The Temple Entry Proclamation by Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, was a landmark in modern Kerala history. On November 12, 1936, the temples maintained by the Travancore Devaswom were opened for all Hindu devotees, irrespective of their caste and community.
The citizens of Travancore, as a token of their gratitude towards the ruler for declaring the epoch-making proclamation, insisted on erecting a suitable memorial to commemorate the event. A public meeting presided over by Changanasherry K. Parameswaran Pillai came up with the resolution to install a bronze statue of the King in the ‘Iron Villa Grounds’ within the Fort, “ opposite to His Highnesses ancestral Home and in close proximity to the temple of Sri Padmanabha ”. A general committee and working committee were organised to execute the resolution.
The man who was commissioned to make the statue was none other than Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury (b.1899-d.1975), the renowned artist and sculptor, who was the Director of the School of Arts and Crafts in Madras. Chowdhury’s sculptures and thematic compositions were known for its vigour and unique usage of Western techniques.
Chowdhury, after he made a thorough study of his ‘subject’, fashioned a plaster model of the statue to be sent to Italy for casting. “My uncle P. Nadeshan, a renowned photographer and sculptor was the disciple of Chowdhury,” recalls K. Hari, a descendant of the ivory crafts guild in the city.
“Chowdhury had an assistant who helped him with the work of the Chithira Tirunal statue. One day, the assistant boasted to his friends that he was the one who modelled the royal robe. News spread and it reached the master’s ears too. The following day, the first thing the master did was to take a chisel and hammer and strike off the robe ‘modelled’ by his assistant,” Hari shares an anecdote that he heard from Nadeshan.
The finished bronze statue cast in Italy reached Bombay and from there it was brought to Alappuzha in 1940. A bronze bas relief on the pedestal, depicting the entry of Harijans into temples was also crafted by Chowdhury. The foundation stone for the pedestal was laid in 1939 by the Maharaja of Bikaner. The records mention that Chowdhury himself came down from Madras to advice on the construction of the pedestal. The statue was unveiled in 1940 by the Maharaja Rana of Dholpur in a grand function held at the Iron Villa Grounds. ‘The Temple Entry Proclamation Memorial Souvenir’ states: “… The statue, in its heroic proportions delineates with artistic idealism, the great qualities of the Royal mind whence emanated the Proclamation, besides the commanding physical appearance of His Highness the Maharaja ”, an apt appraisal for an outstanding work.
A movie picture of the whole proceedings was made and the committee handed over to the Government, a six-foot lace garland to adorn the statue on special occasions.
The majestic statue had adorned one of the most important historic urban squares in the city. During post-Independence period the sprawling Iron Villa Ground (now renamed as Pattom Thanu Pillai Park) transformed into a public park and later lost its frontage for parking bay. Today, Chowdhury’s masterpiece remains hidden in a non-descript corner of the park, its gaze fixed to eternity.
[The author is a conservation architect and history buff]