This Independence Day, get up close and personal with the long and tumultuous struggle of freedom fighters through some of the most telling museums across the country
August every year is when the country revels in patriotic fervour. But more than seven decades after the country became independent, the path to independence is getting more and more hazy in our collective consciousness. For younger generations, the country’s history, especially the journey towards becoming a nation, is something that is both distant and relatively irrelevant. Fortunately, there are evocative museums throughout the country that serve as reminders of this crucial phase in our history.
Kranti Mandir, Red Fort, New Delhi
The sprawling Red Fort is among the most striking landmarks in central Delhi. The entire complex goes back to Mughal times and a sound and light show highlights this aspect. But quite apart from this, the complex also houses four museums, which have been named as Kranti Mandir by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prominent among them are the museums dedicated to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army (INA), Yaad-e-Jallian Museum (on Jallianwala Bagh and World War 1), Museum on 1857, India’s first war on Independence.
The museum on Bose and the Indian National Army showcases various artefacts related to Netaji and the INA. The artefacts include the wooden chair and sword used by Netaji, medals, badges, uniforms and other items related to the INA. The Museum on 1857 showcasing the valour and sacrifices made by Indians during India’s war of Independence.
Partition Museum, Amritsar
Possibly one of the most turbulent times in the country’s history, Partition is still a touchy issue with an entire generation. But for several subsequent generations, the Partition Museum in Amritsar seeks to enunciate this vital period. It is the first museum to deal with the subject and the historic Town Hall building seems like an apt setting. Narrated through the chronicles of people affected by the move, the museum has 15 galleries, with telling names such as Migration, Resistance, Division, Refuge and Hope. It also has display of newspapers and magazines, as well as government documents. However, the most evocative ones are photographs of the long exodus lines and camps as well as oral histories through film and sound clips, and artefacts and letters donated by refugees. These are interspersed with art installations, all of which makes for a riveting and moving experience. The museum also encourages visitors to leave behind a message on the Tree of Hope.
Cellular Jail and Museum, Port Blair
Located almost at the farther side of the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are too far away from the India’s Eastern coast. This could have been one of the reasons why the British chose Port Blair as the location for the Cellular Jail, one of the most horrifying places of detention for freedom fighters. Endless rows of individual and bleak cells in a seven pronged building catered to solitary confinement while untold torture was meted out to inmates. A large section of the building is still intact and the cells are a stark reminder of what the prisoners went through. On the grounds are various other exhibits where they were put to work. The jail museum has a photographic display that takes visitors through that phase of history. A sound and light show in the evenings provides an evocative commentary on the jail and the freedom movement. In conjunction with Port Blair, it is also worth visiting Viper Island, an abandoned island, which still is home to the silent horror where prisoners were sent to gallows.
Gandhi Memorial Museum, Ahmedabad
Among the many museums dedicated to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi, the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya (Gandhi Memorial Museum) on the banks of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad is a vivid descriptor of the person and cause. The place is all the more significant since it is where the Mahatma launched the Dandi Salt March. Spread over several acres with lovely views of the river and dotted with greenery and shade-giving trees, the museum is housed in various structures and provide glimpses of Gandhi’s personal life. On display are his personal belongings, including a wooden charkha. The museum also serves as a repository and documentation centre for Gandhiji. The library contains 34,177 letters 8,718 pages of manuscript written by Mahatma Gandhi besides 6,000 photographs, 334 films, over 500 audio cassettes, 121 records, 63 video cassettes and 155 awards that were given to him. It also serves as an education and awareness centre for children.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Museum, Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad is also home to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Museum, which has been established using his personal belongings in order to put the freedom struggle into perspective. Dubbed as the Iron Man of India, various items belonging to him have been exhibited chronologically, which connect to specific events in his life and thereby to specific events in the country’s history. An added attraction is the light show, which is organised every evening narrating the struggle for India’s Independence.
Mani Bhavan, Mumbai
For 17 years, Mahatma Gandhi spent time in Mumbai’s Mani Bhavan, which was the focal point of Gandhi’s political activities in Mumbai between the year 1917 and 1934. It was here that several important events were either strategised or launched by him. Some of them were the Non-cooperation Movement, Swadeshi Movement and the Khilafat Movement. Gandhiji began his association with the charkha at the Mani Bhavan only and it was from the terrace of the house that he was arrested in 1932. The museum displays some of his personal belongings, photographs, newspaper cuttings and his library. The room that Gandhiji used during his stay here is on the second floor. There is a glass partition and people can see two of his spinning wheels, a book and a well-preserved floor-bed.