There’s little in Ropar, a small town with a population of 48,000, that hints at its history as a bustling centre of trade and culture. In the 1960s, the excavation of a 21 m-high mound overlooking the Shivalik range revealed the town’s — also known as Rupnagar or Rupar — significance over six epochs of civilisation, starting from the Harappan to the Mughal era. The finds ranged from copper implements used in the Indus Valley civilisation, and terracotta rings of the Shunga and Kushana periods to a Gupta period gold coin, issued by Chandragupta I and his queen Kumaradevi.
Today, the town is home to what has recently been ranked the best university in India, along with IISc by the World University Rankings 2020. The Indian Institute of Technology Ropar is a hub of new research and four 41-ft high stone pillars at the entrance of its new campus link this present with its storied past. From the priest king and dancing girl of Mohenjodaro to a horse-drawn cart and seals, the images carved on the pillars offer an instant history lesson. The structures are topped by steel installations depicting the structure of an atom, reminiscent of the Atomian building at Brussels. “These pillars show how we at IIT Ropar are building modern science on the base of a great civilisation,” says Sarit Kumar Das, director of the institute. The new campus was completed in June this year, while the pillars were installed in September.
When the IIT came up in this sleepy town in 2008, many told Das that the location would be a handicap for an institute hoping to attract staff and students. Das soon learned about Ropar’s rich history, thanks to its museum, and when work began on the 500-acre new campus, he decided to include a reminder of this by giving it Mohenjodaro-like gates. “It was while studying the excavations that I learnt that entrances to towns in that era had truncated pyramid-shaped pillars,” he says.
Das rejected over 18 designs before deciding to go with Stone Oasis, a Jaipur-based studio. Owner Amit Sharma, who claims these are the tallest contemporary stone-carved pillars of the country, says that the IIT director’s passion was infectious. “We studied the objects at the museums here as well as in Delhi before drawing the 16 storyboards with him’’ Each face of the four pyramid-shaped pillars tells a story. Those entering the institute are greeted by the bearded priest king of Mohenjodaro, whose soapstone figure was found in Sindh in 1927, and is now housed in the national museum of Karachi. The other three faces on this pillar have a bull, the seated figure known as Pashupati and an elephant.
Each face was made of 104 pieces with a surface area of around 100 sq m. At many places, they were chiselled up to a depth of 150 mm. Initially, Das had wanted to use glass mosaic but changed his mind when he realised they would only last 25 years or so. “I wanted something more permanent,’’ he says. Sandstone from Dholpur was Sharma’s solution. Bhika Ram Saini, a master-carver from the Sikandra-Mahua belt of Rajasthan, says the carvings were a test in precision and patience. “No kaarigar (craftsman) could work for more than two-three hours a day. It’s not easy to chisel a flat stone to create a 3D effect. You have to be very precise. One wrong chip and you have to start afresh,’’ he says.
The project took eight months and Rs 15 crore to complete, but Das is satisfied. He hopes the unique gates will inspire onlookers from far and wide, for a long time. “I will be gone but these gates will remain,” he says.
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