Aga Khan palace was constructed in 1892 by Sir Sultan Mohammed Aga Khan III, the Shahi Imam of Ismaili Shia muslims all around the world.
He was the founding member of the All India Muslim League that was eventually instrumental in the creation of a separate Pakistan.
He was also one of the leading muslim voataries of British rule in India and Westernised education for the Muslims.
His son Prince Aly Khan later served as Pakistans representative to the UN.
Sultan Aga Khan III was said to have constructed the palace to provide employment and food for the poor villagers ravaged by the famine in Pune.
Aga Khan Palace was the very place where Mahatma Gandhi, Indias tallest political leader and social reformer, was placed under house arrest (along with Kasturba, Mahadevbhai,Miraben,Riabharti Narayan and Sarojini Naidu) post the Quit India movement from 1942-44.
This was the place where where his life partner Kasturba Gandhi breathed her last. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi had a lot of faith in the traditional Indian form of holistic healing and he refused to administer Kasturba any modern medicines.
Gandhiji also lost his long time friend, aide and personal secretary Mahadevbhai Desai in this place. A aggreived Gandhi was said to have remarked, " If only he (Mahadevbhai) opens his eyes ones and sees me he will refuse to go". Later Gandhiji himself bathed his friend's body before consigning it to flames.
Mahatma Gandhi even wrote his last book on health issues ,titled, ' Key to health', while under house arrest here.
It was again in this palace, when Gandhi went on a 21 day fast to end the deadlock between the Viceroy and the Indian nationalist congress leaders.
Today the palace holds the samadhis of both Kasturba and Mahadevbhai, besides a part of Gandhijis ashes and relics.
The palace was donated to the Indian government by Swiss born, noted philanthrophist, Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV, the present Shahi Imam of the Ismaili sect and the grandson and successor of the last Imam. The palace has since been rechristened as Mahatma Gandhi national memorial.
The palace is a fine specimen of a blend of Saracenic and European (similar to Baroque,Italian architectural style) architecture constructed on a sprawling 19 acre land ( 7 acres along with the palace were donated to the Indian government ) and is complete with French lawns, fountains,Rose window, Italian arches, long corridors and spacious rooms. It is situated near Yerawada , on the banks of river Mutha , right across the Pune Ahmednagar highway (beyond the Fritzgerald bridge).
Some scenes of the acclaimed movie,’Gandhi’ by noted film maker Sir Richard Attenborough ,were filmed in the palace premises. The scenes revolved around noted actors Sir Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, Rohini Hattangadi as Kasturba and Candice Bergen as the American reporter, Margaret Bourke White.
The palace is located on a sprawling garden replete with a variety of flora.
Pic: bronze statue of Gandhiji with a child
Pic: bronze statue of Kasturba Gandhi
Pic: mural of Dandi march
Within the palace there exists a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi that displays paintings, sculptures,murals,photographs (Mani Bhavan,Yerawda Jail,Gandhi bhawan,Aga Khan III and IV,Kasturba,Mahadev bhai etc), personal belongings (letters,clothes,garlands,towels,bead necklace,slippers,cooking utensils etc) and information about his life work.
The rooms occupied by Gandhiji,Kasturba,Mahadevbhai and Sarojini Naidu are specially put up on display. The room occupied by Sarojini Naidu during here internment has a poem by Padma Sethi displayed in the room, along with pictures of Indira Gandhi and other leaders. Sarojini Naidu was released shortly on health grounds. The room occupied by Gandhiji is quite spacious with a huge white bathroom, his writing desk, charkha, and a painting of Gandhiji and Kasturba resting her head on Gandhijis lap. There are other rooms displaying the dining table of the inmates etc.
The palace also has (as mentioned) the samadhis of Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadevbhai Gandhi (managed by Gandhi memorial society since 1980). It is said that Gandhiji personally built their samadhis. Later they were replaced by marble samadhis designed by the noted Indian architect Charles Corea. It also has a shop selling cotton and handloom textiles and most famously Gandhis loved ‘khadi’ items which he personally used to spin out.
Then there is the Kasturba Mahila Khadi Gram Udyog, skill and vocational training centre(trains women in embroidery,tailoring,spice making,vegetable and fruit processing),a solar energy park estblished by Ministery of renewable energy Delhi,,a library and documentation centre,an Alcoholic rehabilitation centre,Mahadev printing press(est.1983), a nursery school named Madhurika (estb.1982,in memory of Ms Slaid,a.k.a Mira ben a disciple of Gandhiji),ICDS training centre for Anganwadi workers and supervisors,rural working institute, National institute for women (est.1980),UNCHR refugee guidance centre,Friends of Gandhi museum etc.
The timings are 9am-6pm(except 12.30-1.30pm). The entry fee is Rs 5/- for adults and Rs 2/- for children (Rs 200/- for foreign tourists).
The Aga Khan palace is today one of Punes most famous landmarks and is visited by millions of tourists every year.
Text and photographs (except the ones credited) : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha