Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai
Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai

‘It was here Mahatma turned half-naked fakir’

A couple of significant events in Gandhi’s days in Madurai also played an instrumental role in setting up the museum.

MADURAI: Gandhi Memorial Museum in the heart of Madurai city assumes greater historic significance for it was the first Gandhi museum to be set up in the country.

The museum, which came into existence on April 15 in 1959 and inaugurated by then Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, showcases India’s historic strengths and pride of freedom, sources said.

R Antony Paul, former Head and Associate Professor, Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai recalls that it was NMR. Subbaraman, a veteran freedom fighter and a Congress leader, fondly called as Madurai Gandhi, who was instrumental in realising the museum in Madurai.

In the days of yore, he actively participated in the programmes of Gandhian Harijan Seva Sangh and the Temple Entry (1939) movement along with Vaidhyanatha Iyer.

His familiarity with then Prime Minister Nehru and the wholehearted support of K Kamaraj, the then Chief Minister of the Madras State, also helped.

A couple of significant events in Gandhi’s days in Madurai also played an instrumental role in setting up the museum.

Recalling the significant parts of his life and career, Paul said Mahatma, on seeing the poverty-stricken agricultural labourers of Tiruppathur area, who had no clothes to put on to visit him for a dialogue during his stay at Thiyagaraja Chettiyar’s mansion along the West Masi Street on September 22, 1921, decided to give up his costly homespun khadi apparels to live as a half-naked fakir on two pieces, a loin cloth and a shawl till death.

“Until I had worn a dhoti, shirt and cap, my words possessed not enough power,” Gandhi observed later.

The next day, Baskara Das, a drama artist of good repute, on knowing the new asceticism of Gandhi, composed a Tamil verse which read, “Gandhi oru parama alai Sanniyasi.” Gandhi, who had a side-splitting laughter on getting the translation by Dr TSS Rajan, a veteran freedom fighter, quipped: “Mein aek sanyaasi bana gaya... (Oh...I have become an ascetic)”.

The second notable episode was his resolve in 1919 not to enter the Meenakshi temple until the practice of untouchability, “a sin against God and human beings”, within the temple premise was given up.

This bolstered the cause of temple entry by the unprivileged people and in 1939, the unprivileged made a successful ‘temple entry’ despite severe resistance from the caste Hindus.

Gandhi entered the temple in 1946 during his last visit and worshipped Goddess Meenakshi, Paul pointed out.

The Madurai Gandhi Memorial Museum comes under one of the ‘Peace Museums’ worldwide, as recognised by the United Nations Organisation.

Blood-stained cloth among Gandhi belongings displayed

Rare photos connected with the freedom movement and Mahatma’s life make the Gandhi Memorial Museum here a guide for visitors and students of history. Some of Mahatma’s belongings kept here include a blood-stained cloth he wore when killed, and replicas of the objects — including a 1934 model of the Italian-made automatic pistol No. 719791, Beretta CAL 9, used to assassinate him. The Hall of Relics and Replicas at the museum houses 14 original artefacts used by Mahatma, including his round spectacles, shawl, khadi loin cloth, khadi napkin and a pair of wooden chappals.

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