Aga Khan Palace is a beautiful palace located in a quaint neighbourhood of Yerwada in Pune.
History of Aga Khan Palace
Aga Khan Palace in Pune was built in 1892 after a famine to generate employment for the people of the region. So, the roots of this palace are in charity & noble thoughts. It took 5 years and 1000 workers to build it at a cost of Rs 12,00,000/-. Palace is spread across an estate of 19 acres with a built area of 7 acres.
Aga Khan Palace & Mahatma Gandhi
Aga Khan palace served as the prison for Mahatma Gandhi in Pune from Aug 1942 to May 1944. He lived here along with his wife Kasturba, his secretary Mahadev Desai & Sarojini Naidu. In fact, both Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai died in the premises of this palace turned prison. A corner of the palace premises serves as the Samadhi dedicated to two of them. Some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi are placed next to the two samadhis. Samadhis are nothing but Tulasi plants growing on top of the places where Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai were cremated.
A poem in Marathi dedicated to Kasturba adorns a red wall nearby.
Honestly, when you walk around this palace with sprawling gardens, long corridors, and huge rooms, you wonder if you could really call it imprisonment. I assume there was no restriction on movement within the large campus of the palace. Maybe the residents could even step out – this was an era long before media watch came in vogue.
Who is Aga Khan?
Aga Khan III or Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III was the 48th Imam of Khoja Ismaili Muslims . He was the founder of All India Muslim League and actively worked towards the rights of Muslims in India. Aga Khan III was one of those who demanded the creation separate national state for Indian Muslims albeit within India.
Aga Khan III was born to an elite family in Karachi and attended Eton & Cambridge University. During his life, he received quite a few distinctions from British Government. Notice the prefix Sir before his name. He owned many racing horses. Aga Khan married multiple women in his lifetime. Before getting buried in Aswan, Egypt, he authored a few books including his own memoirs.
Aga Khan IV who was the grandson of Aga Khan III donated this palace to people of India in 1969. Technically it belongs to Gandhi Samarak Nidhi, Government of India. This was his way of paying respect to the father of the nation.
Read more about Aga Khan III on his Wikipedia page
Walking around Aga Khan Palace
It is a great place for you to walk around in peace. The building is surrounded by tall trees. For some time I detested not getting a perfect picture of the Aga Khan Palace but then I realized that the trees are an integral part of the ambiance of the place.
The structure in pale grey with the red slanting roof is elegant – making it look rich in a very subtle manner. Now, I am not sure, if it was always like this or has been made to look so after it became a national memorial in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
The rooms that were used by the Gandhis now serve as a museum to them. They are spartan and simple in taste. There are personal items of Gandhi’s on display like like utensils, slippers, clothes, and letters.
The big hall at the entrance has a large statue of the Gandhis The large paintings around paint them literally as an avatar. There are old black and white pictures of Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement. A particularly impactful picture is that of Gandhi with a begging bowl in front of a huge crowd.
Next room has a diorama of Gandhi ji lifting a small child. This sculpture is surrounded by colorful paintings depicting the events from the life of Gandhi. Paintings continue to the next room where there is a round table in the middle with 7 chairs – lying within a barricade to protect it from visitors.
Gandhi’s hand-written letter
Another interesting display is a hand-written letter that Gandhi Ji wrote on the death of his secretary Mahadev Desai. I am sure this is a replica as Gandhi was supposed to have a very bad handwriting.
Upper storeys of the building and some rooms towards the back side are inaccessible to the visitors. I assume they serve as offices.
I saw a lot of photography students practising photography, especially fashion photography using the monument and its well-maintained lawns as the backdrop.
As I walked towards the back of the building, I could see a glass enclosure on top. It strangely reminded me of the Falaknuma palace in Hyderabad. There is some uncanny similarity in the architectural style and the color scheme. A few thoughts later, I realized that both buildings are contemporary and probably has same inspiration, though a century later their fates are as different as they can be.
Other things at Aga Khan Palace Complex
Apart from above Aga Khan Place premises has:
- A library
- A Bookstall that sells Gandhi Literature
- A Khadi Gramodyog sales outlet
- A training center for women
- UNHCR Office
- Childrens’ Film Club
Celebrations at Aga Khan Palace
Before I visited, my Internet research said that there are regular bhajans or singing that happens here. The staff completely denied anything like that.
24th January – National Girl Child Day
26th January – Republic Day
30th January – Gandhi’s Death Anniversary
22nd Feb – or Mahashivratri
8th March – Women’s Day
15th August – Independence Day
2nd Oct – Gandhi Jayanti
14th Nov – Children’s Day
From the swanky Kalyani Nagar, where I was staying, I walked to this historic monument one evening. I bought the ticket and was blissfully told that I can take pictures. I have so got used to being told ‘Photography not Allowed’ , that when it is allowed I look up and thank my stars.
Other Homes of Gandhis In India include: