Art Institutions

Published in Cultural Forum, Vol-VIII, January, 1966, pp. 109-114

“My life is my Message”, Mahatma Gandhi once said. For brevity and appositeness few statements can compare with this. It is simple as a slogan and stark as the naked truth. In more or less the same words, Louis Fischer sums up the message of Gandhiji as “His life is his Monument”.

What need have we then to raise a memorial of him? Should we not rather practice his high ideals and propagate his teachings? Furthermore, it is not the conception of a memorial museum somewhat incompatible with the simple way of life of a man who put spirit above matter and principles above possessions, who left at the time of his death hardly anything by way of worldly goods?

Objectives of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi

Some of these questions must have posed themselves before India’s national leaders when they started the Trust Fund with the name, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (Gandhi Memorial Fund), and formulated the objectives. Happily their vision of a national memorial was an inclusive one. Thus, while the Deed of Declaration of Trust stated that its main object was ‘conduct and promotion of the manifold constructive activities with which Mahatma Gandhi was associated,’ it provided also for (i) Collection, preservation and publication of Gandhiji’s records consisting of letters, correspondence, etc. (ii) maintenance of a museum where various relics, objects of veneration, books, articles and things connected with him and his way and outlook on life may be preserved; and (iii) preservation and protection of various places associated with his work and life.

The above three-fold objective contains the seed-idea, as it were, of a Gandhi Memorial as conceived by the sponsors of the Nidhi. During the years that have rolled by, 1949 to 1966, the seed has not only taken root, it has grown into a tree sending forth its branches in several directions. Only one aspect of these extensions and developments, namely, The Sangrahalayas, concerns us here.

Delhi

In the beginning the headquarters of the Sangrahalaya work were located in Bombay. It was there that the work of collection of basic material that would go into a Sangrahalaya began in a small unpretentious way later the work was continued in Delhi which became the headquarters of the Nidhi as a whole. Here in Delhi, in the hutments adjoining Kotah House, the first Sangrahalaya came into being in 1951. As can well be imagined, this was little more than a repository of the collections made. Towards the middle of 1957 the Sangrahalayawas shifted to the Pattani House at Mansingh Road. It was finally removed to its permanent home in Rajghat in 1959. Situated at a point where the old walled city ends and the new begins, the Delhi Sangrahalaya is a two-storeyed building of simple and austere outline. It overlooks and commands an unobstructed view of the two roads that lead to the Gandhi Samadhi -- New India’s greatest place of pilgrimage. The formal inauguration of this Sangrahalaya by the then President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, took place on January 31, 1961.

The Delhi Museum has the largest single Gandhi Library of its kind. It is also the repository of the few but rare relics of the Mahatma. It functions also as a clearing house for supply and distribution of photocopies or replicas of original material (letters, photographs, cine-films, etc.), to the other Sangrahalayas.

Madurai

The choice of Rajghat as a locale for a Sangrahalaya was inescapable. At Delhi, Gandhiji’s earthly sojourn was brought to an untimely end by an assassin’s bullet and he was laid to rest at Rajghat. So, what more suitable place could there be for a memorial of this nature? The choice of Madurai in South India needs some explanation. Madurai is not only a place of great historic and cultural importance, it is also the first citadel of Hindu orthodoxy to have responded to Gandhiji’s call to open the temple of God to God’s own children -- the Harijans. It was again in Madurai that in 1921 Gandhiji adopted the loin-cloth as his mode of dress. The choice of Madurai was, therefore, both apt and happy. The Sangrahalaya there was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 15, 1959. The museum is located in the stately Tamukkam Palace of Rani Mangammal, built over three hundred years ago. It serves the four states of Tamilnad, Andhra, Mysore and Kerala. With its excellent library and large open air auditorium, this Sangrahalaya carries out manifold programmes of cultural and educational activities.

Mani-Bhavan, Bombay

Mani Bhavan, a modest two-storeyed building on the Laburnum Road in the comparatively quiet locality called Gamdevi, served as Gandhiji’s Bombay headquarters for about seventeen long and eventful years (1917-1934). The building was taken over in 1955 by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial of Gandhiji. Mani-Bhavan has a story to tell as it housed Gandhiji occasionally during the times when he was growing in stature and strength, from a queer type of an agitator to a world figure. Mani-Bhavan with its historic terrace where he was arrested on Janaury 4, 1932 a few days after his return from the abortive Second Round Table Conference, where he formulated and perfected the non-violent method of Civil Disobedience as an effective moral equivalent to war, is now a place of pilgrimage and a source of inspiration for all men and women who love and freedom. Its small picture gallery with tell-tale photographs interspersed with supporting documents, is a vivid record of Gandhiji’s association with the Bhavan.

There is a proposal to provide Bombay with a Sangrahalaya of magnitude commensurate with the size and importance of the city, which was Gandhiji’s ‘hometown’ in a special sense. But even when this takes place, Mani Bhavan will continue to feature prominently in the Gandhian annuls for the intimacy and immediacy of its appeal.

Barrackpore

Within hailing distance of the Gandhi Ghat, overlooking the mighty Ganga, a commodious house set amidst spacious ground has recently been acquired for establishing a Sangrahalaya to serve the eastern states of Assam, Manipur, Tripura, NEFA, West Bengal and Orissa. This is the Barrackpore Sangrahalaya. The main building is being renovated, and efforts and now being made to construct an auditorium as an extension. The local committee has plans to add two more adjuncts -- an urban work centre and a rural work centre -- in the near neighborhood to demonstrate Gandhian methods and principles of constructive activity in a real life setting. The Committee intends also to devote particular care to the talks of bringing out all the salient points of Gandhiji’s many and varied contacts with the eastern region, and, notably with Noakhali, where he lived for four protracted months, with one of Tagore’s songs to sustain his spirit: “If they answer notto thycall, then walk alone, walk alone…”

Patna, Moihari, Gaya

Students of recent history know what it was that led Gandhiji’s step from Noakhali to Patna in March 1947. There was communal frenzy in Bihar in which the majority community indulged in violent activities against the minority community in retaliation of what was happening in Bengal and Punjab. So, to this riot-torn land came the man of peace and compassion, and, characteristically he took up residence in a Muslim’s house. It is this house of Syed Mahmud which used to be the nucleus of Sangrahalaya, meant to serve Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

There is another place in Bihar which has longer historic association with Gandhiji and which served, as a matter of fact as the earliest arena of Gandhiji’s non-violent battle against the British. This is Champaran of satyagraha fame, where Gandhiji came to grips with the redoubtable indigo-planters. It was also his first experimental project for trying out the type of education which he thought was best suited to rural India and to which he reverted many years after when he formulated his ideas of Basic education. Motihari cannot, therefore, be passed by. So the local Committee has wisely decided, that while the Sangrahalaya is to be set up in Patna, Motihari should be a centre for the study and practice of constructive activities along Gandhian lines.

Bihar is to have a third memorial project in the sacred city of Gaya where its citizens had raised a Gandhi Mandap shortly after Gandhiji passed away. This mandap is sought to be developed as Lecture-Hall devoted mainly to the theme of unity of all faiths--Sarva Dharma Samanvya--the keystone of the Gandhian creed.

Sevagram

As had already been pointed out, preservation and protection of various places associated with Gandhi’s work and life, is one of the aims of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi.Sevagram, the ashram-home of Gandhiji’s later years, naturally features prominentlyin this programme. The original ashram area of Sevagram comprises cottages occupied by Gandhiji and Kasturba at one time or the other, as also those of his closest followers, Mahadev Desai and KishorilalMashruwala. This Ashram campus, as indeed the whole of Sevagram, now constitutes a charge on Sarva Seva Sangh of which Vinobaji is the head. The Sangh has decided that the campus should be preserved intact as a relic of national importance, and preferably as it had been during Gandhiji’s times. The Gandhi Smarak Nidhi has promised the project its fullest support.

Wardha

Wardha is the gateway to (Segaon) Sevagram. Before settling down in the ashram at Sevagram to which Gandhiji gave its name, he stayed at Wardha as a guest of Jamnalal Bajaj. Among a number of projects sponsored and financed by the Seth at the instance of the Mahatma, the one that incorporated some of the deepest urges of Gandhiji for resuscitation of village life at the economic level, was the MaganSangrahalaya founded by him in 1935. The institution was named after Maganlal Gandhi about whom Gandhiji said ‘by ability, sacrifice and devotion (Maganlal) stands foremost among m original co-workers in my ethical experiments. As a self-taught handicraftsman his place among them is unique.” The Sangrahalaya was conceived as a museum-cum-training centre for Khadi and Village Industries. During Gandhiji’s life-time this was most ably guided by JC Kumarappa - an authority on Gandhian Economies. SarvaSevaSangh which has now accepted the task of its management, plans to develop the MaganSangrahalaya as a National Museum devoted to Khadi and Village Industries. This scheme has fullest support of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, and Gandhi Smarak Nidhi has promised a liberal subsidy towards the repair and extension of the Sangrahalaya.

Sabarmati

In the year 1933 when Gandhiji started the campaign for the individual civil disobedience, he disbanded the ashram at Sabarmati, and later dedicated the property to the cause of Harijanuplift. After Gandhiji’s death, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi decided to set apart nearly half the collection contributed by Ahmedabad for preservation of the Sabarmati Ashram as a memorial of Gandhiji. The Harijan Ashram is now an associated institution of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi under the management of separate Trust. The Sangrahalaya at Sabarmati has probably the richest collection of Gandhiji’s letters and manuscripts. Appropriately therefore, the Sangrahalayahas taken upon itself the task of cataloguing and classifying Gandhiji’s voluminous correspondence. More than 25,000 (items) have already been accounted for in this way. The museum portion consists of a gallery of Gandhiji’s photographs arranged in Hirdaya-Kunj, one of the cottages of the ashram where he lived for about twelve years.

Bhavnagar

Gandhiji’s connection with Bhavnagar dates back to 1887 when as a callow youth he joined the Samaldas College after he passed his matriculation examination. He spent a term there before it was decided that he should leave for England to qualify as a barrister so that he might succeed his father in Dewanship in Rajkot. As is well known this well-laid family plan came to naught. The prospective Dewan became a fakir, at whose feet men of wealth and position surrendered themselves, as did the Maharaja of Bhavnagar in December 1947. The idea of establishing a Gandhian institution in Bhavnagar matured during Gandhiji’s lifetime. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel laid the foundation of such an institution, the very first of its kind, on January 15, 1948. Gandhiji’s martyrdom took place a fortnight after, and the institution came to be known by its present name, Gandhi Smriti. Its formal inauguration by Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, took place on November 1, 1955. Local initiative, State help and financial grants from Gandhi Smarak Nidhi have helped Gandhi Smriti to attain a stature of its own among the museums of its kind. One unique feature is that Gandhi Smriti is more of an institute than a museum. In addition to a Gandhi section comprising a Library of books of Gandhian interest and a Museum presenting a visual biography of Gandhiji and other relics, it has a Saurashtra section devoted to a comprehensive study of the land and the people of the region. Besides, it organizes classes, seminars, exhibitions, cultural functions, festivals, film-shows and carries out a varied programme of constructive activities in the neighbourhood.

Other Memorial Projects

For the entire gamut of the memorial projects a fund of one crore has been set apart by Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, and a separate Museums Board constituted for carrying them out. In general the Board’s aims, in so far as the Sangrahalayas are concerned, may be described as collection, preservation, display and use of every type of audio-visual material relating to Gandhiji. Such material may consist of: (i) Relics and Personal Effects, (ii)Letters andManuscripts; (iii) Photos and Cine-Films; (iv) Portraits and Cartoons ; (v) Voice Records; (vi) First and Rare Editions of Gandhiji’s books; (vii) Books on or about Gandhiji; (viii) Clippings from Newspapers and journals; (ix) Journals edited by Gandhiji (x) Reminiscences and Anecdotes of friends, associates, relatives and others who came into direct contact with Gandhiji; (xi) Folk Literature and Folk Songs on or about Gandhiji.

Personal Relics

Personal relics of the man who possessed practically nothing are naturally few and far between. Amongst those preserved and exhibited at Delhi Sangrahalaya, the ones that never fail to evoke interest and curiosity are his famous watch, porcelain set of the Three wise Monkeys, his simple set of eating utensils, the pair of spectacles which gave him that Mickey Mouse look which Sarojini Naidu adored, pair of wooden Khadaons, the Charkhas and accessories; and the staff he carried during his Dandi March.

These odds and ends, strange though it might appear, help to conjure up some notion of the type of man that he was for a large number of people who did not have the opportunity of seeing him. Gandhiji lives on in his works, his memory is imperishable. But momentous have a way of endowing a vision with an element of reality, particularly for those who have a partiality for what Browning called “emphatic warrant”.

Writing on Gandhiji, Albert Einstein observed, ‘Generations to come, it may be, will scare believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth.’ In a long view of things, the Gandhi Sangrahalayas should consider it their duty to try and reflect something if the dynamism of the man they seek to commemorate. Only in that way can they bring conviction to the coming generations that such a mighty man indeed treaded on this earth. Only in that way can all those associated with the memorial project, share with Shri Jawaharlal Nehru in that ‘feeling of proud thanksgiving that it has been given to us in this generation to be associated with this mighty person. In ages to come, centuries and may be millenniums after us, people will think of us who, however small, could also follow his path and probably tread on that holy ground where his feet had been…..”

Reprinted from Cultural Forum, October 1962

Published in Cultural Forum, Vol-VIII, January, 1966, pp. 109-114
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