The Indian Government has just ‘unveiled’ the world’s largest statue, the Statue of Unity. It is 182 metres high and stands in Gujarat between Baroda and Ahmedabad. It is a memorial to Sardar Vallabhai Patel (1875-1950), who was born in Gujarat.
A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel was a great fighter for India’s independence. When the British finally relinquished their hold over India on the 15th of August 1947, the territory of India was a complex mix of formerly British territory and the so-called Princely States, which were self-governing.
There were well over 500 Princely States embedded within the boundaries of what is now India. Over 200 of these were within the Saurashtra (Kathiawad) district of Gujarat. India in 1947 was a jigsaw puzzle of independent states each with their own ruler. These states were contained within a matrix that was formerly the part of India under direct British rule. After Independence, the rulers of the Princely States were given the choice of becoming part of India or joining the newly formed Pakistan.
Had the Princely States maintained their autonomy after Independence, the Indian subcontinent would have been as complex, if not more so, than the Balkans, and maybe as troublesome. Some of the states like Hyderabad and Junagadh, both large and far from Pakistan, had leanings towards joining with the new Islamic State of Pakistan. Others like Kashmir were not sure with whom to ally.
It was the great skill and statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhai Patel that persuaded the Princely States to join India. Even Junagadh and Hyderabad were eventually incorporated into India. The unification of India was achieved under the leadership of Patel and his colleagues. So, it is fitting that the enormous new statue should be called The Statue of Unity.
Whether Patel would have approved of the enormous expense involved in creating his latest monument, we will never know!
Sand drifts relentlessly up from the seaside towards the gracefully decaying, rambling Huzoor Palace in Porbandar (Gujarat), the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
Prior to 1947, what is now the State of Gujarat was divided up into more than 200 ‘independent’ Princely States. Many of the rulers of these states were wealthy. Most of them built elaborate palaces like this one built in the early 20th century by Nawarsinhji Bhavsinhji Sahib Bahadur, who ruled from 1908-48 and was a first-class cricketer, who played for India in a Test Match in England in 1932.
Mohandas K Gandhi, the Mahatma, was born in Porbandar (Gujarat) on the 2nd of October 1869. The house in which he was born still stands, and is now part of the Kirti Mandir memorial complex in the centre of Porbandar. Here are some photos of Gandhi’s birthplace that Adam Yamey took in March 2018:
A short excerpt from Adam Yamey’s new book about Gujarat
In the Baroda Museum:
“There are two ‘memento mori’ on display. One is an Egyptian mummified corpse with exposed blackened feet, and the other is of more recent origin.
Unlike the painted container containing the age-old ‘mummy’, the other item concerned with the end of life is empty. It is a copper urn used to carry the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi to the Morli sangam at Chandod. Other urns, which contained some of the great man’s ashes, exist elsewhere. An article in the Guardian’s on-line newspaper, dated 31st of January 2008, says of another urn containing Gandhi’s ashes:
‘The vessel was one of dozens containing Gandhi’s cremated remains that were distributed around India in 1948.’
Close to the urn in Baroda, there is a letter of condolence written by Gandhi to a friend, who had just lost a daughter.
The letter, which was written on 19th of January 1948, includes the words:
‘Death is a true friend. It is only our ignorance that causes us grief. Sulochana’s spirit was yesterday, is today, will remain tomorrow”. Gandhi was assassinated eleven days after writing this. His spirit lives on.“
Excerpt from “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu“, shortly to be published by Adam Yamey
When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, having established Tolstoy Farm, an ashram in Natal in 1910, he created one on a small plot at Kochrab, south west of the walled city of Ahmedabad. Gandhi chose Ahmedabad for several reasons: it is a Gujarati speaking city; he had wealthy supporters there; it was an historic centre for handloom weaving; there were mill-owners sympathetic to his cause who would supply him with yarn for spinning; and, most importantly, it was in British territory rather than in a Princely State. It was important, he felt, that the struggle against the British should not be launched from non-British soil. After Ahmedabad, Gandhi established more ashrams in other parts of India. Because of outbreaks of disease at Kochrab and Gandhi’s desire for a larger area for experimenting with farming and khadi production, a new and larger ashram, the Sabarmati Ashram, was set up in 1917 on a site overlooking the Sabarmati, where it remains today. Gandhi lived there until 1930. In March of that year, Gandhi set out from the ashram on his historic 390-kilometre Salt March to Dandi. On the day he set off, he swore that he would not return to the Sabarmati Ashram until India had gained independence from the British. This ashram served as an important centre of India’s Freedom Struggle. Now no longer a working ashram, it is a much-visited and revered place of pilgrimage.
The Sabarmati Ashram is beautifully landscaped. Many of its original single-storey buildings are dotted amongst trees, lawns, and bushes. They are all in immaculate condition, each one housing various exhibits. There is also a superb bookshop, stocking books about Gandhi, his associates, Indian history, and general travel. A small inscribed stone close to some steps leading down to the river marks the Upasana Mandir, an open space that was consecrated for the morning and evening prayers of the inhabitants of the ashram. The stone’s inscription dated 2nd October 1936, Gandhi’s seventieth birthday, records that this was the space where: “…the hallowed voice of many a sermon of Gandhijee still lingers…”
BHAVNAGAR is a fascinating city in the south of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat…
Front of Neelambagh Palace (now a hotel), Bhavnagar
MK Gandhi, the future ‘Mahatma’, wrote in his autobiography: “I passed the matriculation examination in 1887… My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone take interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that College were regarded as first rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home.”
Having read this, we wanted to see the college. We took an autorickshaw to Samaldas Arts College, which is away from the city centre just over three kilometres southwest of the Gandhi Smrti. The college is laid out in a huge campus. Lopa waited in the shade whilst I walked along a busy private road linking the university’s well spaced buildings. There were many students going along it on foot and on two-wheelers. I reached an imposing stone building at the end of a short driveway. Outside its entrance, I saw an old school bell hanging from a wooden post. It looked Victorian in style and was topped with a metal model of a royal crown. I wondered if this was a memento from the days when the college was founded. There was nobody in the building except a security guard, who only spoke Gujarati. I tried to ask him whether this was where Gandhi had studied, but he could not understand me. Then I returned to the road, and asked a couple of passers-by, who did speak English, about Gandhi and Samaldas College. Their vague answers were uninformative.
Former Samaldas College, Where Gandhi studied
We had a rest in our hotel next to the Neelambagh Palace after having had a delicious lunch at a brand-new restaurant called Sugar and Spice, which is near the Samaldas College. While I was relaxing, two things worried me about the campus that I had just visited. First, none of it looks old enough to have been present in 1887, when Gandhi attended it. Secondly, the place is too far from the what would have been the city’s boundary in Gandhi’s day. A little research on the Internet revealed that in Gandhi’s day, Samaldas College was nowhere near its present location, but in the centre of Bhavnagar.
Classroom where Gandhi studied in Samaldas College
Having located the site of Gandhi’s college, we took an ‘auto’ to the Majirav Girls School on High Court Road. The bulk of the school is a two-storey building arranged around three sides of a large rectangular courtyard. As it was a Saturday afternoon, there were few pupils around. The security guards asked us our business. We told them that we wanted to see the college where Gandhi had studied. Someone went off to find the school’s Director, who kindly agreed to show us what we wanted to see. This lady, who has several degrees and a PhD in education, is a high-flyer in the education department of the State of Gujarat. She escorted us to a neo-gothic building attached to the rear of the school, and then asked us to wait beside a locked door.
Detail of gateway into the old Royal Palace (‘Darbagadh’) of Bhavnagar
Eventually, somebody found the keys to the door and the Director unlocked it. We entered a large hall, two storeys in height, with a wooden ceiling. It is filled with gymnastic equipment because it is now used as the girls’ gymnasium. A small inscribed stone plaque on one wall below an old coloured photograph of the Mahatma reads (both in Gujarati and English): “The Samaldas College was founded in 1874 in this building. Mahatma Gandhi studied in this class room as a first-year student from January to June 1888”. The Director of the girls’ school told us that the class room where Gandhi had studied had once been the primary school of the Majirav School, but for a brief while it had been lent to Samaldas College, and that was when Gandhi attended it.