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Special Content

Issue no 27, 02-08 October 2021

National Gandhi Museum

Preserving, Processing, Promoting Gandhiji's Legacy


On the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, Employment News, takes a look at how the National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi, preserves, processes, promotes and shares the resources on Mahatma Gandhi. Shri A. Annamalai, Director of the Museum, in an interview with Shri S. Rangabashiam elucidates the vision and mission of the museum.

The life and times of the Father of the Nation have been fondly treasured by Indians. What role does the National Gandhi Museum play in preserving Mahatma Gandhi's legacy to be cherished by generations to come?

The National Gandhi Museum is a Gandhi Heritage which preserves the legacy of the great life. It is a fitting tribute to a man who meticulously recorded his own history. He never followed history instead he created History. Therefore, it is necessary to have a Biographical Museum for the Maker of History.

 The National Gandhi Museum is artistically and aesthetically curated to take the visitor through a historical journey through Gandhi's relics, photographs, artistic expression, etc. The display starts with the entrance gallery, the spinning wheel gallery, photography gallery, the commemorative gallery, the martyrdom gallery and the art gallery. The Museum houses a vast library, an audio-visual section, and a photography section where visitors can read, listen to Gandhi's speeches, and browse through the image gallery. One can also acquire copies of the same for personal or research purposes as the museum has a full-fledged printing room.

Tell us about the origin and history of the Museum

The origin of this Museum goes back to the period soon after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on the fateful evening of January 30, 1948, when the slow process of scouting for, collecting and preserving the personal relics, manuscripts, books, journals and documents, photographic and audio-visual material, all that could go into a Museum on the life, philosophy and work of Gandhi began in an unostentatious way in Mumbai.

 Later, the work was shifted to Delhi and in early 1951, the nucleus of a Museum on Gandhi was set up in the Government hutments adjoining Kota House. Later still, in mid-1957, it was shifted to the picturesque old mansion at 5, Mansingh Road.

t was finally brought to its present new and permanent home, most appropriately built opposite the SAMADHI of Mahatma Gandhi — free India's most revered place of pilgrimage, at Rajghat, New Delhi, in 1959. The imposing two storied Museum was formally inaugurated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the President of India, on January 30, 1961.

What kind of treasure is available in the National Gandhi Museum?

The Library division of National Gandhi Museum and Library forms an important section being the provider of main source material on Gandhian Literature. This nonlending reference library is open to all and no charges are collected from the readers. The library has over 45,000 books, some of which are very rare and first edition books. The collection is divided into two sections, namely Gandhiana and General. In Gandhiana, we have the original writings by Gandhi, books on Gandhi by eminent people. Besides this, here we have books on subjects core to Gandhi like Non-violence, Satyagraha, Khadi, Rural reconstruction and Eradication of caste and untouchability. In addition to these, biographies/ autobiographies of eminent contemporaries and their works are kept here. Important books on Gandhi and by Gandhi in different Indian languages and foreign languages are also stacked here.

 Gandhi Papers contain all the original letters of Gandhi and received by Gandhi, important documents related to Gandhi's struggle, etc. There are 138 volumes available for reference.

 In the General section, we have books on subjects other than Gandhiana, which are of a general nature. Here, we have autobiographies/biographies of eminent people, their works and books on subjects like Agriculture, Journalism, Literature, Religion, Philosophy, Education, History, Political Science, Economics and Sociology.

 The library has in its collection, the newspaper cuttings of Gandhi during his satyagraha in South Africa, and several important serious journals like the Indian Opinion, Harijan, Harijan Sewak, Navajivan (Hindi and Gujarati), Indian Review, Modern Review. The library also subscribes to important newspapers and journals. Photo copy service is also available for readers.

As part of preserving rare books in our collection, in an ongoing process of digitization, around 800 books have been digitized and readers can access them within the library.

 The National Gandhi Museum also has a very rich collection of original relics, photographs, audio-visual materials, exhibitions, art pieces and other memorabilia closely connected with Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba and other leaders of the freedom movement. It is developing into a Resource Centre for Gandhian Studies and Research. It also processes the information, data, audio-visual materials, etc., to cater to the needs of different sections of the society.

The photo section would probably be one of the most popular sections in the museum. What would be the approximate number of photographs in the section?

Exactly! One of the most photographed men in the world was Gandhi. Our photo section has a large collection of photographs of Gandhi. More than 7,000 classified photographs are available and among them 4,000 photos are in the digital form. The process of digitization is going on. We also have in-house designing and printing, therefore we design for our own exhibitions on different themes and we also provide the same to the people who want to organize exhibitions. We also share the copy of the photographs with nominal cost.

 It is not only photographs, but it is a learning process of our freedom and through which we can study the history of the freedom movement. We have photographs of Gandhi from the age of 7 till his last rituals. Therefore we can study the changes in Gandhi's life during his lifetime. It is an interesting study for me to relate the events in the freedom movement.

Tell us about the audiovisual section of the museum. Are there substantial numbers of videos of Gandhiji?

The audio-visual section of the Museum is another exciting place where you can find original voices of Gandhi and other leaders of that time. We are preserving the original post prayer speeches of Gandhi in his last days. His few interviews are also available. Apart from this, we have good collection of interviews of the associates of Gandhi by Pyarelal, like interview of H.S.L. Polak, Pethick Lawerance, Horace Alexander, etc… We also have the reminiscences of Gandhi by his very close associates like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Kaka Kalelkar, Manu Behn, Narayan Desai, etc.

 Audio-visual section tells the oral history of the freedom movement, and it is a real treasure. We also prepared an audio book, not for sale, produced by BBC, in which you can hear the original narration of Gandhi's life and his encounter with his associates and contemporaries.

Gandhi Smarak Nidhi established Gandhi Film Foundation to preserve all the videos available on Gandhi. Therefore, we have a set of videos on Gandhi and the freedom movement. Our recent work was the restoration of the first documentary on Gandhi by A.K. Chettiar, first released in 1940 and with the additions released in 1953 in San Francisco, USA, and dubbed in Hindi and Tamil

Documentary movies produced by Gandhi Film Foundation of various duration in Hindi, English and Tamil, Documentary movies produced by Films Division, Documentary films produced by various International forums are available in our Audio-Visual Collections. Apart from that we also have other documentaries related to the leaders of the Freedom Movement including Netaji, Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, etc. We also have patriotic songs, bhajans, instrumental music and prayers.

What kind of services and facilities are offered to the visitors?         

As a principle, access to the various sections of the Museum is free. However, whenever any books, photos, exhibitions, documentation services, etc., are supplied, actual direct costs/service charges are recovered on non-commercial basis. This Museum is run on purely non-commercial lines. There are regular film shows, access to library and other facilities including free Wi-fi. We organize special film shows and exhibitions on request outside the museum.

The museum. The museum was opened with certain aims and objectives. Do you think those objectives are being achieved?

The objectives with which the Museum was opened are to collect, preserve and display Gandhi's records consisting of his letters, correspondence, manuscripts, books, photographs, cine-films, voice records, personal effects and mementos etc. To promote the study, diffusion and understanding of Gandhi's life and message. To preserve and protect various places associated with Gandhi's life and work. To publish literature, periodicals, books etc and many more objectives.

 These are all the guidelines for our activities all through these years. We are fulfilling the objectives wherever possible, for example collection of relics of Gandhi. Even today we are collecting some of the items associated with Gandhi from various sources. This is an exciting journey and we have to go a long way. For example, identifying the places associated with Gandhi was done by the Gandhi Heritage Mission. Now we are also working to renovate the places of Gandhi Heritage Sites.

How does the museum manage its finances? Does the museum get financial support from the government?

Initially, it was established and maintained by the funds received from Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and donations from the public. NGM has received a total of Rs. 10 crore of Corpus Fund out of which Rs. 5 crore were received in the year 1996 and the next Corpus Fund of 5 crores received in 2007 after a gap of eleven years. Out of the Corpus Fund received so far, NGM has managed to create a general fund grant received from the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and donations, keeping the main corpus of Rs. 10 crore intact. However, the volume of total funds has definitely increased since the beginning of 1996 but the rise in expenditure is so high that even this increase is insufficient. We are managing our revenue expenditure but for capital expenditure, we are depending On sponsors, CSR funds, etc.

How do you propose to increase awareness about the life and philosophy of Gandhiji among the general public, especially the new generation?

The basic and fundamental objective of the Museum is to collect and preserve the legacy of Gandhi through relics, photographs, manuscripts and documents and other personal belongings of Gandhi. The people who visit the Museum will get the glimpses of Gandhi through our display and other modes. Therefore, we invite students of various schools and colleges to experience Gandhi in a day long programme ‘A Day with Gandhi’

As an outreaching programme we have 'Taking Gandhi Heritage to Students' for which we visit their institution. We organize photo exhibitions, film shows, quiz programmes, storytelling, etc for the students of that particular institution.

We organize regular programmes on various topics which are contemporary and relevant. We also organize exhibitions on various themes every three to six months.

We prepare small pamphlets, photo cards, sayings of Gandhi, etc., to distribute among the students and people in general.

 We have also prepared a Digital Resources for Gandhi in a pen drive which contains 100 photographs exhibition, A.K. Chettiar's documentary film, 20 books by Gandhi and 10 books on Gandhi in a searchable pdf format, Gandhi's original voice and bhajans. We prepared a beautiful exhibition on Life of Gandhi in 100 panels which can be displayed permanently in the educational institutions.

We are conducting programmes and activities in collaboration with other institutions. To name a few, we had a programme 'Gandhi and Health' in association with Indian Council for Medical Research, 'Remembering Gandhi-the Lawyer' in association with Delhi High Court Bar Association, 'Gandhi and Railways' in association with Rail Museum, etc.

We are also curating small Museum-cum-Exhibitions at various places like Gandhian institutions, educational institutions, public places like Airport, Railways Station

We are conducting competitions (essay, oratorical, drawing) for the students.

Do you think the message and philosophy of Gandhiji is all the more relevant in today's world?

Certainly, Gandhi's philosophy is more relevant than before. It is our duty to take the messages of life and works of Gandhi to the younger generation, especially to the student community. Corona has given an everlasting lesson to all of us. The first lockdown was a shock to many people but it has opened up our eyes to reality. The so-called developed countries were also affected badly. The people away from the urban sector were unaffected. Corona has shown the ugly face of the development. Now it is time to revisit Gandhi in order to face the reality in a courageous way.

 Gandhi's philosophy of simple living and living in tune with nature has a greater relevance today. We should learn the lesson from the lockdown that the more you are self-contained, the more you are safe. As the American Civil Rights activist and great admirer of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr said, "Gandhi was inevitable. If Humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of Peace and Harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk."


(The interviewer is a Delhibased freelance journalist) (Views expressed are personal)