Memorial of Smt. Indira Gandhi
Shakti Sthala, the memorial of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, had design brief that the place should be reminiscent of her childhood memories of Kashmir – sweeping meadows, framed views, clusters of flowering trees and rolling hill rocks. It also had to represent the diversity of the country for which she lived and died. The primordial elements of nature – earth, water, rocks and trees were the only design elements used in the project. The diversity of the country was represented by displaying large rocks (numbering almost a thousand and weighting 5 to 60 tons) of geological significance from each state and union territory of India making it the first geological park of it kind in the world and representative of the total geological crust of India.
Several major problems had to be tackled while planning the landscaping of the Shakti Sthala. To begin with, the land was extremely flat, and noise level very high, as the site is adjacent to the highway, next to the Raj Ghat and Shanti Van.
To resolve these problems, it was decided to create large earthen mounds, so converting this flat area into an undulating landscape of hills and downs. Before one reaches the actual Samadhi, two earthen mounds and a belt of trees would be effectively block out sound, so that in Samadhi area the noise from highway is minimal. Once the dense tree belt is fully grown, noise level will be even lower, as the noise on the highway will have to filter through the dense belt of trees. Besides keeping the noise level down, the trees would also form the barrier needed for security reasons.
Planning an effective drainage system was an uphill task, as this is a flood-prone area, perennially soggy and damp, with the salts having accumulated on the low-laying areas, over the years.
So it was decided to design a lake in the area as solution to the drainage problem. As the region is low lying, the lake was located at the lowest level and allowed the natural depressed land-form to serve as drains, collecting water from the higher areas. The water would then flow down to the lower areas and eventually find its way to the lake.
Attracting Wild Life
The lake would also have water plants and fish so as to attract the wilds life, and in particular the birds of the region. So certain species of trees and shrubs were selected from various areas, which would provide a natural habitat for the birds – whether they live on insects, barriers or a combination of both, or on nectar and flowers, so that the area would be a natural food source. This would attract birds not normally seen in the region.
The Sentinel Rock
The Architects wanted the Shakti Sthal to be more than just another Samadhi – something unique and unusual. So they thought of having an imposing rock symbolizing the strength and power of Mrs. Gandhi’s personality. At first it was decided that a huge, natural crystal, seated on a mound, would be most suitable. This crystal would act as a mirror reflecting the moods of the seasons, the times of the day, the flowers, fruits and trees. But the crystals available in India were not large enough – merely a foot wide. The crystal, which was visualized, would have to be 8 to 10 feet wide and around 10 feet high. Czechoslovakia offered to cast, free of cost an artificial crystal of that size, for us. But the Prime Minister who wanted something natural mooted the idea out.
After a lot of search in different parts of India, The rock was finally found at Bhillai, Orrisa which was laying in a ditch from years.The texture, colour and form were just right; there was no need for blasting. This was ideal as the rock would look natural and not have jagged edges. It was only later that the designers noticed its symbolism – the white streaks, the streaks symbolizing sacrifice, and that it was shaped just like the Congress (I) hand!
The rock was named the ‘Sentinel Rock’, this 10 meter tall, 50 tones, hand – shaped rock – banded hematite jasper – forms an effective backdrop to the Samadhi, represented by a flower bed.
Geological Rock Garden
To make a visit to the Shakti Sthala an educative experience, it was decided to place rocks, representing the major rock foundation, all over the area. It was planned to place 500 such rocks ranging from the oldest rock formations to the youngest, in chronological order. Since here the challenge was to make a large scientifically important rock garden. The large dimensions pose its owns problems: where to place the rocks, how to place them and in what setting to place them. Transporting these rocks, which weighted from 6 to 7 tones to 15,20 or 30 tones was another problem: some had to lifted by cranes, others pulled out of ravines, and still others rolled down from the mountain tops. These rocks were to represent the geological crust of India; major rock formations of every region would be represented. These specimens were not only to be geologically unique – having scientifically value in terms of geological content – but be aesthetically pleasing as well. Rocks from all over the country – right from Ladakh, to the Andamans and Lakshwadeep islands – have been selected, according to their form, color, texture and shape and place in a geological time-scale.
At present, there are about 160 such rocks. As most of these rocks are extremely heavy, installing them was not easy. Once complete, the Shakti Sthala will be a scientific revelation, especially for the younger generation. As Indira Gandhi loved nature, this would be an appropriate and fitting tribute to her memory.