Footprints of The Mahatma
From the seaside port of Porbandar in Gujarat — where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born — to the serene environs of Raj Ghat in Delhi, where he found his final resting place, Vimla Patil trails Bapu’s journey into independent India’s history

Kirti Mandir,
Bapu’s birthplace

At the paisley-shaped tip of Saurashtra in Gujarat, lies the quiet town of Porbandar, the birthplace of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, one of the greatest icons of the 20th century. Little did his parents know at the birth of their son Mohan, that one day he would illuminate the souls of countless people all over the world and leave footprints in the pages of India’s history.

Clockwise from top left: The Mahatma found unique ways to gather a huge number of people around him; Kirti Mandir, Porbandar, Gujarat, the birthplace of Bapu; Birla House, Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi, where Gandhiji spent his last months; and the charkha had become the symbol of his struggle for Swadeshi goods and his simple lifestyle
Clockwise from top left: The Mahatma found unique ways to gather a huge number of people around him; Kirti Mandir, Porbandar, Gujarat, the birthplace of Bapu; Birla House, Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi, where Gandhiji spent his last months; and the charkha had become the symbol of his struggle for Swadeshi goods and his simple lifestyle

Known for its pristine beaches and quiet courtyards, Porbandar is today a pilgrimage centre for Gandhiji’s followers. It is said that the Gandhi family purchased their residence in this seaside town because Karamchand, Gandhiji’s father and earlier Uttamchand, his grandfather, were both Diwans of the Raja of Porbandar, a flourishing trade port and fishing town. Mohandas was born on October 2, 1869, in this house. Gandhiji’s family continued to live in this house until it was converted into a museum of the memorabilia of the leader after India’s Independence. What is also interesting is that the home of Kasturba, Gandhiji’s teenager wife, also stands right behind the Gandhi residence in Porbandar. Called Gandhi because of their trade in fragrances, the family of Mohanchand was friendly with the parents of Kastur and, thus, arranged the marriage of the two when they were both barely 13.

The Gandhi family moved to Rajkot after Karamchand fell out with the Raja of Porbandar and took the position of the Diwan of Rajkot where Mohandas went to the Alfred High School. Not doing so well in his studies, Mohandas was sent to England to study law at an early age and returned with a law degree to India.

Today, both the birthplace of the Mahatma in Porbandar and the school he attended in Rajkot are museums with memories of the Father of the Nation ensconced in every object. From his pocket watch to diaries, books to his baithak of khadi, his personal possessions to his walking stick. The Porbandar house is called Kirti Mandir and offers a photo exhibition, which unfolds the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s life with all-important events, which marked his battle for truth and the support that Kasturba gave him through every phase of his life.

Kochrab Harijan Ashram, Ahmedabad

Soon after completing his education in England, Gandhiji briefly returned to India and then went to South Africa, accepting a job to start his career. This is where he first came across injustice against the Indian population by the white rulers and started his opposition with the help of his compatriots. His biographers agree that South Africa was the place where the flame of social commitment was lit in Mahatma’s heart. It was here, seeing the suffering of the coloured people, including poor Indian workers and labourers, that he decided to devote his life to the service of the underprivileged and to his fight against injustice and oppression.

Gandhiji returned to India in 1914 and was immediately involved in India’s struggle for freedom. The first institution he established at this time was Kocharab Harijan Ashram, Ahmedabad. However, he had to abandon the project after facing opposition for accepting a family of untouchables into the ashram. This ashram stands now in the heart of Ahmedabad on the opposite bank of the river from the Sabarmati Ashram, which was later founded by him.

Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad

Mahatma Gandhi's house at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad
Mahatma Gandhi's house at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and (below) Raj Ghat, Bapu’s final resting place on the banks of the Yamuna in New Delhi

When opposed by his own community, Gandhiji founded this commune-like residence in 1919 on the banks of the Sabarmati river. And until he launched his Dandi Salt March in 1930, this remained his home where he returned after every ‘expedition’ to fight injustice, oppression and slavery in various states of India, including Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and others, using his weapons of Satyagraha and non-violent protests. Describing his efforts, Gandhiji’s biographer Louis Fischer has said, "His greatness lay in doing what everyone could do but doesn’t."

Gandhiji found unique ways to gather huge number of people around him and to give a tremendous energy to the freedom struggle with causes that he sometimes won and sometimes lost. But losing a cause never meant giving up – Gandhiji relentlessly pursued his goal of India’s Independence and the dignity of its millions.

Raj Ghat, Bapu’s final resting place on the banks of the Yamuna in New DelhiBy the time he was a resident of Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhiji already wore only khadi and only a brief dhoti and a shawl-like cover for his frail shoulders. The charkha had become the symbol of his struggle for Swadeshi goods and his simple lifestyle identified him as the true leader of the masses. A great story is narrated about the high point of Gandhiji’s opposition to the British rule in India. When he was invited to meet King George V during the Round Table Conference in 1931, Winston Churchill described him as ‘the naked fakir’. Gandhiji refused to ‘dress up’ to appear in the king’s presence as per the court protocol and the king had to see him as he was – a representative of the people of India, oppressed by a colonial power.

Sabarmati Ashram was also the starting point of Gandhiji’s famous Salt March to Dandi in 1930 to oppose British atrocities on Indians. A symbol of India’s non-violent strength, the Dandi March for Salt Satyagraha became a watershed event in the freedom for struggle, despite its failure to revoke unjust laws because it drew thousands of people into the freedom struggle. But it was also the event that put an end to Gandhiji’s stay in the ashram.

Gandhi Barrack and Aga Khan Palace, Pune

Now a famous monument, this jail in Pune had the honour of being ‘home’ to Gandhiji twice during his fight for the Independence. The room where he was imprisoned and the courtyard in front of the room are now named Gandhi Barrack and are considered a Gandhi Memorial.

Other leaders who shared this jail with Gandhiji were Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In Pune, also stands Aga Khan Palace, where Gandhiji and Kasturba were detained by the British. This is where Gandhiji suffered ill health due to malaria and lost Kasturba, his companion and wife of 62 years in 1944. Gandhiji’s close aide, Mahadev Desai, also died in this palace. Gandhiji built the samadhis of both these important people in his life with his own hands with mud and stones. Later, the samadhis were covered with marble and the palace is today a Gandhi monument.

Sevagram, Wardha, Maharashtra

After the Salt March failed to persuade the British to change oppressive laws against poor Indians, Gandhiji vowed that he would not return to Sabarmati Ashram till Independence came eventually in 1947. After his return from the Round Table Conference in 1931, he founded Sevagram Ashram at Shegaon, near Wardha, in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Many events of the fight for freedom were launched from here. Today, Sevagram is a cluster of communes and ashrams that have been designated as a monument.

Birla House, Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi

Gandhiji often stayed at the various homes of the famous industrial family of the Birlas and they in their turn, followed Gandhi by contributing to his programmes and supporting the cause of Independence. The Birla residence in New Delhi was the place where Gandhiji spent the last months of his life. He returned to New Delhi from Kolkata in December 1947 because his usual residence in the Sweepers’ Colony was overrun by shanties for refugees. At Birla House, he undertook his last fast for communal harmony and peace. On the evening of January 20, 1948, an attempt on his life failed when a crude bomb exploded behind him and left him unhurt.

Ten days later, the same assassins who had made the earlier effort to kill him, gathered at the prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, and Nathuram Godse, one among them, barred his way and fired four bullets at him at around 5.17 p.m. Gandhiji died almost instantly, being hit by three of the bullets. He collapsed, never to rise again.

Birla House is today a national monument to the memory of Gandhiji and is visited by lakhs of followers and admirers. The spot, where he was assassinated, is marked by a stone tablet and his room is preserved as it was when he lived therein. The monument also has a photographic exhibition of events from Bapu’s life.

Gandhi Memorial, Raj Ghat, New Delhi

Gandhiji’s last journey — an event attended by a million grieving Indians — took him to the banks of the Yamuna in New Delhi. Here, in the verdant gardens on the riverbank, the Father of the Nation was cremated with full national honours on January 31, 1948. Today, an eternal flame burns at the site, reminding the world of the selfless man who gave his life for peace and harmony in the world and equality for all human beings.

Opposite the final resting place of Gandhiji, stands Gandhi Museum. It houses a photo gallery depicting Gandhiji’s various homes and a collection of reference books. On show are the clothes, which Gandhiji wore at the time of his assassination, his possessions and the gun that killed him as well as the urns that held his ashes before the ashes were immersed into the Ganga. There is a replica of the train that carried the ashes to Prayag for immersion. The nearby Gandhi Darshan complex also houses an exhibition of photographs describing the life of Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent movement, which he spearheaded.