It would appear that the exhilarating and unprecedented win in the Epsom Derby of England in 1934, the completion of twenty years of his reign in 1935, and the accomplishment of several development works and reforms in the State, led to the idea of putting up a statue of my grandfather Maharaja Vijaysinhji in Rajpipla. There was certainly a feel good factor in the latter half of the 1930s.
And so the hunt began for a suitable sculptor, as also the process of finalising the site. As it happened, the fabulous Vadia Palace was also under construction at that time. The architect of Vadia Palace, Burjor Aga, suggested the name of the renowned sculptor Rao Bahadur Ganpatrao Mahatre. The Dewan of Rajpipla State Pherozshah Kothavala, after diligent enquiries, also came up with the name of Rao Bahadur Mahatre.
It was decided that the statue would be erected at an angle at the entrance to Rajpipla town, by road as well as rail, at the head of the avenue leading to the main bazaar. A small circle would be built around it.
After detailed discussions with Rao Bahadur Mahatre in 1938 it was concluded that it would be an equestrian statue in bronze of heroic size, that is, twelve-and-a-half feet in height with a pedestal about as high. Rao Bahadur Mahatre quoted a price of Rupees 38,000, which is believed to have been lowered by a couple of thousand Rupees at the time of final negotiations.
Earlier a silver statue about two feet long of Maharaja Vijaysinhji had been crafted by Mappin and Webb, London, in which the horse was resting on all four legs. Rao Bahadur Mahatre suggested that the horse in this statue should rest on three legs, with one of the front legs braced.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji gave ten to twelve hours sitting to Rao Bahadur Mahatre to perfect the lines and likeness of head and shoulders. The sculptor asked for about two years to complete the statue after he had finished the work already in hand.
As the statue progressed, times began to change. Born in 1879, Rao Bahadur Mahatre was no longer a young man in the early 1940s. He started keeping indifferent health around 1946, and passed away in the early part of 1947. At that time, it would seem, the statue was more or less complete. Independence of India and merger of princely states followed soon. Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s health also began deteriorating. The statue just lay.
The Maharaja passed away at his estate at Old Windsor, UK, in April 1951. His body was brought to Rajpipla, and he was cremated at Rampura on the banks of the Narmada. The citizens of Rajpipla, euphoric about the benevolent 33-year reign of their popular ruler, decided to finally install the statue. The municipality of Rajpipla oversaw the installation, and it was inaugurated in 1952 in the presence of the royal family, dignitaries and large gathering of citizens.
The precincts of the statue were beautified in 2017-18, tastefully lit up, with two fountains on either side and a manicured lawn. An exquisitely designed railing replaced the old one, and the triangle around it became a circle.
The statue of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, the last Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla, stands tall today, evoking reverence from passers-by, and obeisance from many generations of citizens of this royal town, a reminder of an era that was.