Dr. Pragnya Ram
Group Executive President
Weaving the epic life of the Mahatma in rhythmic, moving cadences, embellished with photographs, paintings, film footage, video clips and more, the Eternal Gandhi multimedia exposition gives you an unusually splendid feel of history.
"This uniquely innovative, first of its kind digital exhibition on the Mahatma is the brainchild of Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla," says Mrs. Rajashree Birla, who spearheaded the project. "This is our way of paying homage to the father of the nation. As perhaps you may be aware, this place, the Gandhi Smriti, of which this exhibition is a riveting part, was our erstwhile family house — the Birla House. This 12-bedroom house was built in 1928 by Shri G. D. Birla, my great-grandfather-in-law. It was also the house where my husband was born. I still vividly recollect the happy times that we, as a family, spent over here.
It was also home to Gandhiji, who was very close to Shri G.D. Birla, whom he referred to affectionately as his confidante. Our house has been a witness to several epochal moments. It was from here that Gandhiji parleyed with national and international leaders of repute, holding several clandestine meetings to overthrow the yoke of the Britishers.
Through my great-grandfather-in-law, Shri G.D. Birla, the Birla family shared a symbiotic bond with the Mahatma. The Mahatma's values of trusteeship, of truth, of non-violence, of justice — deeply influenced our family's patriarch. And these have permeated generation after generation in the Birla family and we look upon it as a legacy.
At another level, for quite some time, Kumar Mangalam, deeply influenced by the humane values that Gandhiji and Shri G.D. Birla espoused, felt a compelling need to present these in a contemporary fashion to the youth and the children of today. To give them a sense of history, to help them realise at what cost we won our freedom, to give them a feel of our leaders, of our nation in its making — he thought, was worthwhile. Most importantly, to take the Mahatma's message of shanti — peace, of satya — truth, of ahimsa — non-violence, ekta — the universality of mankind, in today's day and age in a grippingly interesting way.
To rediscover these truths that the Mahatma lived by, we thought we should take them as voyagers on an energising and revealing journey that could touch them in a sublimal way and embed his life's message in their psyche. This has been our endeavour.
To do so, we have created this technological marvel, admirably conceptualised and executed by Dr. Ranjit Makkuni, a renowned computer and multi-media expert." The exhibition opened under the aegis of the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, of which the Prime Minister is the chairman. Its location is Tees January Marg, New Delhi.
Inaugurating the exposition on 14 April 2005, in New Delhi, at the Gandhi Smriti, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that "It was a rare honour to inaugurate this most precious exhibition which reminds us of the high noon of India's freedom struggle. The Gandhi Smriti, where the exposition is housed, is a sacred place for all of us who come here to pay a tribute and draw inspiration from the Mahatma's life." Echoing Einstein, the Nobel laureate's words on Gandhi, he said, "Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."
Generations across the world have come to revere the life of the Mahatma. "Keeping this spirit alive is admirable," he opined, applauding the endeavours of Mr. Birla and Mrs. Rajashree Birla, to take the message of the Mahatma in so novel a manner. Gandhiji's values of truth, of ahimsa, of peace and brotherhood — are being constantly rediscovered in society.
He was happy to see the growing appeal of Gandhiji across diverse cultures such as Germany, Japan, the US and Palestine. "Whenever there is struggle for freedom, life, peace, self-respect, dignity, Gandhiji's message will continue to resonate," averred the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister hoped that the exhibition would ignite an even greater interest in the life and work of the father of the nation — in India and beyond. "This is now national property and we are eternally grateful to the Birlas for giving us this national treasure. The Birla family has done a lot for the development of the country," acknowledged the Prime Minister. The august gathering comprised of Mr. I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister, Mr. Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Culture, Information and Broadcasting, Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, Delhi's Chief Minister, Dr. Karan Singh, former Union Minister, Dr. Savita Singh, Director of Gandhi Smriti, Prof. Gangrade, Vice Chairman — Gandhi Smriti, Mr. Tushar Gandhi — great grandson of the Mahatma, Dr. Sarala Birla, Mr. B.K. Birla, Mrs. Rajashree Birla, Mrs. Manjushree Khaitan, Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla and Mrs. Neerja Birla, members of the family, and other dignitaries.
"The idea to do something for propagating Gandhian thoughts and values, and the teachings of the Mahatma is not new for the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti," remarks Dr. Savita Singh, Director, Gandhi Smriti. "We have been deliberating amongst ourselves, and from time-to-time several steps have been taken, several thoughts have been pondered over.
This eternal journey towards project Shashwat Gandhi has been one such historical moment. An idea came in the form of Smt. Rajashreeji Birla and her team from the Aditya Birla Group — to contribute to the never-ending journey of the Mahatma, our Bapu, our Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Its culmination is this Eternal Gandhi multimedia exposition."
"There is no word to describe it in English. It is an 'adbhut' experience and will inspire millions," affirmed Dr. Gangrade, Vice Chairman of the Gandhi Smriti.
The kaleidoscopic life of Gandhiji
Adds Dr. Makunni, "The project presents a language of physical interface actions derived from classical symbols. Such as the spinning wheel, turning of the prayer wheels, touching symbolic pillars, the act of hands touching sacred objects, collaboratively constructed quilts, sacred chanting in the collective group — the satsanga, and rotating of prayer beads. These tradition-based interactions inspire a rich panorama of tactile interfaces that allow people to access the multimedia imagery and multidimensional mind of Gandhiji.
"The technology developed does not 'merely scan' Gandhian images. It extrapolates Gandhian ideals to newer domains of information technology and product design, and at higher levels, the creation of meaning in a globalised world. For example, the Gandhian commitment to hand-based production and its symbiotic relationship with nature is interpreted in the context of modern culture-conscious design."
The contribution of the spectrum of artists, spanning wide geographic boundaries and disciplines, illustrate the universal resonance in Gandhian messages.
Computer scientists, modern designers, mosaic makers, craftsmen, artists and wood carvers offer their work as a dedicated prayer, in remembrance of the Gandhian vision; a collective likita japa, the endless remembrance of the Divine through repetition of the written mantra. Each object in the exhibition, whether a pixel of light, a bit-map on the screen, an animation, a circuit or a handcrafted object is a living prayer. Here lies the reaffirmation of the Gandhian view, a commitment to the dignity of hands, the healing of divides, the leveraging of village creativity and cultural diversity in the face of homogenisation.
A brief sojourn
Continues Mrs. Birla, "Recoursing to world-class futuristic technology and through innovatively blending the Indian ethos, we have evolved an interactive process. A process —- wherein the seeker and the teacher through the multimedia presentation engage in a fascinating dialogue on the life and times of the Mahatma.
During this sojourn, one will discover that every setting, so meticulously crafted, is contextual and has a timeless relevance. Let me walk you through a few of its alleys.
As I mentioned earlier, we have used innovative technology, embedding computer chips in practically everything that Gandhiji used. Take for instance, the walking stick during his Dandi march — the salt satyagraha. Here in two urns, you have seemingly salt crystals. You take them in your hand and as you drop them back on a screen, the entire salt march is re-enacted.
On a five feet configuration of the map of India, you have a harp with more than a hundred strings. Run your finger through any of them and Gandhiji's favourite songs, ranging from vaishnava janto tene re kahiye, to raghu pati raghav raja ram, to udja re hans akela, to sare jahan se acha, can be heard and seen on a life-size screen.
Move on to the Sarva Dharma Sambhav section and listen to raghu pati raghav raja ram sung by Hamsur Hayat in the qawwali genre — absolutely amazing and unheard of before.
Get on to the beautifully configured e-train. No sooner do you start the engine, through the touch of a button, along with the sound of the wheels on the rake, you get to see all the destinations that Gandhiji and Kasturba visited on his return from South Africa.
The pillar of truth is equally gripping. It has eleven rotating disks show-casing the eleven vows of the satyagrahi.
The gallery, with the time-line browsers, chronicles every significant aspect of the Mahatma's life in pictures along with his images, paintings and footages of films like Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" and Vitahalbhai Javeri's "The Mahatma". The sense, the touch and the feel of Gandhi that you get here is indescribable.
The entire walk through the museum serves as a stimulus, even a resurgence into Gandhism and is undeniably a serendipitous experience. It can be a guiding light for this generation and for all generations to come, given its potential to ignite the minds of the young and spark in them an unquenchable thirst for truth, for values, for compassion," beams Mrs. Birla
Gandhiji was the driving force in our nation and its people in the epic struggle for freedom. The Birla House was like a home to him. The Birla family felt most privileged to have him live in their midst for nearly a hundred and fifty days, until his sad demise. This was the time when the nation was torn by communal violence, causing great anguish to Gandhiji.
From 9 September 1947, the gates of the Birla House at Tees January Marg were open to all. Hundreds of visitors strolled in. Many simply seeking a darshan of the Mahatma. Others to seek advice. Thousands flocked in simply to offer their homage. Regardless of caste, creed or religion.
And every evening, in the garden of the Birla House, squatting on a mattress, Gandhiji would conduct prayer meetings. Shlokas from the Gita, the gurubani from the Guru Granth Sahib, the ramdhun and recitations from the Koran and the Bible as well, would rent the air.
After the prayers were said, Gandhiji would address the gathering. His voice was heard across the nook and cranny of the nation, given that his talk was broadcasted. Shri G.D. Birla and other members of the Birla family would form part of this congregation, soaking in the wisdom of the Mahatma. Shri G.D. Birla, the host to the Mahatma, was also his confidante. Even so, he preferred to live in the shadow of the Mahatma.
At the height of the communal tension, Gandhiji's message revolved round peace and amity, the universality of religions, the brotherhood of mankind. He preached what he practised.
On 30 January 1948, as this apostle of peace walked down the garden path of the Birla House for the evening prayer, he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse.
Pandit Nehru put unrelenting pressure on Shri G.D. Birla to let the Birla House be morphed into a Gandhi Memorial. This proposition was indeed extremely painful for Shri G.D. Birla, who wrote to Pandit Nehru saying that the Delhi home had been "a storehouse of memories and recollections which constitute for me a book into which I can delve deep to recall…a past which has gone to build up every fibre in my frail body and every tissue of my mind."
To the then government's suggestion that the garden where the Mahatma had been assassinated and the place where he had fallen, be handed over, Shri G.D. Birla's anguished response was —- one might ask one to cut one's child into two and give up one piece and retain the other."
Even Sardar Patel who was totally against taking over a house in such a manner, said to Pandit Nehru: "This involves violence of the worst kind to the feelings of both Ghanshyamdas and Bapu." The garden and spot where the Mahatma died, were subsequently opened to the public.
Regardless, the pressure continued unabated. On 2 October 1971, in an understated ceremony, a part of the Birla House was rechristened as Gandhi Sadan, and offered to the nation by the then president, Shri V.V. Giri. Shri G.D. Birla and the family shifted to a rented house at Vasant Vihar until their bungalow "Mangalam" on Amrita Shergill Marg, was built.
The Birla House subsequently became a national memorial, rechristened as "Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti."
Dr. Pragnya RamGroup Executive President, Corporate Communications & CSRAditya Birla Management Corporation Private LimitedAditya Birla Centre, 1st Floor, 'C' WingS.K. Ahire Marg, WorliMumbai 400 030.
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