Asianet News Dialogues with Arun Yogiraj, the sculptor behind the Netaji statue at India Gate
"Challenging..." that's how Mysore-based sculptor Arun Yogiraj termed the assignment of carving the 28-feet statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Yogiraj shared his journey to becoming one of India's finest stone sculptors with Asianet News Network in a special edition of 'Dialogues'
"It still feels like a dream; a beautiful dream," says Arun Yogiraj, whose statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kartavya Path on September 8. Taking part in Asianet News Network's special series 'Dialogues', the Mysuru-based sculptor termed it as the best work ever.
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Recollecting his journey to becoming one of the finest sculptors in the country, Arun said: "I grew up sculpting with my father since the age of 11. I was already playing with stones when I was four or five years old. After completing my breakfast, I used to go and play with stones, hammers and chisels. But I started taking art more seriously at the age of seven. My education and sculpting training was going together. I completed my MBA and joined a private company in Bengaluru. It was then that I started missing my work."
"I realised what I want. I requested my mother to let me quit the job and come back. She did not agree. She cried because she had seen my father working day and night, covered with sweat and dust. She did not want to see me like that. She wanted me to be in a white-collared job. I took me two years to convince her," he added.
'Timeline to make Adi Shankaracharya statue was only 20 days'
Prior to the Netaji statue, Arun is credited with carving out a 12-foot statue of Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath. When asked about he landed with the Adi Shankaracharya statue project, the sculptor said: "JSW had been tasked with the restoration work at Kedarnath, and they started finding artists across India. They have a base in Karnataka. One visual artist department head, Mohan Panchal from Hampi University, contacted me and told me to share some of my work photos. They did so in every state. I was selected from Karnataka."
"I was told to make a small statue of Adi Shankaracharya, and that was to be presented to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That was enough to motivate me. The timeline to make the Adi Shankaracharya statue from stone was only 20 days. I did my homework. I kept one photo of Adi Shankaracharya that everyone is familiar with. But that was just a 1-degree view. We had to create a 360-degree sculpture. The rest of the 359 degrees, I had to find out. I made the sculpture using Krishnashila, which is weather-proof as well as acid/chemical-proof. and presented it. Like that, they received eight models from across India. Finally, I received a call from the Prime Minister's Office that my model had been selected, and they need no correction in that model," he said.
"They are 12 Jyotirlingas. So they wanted the height of the Adi Shankaracharya statue to be 12 feet. Along with the pedestal, it would be 14 feet. I had made thousands of idols before the Adi Shankaracharya idol. My father never appreciated me. He would keep correcting me. That day, when I completed the Adi Shankaracharya idol, he started crying. He told me, 'you made my father's name'. That was the first blessing and appreciation I received from my father," he added.
'Every collective effort had to go in one way -- to find Netaji'
"Challenging..." that's how Arun termed his next major assignment, which was handed to him by the culture ministry. The sculptor was tasked with carving the 28-feet statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
"I was told to make a 28-feet monolithic statue in two months, which was very, very challenging. And the stone itself is like steel. When I saw the stone, it was 280 tonnes. I was shaped like two big bedrooms. In that short time, I need to make a beautiful sculpture. Making the biggest granite sculpture is not easy. You will not find any granite sculpture of this size in India. And granite demands more time. There was a lot of pressure. I decided let's make two months into six months; let me make one day into three days -- work three shifts a day. That was my initial plan," Arun said.
"I had only one shift of artisans with me. I invited artisans from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. They kept their projects aside and joined hands with me. The challenge for them was everything was in my mind. I had to simplify it and make them understand. Every collective effort had to go in one way -- to find Netaji. So it was very challenging," he added.
'The pressure was immense... I kept everything aside'
Detailing the effort that went into the Netaji statue, the sculptor said: "The stone handling was difficult. We needed very big cranes to lift the 280-ton stone. We needed to flip and rotate it. That itself took two days. If we take only two days to flip it, we lose two days of sculpting. I was very much worried about the finished product. I knew I could do it, but the finished product needed to be a class product. The whole world would be watching. He (Netaji) is our hero. I had to do justice to the opportunity that I had got."
"Initially, I tried different blades (on the stone), and it was not working. I thought of going to the secretary and discussing the issues with him. Then the Joint Secretary said that I should give it one more week and to remain patient. Even the weather was very harsh at that time. It was over 40 degrees Celsius. I am from Mysuru; the maximum here is 32-33 degrees. The pressure was mounting. So I kept everything aside -- that the Prime Minister would inaugurate it -- and told myself, 'I have done this before. I can do this. Just spend time with the stone'. I simplified it to that; I concentrated only on the work," he added.