Efforts are underway to renovate the iconic Aga Khan Palace, also known as the Gandhi National Memorial, and to make the museum experience more interactive for the lakhs of visitors who flock here every year. These efforts are part of measures to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Following the launch of the Quit India movement, Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and Gandhi’s personal secretary Mahadev Desai were interned at the palace from August 9, 1942. Also imprisoned here were Gandhi’s associates such as Miraben and Sarojini Naidu, among others. While Desai died of a heart attack six days after his arrest, Kasturba passed away 18 months later, after a prolonged illness. The samadhis of both Kasturba and Gandhi’s personal secretary, Mahadev Desai, are located here.
Gandhi was released from Aga Khan Palace on May 6, 1944. In 1969 , Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV, donated the palace to the Indian government. It was declared a monument of national importance by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2003.
The steps that will be taken to spruce up the palace include fixing a leaking roof at the main museum, giving the palace a fresh coat of paint, and illuminating the entire structure. The brick wall as well as other structures around the samadhi are also being repaired, said Gajanan Mandavare, assistant conservation officer of ASI, Pune sub-division.
“The last time the palace was given a coat of paint was in 2004,” admitted Mandavare.
Recently, a team from the Aurangabad division of the ASI visited the palace, which is spread across 16 acres, and took stock of the paintings, photographs and personal belongings of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba at the site. There are plans to chemically preserve at least 10-12 paintings and photographs that chronicle important milestones in India’s freedom struggle, said Mandavare.
The ASI has already developed a road around the palace, built toilets and parking space, and painted and repaired parts of the building. The palace gets at least 6,000-7,000 foreign tourists every year.
As part of the Union Ministry of Culture’s plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the main building of Aga Khan Palace will be restored, the picture gallery will be refurbished and a digital, interactive display of Gandhi’s works will be organised, said an ASI official on condition of anonymity. “We want to attract more people, especially children, to visit the palace. To make it interactive, we will use digital technology at the visitors’ gallery. There will be touch screen monitors so that one can view pictures of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa or during the Dandi March. Arrangements are being made so that Gandhi’s speeches can also be heard,” said an ASI official.
The Aga Khan Palace was built in 1892 by the 3rd Aga Khan, Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III.