Gandhi 150: UK celebrates with bhajans and tributes

Mahatma Gandhi's statue at Parliament Square in London (DH File Image)

Several people across Britain gathered at various locations on Wednesday and sang Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajans and paid tributes to the leader of the Indian national movement to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary.

The central focus of the celebration was on the Gandhi statues at Tavistock Square and Parliament Square in London as the Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam, led tributes to the Mahatma.

“We are here today to remind ourselves and remind the world about the message of this great man, who was small in stature but absolutely immense in his impact,” she said, during the traditional Gandhi Jayanti celebrations at Tavistock Square and Parliament Square.

“We are using different ways to make sure that Mahatma Gandhi’s message is available to people, to also spread his message in an artistic way in the UK,” she added later on Wednesday as she launched a new exhibition titled ‘Relive the Ideals of the Mahatma through Art’ at the Nehru Centre in London.

Similar floral and musical tributes were held across the country at the Gandhi statues in Leicester, Wales and Scotland.

“It was a befittingly simple ceremony with a few of his favourite bhajans,” said Lady Kishwar Desai, Trustee of the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, who had worked alongside Lord Meghnad Desai to raise funds for the sculpture of Gandhi that now stands close to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela at Parliament Square.

“Mahatma Gandhi acquired his rightful place in his favourite city, at the centre of the Empire whose demolition he began, not far from [former UK PM] Churchill, his principal detractor, between [South African leaders] Smuts and Mandela with [American leader] Abraham Lincoln behind him at a respectable distance,” notes Lord Desai, who recently launched new Mahatma Gandhi scholarships at the London School of Economics to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary celebrations.

Fellow UK-based peer, Lord Swraj Paul, recalled meeting Gandhi in his youth and relived the profound impact that had on his life.

“In my very early youth, I was honoured to meet him. Now-a-days, when media images have become so dominant, I recall that he needed no showmanship, no media hype, no public relation boost to make an impact. His very simplicity radiated an aura of truth that reached our hearts,” said Lord Paul, as part of a tribute statement to mark Gandhi Jayanti.

“The impact on my family was extraordinary. In and around 1931, Mahatma Gandhi was inspiring us with the salt march and declaiming ‘we want Swaraj’, as a result, I was given the name Swraj,” he revealed, as he reminisced about his older brother joining in the Indian independence movement and even being imprisoned in 1942.

“In our over busy societies we rarely have time to reflect on some of these themes. But there are special moments when we do, moments of a kind that Mahatma Gandhi would have endorsed and that we should cherish. This is why we must specially commemorate this occasion,” he said.

Another leading Indian-origin peer in the House of Lords, Jitesh Gadhia, also echoed the sentiments in his own tribute as he described the UK as Gandhi’s second home.

“As well as being father on the Indian nation, we are entitled to claim a part of Gandhi in this country too. His formative experiences in London and UK shaped the future Mahatma. And his ideas and ideals continue to resonate now more than ever,” said Gadhia.

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