Yesterday I took some of our guests (who are staying at Lakeside as part of one of our tours) on a trip to the city of Madurai. As it is only 1 hour from here it makes a great excursion for the day, enabling people to come back and stay in the peaceful surroundings here rather than in a busy (and noisy) city hotel.
Madurai features in all tours of southern India, its main feature being the famous Meenakshi temple. The history of the city stretches back to at least the 3rd century BC when Megasthanes the Greek visited Madurai, later to be followed by other Greeks and Romans who established trade with the Pandyan Kings. Madurai has a rich and varied history, finally falling under the rule of the British in 1781 and now a part of Independent India.
Throughout the history of Madurai there are very few examples of women ruling as they were not thought suitable to succeed to the throne, but one famous Queen was Rani Mangammal who ruled for 18 years during a very difficult period at the end of the 17th century. She faced, with almost no outside help, the armies of Emperor Aurangzeb, paying a tribute but by doing so also being able to regain some of the lands lost by previous kings. She developed and repaired irrigation systems and roads and built many public buildings as well as a palace for herself (circa 1670)). This building became the home of the British Collectors of Madurai (the Collector in India is a very influential post which still exists today). In 1955 the palace and about 13 acres of land were given by the Tamil Nadu State Government to the All India Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (Hindi – Gandhi Memorial Trust) to be used as the Gandhi Memorial Museum which was opened in 1959 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. (There are four other Gandhi Museums in India).
Apart from the temple (which I’ll tell you more about in another post), the Gandhi Memorial Museum is a ‘must see’ and our current guests, like all other English visitors we have taken there, were much moved by the experience.
The Museum is effectively divided into two sections. The first depicts India’s struggle for freedom, starting with the arrival of the British to trade and chronicling the rule of the Raj with all its cruelties towards the Indian people. At the heart of this display is the history of the people who fought for freedom across the centuries, leading up to the role of Gandhi in the Independence Movement. As a British citizen you feel ashamed of what happened (although it was no different from what happened in other colonies ruled by the British or other nations). It is quite difficult to move through this section reading of the atrocities with an Indian national standing by your side. But the overwhelming reaction of the Indian people to you is so positive – they love the British and see themselves as our friends, quite often remarking on all of the good things that were brought to India during the Raj and which now form a British heritage which is one of the foundation stones of the modern India. It is really quite humbling.
“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good” – Mahtma Gandhi
This section of the museum is so full of information to read that your brain is already suffering overload when you reach the section dedicated to Gandhi. It is probably not a bad idea to leave and get a coffee (or have lunch) then come back refreshed for this equally moving display of manuscripts, photos, paintings, sculptures, and quotations of Gandhi along with copies of many of his letters. The life of Gandhi is portrayed through 124 photographs and the carefully selected notes with them give a deeper understanding of this remarkable man. Also in the collection are 14 original artefacts used by Gandhi including his glasses, a pair of his sandals and the blood stained dhoti which he was wearing when he was assassinated (the cloth is sealed in a vacuum in a class case).
“Man lives freely only by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him” – Mahatma Gandhi
As you exit the museum there is a display of people who have taken on board the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and used them to mould their own political beliefs and actions – including Martin Luther King Jr who spent a month in India and visited the museum, and also President Obama who recently visited India and spoke of his admiration and respect for Gandhi.
I really do recommend a visit to the museum if you are ever in Madurai.
“We must become the change we want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi