In Delhi, a Valmiki temple preserves memories of Gandhi

Portraits of Mahatma Gandhi seen inside a Valmiki Temple, on Mandir Marg, in New Delhi, Thursday, Sept 26, 2019. (PTI Photo)

It has been 72 years since Mahatma Gandhi lived in a room in the Valmiki Temple premises here, but it could well have been yesterday. His 'charkha', desk, wooden pen stand, 'aasan' and bed rest lie exactly as he had left it.

The temple, where Gandhi's room is located on the left side, is dedicated to Maharishi Valmiki, who penned the Ramayana. It hosted Gandhi for 214 days between April 1946 and June 1947.

Before his 150th birth anniversary, Gandhi's room, called 'Bapu Awaas', has been given a fresh coat of whitewash, says an assistant of the temple's caretaker, Krishna Shah Vidyarthi, who has been keeping unwell for sometime.

"There will be prayers and kirtan on Wednesday morning and later, a march will be taken out in the locality on the occasion," he says.

On the right of the temple, which stands on a one acre plot, birds gather in the centre of the courtyard where Gandhi held his 'sabhas'.

Not many people know Gandhiji stayed here for more than 200 days, says Dinesh Hiteshi Valmiki, a member of the Valmiki Satsang Shiksha Kendra Mandal.

Inside 'Bapu Awaas', Dinesh Valmiki shows a part of the wall on the right that is painted black.

"It was Gandhiji's blackboard. He would teach English and Hindi to around 60-70 children from the nearby Valmiki colony, which was earlier a slum, in this room. His aasan, desk, portable spinning wheel, wooden pen stand all of this remain exactly at the same place," he says.

Beneath the blackboard, a large portrait of Gandhi stands on a small bed covered in a white, linen bedsheet.

The walls are covered with his photographs with leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad et all.

On the left wall, there are pictures of Maharishi Vamiki, former president K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the temple in 2014.

In the middle of the room, Gandhi's desk lies in front of his 'aasan'. His wooden pen stand adorns the desk and the briefcase-size portable spinning wheel rests on the 'aasan'.

"Bapu would spin the charkha for around an hour every day," he says.

Except the cream-coloured ceramic tiles on the floor and skirting on the walls, everything is the way it was in 1946, Dinesh Hiteshi says, adding that the temple on the right was renovated in the 1990s.

"Most of the people who lived in the locality were sweepers and sanitation workers and were largely uneducated. Gandhiji asked them to send their children to the mandir for the classes he conducted in the morning and the evening," Dinesh Hiteshi, 65, says.

Vidhyarth's attendant says Gandhi knew all his children by their names.

In those times, people would use a despicable term for the locality and its people. Gandhi embraced them and gave them love, Ram Krishna Pilawal, 96, says.

"Gandhi mingled with the people of the community. While others considered them 'untouchables', he ate the food they prepared," he said.

"I remember Gandhiji would sweep the courtyard with a broom. He had two goats that grazed in the ground we played in," Pilawal recalls.

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