Porbandar – I first heard this name when we were supposed to write an essay in Mahatma Gandhi in school. Forget Porbandar, Gujarat was also a distant land growing up in Chandigarh. Then came the age of the Internet. And I saw fellow travelers traveling to Porbandar and sharing images of the house where Gandhiji was born. The rich green brackets of his house stayed in my memory as a reminder that I have to visit this place sometime in the future.
On my recent visit to Dwarka, I had to travel via Porbandar. So, I decided to explore the city made famous by its two sons – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Sudama. I expected it to be a small town. As my flight descended to land at the Porbandar Airport, I was surprised to see a fairly large town with multi-story buildings and flyovers.
Before heading to Dwarka, I took a detour to Porbandar. Kirti Mandir or the Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace is the most popular and most visited place in town. We parked our car next to a market where all I could see being sold was spices. There were huge ornate buildings around it. It is a rich, affluent town.
Kirti Mandir, Porbandar
Let us look at a bit of Gandhi History before we go around his birthplace.
The home in Porbandar where Gandhi Ji was born was brought by his great-grandfather Harjivanji Rahidasji Gandhi. He bought it from a local lady called Manba as a single story house. By the time Gandhiji was born on Oct 2nd, 1869, the house had 3 floors. With rooms and corridors put together the house has 22 rooms as per information board at the property.
Gandhiji’s father and grandfather were the Dewan’s of the kings of Porbandar. It is quite a prestigious position and the house or haveli reflects their social status.
For more on Gandhi, check out the Gandhi Heritage Portal.
Gandhi House in Porbandar
The original Gandhi house stands on the left side of the huge and ornate Kirti Mandir. You enter the house through a plain wall which seems to be a later addition. It announces – Birth Place of Mahatma Gandhi Ji. You enter and find yourself surrounded by tall pale walls outlined in green. The doors and windows are in bright cheerful green color.
The main door to the house is on the right. Front courtyard has pillars and wood carved frame – all in green.
A black and white photo of Gandhiji and Kasturba hangs on top of the main door. The doorjamb is intricately carved. I could see the Ganesha on top in red color. And parrots hanging on like brackets on either side. You enter and see the room and the exact place Gandhi Ji was born. A Swastika marks the place and a big photograph of his, hangs on the wall above it. I wonder if the delivery would have happened in the room so close to the main door, but then what do I know.
I moved around the house and saw some intricately carved but small jharokhas. There are small cupboards with green plain doors with walls around them painted in red. Some of the niches were decorated with paintings in multiple colors. And the parrots seem to be a favorite subject.
To go up and down, there are wooden stairs which are kind of scary. ASI has put thick ropes that you can hold on to and go up. I wonder how in pre-electricity days, people moved up and down these steep steps.
Other Houses of Mahatma Gandhi
Kasturba House in Porbandar
A passage from Kirti Mandir leads you to the back alleys of Porbandar. Just around the corner is the parental house of Kasturba, born as Kasturba Kapadia. The 19th CE house is as big if not bigger than the Gandhi house. A small office sits in one room of the house. I went around the house and located a few kitchens and wondered why. The officer on duty told me that the house was shared by many brothers. And each had his own kitchen, makes sense. A case of a few neutral families living together.
Kasturba’s house in Porbandar too had steep wooden stairs joining the different floors. What was most interesting in this house was the cooling system. A series of water pipes run through the walls. The water flowing through these pipes keeps the house cool.
Walking between the two houses I wondered if young Mohandas and Kasturba played in these very lanes.
Kirti Mandir is a memorial built for Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi that includes his house. What is interesting is that the construction of Kirti Mandir started in 1947 when Gandhiji was still around. In fact, it seems he handed over the papers of his house to be a part of Kirti Mandir. Unfortunately, he passed away by the time the construction was completed.
Seth Nanjibhai Kalidas Mehta, also a resident of Porbandar built this memorial to Gandhi. He paid for both the land and the building. You may know his more famous son – Jai Mehta, the industrialist, and the IPL’s Kolkata team’s co-owner.
The centerpiece of the Kirti Mandir in Porbandar is the life-size portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba. On one side are a souvenir shop and a small picture gallery. I wish the souvenir shop had some good things to buy. It was ironical that a couple of hours ago I was at Mumbai Airport with a high-end shop selling Gandhi Souvenirs. The picture gallery has family pictures including a Gandhi family tree graphic.
On the first floor, there is an elaborate picture gallery that has Gandhi’s life portraits. You see him from as a well-dressed kid to his suited booted personality in South Africa to his lungi avatar during the independence movement. In a way is also a journey through late 19th and early 20th CE India.
Sudama Mandir or Sudamapuri – Porbandar
We have all heard the Krishna Sudama story. But not many of us know that Sudama was from Porbandar. In the story, he traveled from Sudamapuri to Beyt Dwarka. Sudama and Krishna had studied together at the Sandipini Ashram in Ujjaini.
Temple dedicated to Sudama & his friend Krishna is a temple complex. You see the wall murals depicting Sudama’s feet being washed by Krishna as the Rukmini fans him. In some murals, both Rukmini and Krishna are washing his feet.
There is a labyrinth called Lakh Chaurasi in front of the temple that literally would mean 84 Lakhs. This number is traditionally associated with the number of lives you have to go through before taking a human birth.
The main temple is a small but lovely temple with a pillared hall in front. This temple is about 100 years old that was built at the same place as an old 12th CE temple. Inside the temple, you can see both Dwarkadhish and Sudama. Outside the temple is a well called Sudama Kund. Behind the temple are some smaller temples dedicated to Harsiddhi Devi & other deities. A reasonably well-maintained garden surrounds the temple with sculptures depicting the Krishna-Sudama Story.
Driving around Porbandar, I could see many colonial-era ornate Havelis with beautiful windows and doors.
My readings tell me that Porbandar is home to one of India’s oldest Planetariums.
Porbandar is well connected by Air, Railways and road transportation. Porbandar Airport has a snacks shop that almost looks like a roadside stall. I wish the cost of Chai was also comparable.