In the footsteps of the Mahatma

In the footsteps of the Mahatma

The temple town of Madurai in southern India is famous for more reasons than one. While the magnificent Meenakshi Amman Temple is the soul of the town, Madurai is also home to the renowned Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace and its fascinating flower and banana markets. Another place not to be missed while in this bustling town is the Gandhi Memorial Museum that is counted amongst the most significant and important museums dedicated to the Mahatma in India.  

Housed within the 17th century Tamukkam Palace that was originally the summer palace of Rani Mangammal of the Nayaka dynasty, the Gandhi museum was set up in 1959 and was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The museum has been set up and is currently maintained by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi.

The city of Madurai has been closely associated with several events in Gandhiji’s life. It was here that he first adopted the ‘dhoti’, aka the loin cloth, as his costume symbolising his self-pride and self-restraint. It was in the year 1964 that he entered the Meenakshi Amman Temple with Harijans thereby winning and ending the battle of caste and untouchability. It is therefore only befitting that the city houses a memorial that is a treasure house of objects, information and photographs pertaining to the life of the Mahatma.

As you enter the main building, you are greeted with a hut called the Gandhi Kutir. This one is a perfect replica of Gandhiji’s house in Sevagram. The museum itself presents a very comprehensive account of the times and life of Gandhiji and his battle against the British for India’s freedom. The collections at the museum are divided into three main galleries, namely, ‘India Fights for Freedom’, ‘Visual Biography of Mahatma Gandhi’ and ‘Relics and Replicas’.

The collection at the ‘India Fights for Freedom’ section is a visual treat for children, adults, historians and tourists alike. There are over 250 illustrations depicting the various events including the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the Salt March to Dandi that occurred during India’s fight for independence. The information is detailed and includes Gandhiji’s views and quotes on subjects like Swaraj and conquering the British via non-violence. 

The ‘Visual Biography of Mahatma Gandhi’ has more than 100 photographs of Gandhiji right from his childhood to his death. Several letters written by him are on display apart from manuscripts, sculptures, quotations etc. The pictures of the Mahatma’s childhood as well as those pertaining to his days as a barrister in South Africa are particularly appealing.

The ‘Relics and Replicas’ section is a truly interesting one with several objects (some of them being original) used by Gandhiji on display. Apart from his slippers, cups, plates and spoons used by him, the blood-stained cloth worn by him on the day of his assassination (January 30, 1948) is also on display. The museum has labelled it as the original cloth and it has been preserved in a glass case.  A letter by the Mahatma to Adolf Hitler is also a prominent exhibit on display.

There are several additional insightful exhibits in the museum including a pictorial representation of the evolution of the national flag. The images right from 1906 with a picture of the sun and the moon and the one with the ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel) in the 1920s-30s to the final design that was adopted by a free India in August 1947 is a revelation. There are detailed information boards on Gandhiji’s trail in not just Madurai but entire Tamil Nadu describing his activities in the state in detail. There are tributes to the Mahatma by great leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore on display as well. The northern wing of the building has a vast library and a research wing housing books, journals, letters and films related to Mahatma Gandhi as well as other allied topics. The library is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in South India.

The museum, which celebrates festivals like Gandhi Jayanti with great fervour each year, lies in the centre of the town and is easily accessible from the airport, railway station and bus stand.

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