June 3, 2008 / 11:47 AM / 12 years ago

Mumbai to build Shivaji statue taller than Lady Liberty

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Mumbai plans to erect a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji off the city’s shore in the Arabian Sea that will be taller than the Statue of Liberty, government officials said on Tuesday.

An ariel view of the Mumbai seafront, August 1, 2007. Mumbai plans to erect a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji off the city's shore in the Arabian Sea that will be taller than the Statue of Liberty, government officials said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe/Files

India’s financial capital has consciously modelled its development on that of Shanghai, but its leaders admit to sometimes coveting aspects of Western metropolises too.

“It is true that the Statue of Liberty was perhaps an inspiration a little bit,” said Thanksy Thekkekara, the principal secretary of the government of Maharashtra.

While almost equally massive, the two statues may prove different in their symbolism.

Mumbai’s statue will depict Shivaji Bhosle, also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji, revered by many in western India as a Hindu warrior king who fought the Mughal empire and annexed land from its Muslim rulers in the 17th century.

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is also known as the Mother of Exiles after the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed in its base, and became a symbol of hope to the millions of immigrants who sailed by her to begin new lives in the United States.

Shivaji’s name, however, is now most closely linked with nativist political parties in Mumbai, who resist immigration into Mumbai by Indians from states other than Maharashtra.

“Every city has a major landmark,” said Thekkekara.

“Mumbai has the Gateway of India no doubt, but that is a remnant of the colonial past. A statue of Shivaji we thought of to best represent the culture of the state,” she told Reuters.

The Gateway of India, like many of Mumbai’s most distinctive landmarks, was built by India’s British rulers back when the city was still officially called Bombay.

A surge of nativist pride in the city has lead to an uneasy relationship with its colonial heritage. Bombay became Mumbai, the city’s name in Marathi, a local language.

Victoria Terminus, Mumbai’s main station, is now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The Prince of Wales Museum has become the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum.

And soon, if all goes to plan, Shivaji himself will dominate the horizon, astride a horse in the middle of the bay defined by the curve of Marine Drive, where thousands of Mumbaikars watch the sun go down each day over the Arabian Sea.

Mumbai’s planned statue is about 309 feet (94m) tall, including its pedestal, Thekkekara said. The Statue of Liberty measures 305 feet (93m) from the ground to the tip of her torch.

Vilasrao Deshmukh, the state’s chief minister, travelled by speedboat on Monday to inspect the patch of sea chosen for the statue, but other than the location little else has been finalised.

It might cost around 1 billion rupees ($25 million), or maybe more, Thekkekara said. It will probably be made of bronze. There may be a picnic spot and museum at the statue’s base, reachable by boat. It could be finished in two years or so “if things go smoothly,” Thekkekara said.

“We have to have it done exquisitely, with painstaking care, and that takes time,” she said.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime project for a state, even for a country. You don’t make a Statue of Liberty every day.”

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