You can only gasp, speechless at the towering statue of the Iron Man, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, as he seems to step purposefully towards Sardar Sarovar Dam. Sculptor Ram V Sutar has skillfully captured in bronze the powerful personality Sardar Patel was renowned for. To commemorate the man who successfully brought in the princely states into the Union of India with sagacity, statesmanship & craft, the Statue of Unity honors the Sardar not a day too late, as many believe, unfairly denied prime minister ship, of independent India.
For a country with a legacy of awe-inspiring monuments, we have but two, post-Independence. Lotus Temple, & Akshardham Temple, both in Delhi. Modern architecture however has found place, in our cities & townships. Some beautiful no doubt, but most soulless.The potential however for this art is rich & not fully explored in this country. It can be questioned if this is due to an inherent timidity or simply a lack of imagination.
However, the ease with which architecture can embrace sublime aesthetics makes it great for generating wonder & that is where we return to the importance of the Statue of Unity. The project was first announced on 7th October 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. To establish a valuable emotional connect, he wanted the farmers involved in what he felt was ‘the biggest ever project on tribal land’. The iron required was collected from farmers in villages all around India in the form of used farming implements. The drive was named Statue of Unity Movement which sadly wasn’t given much coverage in our media. However, those who worked with their hands & used iron tools knew from word of mouth that this donation, no matter how humble, was towards an important venture. The three-month long campaign collected 5000 tons of the metal.
The Statue of Unity Movement had also organized Suraaj, a petition where people wrote their ideas for good governance. It was signed by an estimated 20 million people making it the world’s largest petition. A Run For Unity Marathon was held in December 2015 in several places throughout India.The participation of the ordinary Indian, gave him a stake in the monument and made it truly a citizen’s endeavor.
Not to say that they weren’t any contentious issues in the course of planning. Some local people opposed the acquisition of land for tourism infrastructure. They claimed the area named after a deity was of religious importance. Inhabitants of neighboring districts opposed the construction of the statue demanding back land that had been once acquired for the dam. They also opposed the construction of Garudeshwar Causeway. The Government of Gujarat accepted most of their demands in the interest of the larger project.
At double the height of the Statue of Liberty, New York & five times that of Christ The Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, this 182-meter tall engineering marvel took a commendable 33 months to build by Larsen & Toubro at the cost of nearly Rs.3000 crore. On a river island Sadhu Bet, The Statue of Unity is 3.5 kilometers into the river, is connected by a bridge to the mainland.
High speed passenger elevators in the core of the statue can take up 200 visitors at a time to a viewing gallery to enjoy a panoramic view of the Narmada River & the surrounding Satputra & Vindhyachal hills. A three-star hotel, a museum, an audio-visual gallery, convention halls, a memorial garden will offer a complete tourist destination experience. Soon a highway from Kevadia town will make a smooth ride possible. Boat trips, enjoying the waters of the Narmada are also in the ambit.
Imagine the scope of work, the employment generated on this 20,000 square meter project. Architects, town planners, civil engineers, supervisors, contractors, masons, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, horticulturists & now hotel employees, guides, administrators, artefact shops, public transportation basically an entire ecosystem & infrastructure for tourism has been developed. Just going by the number of domestic tourists that visit the Lotus Temple (4 million annually) & Akshardham (9 million annually), The Statue of Unity in its uniqueness & magnitude besides being a tribute to one of India’s Great is an investment that can only expect stupendous returns. At a social & cultural level, iconic architecture is inspiring. Innovation, imagination & taking risks represents the aspirations of our society today. It is believed by the greats of design & architecture that size, appearance, location & form are not governed by physical factors alone but by cultural ideas.
It is not a coincidence thus, that with the Statue of Unity, we seek to know more of our history, our heroes, the significance of the roles they played in important decisions that affect us to this day. It is also an assertion of our confidence, of how we see ourselves & would like to be perceived. Every culture, civilization, a time in history has a quest to leave its imprint & who better reflects Independent India – The Unifier, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
….And let us also keep in mind that every audacious piece of architecture, every great monument through the ages, in its time, had its naysayers. The ones who protested, the ones who criticized, the ones who delayed the implementation, the ones who scoffed….
Do we even remember their names today when we admire across the world, holding our breath in amazement & feeling the strength of historical heritage, touching, holding beauty left behind by a person who took the wager & stood by his daring idea?