I-Day Special | Remembering Debi Prasad Roy Choudhury — the sculptor behind Marina Beach statues

Prathiksha Varadarajan | Updated on August 14, 2021

Choudhury was appointed as the founder and chairman of Lalit Kala Academy in 1954 and was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his work in 1958

It is impossible to miss two statues on the Marina Beach – that of Mahatma Gandhi and the Triumph of Labour Statue. While you may have enjoyed the art, have you ever wondered about the person behind the sculptures? It is none other than the renowned sculptor Debi Prasad Roy Choudhury – the first Indian principal of the Madras School of Arts (now the Government College of Fine Arts).

Not everyone would have heard about the great sculptor who was born in Rangpur in Bengal on June 15, 1899. He trained in sculpting under the guidance of Hiromony Choudhury and then moved to Italy for training. Choudhury returned to India to join the Bengal School of Arts and received an invitation from the Government of Madras to join the famous Madras School of Arts in 1929. There was no looking back as he went on to create the two iconic statues in the city.

Choudhury was appointed as the founder and chairman of Lalit Kala Academy in 1954 and was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his work in 1958.

RB Baskaran, an artist, says, “Choudhury became the first Indian principal of Government College of Fine Arts and was then the highest-paid government staff. He had many hobbies, that included planting bonsai and water colouring. He was interested in wrestling as well.”

Choudhury’s teaching was different, says V Sriram, a historian and writer. Once, while painting, he spilled some coffee on it. He then bought more cups of coffee and poured them all over the painting to have an equal tone. When rain water splashed on an almost complete painting of a woman, he changed the entire painting to that of a wet crow on a branch.

The statues

The Triumph of Labour and The Gandhi statues are made with bronze. They give a subtle message to viewers. For instance, the Triumph of Labour or The Labour statue was the first statue to be erected on January 25, 1959, on the Marina Beach. The labour statue was unveiled by the then Governor of Madras, Bishnu Ram Medhi and was presided by the then Chief Minister of Madras, K Kamaraj.

“Triumph of Labour is more than historical significance. It’s the artist’s impression,” says Sriram. “It signifies and recognises the hardships faced by labourers. Being an iconic sculpture, the statue portrays how four labourers try hard with distress to push a huge rock with rods to the other side,” he adds.

Gandhi's statue is an example of dynamism and the epitome of realism, says Sriram.

The statues sculpted by Choudhury depict lifelike and historic incidents. The Gandhi statue is yet another embossed sculpture that communicates his efforts to achieve freedom for the country.

“The dynamism that’s there in the Gandhi statue is that we can see from the robe being caught in the cactus, it is symbolic of all the difficulties that Gandhi went through to get freedom,” says V Sriram.

“A sculpture with all its criteria is three dimensional but adding movement to it is an important factor. That is how Choudhury has made his sculptures — a remarkable one and even today we cherish them,” says Jayakumar, a painter and sculptor. By observing them one can feel the pain and distress that people went through before Independence, he said.

Choudhury has also mentored many young sculptors. One such student is R Krishna Rao, the man who designed the symbol of Tamil Nadu Government. Other students include Paritosh Sen, S Rajan and KCS Panikar.

With his communicative sculptures, Choudhury is similar to the French sculptor, August Rodin. Let’s celebrate his sculptures and join hands to preserve all forms of art.

So, next time when you see the statute of Gandhi and the Labour Statue, think of Choudhury, the legendary sculptor.

Published on August 14, 2021

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