A walk through Gandhi’s thoughts, memories of freedom struggle

On January 30, the Gujarat Vidyapith, founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920, in Ahmedabad, launched a heritage walk across its 21 acre campus that has been witness to events from the pre and post Independence era. To be conducted every Saturday, the walk begins from the Pranjivan Vidyarthi Bhawan, where the existing residential university first ran out of.

Not many know that at the time Gujarat Vidyapith was founded, it did not have its own building. It was started from Dahyabhai Ijatram Mehta’s (Vakil) bungalow near Kochrab Ashram on November 15, 1920 from where Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated the Gujarat Mahavidyalaya.

With space constraints in the bungalow along with looming threat of plague, Vidyapith was shifted to Aga Khan Estate near Nehru bridge, where a building stands now. It ran from there briefly till the foundation stone of Pranjivan Vidyarthi Bhawan was laid by eminent scientist Prafulla Chandra Ray on March 9, 1923 which after completion was inaugurated by Gandhi in 1925.

“On Sardar Vallabhbhai’s appeals to the public, a fund of Rs 10 lakh was collected for the land and building construction. Out of this Rs 2.5 lakh was donated by Pranjivandas Jagjivandas Mehta, on whose name the building is named. He was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and had helped him when he went to England and also helped him return from South Africa to India,” Binduvasini Joshi, who recently retired from Vidyapith’s department of History and culture told The Indian Express.

“It was constructed at a cost of Rs 1.75 lakh at that time. Sardar Vallabhbhai had dedicated his time and efforts to the building construction. Every brick used in the building was made on the site with each carrying a charkha engraving,” said Joshi, who was associated with the development of Vidyapith museum and in planning the heritage walk.

Walking down the corridors of Pranjivan Vidyarthi Bhawan, one can pictures of Mahatma Gandhi. The uniquely built building that resembles a fort has been the venue for the Vidyapith’s convocation ceremony since the time of Gandhi.

The walk traverses through Gandhiji’s Maun Khand, Morarjibhai Desai museum, Gujarat Vidyapith museum, rural science extension centre, Bible Khand and Umashankar Joshi Khand.

Gujarat Vidyapith which is considered as an important chapter of the freedom struggle and a unique heritage of not only Gandhi but also Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, popularly known as Acharya Kripalani, and many others, witnessed an enthusiastic group of more than 200 visitors on its launch day.

“The walk that is aimed at helping to understand not only Gandhian thoughts and lifestyle but also become a bridge between Gujarat Vidyapith and other colleges, universities, institutions and the society,” said Dr Rajendra Khimani, Vice Chancellor Gujarat Vidyapith.

The route covers 25 main spots also covers the oldest building of the campus which is a gaushala, Udhyog Bhawan, Mayur Garden, Acharya Kripalani Smarak Bhawan, Khadi Bhandar, the library, archival cell, earth cooling auditorium, tribal museum, sports complex and terrace garden.

Honorary Director Oriental Studies and Heritage Management Resource Centre, Gujarat Vidyapith Debashish Nayak , who launched the heritage walk in Ahmedabad city, says , “The route was planned in such a manner to give a glimpse of Gandhian thoughts, ideology, lifestyle, rich heritage and culture to not only people outside the campus but also students of Vidyapith too.”

The Pranjivan Vidyarthi Bhawan with its unique plan of huge doors in all four directions and a terrace boundary resembling a fort makes it secure from all sides just like a fort, an open ground the centre like the Nalukettu house style of Kerala, was used as a hostel for students.

Popular poet and scholar Uma Shankar Joshi too used to stay at this building for nearly three to four months and was regularly visiting campus and was associated with teachers. The Uma Shankar Joshi Khand is being planned to be developed as a memorial within the walk.

“It is on the terrace of this building that Joshi has penned a part of his popular Vishwa Shanti kavya. Also, his diary has a detailed note on his experiences of Vidyapith that also gives a glimpse of Vidyapith’s history,” says Joshi.

Sharing the history of Gandhi’s Maun Khand on the first floor of Bhawan, she adds, “This is the room where Gandhi stayed when he was advised not to meet anyone. Sardar Patel and his daughter Maniben would take care of Gandhi. He would sleep on the terrace, stroll in the corridors.”

The building that symbolises multi religion harmony also has a Bible Khand. The history of the Bible Khand which is in one of the corners of the building goes back to 1926 when Gandhi called off the non co-oepration movement.

“The entire country was angry with Gandhi and there was no political event for him so he was free for sometime. That time students asked him to teach them. Gandhi asked what they would like to learn from him as he can teach something on Gita or Ramayan. But students asked him to teach them Bible. So, every Saturday, he took lectures for three months on Bible from this place where he would come from Gandhi Ashram. However, when he started these lectures he had to face resentment from many people in Ahmedabad’s,” Joshi reveals.

The Bible Khand has large plaques mounted on the wall with teaching and symbols of all religions.

The heritage walk that also covers places like swimming pool is shown not as a facility but the ideology of Gandhi who would believe in physical exercise, or the tribal museum reflecting tribal culture sending a message of rich tribal culture of Gujarat are included not as buildings but ideology of Gandhi and his thoughts.

At present, there is no fee charged for the heritage walk that takes around 3 hours. However, registration fee could be charged in the future.

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