Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 21, March 1-15, 2021
King George Statue. Picture courtesy: Ramanujar Moulana.
How many statues/busts would a King Emperor need in one city? Apparently the sky was the limit. And in this we must agree that he was no different from many later day politicians who cannot have enough of streets named after them, statues in practically every nook and cranny and other memorials, not to forget the countless posters and hoardings hailing them all the time. Perhaps King George V was the first in a long line of rulers who wanted to immortalise themselves. It is also quite likely that he knew nothing about these replicas of himself. The same was said about a former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who was greeted with endless cut-outs and banners each time the personality went on a visit. The followers were to blame.
Whatever be the reason and whoever be the cause, there were no less than five (or maybe six or even seven) statues for King George V, in and around the city of Madras. Of these, just one survives in the location in which it was installed. Another is now in the grounds of the Government Museum while others have simply vanished. Let us however trace each of these statues in chronological order.
The first was installed so long ago that memories of it are hazy at best and indeed, it is quite likely that there was no such statue at all. All we know is that shortly after the 1905 visit of King George V to Madras when he was Prince of Wales, a statue/bust of his was unveiled inside the Flower Bazaar Police Station. As to what happened to it we have no clue. And why was it unveiled in such a location? After all those were days when Indians rejoiced in the Pax Britannica and there was no danger to such a statue/bust. One of the reasons why there are so many doubts about this first statue/bust is the installation within a few years of the second and only surviving statue to George V in the city – the one that stands behind the Flower Bazaar Police Station. Were these two one and the same? Did the statue originally stand inside the police station and later was shifted out?
For the record, the second statue, a fine bronze depicting George V as King Emperor and in coronation robes was sculpted by Sir Bertram Mackennal. It was funded by the Gujarati magnate Kushaldoss Chaturbhujadoss on behalf of the citizens of Madras, ostensibly in gratitude for the King Emperor acquiescing in the prayer that Black Town be renamed George Town. That decision had been taken in 1906. The statue it would appear was sculpted post the coronation in 1911. Holding the orb and the sceptre, His Majesty still stands, watching the goings on in George Town. During political rallies his sceptre and (horrors!) crown come in handy for hanging bunting. The pedestal is forever covered with posters. If the King were to glance down, he would witness a forever changing kaleidoscope around his pedestal. In the morning it is a convenient urinal, during the day it watches over countless parked two wheelers, in the evening it is where the local drunks rest and finally at night it is a convenient place for the homeless to sleep on.
The third was a singularly ugly bust (not that the King was any eye candy) all pop-eyed and glaring, sculpted by M.S. Nagappa, which stood in the middle of Panagal Park. It was unveiled in 1934 by Sir Mohammed Usman, a noted British sympathiser, when he was acting Governor of Madras. In what always seemed to be an irony to me, the bust occupied centre space in the park while the statue of the Raja of Panagal after whom the place was named, was relegated to the rear. Around ten years ago, the bust which by then lacked a nose vanished and the Raja of Panagal was moved to his rightful location where he still stands though the beautiful brown hue of the statue is now all painted over in gold, blue, black and several other colours. That is local aesthetics for you.
An almost identical statue to the one behind Flower Bazaar stood for years outside gate 10 of the Madras harbour and facing the War Memorial. This was of a much later vintage for it was sculpted by M.S. Nagappa in 1935 to commemorate the silver jubilee of the King’s accession. The unveiling of this statue may not have witnessed the same level of adulation as the earlier one, for by 1935 India had changed quite a bit. Around ten years ago I visited Nagappa’s studio on Mount Road and saw the cast from which this statue was made. His nephew informed me that it had been sent over from England for Nagappa to execute the final bronze. This statue, which was well cared for was finally removed to the Government Musuem grounds when it was found to be standing right in the way of the proposed Maduravoyal-Harbour elevated corridor. I can still recall a newspaper correspondent calling and asking if Mr Muthiah or I would protest. I simply told him that asking for the protection of a colonial ruler’s statue is unthinkable. Anyway, it is well cared for in the museum and there King George V keeps company with his father Edward VII, uprooted from outside Government/Omandurar Estate.
And now I come to two other statues of King George V of which we have no information. The traveller HA Newell records the presence of one near the Guindy railway station from where the road took a sharp turn to St Thomas Mount. This area has now changed considerably owing to flyovers and the metro and so the exact location is difficult to pinpoint. In another work of his titled Madras, the Birth Place of British India, the same author is more specific – it was under a terracotta-coloured pavilion on the road south after he crossed Marmalong (now Maraimalai Adigal) Bridge. Somerset Playne in his Southern India dated 1915 gives us more details – this was a life-size statue and stood near the Guindy Lodge, present day Raj Bhavan. It was funded by T. Namberumal Chetty the builder baron though who sculpted it is not known. Was it made of marble or was it of bronze? There are no surviving photographs and as to what happened to this statue is also quite a mystery. Technically of course, Guindy was not in Madras in the early 1900s, falling as it did within Saidapet. The statue if it survives, must therefore be in some district museum.
The last in this set was in Chingleput and so it too was not exactly within city limits. Once again donated by T. Namberumal Chetty to commemorate the Imperial Coronation Darbar in Delhi of 1911, it was a bust. Somerset Playne records that it came along with seven cupolas though he does not say how they were arranged around or over the bust. By the 1930s it would appear that both the statue in Guindy and the bust in Chingleput had been removed for they do not appear in any list of public monuments and statues of that period. What is however interesting is that a 1934 record states that there was a bust to King George V inside the Council Chamber in Fort St George. This is almost certainly the one that is now in Fort Museum, positioned next to and dwarfed completely by the huge statue of Lord Cornwallis.
I began this article with five or may be six but now I realise that there were probably seven. To summarise we have: