Gandhi Memorial @ Kanya Kumari

S. Balakrishnan

 But for Jan. 30 and Oct. 2 we hardly remember Gandhiji, Father of the Nation. It is a shameless fact that one looks forward to Oct. 2 more eagerly, the day being a national holiday! Except for a ceremonial remembrance of our freedom struggle martyrs on Republic and Independence Day, we scarcely remember them. January 30 is such another occasion to at least briefly think of the martyrs, including Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated on that day in 1948.

So, on this occasion, let me take you for a ride, I mean, for a walk around a memorial for Gandhiji in Kanyakumari, India’s southern tip. Though it may sound irrelevant here, let me remind that Kanyakumari is not the southernmost tip of Indian soil; that tip is ‘Indira Point’ in Great Nicobar Island which wasearlier called Parsons Pygmalion Point. Whereas the political sycophants renamed the Point and as well installed a statue of Indira Ghandy – that is the right spelling of her husband Feroze Ghandy’s family surname, and not Gandhi which he adopted out of respect to Gandhiji – no statue of Mahatma Gandhi has been installed there. For the sake of argument one could say while Indira visited that spot (hence it was renamed after her) Gandhiji had never visited it. Well, it really does not matter because it is such a desolate and forbidden tip, especially after the 2004 tsunami. But still, isn’t it our real southernmost soil?

From geography let us jump to the history of 1948. After consigning Mahatma’s body to the flames, ash was collected and sent to various parts of India for the mourning nation to pay its respect to the departed soul. One such urn reached Kanyakumari, the meeting point of three seas (Indian Ocean in the South, Bay of Bengal in the East and Arabian Sea in the West), a triveni sangam as in Prayagraj, hence a sacred place. After public homage, the ash was immersed at the Sangam of three seas. In memory of this event, the spot where the urn was kept was converted into a memorial by constructing a Mandapam of 79’ height, the age when he died. Built in Odisha temple architecture style, it was initially painted pink. But now it shines in pure white against the vast blue of the sea and the sky. The memorial was completed in 1956; it is as old as I am, or as young as I am.  So I was destined to visit it, not once but thrice.

When I first visited this Gandhi Mandapam as a 12-year-old boy, what amazed me was the fact that every year on October 2 sun rays touch the spot where the ash urn was kept! I was wondering at the engineering skill of the planners. Later, as I grew up, I learnt that there are numerous temples in India built hundreds and hundreds of years back that let in sun rays on a specific day inside the sanctum sanctorum.

While Gandhi’s ash reached Kanyakumari in 1948, he had twice visited the place in 1925 and in January 1937.  During his first visit in 1925, Gandhi was not permitted to enter the Shakthi Goddess (Bhagavathi Amman) temple in Kanyakumari, for the reason that he had crossed the seas and travelled abroad. This was forbidden in Hindu religious code. He was terribly upset by this denial. However, when he visited Kanyakumari again in 1937, he could enter the temple. The progressive King of Travancore Kingdom had lifted the ban on Dalits entering the temple together with this ban. Kanyakumari was then under Travancore Kingdom, ruled by Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma Maharaja.On the invite of the King, Gandhiji had attended the event to mark the entry of Dalits into a temple in Thiruvananthapuram, in 1937. “I am writing this at the Cape, in front of the sea, where three waters meet and furnish a sight unequalled in the world. For this is no port of call for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin.” Gandhiji had commented on 15th Jan. 1937 in Kanyakumari.

It is appropriate that a memorial for Gandhiji stands at the southern tip of Tamil Nadu as if recalling his close association with Tamil people since his South African days. It was further strengthened by his fourth son, Devdas Gandhi, marrying Lakshmi, daughter of C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji / CR). Both Rajaji and Gandhiji were close associates during the independence struggle days. Later, Rajaji took over as the last Governor-General of India (1948-1950), the first Indian to hold this post. As Lakshmi was only 15 years old (and Devdas 28) when love blossomed between them, both Gandhiji and Rajaji asked the couple to wait for five years without seeing each other. When this condition was fulfilled, they were married in 1933. Devdas and Lakshmi had four children, Rajmohan Gandhi, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Ramchandra Gandhi and Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, each famous in their own way. An interesting fact is while Rajaji was the first Governor of West Bengal (15 August 1947 – 21 June 1948, before assuming the post of Governor-General of India), his grandson Gopalakrishna Gandhi was West Bengal’s 23rdGovernor from 14 December 2004 – 14 December 2009.

Open from 7 to 7, Gandhi Mandapam houses historical photographs of Gandhi’s life & work which is part of our freedom struggle as well. Sadly, its upkeep needs more attention; this even while we were celebrating Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary! Maybe the authorities are waiting for his 150th death anniversary. As we visited the memorial recently, we were witness to an awkward incident; two of the security men stationed there indulged in abusive war against each other for breach of rules - letting visitors enter with footwear on, and eat and sleep there. Such a filthy language that we ran away from there. Whereas Gandhiji preached ahimsa and tolerance, they almost came to blows. Could be work pressure, I pacified myself.

It is said that under the guise of digitalization of exhibitions, photographs of Gandhiji’s last moments have recently been removed from Birla House in Delhi where he was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, for obvious reason! The Kanyakumari Gandhi memorial provides a fantastic view of the Land’s End. So don’t get annoyed with the selfie-loving youth at this sacred place. Born after independence, they have neither felt the pain of slavery nor the joy of getting freedom; there is no point in blaming them.If I am permitted to slightly twist the words of Jesus, ‘Father of the Nation, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’