The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown did not impede much of the work of Ranjit Mandal, who has been carving out idols of Ram at Ayodhya for the last seven years. During these days the master sculptor has finished his assignments on the scenes of “Sita Haran”.
“Each scene has five to six characters and at times there are even more. There are around 40 scripts depicting the significant events in the life of Lord Ram. Right from the Putrasthi Yagna to Rajya Abhishek” says Mandal, the sculptor assigned to create the Ram Katha Kunj at Ram Mandir in Ajodhya.
Mandal's idols are being exquisitely created to be used for the Bhumi Pujan of Ram Mandir, which shall be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 5.
From a remote Ramkrishna Pally in Cachar district of South Assam, Mandal was entrusted to create the Ram Katha Kunj by Ashok Singhal, International working President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It was the dream project of the late VHP president to showcase Lord Ram’s life in a more creative and narrative way.
From 2013, the master sculptor from Assam is been making idols on incident and events related to Ram Lalla at his workshop in the 67 acres Ram Mandir Parishar in Ayodhya.
These are not mere statues, but idols brimming with emotions. The most complicated part is that Ram is the central figure and has to be replicated with the same characters in all the scenes. From Ram’s childhood to his adolescence to learning the art of warfare, Ram Katha Kunja is filled with a plethora of idols and is a new way of telling the tale, explains Mandal. “You need to reflect the expression of shy on Ram's face when he first sees Sita,” he added.
“My statues are perfectly for a lifetime as they are not made of the conventional Plaster of Paris or cement. They have a mortar and iron rods, which not only make them strong but ensures that they remain constant in Ram Katha Kunj for long,” added the sculptor, giving final touches to the statues for the Sita Haran scene.
“Everyone knows Ramayana. There are films and a number of TV shows on the epic. We tried to ensure that we are doing justice to the emotions that are reflected in each and every scene,” says Mandal.
It was at the Hasta Shilpa Kala Convention 2006, in Silchar when Singhal mentioned about his plans of Ram Katha Kunj and asked Mandal to involve himself in the ambitious project. By 2005, Mandal had the experience of making 1,25,000 statues of Lord Ram, which were distributed throughout the country and 10 nations across the world by the VHP.
“The statues were readied in just three months with the help of 250 'sahiyogis'. Possibly this was the reason for my selection for the master project,” Mandal said.
Without any formal education in sculpting or clay modelling, Mandal today has many statues to his credit, which stands tall to describe his works. Among these are the 12ft-tall Hanuman at the main gates of the VHP office, the Caribbean Tulsi Das at Trinidad and Tobago and the Ganesh Murti in West Indies.
“It was at the Gandhi Mela, a local fair in my hometown in 1997 where Shingal came and saw my work displayed at a stall in the fair. He appreciated my works and asked me to come down to Ayodhya. This was the turning point of life. I came to Kar Sevakpuram at Ayodhya in 2001 and since then I am associated with the Ram Mandal,” said Mandal.
A postgraduate in drawing from Dr Ram Monohar Lohia, Awadh University, Mandal said that since childhood he has been playing with clay and earth and eventually the craze for making clay toys shaped his destiny. In his initial days, Mandal crafted statues that still grace many palaces in his home town and Gauhati. One such is the statue of Shankaracharya at the Ved Vidyalaya. When he was in the 10th standard, he sculpted the statue of Ved Vyas in Rupnagar, Gauhati, which was unveiled by Singhal.
The 42-year-old sculptor from Assam has been to jail twice in 2015 and early 2016 during the Ram Mandir agitation. At the Ram Katha Kunja so far, his father Narayan Chandra Mandal, who is a carpenter by profession, is a constant company. Mandal was joined by his father in 2015 and since then they have been together.
“I am happy for what my son is doing. I help him in his works”, said Narayan Chandra Mandal, who met with a near-fatal accident when Mandal was in class seven. Since then it has been a roller-coaster ride.
“My financial struggle continues but my wealth are my idols, which find its rightful place in the museum and places of historical importance. Through my works I have dedicated my life worshipping Lord Ram,” Mandal said.
After his arduous task in the Ram Katha Kunj is completed, Mandal wishes to start an Ashram for the old and specially-abled in Assam. “I want to teach what I have learnt all these years and for this I shall need the support of the government and the blessings of Ramji,” he added.