Gandhiji’s Visit by Prachi

Prachi Raturi Oct 1 2015

MUSSOORIE: There’s loud music at this temple on special occasions and on feast days (bhandaras), the whole area is teeming with devotees. Nothing extraordinary for a temple, one might say. Only, at the Sanatan Dharm Mandir in Landour Bazaar, there is special history too – none other than Father of the National Mahatma Gandhi sought that these temple doors open to people of all castes. That change, radical for the time, has come to stay. At a public meeting on October 24, 1929 in Mussoorie, Gandhi observed that social practices of the area showed little trace of untouchability. However, the temple was barred to so-called “untouchables”. The ‘Young India’ issue of October 13, 1929, which is part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 42, records this visit. Gandhi expressed “painful surprise that in Mussoorie, where mostly enlightened people lived, such a thing was tolerated,” the essay says. Gandhi instructed his son Devdas to inquire into the affairs of the temple and discovered that some trustees had earlier flung open the doors of this temple to so-called lower castes, but the change lasted only a day. Some Hindus rebelled against the change and threatened the progressive trustees with excommunication. The trustees meekly submitted. Gandhiji then vehemently urged workers to ensure that caste discrimination at the temple ended, so it was accessible to all who wished to worship there. Surabhi Agarwal of Mussoorie Heritage Centre, which is currently hosting an exhibition called ‘Mussoorie during the Freedom Movement’ said, “Gandhiji has a special place in Mussoorie’s history. We want to highlight that.” Gandhiji was also concerned about the plight of poor coolies, who would carry European rulers in palanquins at this hill station. “Your very existence on a hill like this depends upon their unrelenting toil. They carry you and your luggage and furniture for a mere pittance,” he said. Gandhiji visited Mussorrie a second time in June 1946, when he held a week’s prayer meeting at Sylverton Ground. Gopal Bharadwaj, a historian who remembers the prayer meeting said, “Gandhiji was a special visitor. There used to be much excitement after attending one of his prayer meetings.”