Statues: Respect and Sacrilege

Some of these symbolic figures can be a source of peace, harmony and brotherhood
Statues: Respect and Sacrilege

There are tens of thousands if not millions of statues allover the world — of gods, goddesses, religious personalities, princes,scholars, scientists, politicians, and sometimes of sportsmen or even ordinaryhuman beings. At times these personalities are standing with dignity or elsesitting peacefully, blessing onlookers.

But at other times, as in the case of kings or warriors withswords or flags in one hand and the reins of the horse on which they aresitting in the other, they incite followers to battle. One finds sculptures ofpersonalities such as Jeanne d'Arc, generals, military men, warriors and otherswhose activities comprise torture, destruction, imposition of fear, pain andmisery upon poor helpless people who have done them no harm—like Genghis Khan,Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hannibal, Julius Cesar, and leaders fromcountless so-called empires–immortalized and worshipped in effigies in manyparts of the world.

I am not mentioning statues of religious leaders — Jesus orBuddha or dozens of Indian gods and goddesses — Krishna, Ram, Hanuman, Shiva,Parvati, Durga, Guru Nanak, Lord Mahavir and others. Countless number of thesealready exists in churches, temples, gurdwaras and Pagodas etc and new ones arebeing built worldwide regularly. Recently I had the opportunity of seeing thebeautiful   Peace Pagoda in the northEast Indian town Darjeeling that was built by Japanese aid. It has severalstatues of Lord Buddha blessing the onlookers from his new spiritual abode.

Although there are millions of large sized or mini statuesin some museums, it is difficult to estimate which personality has the largestnumber of statues built to glorify them. Several statues of politicians such asde Gaulle or Churchill or many US Presidents or Nehru or Stalin or Lenin or Maohave been constructed but these are generally located in the country to whichthese outstanding men belong. There are statues of Spanish kings includingCarlos I who was crowned King of Spain in 1516; the kingdom of Portugal started in 1139 and ended in 1932 withManuel  II who is remembered by a grandstatue.

Similarly, one will find some statues of Shakespeare orNewton in England. But some personalities are glorified in several countries ofthe world — Queen Victoria or King George, Queen Elizabeth in countries —India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and others from which the Britishflag never was pulled down. Statues of other personalities such as Lenin andMarx are also located in several countries, and Nelson Mandela is also rememberedthroughout the world.

Mahatma Gandhi is another giant icon whose statues or bustsare found all over the world and new ones are being built in different placesincluding those where he was ridiculed or persecuted. Obviously statue buildingis big business. Recently a tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was builtin Gujarat and inaugurated by the Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2018; it isclaimed that at 240 m in height, it is the tallest statue in the world.

Although statues are built out of respect and love, thereare also a few instances of breaking down or committing other forms ofsacrilege. Several were destroyed in Syria. One of the most reprehensibledestruction was that of the Bamiyan statue of Buddha in Afghanistan that hadbeen chiseled with great care and dedication in the nearby rock and destroyedby dynamite by the Taliban in 2001. Other statues have also been destroyed.

The Easter Sunday bombings of churches and some luxuryhotels in Sri Lanka by IS (Islamic State) agents have claimed about 320 livesand many more injured. It is claimed that that these acts are in retaliation ofthe recent bombings of mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand.

Recently some statues of Mahatma Gandhi claiming that he wasracist in his behaviour were pulled down in Ghana. A few others have also beendestroyed or pulled down in Hyderabad and a few other places in India for hisbeliefs or actions.

Similarly, other monuments belonging to some illustriouspeople have been damaged or destroyed for political or ideological reasons. Onewishes to know the factors behind such acts of sacrilege and vandalism. Ifthere are problems or injustice or any other form of victimisation, it isbetter to talk about it and to protest against it as was done by Gandhi and otherstatesmen rather than committing acts of sacrilege against figures made ofbrick or stone.

Some of these symbolic figures can be a source of peace,harmony and brotherhood in our complex world. They need to be admired andprotected, not destroyed or damaged.

Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network forPeace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peaceresearcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.

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