A memorial carved in Stone

On March 12, 1930, mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and 80 comrades, embarked on a march from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to the village of Dandi on the coast of Gujarat. The march would take 24 days, cover a distance of 241 miles and Gandhi would be joined by tens of thousands of people. A museum has been set up at the very spot where the march ended almost 90 years ago, in an extravagant re-creation of this watershed moment in the long-drawn struggle for Independence. The National Salt Satyagraha Memorial captures, in lavish detail, the storied history of the movement through statues, cast in silicon bronze, of the 80 marchers who set off with Gandhi; 24 narrative murals in deep relief, symbolising the number of days the march lasted; and photographs and mixed-media works, depicting the many associated stories of the event.

The memorial honours the act of civil disobedience against the arbitrary tax levied by the British government on the production and sale of salt within India. On April 6, 1930, Gandhi, upon reaching the salt marshes of Dandi, reached down and picked up a fistful of salt, an act that became louder than words ever could.

The purpose of the Dandi March, also referred to as the Salt Satyagraha, was not only to defy the salt laws, but also to unite people for the common, larger goal of attaining Swaraj (self-rule). The names of the marchers, Somalal Pragjibhai Patel, Anand Hingorani and Haribhai Mohani, among others, who followed him right from the beginning to the end of the march are etched on a stone wall. The youngest among them, Vipul Thakkar, was just 16 at the time. Each statue is also accompanied by the name of its sculptor.

Those who joined Gandhi on this march included people from across classes and castes, Brahmins and Harijans marched together. The event led to Gandhi’s arrest on May 5, but not before he had created waves, not just in India, but internationally, the March 31 issue of Time magazine featured Saint Gandhi’ on the cover.

While most know about this iconic episode from history books, and historians have studied it in great detail, the event and its significance have largely been lost on the younger generation. Not anymore. Thanks to a visit to the memorial, 12-year-old Sanjay Patel from Surat now knows a great deal more about the event.


The sea has now receded some distance from the spot where Gandhi staged his symbolic protest. The original idea of building a memorial was conceived by the Mahatma’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi in 2005. He suggested setting up something on the lines of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, to pay tribute to Gandhi and the 80 marchers who started the journey with him.

For the PLANET The solar trees

For the solar saltmaking pans at the memorial

The idea was accepted by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, and Gandhi’s grandson, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, was made chairman of the High-Level Dandi Memorial Committee. Other members include Tushar and Sudarshan Iyengar, a Gandhian and former vice-chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, an institution established by Gandhi in 1920 in Ahmedabad. Iyengar joined as vice-chairman and, after Gopalkrishna resigned in 2010, took charge of the committee.

The process was not without its obstacles. At one point, dwindling funds and a lack of government initiative threatened to put an end to the project, but the Iyengar-led Dandi committee persevered. Experts from IIT Bombay, Kirti Trivedi and Sethu Das, were brought in as consultants in 2010. By 2013, the concept and plans were ready, thanks to the efforts of Trivedi, Iyengar and Das; however, the dream project was yet to become a reality. It was only after Narendra Modi took over as prime minister that things started moving. The execution of the project at the behest of PM Modi after inordinate delay was a welcome relief, says Das. The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) completed the memorial in just 20 months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated it on January 30, Gandhi’s 71st death anniversary.

Speaking at the inauguration, the PM appealed to the local community and Gujarat Tourism to ensure students from at least 25 schools visit the place every day. All of you must bring your relatives and friends to visit this teerth sthan (pilgrimage spot) of the freedom movement. This place will give tourism a big boost, the PM said.


The silicon bronze statues of the 80 marchers were made by 40 sculptors, including nine artistes from eight different countries; the 24 murals were created by nearly two dozen artistes under the guidance of Shanthi Swaroopini of the Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University, Hyderabad.

The memorial is powered by 40 solar trees’, each fitted with 12 solar panels, symbolising Gandhi’s interest in the form of energy. The Mahatma quotes American lawyer Richard B. Gregg in Collected Works, Any scheme which utilises and efficiently transforms solar energy to a greater degree than was being done before is sound, from an engineering standpoint, and also from an economic point of view. The solar trees produce 182 kilo watts of power, of which the extra energy produced is sold to the Gujarat government, generating a revenue of Rs 1,50,000 per month.

The main five-metre-high statue of Gandhi at the memorial has been created by renowned Mumbai-based sculptor Sadashiv Sathe. The statue will be the last of the 91-year-old’s career; he made his first statue of Gandhi in 1952, which currently stands in the Town Hall garden in New Delhi. The statue is a forceful image of the Mahatma, walking stick in hand, each crease and fold of his shawl detailed beautifully. Two steel hands rise 40 metres above it in an A-frame, holding aloft a 2.5 tonne crystal representing salt. Floor-mounted LED search lights form an illuminated canopy over the statue at night.

The memorial complex also has an area where 14 salt pans, fitted with industrial heaters, allow visitors to make salt with sea water. A 14,000 square metres artificial salt water lake, symbolising the sea shore where Gandhi registered his protest, has been created in the middle of the 15-acre memorial. There is also a library and guest house for researchers to come and stay.

Keeping Up The Mural

The mural artists researched the stories connected to the satyagraha and picked up the smaller anecdotes as the themes for their works. This gives the visitors a more rounded view of how the Salt Satyagraha became a phenomenon. One mural shows 16 student members of the Arun Tukdi, a group of volunteers who would reach the villages to be crossed by the marchers a few days in advance to give Gandhi all the information he needed about those villages and their people. They would talk to the villagers about the salt agitation and what it meant for the people of India and their freedom struggle. Another shows the arrest of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel just before the march was to begin, a vain attempt by the British to intimidate Gandhi.

ONE IN A BILLION (Stylised hands hold a simulated salt crystal in a canopy over a Gandhi statue)

Another powerful mural depicts Gandhi and his followers crossing the Mindhola river near Surat, with bullock carts belonging to the Hindu and Muslim farmers of Kapletha creating a makeshift bridge for the crusaders.

According to Kalubhai Dangar, a researcher who has been successful in his campaign of cleaning up Dandi and who now works as the memorial’s tourist coordinator, The encapsulation of the great episode by the murals, as well as the entire project’s theme, ensures that even young children go back with the visuals and significance of the event firmly etched in their minds.

Facing the memorial is the historic Saifee Villa where Gandhi stayed for 10 days after his march. The building, carefully restored in 2016, has been turned into a photography museum. The villa belonged to the then religious head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Tahir Saifuddin Vasi, who had taken a great risk at the time by hosting Gandhi. Another iconic place in Dandi is the Prarthna Sabha square where Gandhi used to hold his morning prayers.

Though the memorial has something to see in every direction, the pièce de résistance remains the statues of the 80 marchers led by Gandhi, complete with a cloth on his head to protect himself against the harsh sun. Sunil Sridhar, a Surat-based sculptor who rendered two of the marchers, grew up in Ahmedabad, not very far from the Sabarmati Ashram. Working on the statues was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and very inspiring. We sculpted the images on the basis of the photos of the marchers that were given to us. All of us worked with missionary zeal, even the foreign artistes, including one from England, he says.

None of the artists selected from the 800-odd applicants charged any fee apart from travelling expenses. This was in response to a request made by the Dandi committee. This, along with the cost-effective ways in which the CPWD worked, ensured that the project cost came down to just 90 per cent of the sanctioned budget of Rs 72 crore. The operation and maintenance of the memorial presents a challenge because it will have to ensure that res­earchers and Gandhi admirers from across the world visit the place, says Iyengar.

The memorial takes on a different character at night as the solar-powered LED lights play on the salt crystal sculpture. We are not going to leave any stone unturned to make sure that it becomes a great tourist destination, says Gujarat tourism secretary S.J. Haider. This should not be too difficult considering the memorial is just 17 km from Navsari town which is on the main Delhi-Mumbai/ Ahmedabad railway line. According to Ajay Kumar Agrawal, the chief engineer at CPWD, the project involved some technological ingenuity. We had to experiment with various versions of anti-corrosion technology so that the bronze, steel and other materials used could endure the saline atmosphere here, he said.

The memorial is a fitting tribute to one of the great visionaries India has seen and a significant historical event in the fight for India’s freedom.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *