In the little alleys of this quiet town is the home of the man who
spoke the language of peace and brought India out of the shackles
of the British
Kirti_Mandir5

Words: Ambica Gulati

The road from Ahmedabad to Porbandar is jerkless and effortless. The destination was Kirti Mandir, ancestral home of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, for a peace ceremony on Martyrs’ Day, January 30 the day the Mahatma was assassinated in 1948. Peace has been our eternal quest and peace was what I found here.

We were staying at the only decent hotel in the port city of Porbandar—Hotel Lila’s. The walk to Kirti Mandir from here is a short one but through the bustling shopping area. Colourful bandhini sarees and aroma of different foods kept luring the senses. The temptation to change tracks and venture into the shops was strong. But the peace ceremony was to begin soon. So a little rushed, we walked on through the narrow lanes and finally shoes outside, we sat on the mats on the floor of Kirti Mandir in pin drop silence for five minutes. The only sounds we heard came from outside.

Kirti Mandir is not your traditional mandir or temple. It’s called mandir as it is the memorial built in the memory of the man who fought for India’s freedom peacefully. It is actually a temple signifying integration with architectural elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Parsis, Christians and Muslims.

Actually, it was the building right next to the Mahatma’s ancestral home but now the home and temple is the same complex. After the freedom struggle, when the Mahatma was released from the Aga Khan Palace in 1944 by the British Government, the people of Porbandar had decided to construct a memorial on his birthplace. The then Maharaja of Porbandar, H.H. Maharana Natavarsinha, Raj Ratna Nanjibhai Kalidas Mehta and his wife Santokbehn Mehta gave shape to this project. They bought the adjacent ancestral house from the Gandhi family.

Walking through the three-storied haveli complex, I sighted a swastika. This is the identification spot where the Mahatma was born. Interesting fact about the temple is that its height is 79 feet, symbolizing the 79 years of Gandhi’s time on Earth. In the centre were life-sized oil paintings of Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. His philosophy of ‘truth’ and ‘non-violence’, engraved on a stone, are placed near their feet. Throughout the temple, we found bits and pieces of the Mahatma’s life — articles of khadi, handicraft, books — and even the Kasturba-Mahila Library.

The rooftop view was amazing for as far as the eye could see, there was the ocean. In the museum, we saw the registration papers signed by the Mahatma, giving his consent of sale to Nanjibhai. There are many precious photographs of the Mahatma and his family, the freedom struggle, the political movement.

In this walk, we discovered that the house is more than 300 years old. It was purchased by the Mahatma’s great grandfather, Harjivan Raidas Gandhi. After the memorial’s inauguration in 1950 by the then Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, it was handed over to the Central Government of India.

The walk inside the temple over, we went through the bazaar and like free spirits charged into the shops lured by the colourful cotton bandhini sarees. They were priced at a nominal INR 300 onwards. And the shopkeeper guaranteed that the colour would not run.

Here we came to know that Porbandar is also the birthplace of Sudama, Krishna’s friend. So our next stop was the Sudama temple after the shopping spree.

In this quest, hunger pangs had risen. And to satiate them, I discovered shrikhand, the famous Gujarati sweet. It’s sold by Mother Dairy too now but I had my first taste in Porbandar. There was a khadi shop too selling the famous Gujarati snacks — papads, sevganthia and pickles made of chanduo, athanuand goondas.

The hot sun made it difficult to do much exploring but a walk on Chowpatti beach in the evening turned out to be a rejuvenating experience. A sand art festival had been organized in one corner and artists from different parts were exhibiting their creations. A coconut with water in my hand, I sat on the wall separating the sea from the land. The sun had set and little flickering lights in the distance marked the coastal guard ships. A light house was also somewhere far away; its strong lights flickered over the dark water. I watched the waves hitting the rocks on the shore and night birds played in the water, enjoying the attention.

Idle conversations with the locals revealed that remains of a late Harappan settlement dating back to the 16th — 14th century BC were found in the nearby regions. On Krishna Janmashtami, a five-day cultural extravaganza is organized on the beach. The region has much more to see for which I need to go back once again.

What more to see

The 1600-year-old Khimeshwar Mahadev temple

Bird Sanctuary (various species of birds like teals, fowls, flamingos, ibis, curlews can be seen)

Nehru Planetarium Tara Mandir

Chadeshwar Mahadev and Ajani Mataji’s temple, believed to be from the Pandava era

Best time to visit

From August to March

Porbandar is in the state of Gujarat in India. And there are many international flights till Ahmedabad, the capital city.

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