Skip to main content

Vessels of Life

Botanic Garden Vessels of Life sculpture

In October 2008, the Vice-Chancellor of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Professor Ramesh Goyal, visited Durham University for the first time to help facilitate the establishment of research links between the two Universities, an agreement that was formalised by a Memorandum of Understanding signed by both institutions in 2009.  

To support this collaborative agreement a Distinguished Fellowship in the form of an artist in residence at the University’s Institute of Advanced Study and Grey College was offered to MSU Baroda under the Institute’s 2009-10 ‘Water’ theme. Because of Baroda’s reputation for creative and performing arts, Professor Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, felt that the ideal output from this Fellow would be a piece of public art for the University and for Durham. The University was delighted when the Maharaja of Baroda, Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, agreed to accept the Fellowship. 

The Artist

Ranjitsinh was a distinguished artist who held a graduate and a postgraduate degree in Fine Arts from MSU Baroda and who had worked at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London where he won several awards, including the David Murray Scholarship for landscape painting.  

The result of his Durham fellowship was a sculpture entitled “Vessels of Life”. The Institute of Advanced Study’s water theme was generously sponsored by Northumbrian Water. The sculpture was installed in the Botanic Garden on 25 November 2009. Ranjitsinh Gaekwad died in 2012, however a part of his legacy survives on the east side of our Botanic Garden. 

The Symbology of Water

Ranjitsinh used this opportunity to convey some important messages about the centrality of water to the existence of life on this planet. The eight copper pots are representative of the clay pots used by women in India and elsewhere to collect water. Water is always in short supply in India and the pots are carried by rural women, often for very long distances in order to supply water to their homes. The pots are also used at weddings and have symbolic significance, particularly of fertility. Stacked one on top of the other, Ranjitsinh saw the pots as representative of rivers in India that for thousands of years have provided water to the Indian people and their surrounding environment, but that are now, as a result of misuse, drying up. 

The animals depicted on the sculpture are in danger of becoming extinct, and they are resting on these vessels in the search for water and for life. The water on which they and humans are so reliant is draining out from the tap at the bottom of the sculpture and is symbolic of the rivers that are disappearing in India and across the world.  

The petals at the base of the sculpture represent the lotus flower, an aquatic plant with wide floating leaves and bright aromatic flowers which grows only in shallow waters. The lotus is the national flower of India and holds great symbolism in many Eastern traditions. Amongst other things, it is seen as representation of water, tranquillity, purity, strength, rebirth, fertility, knowledge and enlightenment. It is particularly fitting then, that the sculpture lies within the Garden’s oriental collection.  

Ranjitsinh was keen that visitors viewing the sculpture are reminded of the preciousness of water, that water is something to which everything on this planet has a right and therefore of the great need to look after it in order to preserve it for future generations.