MG Ode: Monuments to the Mahatma

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On Gandhi Jayanti, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go beyond his birthplace in Porbandar and Birla House in New Delhi where he breathed his last, to discover a lesser-known trail of historic buildings linked to the Mahatma

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Kaba Gandhi No Delo, Rajkot
While Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad and Sewagram Ashram in Wardha are well known, not many know about the house where he spent a few years of his early life from 1881 to 1887. Located on Ghee Kanta Road in Rajkot, the erstwhile capital of the princely state of Saurashtra, the house of MK Gandhi’s father, Karamchand Uttanchand Gandhi or Kaba Gandhi, who served as Diwan (Prime Minister) is a historic landmark. Built in 1880-81, the dela is a typical Saurashtra house with a central approach through an arched gateway. Today it has been converted into a museum called Gandhi Smriti, showcasing an interesting photo essay of his life and personal belongings of Mahatma Gandhi.

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Mani Bhavan, Mumbai
It is hard to imagine that a humble two-storeyed house on Laburnum Road in Gamdevi acted as the nerve centre for Gandhi’s political activities in Mumbai from 1917-1934. Gandhi’s association with the charkha (spinning wheel) began in 1917 while staying at Mani Bhavan and it was from here that he launched the exceptional Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi, Khilafat and Home Rule movements. The mansion belonged to the Mani family and later Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi’s friend and host in Mumbai. In 1955, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi took over the building and converted it into a memorial to Gandhi. In true Gandhian spirit, Mani Bhavan is a living symbol of his philosophy – open to all, completely free, no bags or cameras to be deposited, nor any security guards stopping or instructing you.

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A bust of the Mahatma with a simple garland of khadi yarn greets visitors with a showcase of postage stamps released in his honour in India and abroad (64 countries at last count)! A staircase lined with pictures of his life leads to the first floor where press clips and photos from his childhood to assassination adorn the large gallery. Also on display are famous encounters and letters of correspondence with Hitler, Tolstoy, Tagore and Charlie Chaplin. In a stark room on the second floor beyond a glass partition, two charkhas (spinning wheels), a book, a writing desk and a floor bed stand testimony to the Mahatma’s stay. On the opposite side is a hall with paintings and exquisite clay models in wooden display boxes capturing key moments from his life. Created painstakingly by Susheela Gokhale Patel (wife of State Congress Treasurer Rajni Patel and grandmother of actress Amisha Patel), three sets of these models were made in 1969. The tour ends on the terrace where Gandhi was arrested on Jan 4, 1932. Nearly a decade ago, Steven Kapur aka Apache Indian visited the mansion with a retinue of bodyguards and was so moved by the place that he returned the next day with his son, went to the terrace and sang a tribute to the Mahatma. Mani Bhavan is that kind of place. In November 2010, US President Barack Obama became the first high-profile international guest to visit Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya in 50 years, after Martin Luther King’s visit in the 1950s. Obama presented a Rock of Hope to the Gandhi Sangrahalaya.

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Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai
The fact that Gandhiji paid five visits to Madurai city alone outlines the significance of the place in his life. It was here, on his second visit in 1921, that the plight of poor farmers led him to adopt his trademark loincloth. In 1934 he refused to enter the Madurai Meenakshi Temple when his escort was forbidden from entering on the grounds that he was a harijan. This gesture ignited the ‘Temple Entry Movement’ for untouchables. Gandhiji entered the shrine only in 1946 after Vaidyanath Iyer opened the doors of the temple to people of all castes and creed. During the temple’s renovation, a mural artist was so inspired by this event, that he painted an image of Mahatma Gandhi on the temple walls! Set in the beautiful Tamukkum Summer Palace of Nayaka queen Rani Mangammal, the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai is one of the seven museums in the country dedicated to the Mahatma (others being Barrackpore, Patna, Delhi, Wardha, Ahmedabad and Mumbai). It showcases Gandhiji’s life through rare photos, quotes, murals and letters. The Hall of Relics and Replicas contains 14 original artefacts used by Mahatma Gandhi including a shawl, spectacles, yarn spun by him and the bloodstained cloth worn by him when he was assassinated.

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Aga Khan Palace, Pune
Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III commissioned the construction of a palace in 1892 as an act of charity to help the poor in the neighboring areas of Pune hit by famine. After launching the Quit India Movement Mahatma Gandhi was placed in captivity at Aga Khan Palace from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944, along with his wife Smt. Kasturba Gandhi, his secretary Mahadev Desai, Miraben and Sarojini Naidu. Ironically, Desai died soon on 15 August and Baa on 22 Feb 1944. Their samadhis are located in the same complex, besides a fine memorial bearing Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes. In 1969, Prince Karim Al Hussenim (Aga Khan IV) donated the palace to the Indian people in honour of Gandhi and his philosophy. In 2003, Archeological Survey of India (ASI) declared it as a monument of national importance. The palace archives a number of photos and portraits offering glimpses from Gandhi’s life and other figures of the Indian freedom struggle. Also on display are personal items like utensils, clothes, beads, slippers and a letter written by Gandhiji on the death of his secretary. The palace serves as the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society and has a small shop selling khadi and handloom textiles.

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Kumara Krupa Guest House, Bangalore
Gandhiji visited Karnataka 18 times, including 14 visits to Bangalore, to intensify the struggle against the British. In 1934, he visited Bangalore for the first time to collect money for the Harijan Fund and held a series of meetings in Malleswaram. He also visited Malleswaram Ladies Club where ladies generously donated their jewellery for the national cause. The club bears a pictorial record of this visit. Most places in the city associated with Gandhiji’s visits have been converted into commercial establishments. And ironically, his iconic statue stands in a quiet park, dwarfed by the high-rise shopping complexes located on the very road named after him! The place at Nandi Hills where Gandhiji stayed for three months is also a club. Apart from Gandhi Sahitya Sangha, the present day Gandhi Bhavan is the only place in Bangalore that has been preserved. The place where Gandhiji used to hold prayer meetings, Kumara Park, is today the site of a five-star hotel’s swimming pool. A board tersely cites ‘this was the place where Gandhiji used to hold prayers’. The Mahatma also stayed for a month at Kumara Krupa Guest House, a beautiful heritage structure in a 14-acre patch on Kumara Krupa Road. Originally the residence of Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the longest-serving Dewan of Mysore and architect of modern Bangalore, the bungalow was named after Kumaraswamy, his family deity. Constructed by Erode Subba Rao, controller of the royal properties, it was purchased in 1915 by the Mysore government during the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar. Plans are afoot to build a swankier more spacious 9-storey building to house state guests and VIPs.

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Gandhi Mandapam, Kanyakumari
Overlooking the crashing waters of the Indian Ocean not far from the famous Kanyakumari temple stands Gandhi Mandapam. A bright pink lotus-like structure with tapering domes, it looks more like a temple than a memorial and enshrines the urn that held Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes before being immersed in the sea. Thousands flocked here to pay their last respects to the Father of the Nation on 12th Feb 1948 and continue to do so to this day. Emblazoned on its facade is Gandhiji’s charkha or spinning wheel, the symbol of India’s struggle for Independence and bell-shaped niches in its domes. The central dome is 79ft high and marks Gandhiji’s age when he was assassinated. A unique architectural innovation allows the rays of the sun to fall directly on the urn every year at noon on Gandhi Jayanthi (2 Oct), his birth anniversary. The memorial also has a beautiful quote from Gandhiji written at Kanyakumari ‘I am writing this at the Cape, in front of the sea, where three waters meet and furnish a sight unequalled in the world. For this is no port of call for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin.’

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 29th September 2013 in the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. (Kaba Gandhi No Delo pic courtesy Rajkot City Guide, Kumara Krupa Guest House courtesy Karan Ananth)

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2 responses »

  1. All of these sites sound so interesting to visit. I imagine it is actually more of an emotional experience to go where he orchestrated movements than just to see his birth house.

    • Thanks Suzy! Glad u liked it. Tomes have been written and spoken about Mahatma Gandhi, but there are moments and so many places that capture the true greatness of his personality and what he stood for.

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