Rare footage of Mahatma Gandhi’s last journey now available online

Updated on Jan 30, 2019 10:51 AM IST

An 8.16-minute long 16-mm film shot on February 12, 1948, which captures perhaps the earliest known immersion of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, is now available as a digitised-colour film at the website of the National Cultural Audiovisual Archives.

Many urns were filled with Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes and sent all over India.(Getty Images/File Picture)
Many urns were filled with Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes and sent all over India.(Getty Images/File Picture)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByVanita Srivastava

An 8.16-minute 16-mm film shot on February 12, 1948, and which captures perhaps the earliest known immersion of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, is now available as a digitised-colour film at the website of National Cultural Audiovisual Archives, an initiative of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts under Ministry of Culture.

If there is a question mark on whether this was the first such, it is because many urns were filled with Gandhi’s ashes and sent all over India. One was found in a vault of the Cuttack branch of a state-owned bank and immersed in the Ganga in 1997. Another was given by an Indian businessman in Dubai to a museum but eventually immersed in the Arabian sea. That was in 2008. Interestingly both events happened on January 31 of the respective years.

Which is what makes the film of the Jabalpur immersion, 12 days after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, all that more precious.

Titled Immersion of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashes in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh (click to watch video), it is widely considered the oldest.

Presented by Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur, the photography was by James E McEldowney, who was a professor at the college. McEldowney was a pioneer in audiovisual productions and was one of the founding members of the Christian Association for Radio and Audiovisual Services, which produced films and trained students in photography, music, writing, broadcasting, and production of audiovisual materials.

The procession taking Mahatama Gandhi’s ashes from the Jabalpur Railway Station to the banks of the Narmada. (Screengrab)
The procession taking Mahatama Gandhi’s ashes from the Jabalpur Railway Station to the banks of the Narmada. (Screengrab)

The film commences with Ravishankar Shukla, premier of the Central Provinces, part of which was later reorganised as Madhya Pradesh, receiving the ashes in an urn at the Jabalpur railway station. He is accompanied by other officials and police guards. The urn is taken in a procession in an open vehicle; the streets are lined with people offering their last tribute to the father of the nation. The film captures the procession from the station to the banks of the Narmada for more than 3 minutes. There is also a customary guard of honour and a fly-past.

“I have not seen the movie, but it is a matter of great pride and honour to know that a movie made by one of our senior colleagues has such a historical significance. Mahatma Gandhi visited our college in March 1934 and even gave a lecture,” says Dr Naveen Rao, principal of Leonard Theological College. “McEldowney was a true audiovisual specialist,” says SK Robinson who worked with McEldowney for almost 10 years starting 1959.

The film captures the procession from the station to the banks of the Narmada for more than 3 minutes. (Screengrab)
The film captures the procession from the station to the banks of the Narmada for more than 3 minutes. (Screengrab)

“We received the film from the National Archives of India in October 2017 and sent it for digitisation last year. The reel had to be put in a climate controlled [temperature and relative humidity] environment as part of the effort to conserve it prior to digitisation. This is certainly a rare gem from our collection,” says Irfan Zuberi, project manager, NCAA, IGNCA.

“We were exploring an avenue to digitise the film that we had in tape form. IGNCA has done the needful and it is now in the public domain. It is perhaps one of the rare and unique films related to Gandhiji. We have also placed it on Abhilekh Patal, the search portal of the National Archives,” says Tassadaque Hussain, deputy director of archives at National Archives of India.

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