Slice of history

The Aga Khan Palace served as a jail for Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi and other freedom fighters during the Quit India movement.

Published - August 01, 2011 04:54 pm IST

The Aga Khan's Palace. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Aga Khan's Palace. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Aga Khan Palace is one of the many monuments of historical importance in Pune. Built in 1892 by Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, the palace was donated to the government of India in 1969. Away from the buzz of the city, the palace stands on a sprawling ground covering 19 acres in Pune's Yerwada area.

For the villagers

Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III was also the 48th spiritual head of the Khoja Ismaili region. Legend goes that the Sultan built the palace to provide employment to the famine – struck villagers of the surrounding region; so he employed 1000 people, and the palace was constructed in five years. It was built in Rs 12 lakhs. The palace covers seven acres, and the rest is a well maintained garden.

Though largely Islamic, the palace has hints of Italian architecture, with its many arches. This building comprises five halls, and large verandahs.

In the years to come, the palace served as a jail for Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi and other freedom fighters in the Quit India movement. This only added to Pune's long standing association with India's independence movement.

In the honor of Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy, Prince Karim El Husseni, Aga Khan IV, donated the palace to the government of India in 1969.Now the Aga Khan Palace is also known as 'Gandhi National Memorial' because of its close association with Mahatma Gandhi.

On March 3, 2003, the Aga Khan palace was declared a ‘monument of national importance' by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Gandhi connection

The Aga Khan Palace in Pune occupies a page in the history of the Independence movement in India. The historic session of the All India Congress Committee that passed the Quit India resolution concluded just after midnight of August 8, 1942 at Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mumbai. Soon after, on August 9, Gandhi and several other members of the Congress Working Committee were arrested under Defence of India Rules. Gandhi, along with his wife Kasturba, Secretary Mahadev Desai, Miraben, Pyarelal Nayar, Sarojini Naidu and Dr. Sushila Nayar was brought to the Aga Khan Palace that served as a jail. Gandhi stayed in the Aga Khan Palace until he was released on May 6,1944. It was here that Gandhi's 50-year old secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack six days after their arrest .Gandhi's wife Kasturba died after 18 months of imprisonment on February 22, 1944 because of prolonged illness. The samadhis of both Desai and Kasturba are housed at the Aga Khan Palace, and were built by celebrated architect Charles Correa. On March19, 1943, Sarojini Naidu, was released because of ill health. The earlier version of the Indian national flag was hoisted by Gandhi at the premises on January26, 1943 and 1944. Mahatma Gandhi was released before the end of the Second World War on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery. Some historians state that the reason he was released was because the British Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation.After Gandhi's death, a small amount of his ashes were brought to the Aga Khan Palace, and are housed in a tomb in the palace gardens, not far away from Kasturba's Samadhi. The rooms where Gandhi and the others were lodged in now serve as a museum, as a testimony to the struggle of India's independence. Gandhi's belongings dated to the period of his stay are on exhibition too. The Palace is now known as the Gandhi National Memorial too, in honour of Gandhi's association.

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