Five times lucky-The Mahatma’s visits to the city

A frail man in a loin cloth stepped out of a train at Yeshwanthapur Railway Station on April 20th, 1927. He walked slowly to where arrangements had been made for community prayers on the station platform with the waiting crowd.  He then proceeded to Nandi Hills, on the advice of his personal physician Dr. Jivaraj Mehta. His blood pressure had been examined a few weeks ago in Amboli following a mild apoplexy and he had been instructed to rest and indulge in just `a little light reading’. He walked all the way up.

While at Nandi Hills, Gandhiji embarked on a diet of milk, fruits and homemade bread alongside a physical regimen of yoga asanas and pranayama. He continued to write extensively; articles for Young India and Navajivan, as well as letters expressing strong views on everything from natural diets to experiments in dairying and tanning, machine milling and labour issues in India, civil disobedience, social reform, religious conflict and satyagraha. A letter was also written to Sarojini Naidu, expressing his desire to see Dr.Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari being chosen as the next Congress President.

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The Maharaja of Mysore, Nalwadi Krishnarajendra Wodeyar extended his hospitality in the meantime and requested the Diwan, Sir Mirza Ismail to oversee this visit. Stories are still told in the city of the efforts made to procure fresh goat’s milk for Gandhiji daily. On June 5th, he was well enough to leave Nandi Hills and address a gathering at Chikkaballapur en route to Bengaluru before embarking on a tireless tour of South India.  It was not, as many believe, his first visit. He had been here earlier on 8th May, 1915 upon invitation by a group of young men (among them DV Gundappa, N Narasimha Murthy, KS Krishna Iyer and Belur Srinivasa Iyengar) known as the Gokhale Group.  The group had founded an association called the Mysore Social Service League and following the death of the famous political leader and freedom fighter, Gopal Krishna Gokhale a few months earlier, requested Gandhiji (who was on a tour of South India at the time) to bless their new idea by unveiling his portrait.This gesture also initiated the founding of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs by DVG, a few decades later in 1945. The portrait  is said to till hang in the Institute today.

He also addressed a gathering at an Idgah in 1920, during the height of the Khilafat Movement. But the 1927 visit was his longest. It was one of five that left a lasting impression on the city.

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While staying at the Kumara Krupa Guesthouse, the erstwhile home of Diwan K Seshadri Iyer, he inaugurated a Khadi Exhibition on July 3rd, 1927 and as a “self- chosen representative of the…semi-starved millions of India”, made an emotional appeal to eminent Bengalureans to endorse homespun fabric. He also spoke to the Adi Karnataka boys and at city institutions; Gubbi Veeranna Rangamandira, United Theological College, Mythic Society and the IISc. Along with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, he underwent training in cattle management at the Imperial Institute for Animal Husbandry & Dairying on Hosur Road, (now NDRI) where he is said to have signed the visitor’s book as a “farmer from Sabarmati.” He also attended the landmark event at Mahila Seva Samaja on July 13th, where city ladies impulsively threw their `Stree Dhan’ ornaments into a basket in support of his work with untouchables.

The women and the school children gathered in a big hall, all seated on the floor, to greet him. In another big room, some women were seated on the floor, spinning on the charka. The school children were taught to sing the song “Vaishnava Janato,” which was Mahatma’s favourite song of prayer… At the end of his speech, he asked them how they could help him in his work. He said that he needed monetary help for his work for the untouchables (Harijans)… The women had no money to give. Then the Mahatma told them that almost all of them had their “Sthridhana,” which means “Woman’s wealth” and consists of the jewels given to her at her marriage by her parents and others. Strictly, nobody including the husband, had any right over these jewels, except the owner. Woman after woman took out one or two of their jewels adorning their bodies, and threw them into the handkerchief held by the Mahatma. One woman threw a diamond and gold ring, another a gold necklace, another a ruby and gold earrings, and so on. Mahatma Gandhi thanked the women of Bangalore in responding to his request , and gracefully left the gathering with his followers.” Rajeshwari Chatterjee, (Professor and later Chairperson of the Department of Electro-communication Engineering, IISc.) Lifescapes, A personal history

He then left on 28th August, 1927 after five meetings, including one where Danish missionary couple Hans and Emilie Bjerrum sang a hymn.

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Arriving here again on January 4th, 1934, he attended a meeting at the Malleswaram Ladies Club. Women here donated their jewellery once more in a fit of nationalistic fervour. On January 8th, a`Silent Day’, Hungarian artist Elizabeth Sass Brunner was given thirty precious minutes to paint his portrait, an enduring reminder of that moment. The last visit was from May 8th-June 12th, 1936.

Time was also spent during these visits with local patriots, Gandhians, young freedom fighters and many city personalities including Sir M. Visvesvaraya, Diwan Sir Mirza Ismail, Sir CV Raman and Lady Raman, litterateur TP Kailasam, Sanskrit scholar, Rudrapatnam Shamasastry (who gifted him a rare copy of the Arthashastra) and celebrated violinist Mysore T. Chowdaiah who presented a 30 minute concert.

The Mahatma’s efforts, ideals and memories of his visits to Bengaluru are preserved at the Gandhi Bhavan in Kumara Park East, Gandhi Sahitya Sangha in Malleswaram, noted writer Vemagal Somashekar’s book `Bengaloorinalli Mahatma Gandhi’ and the hearts of older Bengalureans. His perseverance and sacrifices changed the future for younger generations who now reinforce their rights freely in a new, modern Republic of India. It was built on the idealism of those who fought for our freedom. It has been such a long journey from the dusty third class sleepers he travelled in to the fast trains that hurtle overhead on swank Mahatma Gandhi Road.

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Gandhi Nilaya, the bungalow where Gandhiji stayed, can still be seen at the top of Nandi Hills.

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This story was first published in the Bangalore Mirror on 26th, January 2015.Read it here.

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One comment

  1. Awesome. From long time, I’ve wanted to write on how the important events of Indian freedom struggle influenced namma Bengalooreans. Thanks for the inspiration Aliyeh 🙂

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