January 30, 2021 9:49:58 am
The National War Memorial of Southern Command was dedicated to and opened for the public in its renovated avatar on Friday after several months. A look at the history of the unique war memorial built through military-citizen cooperation and what new additions have been made to this landmark of Pune.
The history of war memorial in Pune
The National War Memorial in Pune, which is an unmissable landmark that stands at the Morwada junction in Camp, is arguably the only war memorial in the country that has been constructed through citizens’ contributions. The memorial depicts the names of post-independence martyrs from the Army, Navy and Air Force hailing from Maharashtra inscribed on marble.
The citizens’ initiative in constructing a post-independence war memorial in Pune has its origins in the December 1996 celebration of the silver jubilee of India’s victory over Pakistan in 1971 leading to the birth of Bangladesh. Hosted by a Joint Committee led by The Indian Express and comprising citizens of Pune, the celebrations of the silver jubilee were also one of its kind in the country at the time.
The committee of citizens formed by the Express Group passed a resolution in January 1997, without waiting for a push from the government, that the citizens would construct a war memorial in Pune as a mark of their gratitude for the guardians of the land, sea and air frontiers.
The committee, which was chaired by Brigadier NB Grant (Retd), approached the Headquarters, Southern Command, for a suitable piece of land, which was immediately earmarked by the Cantonment Board. The committee functioned as a catalyst for fund-raising. A Military Engineers Services contractor under the supervision of the Chief Engineer, Pune Zone and Headquarters Pune Sub Area, carried out the construction.
Work began on August 15, 1997, and exactly one year later, the then Governor of Maharashtra, Dr P C Alexander, dedicated the memorial to the nation. The memorial has an 18-metre-high obelisk, signifying ‘Blessings from Heaven’, dressed in cherry brown granite with marble panels carrying names of the martyrs on three sides.
Names of 1,480 officers, junior commissioned officers and other ranks hailing from Maharashtra, who laid down their lives in action since independence till date have been inscribed on the marble panels.
Additions to the war memorial premises
In 2008, the war memorial underwent a major renovation to include the construction of compound wall and gate, pathways, display of a Vijayanta Tank, a MiG-23 aircraft, scaled model of Indian Navy’s guided-missile Frigate INS Trishul and improving the landscape with stone-engraved galleries, providing an account of major battles in the Southern Command theatre. It was around this time that the memorial was rechristened as National War Memorial, Southern Command.
During the Vijay Diwas celebration in 2011, a 101- foot-tall flag mast was inaugurated on the premises.
In 2015, a war museum was opened, comprising paintings, murals, artefacts and photos depicting Southern Command’s martial history, post-independence operations along with humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations, along with a display of real tanks – some of them captured from the enemy forces during past operations.
The museum depicts the highlights such as operations at the time of the mergers of Goa, Junagarh and Hyderabad into the Union of India, the 1965 war, the 1971 war and the 1987 International Peacekeeping Forces’ mission to Sri Lanka. Later, an evening light-and-sound show was also included in the daily routine of the war museum.
The latest renovation
Initially, due to the COVID-19 restrictions and later due to renovation work, the war memorial and the museum remained closed for several months. In its renovated avatar, eight Pillars of Valour, depicting major operations by the Indian Armed Forces since Independence, four murals depicting the bravery and valour in various battles and busts of Param Vir Chakra awardees have been added to the National War Memorial.
In addition, replacement of tiling, widening of pathways and lighting along the perimeter was also carried out as part of the renovation.
“The complete initiative was envisioned by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command and has been wholeheartedly supported by the Pune Municipal Corporation and Amphenol Interconnect India Pvt Ltd, who generously contributed towards the renovation in the true spirit of civil-military co-operation. The renovated National War Memorial and the light-and-sound show will be open for all visitors in accordance with Covid-19 protocols, three days a week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” a Southern Command statement said. The light-and-sound show will be held at 6.45 pm on three days of the week.
After extensive renovations, the National War Memorial was dedicated to the public on Friday morning amidst a special memorial service held to mark the occasion. Lieutenant General C P Mohanty, who is slated to be next Vice Chief of Army Staff, laid a wreath to honour the martyrs.
Lt Gen Mohanty said, “This is a very important day for me. The war memorial does not just belong to the entire country. I want to take this opportunity to appreciate and thank citizens, civil administration, Maharashtra government and establishments of the Southern Command for their efforts towards the renovation of the National War Memorial.”
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