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Relics of non-violence

M.R. ARAVINDAN

The Gandhi Memorial Museum is one of its kind in many ways.


MADURAI

Want to see the last piece of cloth used by Mahatma Gandhi? Visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum here. The Gandhi Memorial Museum, run by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, is one among the seven places in the country which has an institution of this kind.

Inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959, the museum has 14 articles, blood-stained cloth, a pair of spectacles, a towel, a loincloth, a dhoti, a wooden and a leather chappal, spoon made of wood, thread spun by him, shawl, kerchief (napkin), pillow, blanket, a letter written to a Devakottai friend.

One of the main reasons why a museum on Gandhi was built in Madurai was because he had visited Tamil Nadu 14 times, of which he had been to the city five times. Also, it was here, in 1921, that Gandhi resolved to have the loincloth for a dress, which made him popular throughout the world as the "half-naked fakir".

He visited the famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in 1946. The words he had penned down in the visitor's book in the temple have also been preserved in the museum.

"The museum consists of three blocks — the first one is the picture gallery presenting a visual biography of Gandhi; then the `Hall of Relics', where the belongings of Gandhi are displayed and the third one is a gallery of Khadi and Village Industries which Gandhi revived.

Another unique feature of the building, housing the museum, is the mix of three architectures: centre, the Naick style constructed by Rani Mangammal; right, the British style and left, the modern Indian style.

In front of the main building is the Gandhi Kutir, a replica of the hut at the Wardha ashram," says K. Nanda Rao, in-charge, exhibitions.

"Apart from these, there is a library in the northern wing of the building, which contains books on cultural background, freedom movement and on Gandhi. There are about 20,000 volumes and Photostat copies of 27,000 letters of Gandhi and 62 reels of microfilms," he says, adding, "There is also a letter written personally by Gandhi to Narayana Sathsangi of Devakottai. A congratulatory message sent by Gandhi to freedom fighter and poet Subramania Bharati is also preserved in this museum. Yet another interesting letter is the one, written by the Mahatma to Adolf Hitler addressing him as Dear Friend."

A research wing also functions in this museum, which brings out many books.

The museum conducts educational programmes for students on Indian freedom movement and a brief study on Gandhi's life. An annual competition on freedom movement and Gandhi is also conducted and the winners are honoured on Gandhi Jayanti day.

Yoga, Hindi and Sanskrit are also taught here. In addition, the museum also has a mobile exhibition unit with visuals of Gandhi, which takes part in major exhibitions and visits educational institutions on request.

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