The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dandi soil for Rajiv memorial

Chennai, Oct. 8: On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, 46, was killed around 10.20 pm by a human bomb at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, on the last leg of his election campaign.

Twelve years on, a Rajiv Gandhi Ninaivakam (memorial) symbolising his vision for a resurgent India has come up at the spot where he was killed. Until that May evening, Sriperumbudur was better known as the birthplace of Vaishnava philosopher Sri Ramanuja.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will dedicate the memorial to the nation on Friday at a function organised by the Union urban development ministry, to which Sonia Gandhi has been invited.

The memorial is set in lush green surroundings and located off the Chennai-Bangalore highway. It comprises seven imposing grey granite columns and seeks to capture the spirit and ideals of Rajiv, whose short stint in politics had raised a lot of expectations.

The columns, says former Union minister and state Congress leader Jayanthi Natarajan, stand in an ellipse and “represent the ideals embedded in Rajiv’s heart and mind”.

The pillars represent the ideals of dharma, satya, nyay, vigyan, tyag, shanti and samriddhi (development).

Each column towers 15 metres into the sky, has a diameter of 1.5 metres and is sculpted with “different swirling patterns of flowing waters, representing the sacred rivers of India”.

Each has a motif adorning it. The dharma column has a dharma chakra, the satya pillar a bodhi tree, the nyay column has an umbrella, a star adorns the vigyan pillar, the tyag pillar has the “flame of sacrifice”, the shanti column a lotus and the samriddhi pillar a nellu (bushel of grain).

Soil from areas steeped in history was used to lay the foundation for each column. It was brought in from places like Jallianwala Bagh and Dandi and even some obscure villages associated with deeds of valour and patriotism during the struggle for Independence. The soil was then washed in water brought in from various rivers.

Thousands attended the moving foundation ceremony on September 23, 1993.

The exact spot where Rajiv was killed is covered by a circular platform made of yellow Jaisalmer stone.

Hundreds of white champa flowers have been sculpted in white stone in a pattern that makes it seem as if Rajiv is being offered a floral tribute. A rock of red jasper has been carved into the platform at the place his head lay.

Behind it is a granite monolith from Kanakpura in Karnataka, bearing Rajiv’s portrait in stone inlay work. On the reverse is a citation in Hindi, Tamil and English.

To the south of the circular platform is a stone wall, intricately sculpted in bas-relief in the great Pallava sculptural tradition of Mamallapuram. Carved on it are Rajiv’s famous words: “I am young and I too have a dream….”

There are friezes depicting the Himalayas and Ganga as well as images of rural and urban India.

The entrance to the memorial is through a paved open court, dotted by trees, and leads to the spot where Rajiv alighted from his car that fateful night. A stone plaque there narrates the events of the night. Next to it is a stone pathway which “marks the route of his final steps as he walked down the road from which he would never return”. The tricolour - “the largest national flag to fly from a mast” - flutters from a flagpole nearby.

The function will bring memories rushing back for Natarajan, for she, along with Congress leader G.K. Moopanar, had helped identify Rajiv by the Lotto shoes that he was wearing.

Soon after the tragedy, the Centre had said it would build a national memorial at the spot. The memorial, whose final cost is yet to be worked out, has been conceptualised and designed under the aegis of the urban development ministry.

Kalam will honour the artists and sculptors who helped create the ninaivakam soon after unveiling the memorial.

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