymore. So this one was taken to Vishakapatnam, where a 78-ft idol stood ready to receive it. In the following days, thousands of devotees would devour it. Rao’s record currently stands unbroken.
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