The Aga Khan Palace in Pune occupies a prime position in the history of India’s freedom movement for the fact that Mahatma Gandhi, his wife, secretary and others were incarcerated here from 1942. It now serves as the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society where the making of ‘khadi’ continues to be a prime activity. This imposing palace where one can feel an intense connection with the past is also known for its beautiful and serene gardens.
Covering a sprawling expanse of 19 acres on the Pune-Ahmednagar Road is the palatial Aga Khan Palace. But though it was built as a majestic palace fit for a king to reside, it is known more as the place where the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was incarcerated during the time of British rule. The Aga Khan Palace was built by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III in 1892 and has become one of the biggest landmarks in Indian history. The palace was an act of charity by the Sultan who wanted to help the poor in the neighboring areas of Pune at a time when they were drastically hit by famine. However, following the declaration of the ‘Quit India’ resolution in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi was interned here along with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi, secretary, Mahadeobhai Desai, as well as Miraben, Pyarelal Nair, Sarojini Naidu and Dr. Sushila Nayar. It was on May 6, 1944 that Mahatma Gandhi was finally set free but not before he had lost his wife and secretary, the grief of which stayed with him for life.
The palace has Italian arches and the building comprises five halls. Now considered a monument of national interest, it was taken over by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) in 2003 and functions as the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. It took five years and an estimated budget of Rs 12 lakhs to complete this palace. The specialty of this structure is its corridor of 2.5 meters around the entire building. Prince Karim Aga Khan donated this palace to the Gandhi Smarak Samittee in 1972. The palace is surrounded on all sides by spacious lawns that are maintained by the Parks & Gardens Organization.
It now serves as an archive of a number of photos and portraits depicting glimpses from the life of Mahatma Gandhi and other personalities of the Indian freedom struggle. One of the most impressive tableaus is that of Mahatma Gandhi leading a protest march against the British. The room housing this also has many photographs of Mahatma Gandhi’s work at the Sewagram, a small village located about 8 kilometers from Wardha in Maharashtra. You can also see the room where Mahatma Gandhi stayed with Kasturba Gandhi. It has been well-preserved with some of the items used by them such as the ‘charkha’, sandals and other personal belongings. Visitors are not allowed into this room and can only see it through a glass-fronted door.
The ‘samadhis’ of Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadeobhai Desai are in a small garden behind the main palace structure. One of the biggest setbacks that Mahatma Gandhi faced was the death of Mahadeobhai on August 15, 1942 due to heart attack just five days after they were brought here. Kasturba, who married Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1882, became a political activist fighting for civil rights and Indian independence from the British. She suffered from chronic bronchitis and after two heart attacks died here on February 22, 1944. Some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes have also been laid to rest here.
Distance from Mumbai:152 kms.