For decades, it has stood at the heart of Bhubaneswar as the city’s most identifiable symbol. The majestic 18ftx15ft ‘warrior horse’ statue, a replica of the Odisha state emblem, was made by sculptor extraordinaire Padma Vibhushan Raghunath Mohapatra and installed at the Master Canteen square at the centre of the city in 1988. Facing the Bhubaneswar railway station on one side and the state assembly on the other, the magnificent work of art on Mahatma Gandhi Road is hard to miss for anyone passing by this busiest thoroughfare in the capital city. The sculpture is now at the centre of a raging row over its proposed shifting to the Raj Bhavan square to facilitate ongoing work on the Smart City project.
Conservationists, heritage lovers and other citizens have opposed the move tooth and nail, saying it would be an act of sacrilege. “Already there are signs of decay, with algae growing all over the sculpture due to years of neglect and lack of maintenance. Shifting it at this stage may cause irreparable damage,” says eminent sculptor Sudarshan Sahu. Manoranjan Das, a resident of the city for the past 50 years, believes there must be a way to go ahead with development work related to the Smart City project without shifting it. “Why can’t they just leave it alone? It is to Bhubaneswar what the Gateway of India is to Mumbai,” he says.
The culture department, which has granted permission to the Bhubaneswar Development Authority to engage experts for the proposed shifting, has its own reason to explain the shifting. “Since there are plans to construct a multi-modal hub and a smart Janpath at the Master Canteen square, the sculpture would lose its visibility if it remains at its present location. It is being shifted to the Raj Bhavan square where it would get better visibility,” says Ranjan Das, director of culture.
But there are few buyers for the culture department’s rationale. Heritage lovers point to several instances across the country where development plans have been changed to protect iconic monuments and heritage sites. With both the BJP and the Congress jumping on to the ‘no shifting’ bandwagon, it would be tough for the state government to go ahead with the shifting.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar