The estate in New Delhi where India
's national hero Mahatma Gandhi
lived for the final period of his life – and the place where he was assassinated
in 1948. It is now a shrine-cum-museum kind of site and one of the city's more major dark-tourism attractions.
More background info:
Mahatma Gandhi is often referred to in India
as the “father of the nation”, or its “founder” … and indeed the country owes a lot of its gaining independence to Gandhi's decades-long activism.
But this is not the place to give a full account of all this, of Gandhi's life, his teachings or political achievements. The topic has filled countless volumes and websites and is also amply illustrated at the Gandhi Smriti itself. So I won't repeat this here.
Suffice it to say that this estate is where Gandhi stayed during the last 144 days of his life, from September 1947 to the day of his assassination on 30 January 1948
. Those were turbulent times, as India
had just been released into independence by the British
, whose colonial rule Gandhi had so famously rejected and fought against most of his life.
Gandhi was greatly disillusioned with the break-up of India
, the Partition
, as it has become known as. This refers to the formation of a separate Pakistani state, which triggered much violence and a mass population shift between the countries. See also under Amritsar
The assassin was a Hindu nationalist extremist who opposed Gandhi's approach of non-violence and thought Gandhi was “giving in” to political demands by Muslim Pakistan. When on 30 January Gandhi was holding one of his public prayer meetings in the gardens of the estate, the assassin fired three pistol shots at Gandhi at point-blank distance. He died at the scene. One of the bullets is on display at the National Gandhi Museum – see under Delhi
It was a shock to the nascent nation – and to the world – that a man who had preached non-violence could be killed in such a way. A two-week official period of mourning was decreed. The procession leading to Gandhi's cremation ceremony at Raj Ghat (see again under Delhi) was attended by over two million people.
The assassin was tried and sentenced to death. And despite the fact that at least two of the bereaved family members of Gandhi called for a commutation of the death sentence, he was executed in November 1949.
The estate where Gandhi lived was at that time called the Birla House, after the name of the business tycoon family who had it built in the 1920s and who had frequently hosted Gandhi as a guest before the assassination.
In the early 1970s the estate was purchased from the family by the Indian government and turned into a memorial, which opened to the public in 1973. Since then more commodification has taken place, including the addition of some multimedia elements as recently as in 2005.
What there is to see:
The estate of Gandhi Smriti, the Old Birla House (see background
) is a walled complex in New Delhi
consisting of a grand whitewashed two-storey house with four side wings, a large garden and several ancillary buildings around it.
Outside the wall by the roadside is a big black-marble marker on which silver letters state the name of the site plus the line “The martyrdom site of Mahatma Gandhi”.
Inside the complex the first wing of the house to the left is the place where Gandhi had lived, and the two simple rooms have been preserved. You can see his very basic bed, his similarly spartan “office” and in a glass case on the wall some of Gandhi's personal belongings (few as they were) are on display, including his walking stick and his iconic round spectacles.
The spot in the garden where Gandhi was shot is marked by a small shrine with a memorial stone in it. The path leading up to it is marked with two rows of footstep-shaped stones set onto the pavement.
Along one side of the garden is a semi-open-air exhibition. This consists of a single row of large panels with photos and reproductions of text documents pertaining to the life and work of Gandhi, with short explanatory texts at the bottom – in both Hindi and (often very flowery) English. This exhibition part is set into a roof-covered colonnade – hence semi-open-air.
Several statues and large images of Gandhi are also dotted around. And at the far end of the garden is another sort of shrine room, which includes a lifelike sculpture of Gandhi sitting cross-legged on the floor as well as several other (partly hands-on) objects.
Parts of the estate were undergoing refurbishment work at the time of my visit (January 2017) – so it could be there will be more to see once this work is finished.
All in all, it's more a place of pilgrimage than anything else, though the exhibition part also provides a good deal of information too (even if some of it is a bit unbalanced in the amount of detail given – sometimes overbearingly much, sometimes way too little).
It's a very peaceful setting – fittingly – unless, that is, large groups arrive. This happened when I was just finishing my visit and a ca. 60-strong group of Indian women turned up noisily (probably on some organized tour or study trip). I'm glad I'd had the place more or less to myself until then, as it changed the whole atmosphere quite a bit.
At 5 Tees January Marg in the middle of the posher bungalows-and-leafy-boulevards part of New Delhi
a good mile (ca. 1.7 km) south of Rajpath and the government quarter, a couple of blocks north-west of the Claridges Hotel.
Access and costs:
a bit off the main tourist sights areas of Delhi
, but not too difficult to find; free.
Unless you're staying at the Claridges Hotel, from were it is just a short walk, you'll probably have to get some form of transport, such as a tuk-tuk or taxi. The site is also included in several Gandhi-themed guided tours on offer in Delhi
Opening times: Tuesdays to Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays.
Time required: Roughly between half an hour and a full hour or even more, depending on how much of the texts on display you want to read through in full.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Delhi
– the two other places within the city that are also linked to Mahatma Gandhi are the National Gandhi Museum and the Raj Ghat, the place where his body was cremated after the assassination.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Delhi
- Gandhi House 01 - memorial by the roadside
- Gandhi House 02 - where he lived his final days
- Gandhi House 03 - inside
- Gandhi House 04 - spartan
- Gandhi House 05 - additional message
- Gandhi House 06 - simplicity
- Gandhi House 07 - exhibits
- Gandhi House 08 - iconic glasses
- Gandhi House 09 - back outside
- Gandhi House 10 - park behind the house
- Gandhi House 11 - exhibition
- Gandhi House 12 - semi-open-air
- Gandhi House 13 - text-and-photo panels
- Gandhi House 14 - following the footsteps
- Gandhi House 15 - final steps