Updated: January 24, 2022 8:14:26 am
The government has put out the eternal flame of the Amar Jawan Jyoti underneath India Gate and merged it with the one instituted at the National War Memorial in 2019 a few hundred meters away.
The decision kicked off a political row, with Opposition leaders claiming that it was a disrespect to the soldiers who have laid down their lives fighting for the country.
What was the Amar Jawan Jyoti and why was it constructed?
The eternal flame at the Amar Jawan Jyoti underneath India Gate in central Delhi was an iconic symbol of the nation’s tributes to the soldiers who have died for the country in various wars and conflicts since Independence.
Established in 1972, it was to mark India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 War, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had inaugurated it on Republic Day 1972, after India defeated Pakistan in December 1971.
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The key elements of the Amar Jawan Jyoti included a black marble plinth, a cenotaph, which acted as a tomb of the unknown soldier. The plinth had an inverted L1A1 self-loading rifle with a bayonet, on top of which was a soldier’s war helmet. The installation had four urns on it, with four burners. On normal days one of the four burners were kept alive, but on important days like the Republic Day, all four burners were lit. These burners were what is called the eternal flame, and it was never allowed to be extinguished.
How was the eternal flame kept burning?
For 50 years the eternal flame had been burning underneath India Gate, without being extinguished. But on Friday, the flame was finally put off, as it was merged with another eternal flame at the National War Memorial.
Since 1972, when it was inaugurated, it used to be kept alive with the help of cylinders of liquified petroleum gas, or LPG. One cylinder could keep one burner alive for a day and a half.
In 2006 that was changed. Though a project that cost around Rs 6 lakh the fuel for the flames was changed from LPG to piped natural gas, or PNG. It is through this piped gas that the flame marking the tribute to Indian soldiers had been kept alive eternally.
Why was it placed at India Gate?
The India Gate, All India War Memorial, as it was known earlier, was built by the British in 1931. It was erected as a memorial to around 90,000 Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army, who had died in several wars and campaigns till then. The inscription on the monument reads:
“TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL AND ARE HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE HERE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR.”
Names of more than 13,000 dead soldiers are mentioned on the memorial commemorating them.
As it was a memorial for the Indian soldiers killed in wars, the Amar Jawan Jyoti was established underneath it by the government in 1972.
Why was the eternal flame extinguished from there?
There are several reasons that have been mentioned by officials. Since the political controversy broke out government sources have claimed, giving a “correct perspective” that the flame will not be extinguished, but just moved to be merged with the one at the National War Memorial. Sources said that the eternal flame paid homage to the soldiers killed in the 1971 War, but does not mention their name, and the India Gate is a “symbol of our colonial past”.
“The names of all Indian martyrs from all the wars, including 1971 and wars before and after it are housed at the National War Memorial. Hence it is a true tribute to have the flame paying tribute to martyrs there.”
Defence establishment officials said that once the National War Memorial came up in 2019, Indian political and military leaders and foreign dignitaries pay their tributes to the fallen soldiers at the National War Memorial, which used to happen at the Amar Jawan Jyoti earlier. With this change it was felt that two flames were not needed, even though when the National War Memorial was built officials had categorically stated that both the flames will be kept alive.
But another reason is that the Amar Jawan Jyoti was etched so strongly in the emotional psyche of the country that the new war memorial did not get the attention as the government had expected, and the government wants to promote the new memorial it built in 2019. Further, it can also be seen as part of the government’s redevelopment of the entire Central Vista, of which India Gate, the Amar Jawan Jyoti and the National War Memorial are parts of.
Along with moving the flame, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday morning that the canopy next to the India Gate will get a statue of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The new statue will be 28 feet high. Till the statue is completed, Modi said that a hologram statue of Bose will be placed under the canopy, which he will unveil on January 23. The canopy used to have a statue of Kind George V, which was removed in 1968.
What is the National War Memorial and when was it made?
The National War Memorial, which is around 400 meters from India Gate was inaugurated by Modi in February 2019, in an area of around 40 acres. It was built to commemorate all the soldiers who have laid down their lives in the various battles, wars, operations and conflicts of Independent India. There are many independent memorials for such soldiers, but no memorial existed commemorating them all at the national level.
Discussions to build such a memorial had been ongoing since 1961, but it did not come up. In 2015, the Modi-led government approved its construction, and the location east of the India Gate at C Hexagon was finalised. The final design of the memorial was selected through a competition.
The architecture of the memorial is based on four concentric circles. Largest is the Raksha Chakra or the Circle of Protection which is marked by a row of trees, each of which represent soldiers, who protect the country. The Tyag Chakra, the Circle of Sacrifice, has circular concentric walls of honour based on the Chakravyuh. The walls have independent granite tablets for each of the soldiers who have died for the country since Independence. As of today, there are 26,466 names of such soldiers on these granite tablets etched in golden letters. A tablet is added every time a soldier is killed in the line of duty.
This Veerta Chakra, the Circle of Bravery, has a covered gallery with six bronze crafted murals depicting the battles and actions of our Armed Forces.
The final is the Amar Chakra, the Circle of Immortality, which has an obelisk, and the Eternal Flame. The flame from the Amar Jawan Jyoti at the India Gate will be merged with this flame, which has been kept burning since 2019 when the memorial was unveiled. The flame is a symbol of the immortality of the spirit of the fallen soldiers, and a mark that the country will not forget their sacrifice.
Busts of the 21 soldiers who have been conferred with the highest gallantry award of the country, Param Vir Chakra, are also installed at the memorial.
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