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Statues of the Tamil poet, nationalist and freedom-fighter Subramania Bharati (1882-1921), or Bharatiyar as he is known to Tamils, have been erected in many parts of India as well as abroad. Barring a couple, most of these statues are stereotypical, particularly when it comes to the expression of the poet, depicted with a stern piercing gaze in an unsmiling visage.
As with other public figures, when several sculptors recreate a particular portrait, it becomes the public face of that person and that has been the case with Bharatiyar too.
Hence when renowned sculptor G. Chandrasekaran (popularly known as Chandru) was approached to create a six-foot bronze statue of Bharatiyar, he first wanted to break the stereotype and reimagine the iconic poet.
It took almost a year for Chandru to finish the sculpture of an older, more humane, almost pensive Bharati, which will be installed at Madurai Kamaraj University in a couple of months.
“It is not easy to break a conventional image of a known personality through a statue or a painting. You need to justify your actions, logically as well as aesthetically. At the same time, it should not affect my freedom as well. So I studied the personality of Bharati — as a poet, freedom-fighter and social activist and as a human being — in depth,” said Chandru, former principal of the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai. The deeper he went into the world of Subramania Bharati, the more Chandru realised the realities associated with the poet.
“If you give me a photograph of a person and ask me to create a sculpture, I will do it. But Bharati was different. The poet Bharati was different from the social activist Bharati. You can see yet another Bharati as a human being. I wanted these three elements to reflect in the sculpture that I made,” he said.
Like most Tamils, Chandru grew up listening to the poems of Bharathiyar but he knew that was not enough for him to sculpt the poet anew. So he started collecting photographs and portraits from libraries and old studios.
“Bharati had a frail and lean physique. He had a pair of thin legs. It is said that actor Sivaji Ganesan was asked to reduce his weight to play the role of Bharati in a movie. It was not possible for him, as he was also acting in other movies simultaneously,” said Chandru.
Like most Tamils, Chandru grew up listening to the poems of Bharatiyar but he knew that was not enough for him to sculpt the poet anew. So he started collecting photographs and portraits from libraries and old studios
“My idea was to create the real Subramania Bharati without exaggerations and adjectives,” he explained.
Apart from reading about the poet, Chandru also studied the statues of Bharathiyar that other sculptors had made over the years, some of which, he pointed out, were not quite accurate.
“I found some earlier sculptures of Bharati in which he was holding a stick in his hand. But Bharati never used a stick in his life. A photograph in which he was holding one was accidental. He walked into the studio and found a walking stick in the corner. He just held it and then posed for the photograph,” said Chandru.
However, for his statue, Chandru wanted to use a stick. “I have used the stick to provide a new dimension to Bharati’s personality. After sculpting the poet and social activist part, I wanted to express another side of his personality. He is guarding us by holding a stick in his hand. And that’s the complete Subramania Bharati for you,” he declared.
When Chandru did the miniature version, he found that the stick was not visible. “I could immediately change the angle of holding the stick. Otherwise, it could not have been visible in the life-size version,” says Chandru
When Chandru did the miniature version, he found that the stick was not visible. “I could immediately change the angle of holding the stick. Otherwise, it could not have been visible in the life-size version,” he added.
Over the years, Chandru has made many statues of Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Amdbedkar. His life-size statue of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin in Tirunelveli is a great piece of art. In 2019, in a tribute to the renowned epigraphist, Chandru made a life-size bronze bust of the late Iravatham Mahadevan. The master sculptor was inspired by the dedicated scholar’s work in deciphering the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and interpretation of the seals and symbols of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC).
Since 2020, the master sculptor has been working on an open museum, with 600 busts of reformers, scholars and activists who have contributed to enrich the social and cultural life of Tamils . Called “Guruvanam”, the four-and-a-half-acre open museum is situated on the banks of the Thamirabarani river in Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district.
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