The last time I had been to the Aga Khan Palace, a decade back, the drive there had felt like a long journey beyond city limits, and the Palace grounds had seemed one with the green, desolate surroundings of Nagar Road. I visited it again recently, and this time found the same road bustling with vehicles covering every inch of its recently widened roads, and the refreshing greenery replaced by gaudy colours of shopping malls and hotels. There was dust and smoke and noise, but the moment I entered the simple arched gate of the Palace, I found the same serene piece of preserved history.
The Palace grounds looked immaculately maintained, and the lawns manicured and watered. A wide, winding concrete path led to the Palace, and after paying the usual 5 Rs entry fee that is charged for all ticketed monuments, I entered its corridors.
The Aga Khan Palace, built by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III in 1892, is a beautiful example of 19th century architecture. It was built as an act of charity – to generate employment and help the famine-struck population in the neighbouring areas.
The Palace, however, derives its importance from being associated with India’s freedom struggle. Following the launch of the Quit India Movement, Gandhiji was arrested in Bombay and brought to the Aga Khan Palace on 9th August, 1942, and imprisoned here for 21 months, along with his wife Kasturba and secretary Mahadevbhai Desai. Gandhiji was released on 6th May 1944. His wife and secretary passed away during their confinement at the Palace. Imam Sultan Shah Karim Aga Khan IV eventually donated the Aga Khan Palace to the Indians in 1969, in honour of Gandhiji and his philosophy. The Palace is, thereby, also known as the Gandhi National Memorial.
The samadhis of Mahadevbhai Desai and Kasturba are located within a low-walled area in the Palace grounds while Gandhiji’s memorial stands a short distance away. A small shop selling khadi and handloom articles, also occupies a small corner of the grounds.
The Palace preserves 2 years of Gandhiji’s life within its walls, through the articles he used, the letters he wrote and the table he had his meals at. Photographs, pictures and statues depict important events of those times. Visitors are not allowed entry into the room where Kasturba Gandhi breathed her last.
It didn’t take more than an hour to walk around the Palace and view all the treasures within its boundaries, but the feeling of humility, and gratitude towards all the people who have fought for our freedom continues to linger, long after leaving it behind.