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Among the cities of In­dia, Ahmedabad is the one whose res­i­dents take great pride in the his­toric par­tic­i­pa­tion of the city dwellers in the free­dom strug­gle. Long be­fore Ma­hatma Gandhi was born, this was the city of Swaraj or `Self­gov­er­nance’. Its cit­i­zens took an ini­tia­tive to re­pairs the city walls by a cit­i­zens’ team in 1832 when the East In­dia Com­pany of­fi­cials did not get it done. The city had a cit­i­zen’s coun­cil in the mid-1800s and Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal­ity from 1857, which got recog­ni­tion by statute in 1870. Rao Ba­hadur Ranch­hod­lal Ch­ho­ta­lal, the first In­dian pres­i­dent of the Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in 1885, com­mis­sioned the un­der­ground drainage and wa­ter sup­ply work, one of the first in Bri­tish In­dia.

The In­de­pen­dence Move­ment gath­ered mo­men­tum in Ahmedabad af­ter Ma­hatma Gandhi de­cided to set­tle in the city in

1915. Sar­dar Val­lab­hai Pa­tel won an elec­tion to the Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in 1917 and be­came the pres­i­dent of the Gu­jarat Sabha, whose mem­ber­ship in­cluded free­dom fight­ers like Ma­hatma Gandhi, Narhari Parikh, Ravi Shankar Vyas and Mo­han­lal Pandya, who were ac­tive in the Satya­graha Move­ment.

Since then, many of the most im­por­tant events in the move­ment for In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence took place in Ahmedabad and some of the emi­nent per­son­al­i­ties of the free­dom strug­gle have lived in the city. The free­dom strug­gle was also sup­ported by the city’s in­dus­tri­al­ists - the pres­i­dent of the Ahmedabad Mill Owner’s As­so­ci­a­tion, Am­balal Sarab­hai, re­nounced the Kais­eri-hind Gold Medal awarded to him by the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, and other in­flu­en­tial in­dus­tri­al­ists and mer­chants do­nated for the cause of in­de­pen­dence.

Hav­ing grown up in Ahmedabad, Di­nesh Shukla, the pho­tog­ra­pher, and I, have al­ways taken pride in this as­pect of the city’s his­tory. There­fore, when we heard that there are plans to cre­ate tours in the city we de­cided to visit and pho­to­graph all the sig­nif­i­cant his­toric sites on the walk­ing tours in Ahmedabad. You too can join the Free­dom Walk, de­signed by the City Her­itage Centre and Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion, which takes you through the by­lanes of the old City in Ahmedabad, where the free­dom fight­ers met and lived. They will show you the spot where the first mar­tyr fell to Bri­tish bul­lets, the ‘akhara’ where the free­dom fight­ers built their bod­ies and the haveli from where the Vande Mataram mantra spread to the neigh­bor­hood. The free­dom walk con­nects the im­por­tant com­mu­nity spa­ces and houses of res­i­dents in old Ahmedabad who emerged as lead­ers in the free­dom strug­gle of In­dia. This unique walk through the nar­row lanes of old city re­veals the his­tory of the Free­dom Fight­ers’ heroic strug­gles in Ahmedabad and is an ini­tia­tive taken by the cit­i­zens of Kha­dia (the old city).

From the Sar­dar Val­lab­hai Pa­tel Air­port of Ahmedabad, we drove to the Shahibaug Palace. Built by Shah Ja­han when he was Prince Khor­ram, the Gover­nor of Gu­jarat, the palace, then called Moti Shahi Ma­hal, is set in for­mal gar­dens. In the 17th cen­tury, the Euro­pean writer Thevenot found the gar­den full of all kinds of trees, Paris-like av­enues, a ter­race full of flow­ers and a great build­ing with a roof cov­ered with green tiles. In the 18th cen­tury Forbes said of the palace, “the sa­loon is spa­cious and lofty as the build­ing; the walls are cov­ered with a white stucco, pol­ished like the finest mar­ble, and the ceil­ing is painted in small com­part­ments with much taste. The an­gu­lar re­cesses lead to eight small oc­tagon rooms, four be­low and as many above, with sep­a­rate stairs to each. They are fin­ished in the same style as the sa­loon, the walls like al­abaster and the ceil­ing em­bossed. The flat roof com­mands a wide view; the rooms un­der the sa­loon, and a sur­round­ing plat­form or­na­mented

with small canals and foun­tains, form a cool re­treat’’. In 1975, to com­mem­o­rate the cen­ten­nial birth an­niver­sary of Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel, the palace was con­verted into the Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel Memo­rial and opened to the pub­lic in 1980. Up­stairs is the room where Tagore lived. As we en­tered the palace build­ing through an im­pos­ing door­way, we saw the pic­ture gallery with por­traits and other vi­su­als of Sar­dar Pa­tel, his fam­ily, friends and fel­low in­de­pen­dence ac­tivists in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, with bi­o­graph­i­cal de­scrip­tions of pe­ri­ods of his life, and quotes by his col­leagues and ad­mir­ers. From here you can ac­cess ad­ja­cent rooms with his per­sonal pos­ses­sions, ac­counts and po­lit­i­cal car­toons from news­pa­pers of the time. Walk­ing through the four rooms you can get an in­sight into the life and work of Sar­dar Pa­tel from his youth, ed­u­ca­tion and le­gal ca­reer to his achieve­ments in in­te­grat­ing princely states into In­dia. His relics show the tran­si­tion from Euro­pean style clothes to the khadi kurta, jacket and slip­pers he wore af­ter be­com­ing an ac­tivist. Also on dis­play is a flag of In­dia by the In­dian Na­tional Congress in 1930-31. A room is de­voted to Ma­hatma Gandhi, dis­play­ing por­traits, pic­tures, quotes, busts, stat­ues and books. The close part­ner­ship be­tween Ma­hatma Gandhi and Sar­dar Pa­tel is ex­plored by the mu­seum.

In the 19th cen­tury, when the Bri­tish made their Can­ton­ment in Ahmedabad, they added two large wings and sev­eral rooms and ter­races to the palaces, and also an­nexes for of­fi­cers. Satyen­dra Tagore of the In­dian Civil Ser­vices stayed here when he had his first ac­tive post­ing in Ahmedabad in the 1870s. We as­cended to the room where Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-euro­pean to win the No­bel Prize

in Lit­er­a­ture in 1913 and well-known for his sup­port to the cause of na­tion­al­ism, lived in this pala­tial prop­erty for six months in 1878, when he was in­tro­duced to English lit­er­a­ture. Dur­ing his six-month stay in the city, Tagore wrote of his days at this palace and time spent look­ing out at the Sabar­mati River. This is where he con­cep­tu­alised his pop­u­lar Ben­gali novel, Kshud­hita Pashan or The Hun­gry Stones and Other Sto­ries, wrote two po­ems ti­tled ‘Bandi O Amaar…’ and ‘Nelav Ra­jni Dekho...’., and also his first song.

From Shahibaug, we drove to the Gandhi Ashram once called Sabar­mati Ashram or Satya­graha Ashram but later re­named Har­i­jan Ashram by Ma­hatma Gandhi, as this be­came a base for his move­ment for caste equal­ity, com­mu­nal har­mony and the re­moval of un­touch­a­bil­ity. Dur­ing his stay at this ashram from 1917 to 1930, Ma­hatma Gandhi mas­ter­minded great re­volts of In­dian farm­ers against the tyranny of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and al­lied land­lords in Bi­har and in Gu­jarat dur­ing crop fail­ures. Un­der his lead­er­ship, Gu­jarat Sabha, which rep­re­sented the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic wel­fare of lo­cals from the 1880s, be­gan work on cham­pi­oning the cause of the farm­ers, fol­low­ing the 1917 crops fail­ure in Gu­jarat like the Kheda Satya­graha. These ac­tiv­i­ties not only helped farm­ers eco­nomic and civil rights but elec­tri­fied In­dia’s peo­ple to take up the Satya­graha move­ment. The Ashram was also the stag­ing post for the Salt Satya­graha march to Dandi, which, over a month, kept at­tract­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of fol­low­ers and pub­lic­ity and re­sulted in break­ing the foun­da­tions of the Raj in In­dia, when he dis­obeyed the act which gave only the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment the right to pro­duce salt, by mak­ing salt at Dandi, on the sea­coast.

It was morn­ing when we ar­rived at the Gandhi Ashram. The ashram com­plex is a serene na­ture park with ma­ture trees that are home to gar­den birds and squir­rels. Near the en­trance is Ma­gan Ni­was, the house of Ma­hatma Gandhi’s nephew Ma­gan Gandhi, who was a fol­lower of his un­cle from his days in South Africa. So ded­i­cated was his work for the Ashram that Gand­hiji called him its soul. Girish Gupta, a her­itage ac­tivist, says, “This house is rarely vis­ited but among Ma­gan Gandhi’s achieve­ments are de­sign­ing ver­sions of the charkha or spin­ning wheel, the sym­bol of Gand­hian phi­los­o­phy of self-re­liance as spin­ning gave birth to khadi or hand­loom to re­place the im­ported fab­rics. Gand­hiji, on Ma­gan’s death, re­marked that he had been wid­owed’’. From here, we con­tin­ued to the Upasana Mandir set fac­ing the Sabar­mati River, though now the views are not as good as they once were, be­cause of the river­front de­vel­op­ment. Be­fore start­ing work, Ma­hatma Gandhi and the in­mates of the ashram of­fered prayers here. Be­sides Bha­jans, dis­courses and read­ings from holy books, like the Gita, Qu­ran and Bible, oc­ca­sion­ally fea­tured in the prayer sched­ule at this site.

Near the prayer area is a cot­tage-like house called the Hri­day Kunj, where Ma­hatma Gandhi and his wife, Kas­turba, lived. We saw the spin­ning wheel and work ta­ble of Ma­hatma Gandhi, and also per­sonal ef­fects like a Chi­nese toy of three mon­keys, co­conut chop­per, wooden spoon, thali, chap­pals (slip­pers), stone bowl, a tum­bler he used in jail, an urn for wa­ter, a shirt made by Gandhi for a Har­i­jan, his dhoti, a bed­sheet, hand­spun yarn, towel, bag, purse and other sim­ple pos­ses­sions. The design of the house is such that doors fac­ing east and west could be opened to al­low light in from sun­rise to sun­set, and the win­dows along the north and south fac­ing walls en­able the rooms to get enough light with­out the heat of the sun, that would stream in from the east or west at midday or af­ter­noon. There is an airy court­yard in the centre. Near Gand­hiji’s res­i­dence are the res­i­den­tial quar­ters of Vi­noba Bhave,

from 1918 to 1921, whom Gandhi rated as a true Satya­grahi for his com­mit­ment to truth, and Mirabehn or Madeleine Slade, daugh­ter of the Bri­tish Rear-ad­mi­ral Sir Ed­mond Slade, who left her home in Bri­tain to live and work with Mo­han­das Gandhi, tak­ing up hu­man de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in In­dia. Gandhi gave her the name Mirabehn, af­ter Meera Bai, the great devo­tee of Lord Kr­ishna.

The most el­e­vated spot in the Ashram is the guest house called Nan­dini just up from the res­i­dence. The Udyog Mandir (in­dus­try tem­ple) founded dur­ing a his­toric mill work­ers’ strike was the centre for the hand­loom, hand­made paper mill and other work­shops that worked to­wards self-re­liance in the ashram. The Som­nath Cha­tralaya was a com­mune for ashram in­mates.

Don’t miss a visit to the Gandhi Smarak San­grahlaya, the Gandhi memo­rial mu­seum, which is an ar­chi­tec­tural gem. This com­plex was de­signed by In­dia’s master ar­chi­tect Charles Cor­rea in 1958 as a clus­ter of mod­u­lar units, set around a court­yard with a wa­ter pool. In keep­ing with the life of Ma­hatma Gandhi, the mu­seum has clev­erly used sim­ple ma­te­ri­als like brick and lou­vered win­dows in a pleas­ing man­ner. This memo­rial mu­seum has three ma­jor gal­leries – one ti­tled ‘My life is my mes­sage’ of­fers in­for­ma­tion about Ma­hatma Gandhi’s life and im­por­tant in­ci­dents be­tween 1918 and 1930 at the ashram, the sec­ond has eight life-size paint­ings of Ma­hatma Gandhi, and the third has one of the largest archival col­lec­tions about a single per­son in the world with 35,000 books, more than 31,000 let­ters to and from the Ma­hatma, over 8000 manuscripts in­clud­ing ar­ti­cles writ­ten by him, pho­to­graphs and doc­u­ments. There is a book­shop that sells publi­ca­tions and sou­venirs. Among the many mon­u­ments to Ma­hatma Gandhi that I have vis­ited, Gandhi Ashram is cer­tainly the most mov­ing memo­rial to the Ma­hatma.

From the Gandhi Ashram, we drove along Ashram Road to the gate of the Gu­jarat Vidyap­ith, founded by Ma­hatma Gandhi on Oc­to­ber 18, 1920, to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion rather than the one de­signed by the Bri­tish to train In­di­ans for their ser­vices, which he be­lieved would lead to na­tional re­con­struc­tion and ‘Hind Swaraj’, the self-re­liant In­dia of his dream. The first vice-chan­cel­lor of the in­sti­tute was

Pro­fes­sor Gid­wani. Af­ter Ma­hatma Gandhi, free­dom fight­ers like Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel, Dr Ra­jen­dra Prasad and Mo­rarji De­sai were chan­cel­lors of the Vidyap­ith. Acharya Ji­va­tram Bhag­wan­das Kri­palani, so­cial­ist, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, mys­tic and in­de­pen­dence ac­tivist, was closely as­so­ci­ated with Gu­jarat Vidyap­ith. Dur­ing his stay here, he was in­volved with the Salt Satya­graha and the Quit In­dia Move­ment. The pur­pose of its estab­lish­ment was to pro­mote ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions run by In­di­ans for In­di­ans and out­side the fi­nan­cial and gov­ern­ing con­trol of Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties. The univer­sity helped In­dian na­tion­al­ists es­tab­lish a sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion for all In­di­ans, thus prov­ing the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish-run in­sti­tu­tions. Taught by such emi­nent lead­ers, stu­dents of the Gu­jarat Vidyap­ith were vo­cif­er­ous and ac­tive dur­ing the free­dom strug­gle, spe­cially the Quit In­dia move­ment of the 1940s. The univer­sity has a tribal re­search in­sti­tute with a mu­seum show­ing life among tribal groups. Walk­ing dis­tance from this in­sti­tu­tion, the Nava­ji­van Trust was founded by Ma­hatma Gandhi in 1929, as a pub­lish­ing house to pro­duce books and pe­ri­od­i­cals that would prop­a­gate the ef­forts for the re­li­gious, so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ad­vance­ment of the peo­ple, and to pro­mote peace­ful means for the at­tain­ment of in­de­pen­dence and self­gov­er­nance. The build­ing still has the old print­ing press in­side, to­gether with its mod­ern print­ing fa­cil­i­ties. We took a tea break at the cafe in this build­ing, where you can browse and buy books on Gandhi and the free­dom strug­gle.

Con­tin­u­ing on Ashram Road we came to the Kochrab Ashram, which was the first ashram es­tab­lished by Ma­hatma Gandhi to fur­ther his causes, like the up­lift­ment of the un­der­priv­i­leged, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, san­i­ta­tion, Swaraj, Swadeshi and Satya­graha. Says Avni Varia, a her­itage walk vol­un­teer, “The ashram runs many pro­grams for vis­i­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence the Gand­hian way of life, in­clud­ing hand­spin­ning work­shops’’.

From here, it is a short drive to Gu­jarat Col­lege, a cam­pus with im­pos­ing old build­ings, which was also a hub of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment. In­spired by Ma­hatma Gandhi, Sar­dar Pa­tel, Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose, Acharya Kri­plani and Ma­hade­vb­hai De­sai, many of the col­lege stu­dents rose up against Bri­tish rule. The stu­dents of this col­lege were ac­tive in 1921 dur­ing the Congress Meet and sup­ported the call for civil dis­obe­di­ence. The po­lit­i­cal strike by the stu­dents of the Gu­jarat Col­lege in 1928 de­mand­ing the send­ing back of the Si­mon Comis­sion, is a land­mark. One of the stu­dents, Vinod Ki­nari­wala, was shot dead for hoist­ing the In­dian flag in front of the col­lege on 9 Au­gust, 1942. We paid our re­spects at the

Veer Vinod Ki­nari­wala Memo­rial, which was in­au­gu­rated in­side the col­lege cam­pus by Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan. The road is named Shahid Veer Ki­nari­wala Marg in his mem­ory.

Near the col­lege, San­skar Ken­dra is a mu­seum de­signed by Le Cor­bus­ier. The City Mu­seum here show­cases many as­pects of Ahmedabad’s his­tory and cul­tural her­itage. We met De­bashish Nayak, Di­rec­tor, Centre for Her­itage Man­age­ment, Ahmedabad Univer­sity, who told us, ‘Kha­dia, or the old city, was the centre of rev­o­lu­tions in Ahmedabad, from the un­der­ground drainage and wa­ter sup­ply sys­tems in­tro­duced here to ini­tia­tives for girlchild ed­u­ca­tion like M.K. Girls High School, Vanita Vishram and B.D. Arts Col­lege that were started here. The Her­itage Cell of the Ahmedabad Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion has mapped out a walk­ing route tak­ing in the houses of such rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as Quit In­dia mar­tyr Umakant Ka­dia, Dr Kanuga, Ji­van­lal Di­van (Bar­ris­ter), who gave Ma­hatma Gandhi land for the found­ing of Kochrab Ashram,

Bal­vantrai Thakore, who was an ed­u­ca­tion pi­o­neer, Chan­du­lal Thakore, who braved liv­ing near the po­lice sta­tion to be part of the move­ment, Dr. Nilka­n­thrai, known for cre­at­ing a pop­u­lar In­dian Braille, and for start­ing a blind school at the fam­ily res­i­dence, and Lal­shankar Umashankar, who was the founder of many char­i­ta­ble and ed­u­ca­tional causes. In those days, In­de­pen­dence ac­tivists like Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel, Dada Sa­heb Mavlankar, Dr. Kanuga, Ji­van­lal Di­wan and Bal­vantrai Thakore would meet at Kha­dia for dis­cus­sions called the Bha­jia Club. Ma­hatma Gandhi stayed here dur­ing his ma­tric­u­la­tion stud­ies and Swami Vivekanand stayed at Umashankar’s house on his visit to Ahmedabad. The house of Sir Chi­man­lal Har­i­lal Se­tal­vad, judge of the Bom­bay High Court and an In­dian mem­ber of the com­mit­tee for the re­port on Gen­eral Dyer, later be­came an ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tute’’.

Tak­ing his ad­vice, we hired an au­torik­shaw that took us to Vanita Vishram, started by Su­lochna De­sai as a home for wid­ows and later a school was started on the premises for girls to study for their ma­tric­u­la­tion. A mag­nif­i­cently carved haveli called the United Ben­gal Home was es­tab­lished in Kha­dia in 1906 as a tech­ni­cal in­sti­tute, where spin­ning and weav­ing master Ke­shavlal Me­hta un­der­took to train stu­dents in tex­tile weav­ing, an ini­tia­tive to make In­dia sel­f­re­liant in tex­tiles. About 25 men from Ben­gal came here and learnt weav­ing, and re­turned to join the tex­tile in­dus­try in the east. Says Nayak, “Vande Mataram was sung for the first time in Gu­jarat by the in­mates of this home’’. Chetna, an NGO, has its of­fices in the former Baronet Haveli, which was house of tex­tile pi­o­neer Ran­chod­lal Ch­ho­ta­lal, who im­proved the civic ser­vices in Ahmedabad.

An­other three-storey build­ing in Kha­dia once housed a bomb fac­tory. Two bombs made here were thrown at the cav­al­cade of Viceroy Lord Minto and his wife, on his visit to Ahmedabad in Novem­ber, 1909, by un­known pa­tri­ots who were never caught. A dra­goon, who was rid­ing along­side, in­ter­cepted the first bomb. The sec­ond bomb also did not ex­plode and landed on soft sand. A memo­rial marks the spot near Mahipa­tram Ashram near Kha­dia. The at­tack caused an up­roar in Eng­land.


The Sar­dar Pa­tel Memo­rial

Pho­tos credit: Di­nesh Shukla

The gal­leries in the Sar­dar Pa­tel Memo­rial at Shahibag Palace

Kha­dia, or old Ahmedabad

Photo credit: Di­nesh Shukla

Sar­dar pa­tel mu­seum

Sar­dar Pa­tel memo­rial mu­seum

Rabindranath Tagore’s room at the Shahibag Palace

Pho­tos credit: Di­nesh Shukla

Hri­day Kunj, the cot­tage-like house of Ma­hatma Gandhi and Kas­turba

Tourists at Gandhi Ashram

A café at the Navji­van Trust build­ing Ma­hatma Gandhi‘s pho­tos at Gandhi Ashram The mu­seum at Gandhi Ashram

The spin­ning wheel and sim­ple be­long­ings of Ma­hatma Gandhi at Hri­day Kunj

Play­ing cricket in Sabar­mati

Gandhi Ashram fac­ing Sabar­mati river

A bronze at Gandhi Ashram

The Nava­ji­van Trust was founded by Ma­hatma Gandhi in 1929

The vin­tage print­ing press at the Navji­van Trust build­ing Navji­van Trust, was used by Ma­hatma Gandhi to de­velop publi­ca­tions

Pho­tos credit: Di­nesh Shukla

The Gu­jarat Vid­hyap­ith

Gu­jarat Vidyap­ith

The Kochrab Ashram was Gand­hiji’s first res­i­dence at Ahmedabad

San­skar Ken­dra and kite mu­seum, de­signed by Le Cor­bus­ier

Gu­jarat Col­lege, Ahmedabad

Vanita Vishram

Shahid Ki­nari­wala memo­rial

Kalupur road, Kha­dia

Old Pol in Kha­dia

Mar­tyr memo­rial

Baronet haveli

Chin­ub­hai Baronet Bun­ga­low

The haveli, United Ben­gal Home, in Kha­dia

A stop on the Free­dom walk

Vis­it­ing a Free­dom Fighter’s home

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