The statues of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were recently unveiled in India’s Parliament House. They were both conceived in Puducherry’s Aurodhan art gallery
On August 23rd, 2006, Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Vice President of India, and Shri Somnath Chatter-jee, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, India's lower House of Parliament, unveiled the statues of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Auro-bindo in Parliament House. The occasion was graced by the presence of many ministers and parliamentarians, both from the ruling coalition as well as from the opposition.
“Spiritual Power,” ran the headline of one national newspaper, reporting on the occasion. “A nation honours itself when it honours those who fought for its greatness,” commented another one. Both indicated that India has not only a spiritual heritage but also a spiritual destiny. Manoj Dasgupta, the managing trustee of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, summed it up eloquently “We are glad that his statue has been installed in Parliament House and hope that it will be a constant remin-der of the great spiritual destiny of India and the role all Indians need to play in it.” For India 's destiny, according to Sri Aurobindo, is not just to become a nation like many others, but to be the leader in a new world and spiritualise the human race. The Mother, in a conversation in 1954, had said it more specifically: “The future of India is very clear. India is the Guru of the world. The future structure of the world depends on India . India is the living soul. India is incarnating the spiritual knowledge in the world. The Government of India ought to recognize this significance of India in this sphere and plan their action accordingly.”
The man behind the statues is Lalit Verma, the owner of the Aurodhan art gallery in Puducherry. “Sri Aurobindo is my guru and friend, and I have a deep respect for Vivekanda,” he says. “To see their statues in the most important entrance of the Indian Parliament House is a signal that the country, after 56 years, has acknowledged the values they represent and the spiritual mission they initiated.”
He adds: “The Prime Minister presented shawls to the sculptors of the statues as a mark of respect. When he put the shawl around my shoulders, I was very much moved. For I inwardly felt that it was a sign that the Government of India would protect and support Sri Aurobindo's organisations – the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville – against the forces that come to disturb them.”
The story of the statues began over 10 years ago when Jayantilal Prakash, the former head of the Sri Aurobindo Archives, asked Lalit to make two busts of Sri Aurobindo: one for Kings College in Cambridge where Sri Aurobindo had studied, the other for the Nehru Centre in London . At that time the High Commissioner for India in the U.K. was Dr. L. M. Singhvi, who later became Member of Parliament, and also served on the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation.
“At some point in time I learned that a Parliamentary Committee was considering placing larger than life statues of Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda in the Parliament House,” says Lalit. “On the advice of Dr. Singhvi they came to Puducherry and asked if I could take up the work. I replied that I could do a sketch of Swami Vivekananda's statue, but not the mould making or the casting. This was later done by another sculptor, Shri C. D. Dakshinamoorthy. I also said that I would take up the assignment of Sri Aurobindo's statue only if I found that it would come out well. For I was not really sure if I was up to the task. They wanted a statue of Sri Aurobindo as a yogi and sage, based on the well-known photos which the French photographer Cartier Bresson had taken in April 1950, a few months before Sri Aurobindo's passing. But The Mother has often said that it is near impossible to catch something true of Sri Aurobindo in paintings or sculptures. So I doubted I was up to it.”
The work took almost 3 years. Lalit, as team leader, did the drawings and the sketches. “There were moments when I was ready to give up,” he says. “Our ideal was to create a statue of Sri Aurobindo that would not only resemble him and but also convey something of his presence. I often felt it was impossible.” But he struggled on, aware of the fact that if he didn't deliver, someone else would get the assignment and might botch the job. “The work had become a responsibility. Then I noticed something interesting: all along, while doing the job, I felt fantastic. I had the feeling that the work was being done through me.”
The main difficulty was to imagine how Sri Aurobindo would appear standing up. Cartier Bresson's photos are all of Sri Aurobindo in a sitting position. The only photos of him standing are from before 1915. Using measurements of Sri Aurobindo's body, taken by one of the old sadhaks in the 1940s, Lalit made many sketches. “One of them was particularly good. I sent it to the Parliamentary Committee. I heard afterwards that one of its members almost got into a trance gazing at it. They gave the order. I replied that I would do my best, but that the statue would not be released until I had the sanction of someone who had seen Sri Aurobindo.” That someone was Nirodbaran, who occasionally would come to check the progress of the work and give advice. “We first worked with small scale models. Then, when we had finished the mould for the final statue, he came again. He looked intently at the mould, and then said ‘Yes, there is no doubt that this is Sri Aurobindo.' I heaved a sigh of relief. Then we cast it in bronze,” says Lalit.
Both statues, 82-inches (2.08 metres) tall, have been designed to be seen from a distance of 10 to 12 metres. Will other statues be added to their commanding presence in the Entrance Hall? Says Lalit: “I was told there won't be any, and that a bill to that effect has been passed. For who could stand in their presence?”
The mould for the statue, meanwhile, stands in a corner of the Aurodhan Gardens at Kuruchikup-pam in Puducherry. More casts of the statue can, and, in fact, have been made. “One has been installed in the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan in Calcutta , the others are still waiting,” says Lalit. And with a smile he adds, “Something for Auroville?”
Perhaps for Savitri Bhavan?