Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Sir Thomas Munro's equestrian statue, Chennai; the 'Stirrup-less Majesty' - Colonial India

Thomas Munro equestrian statue with no sirrrup. thehindu.com
Memorial Sir. Thomas Munro, St. Mary's Church, Madras. wikiwand.com
The equestrian Munroe statue in 'The Island' area is a popular landmark in Chennai city (then Madras).  The statue depicts the  popular British administrator Thomas Munro riding a horse..
Sir. Thomas Munro's Statue, Madras (MacLeod, p.124, 1871,en.wikipedia.org

 To begin with, let us take a look at his biography  in brief.  Major-general Sir Thomas Munro,  KCB (27 May 1761- 6 July 1827), a Scottish army man and colonial administrator  was popular among the natives when the East India Company was ruling the Indian subcontinent as a proxy government for the British Crown in the 18th century.  Educated at the university of Glasgow in 1779,  he joined as an  infantry cadet ship in Madras, India; he was barely 18 years of age then
The Stirrup-less Majesty. Sir Thomas Munro. commons.wikimedia.org
Munroe served his regiment during the Angelo-Mysore war against Hyder Ali (1780–1783) of Mysore  and later against Hyder Ali's son Tipu Sultan (1790–1792). The latter ceded certain territories to the British as part of a peace treaty. His  early productive professional life - his seven year tenure as a military officer cum administrator (settlement officer) in Canara and Bellary helped him shape his administrative ability and decision-making.  His sojourn  in Baramahal (in present day Salem district) was quite helpful to him;  being smart and affable, he had a good relationship with the natives and given due consideration to their grievances.  His posting here provided him to gain in-depth knowledge  of  the principles of management of revenue lands, survey and assessment.  Later he took an active role in the decisive war between the Maratha empire and the English company in 1817-18. This war was a turning point for the British to control most parts of India. The Marathas had been blocking their expansion for a long time time and now, they were out of the way for good. For the British, it was an open range, a vast territory under the control of the English company.

Gov. of Madras, EI company Sir. Thomas Munro en.wikipedia.org
In 1820, Munroe was appointed Governor of Madras and  held on to the post till death in 1827  from cholera.  Munro was instrumental in drafting an education policy for the Madras Presidency. To help the farmers from fleecing by  landlords and zamindars who demanded exorbitant rent  from the tilling farmers for the lands, he  introduced the Ryotwari System in South India.  Yet another outstanding contribution in the area of administration is the division of districts and talukas headed by a District Collector who was  vested with lot of administrative and judicial powers.  The District Collectors had the advantage of interacting with the natives there  and dispose of  the pending cases quickly and effectively with out having to depend on higher officials in Madras. This way he  supported the participation of  natives in the administration of India.  Munro is the subject of a number of folk tales and ballads and is even worshiped by some.  Folk tales and ballads hail Munro as the incarnation of Mandava Rishi by the Hindus. Peasants even now name children ‘Munrolappa.

Thomas Munro and his party, while on an official  tour of present day Andhra,  camped at  Gooty on 4 July 1827 where some of his men were afflicted with cholera. In those days it was a dreaded disease and proper medication was not yet perfected. A couple of days later at  at Pattikonda, Munro contracted  cholera from his men and had to be  taken care of. His condition having become serious,  he died on 6 July 1827. 

Upon hearing Munroe's death near Gooty, at Madras a pale of gloom descended on the city and all classes of people were in pain to accept his unexpected demise.  The Madras Presidency government issued a Gazette Extraordinary on 9 July 1827. The message praised his vast knowledge of various fields, his keen interest in the welfare of the natives and  in oriental studies, his affable manners, equal justice in his sphere of activities, his ability to establish tranquility of the places  where he served, etc. Hence, he was known a with the appellation of the ''Father of the People.''
At a public meeting held in his memory in the city, a proposal had been  made  to have a statue erected there  through public subscription. In the place of death 
Pattikonda, the Madras government opened a memorial for Munro and a choultry called "Munro Choultry"  in Gooty in his honor.
As for the statue, a total of  £8000, was collected through  public subscription. The British sculptor Francis Chantrey was put in charge of making  a statue worth  Monroe's name. It was in 1834, 
Chantrey completed the  stunning  and impressive  equestrian statue  - one of the three equestrian statues sculpted by him.  The statue, weighing six tonnes, was shipped to India in three parts and erected at The Island, Chennai in 1839 atop a granite plinth made by Ostheider & Co of Calcutta.  On 23 October 1839 the statue was ceremonially opened. It was a public commemoration in appreciation of his integrity and honesty in his line of duty. According some sources, the Duke of Wellington, on seeing the completed statue, had exclaimed, 'A very fine horse; a very fine statue, and a very extraordinary man'.

If you take a careful look at the statue, you will be surprised by the absence of stirrups for the rider. Is it a deliberate omission or just overlooked by the sculptor?  It is a much-discussed oddity of this eye-catching  statue. The explanation is that the sculptor knew that   Munro had a passion for bareback riding, so Chantrey avoided the stirrup. The statue is also referred to as ‘The Stirrup less Majesty. Besides, the sculptor  was quite aware that the native adored him very much because he championed their cause,  in this respect he was careful about the choice of steed  and he preferred an Arabian horse over the war horse. It is based on the model of his own work on an  equestrian statue of King George IV at the Trafalgar square, London.   Chantrey emphasized the commemorative aspects of the Monroe statue in Madras   to bring out the close rapport  he had with the natives  and avoided the authoritative aspects of western practices. The sculpture of Thomas Munro, considered to be  the finest among  Francis Chantrey's works and the horse, his worst ever, even to day attracts the daily users of the locality where it stands now.  The combined height of the horse and the rider is more than 15 feet. While the horse  gazes calmly,  ever active  and energetic Munro presents  a thoughtful pose; both motionless yet ready  to gallop.
In Munroe's sudden death The EIC lost a distinguished administrator and the natives lost a great human being who lived with a true Christian spirit till his last days. Right from Indian soldiers to farmers  every body liked him and  the Madras Presidency never had a governor of his caliber since then.  In 2010, the Tamil Nadu Govt_ had a proposal to remove this statue in view of  the World Classical Tamil Conference held in Coimbatore.   Later the proposal was given-up for good as there was a big protest from monument lovers and conservationists against the removal of a colonial statue.