Mahatma Gandhi was one of India’s most seminal figures. Discovery Tours small groups learn more about him during a visit to the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai, one of five museums throughout the country dedicated to the national hero.
This remarkable museum was born from a remarkable request. Several years after Gandhi’s assassination, a call went out to all the people of India to establish memorial sites to the man who won them their independence from Britain. Rich and poor and other Indians from all walks of life contributed to the cause. The Madurai museum opened in 1959 in the palace of Rani Mangammal, who reigned over this region at the turn of the 18th century and was instrumental in creating its infrastructure – a fitting place to commemorate the man who laid the foundations of India’s independence.
Gandhi famously embraced nonviolent protest in the face of tyranny. This gentle man brought only himself – clad in a pure white dhoti and shawl – to confrontations with officials of the British Raj, who were donned in full uniform and weaponry. But this was no meek and simple man. He was a brilliant arbiter of morality who earned a law degree in London. Before he stood up against oppressors in his own country, he practiced law for the expatriate Indian community in South Africa, who were also being denied their civil rights.
He returned to India to lead peasants and farmers in protests against high taxes and discrimination. His causes expanded to include other social justice issues, such as women’s rights, poverty alleviation and religious harmony. Famously, he led the 1930 “Salt March,” a 24-day walk to the sea to protest the British criminalization of making salt from seawater, which had been a long-held Indian practice long before the British landed on Indian shores. In 1942, Gandhi’s “Quit India” speech implored British withdrawal and led to the imprisonment of many of his followers. Gandhi, too, spent many years in prison for his various protests. Also throughout his life, he went on long fasts to draw attention to the British oppression of Indian people and gain international attention.
In 1947, Gandhi’s efforts proved victorious as Britain granted India independence, creating the nations of Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Religious violence resulted as many Hindus and Muslims relocated to their respective new countries. In this volatile and ever-changing environment, Gandhi was assassinated, in 1948.
The Gandhi Memorial Museum is a remarkable collection of artifacts from his life, including handwritten correspondence, rare photographs, and other items, even a piece of the blood-stained clothing he was wearing when he was shot. It is a touching tribute to an iconic man, and a celebration of India’s road to freedom.