Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Lokmanya Tilak Birthplace – Monsoons are raining surprises in Ratnagiri

The Tilak-Thibaw Connect

Along with walking the streets of Ratnagiri in the rains, sometimes you take rides in the friendly auto rickshaws here. And one of these short auto rickshaw trips brings you to another Ratnagiri surprise.

And this surprise blows you out of the monsoon waters!

Lokmanya Gangadhar Birthplace in Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri is hometown of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar (1856 – 1920) Tilak. Tilak was one of the first assertive nationalist leaders of Indian Independence Movement who coined the slogan “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it.” Lokmanya’s house where he was born has now been turned into a good looking museum. For a change there are signs, personnel and the complex looks well maintained and pleasing.

Display depicting the freedom struggle - at Tilak Museum Ratnagiri

The architecture is traditional Konkani with sloping roofs and wooden elements and open spaces all around.

Entrance to the Museum

Inside you can see some of Tilak’s belongings along with his signature turban. Photos and newspaper clippings give an insight into his contribution to the freedom struggle. You walk around the small and pretty looking house where the kitchen is and where the family lived and the open verandahs in the front and rear and this wood stairway going up to the floor above. 

Now this house unlike the Thibaw Palace has a nice vibe to it. The little house is cheerful and you can actually imagine sun streaming through the windows even as it rains outside. This house feels like home; your own little refuge in this indifferent world. Who says houses are inert walls and ceilings? Homes, houses or palaces are living beings that watch and feel. They mirror the feelings of people who inhabit them - when the inhabitants are happy they are happy and when they see suffering they suffer themselves. And while the happy and suffering people are long gone to someplace special, the walls and the mantle and the window continue to smile and cry, telling their stories who have seen it all.

The British had named Tilak as the ‘Father of the Indian Unrest’ because of his propensity to write inflammatory articles in newspapers founded by him – ‘Mahratta’ in English and ‘Kesari’ in Marathi. In another instance, Tilak in his paper Kesari, defended the revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki who attempted to kill the Chief Presidency Magistrate of Calcutta and called for immediate self-rule or swaraj.

Rear View

British patience was running low and Tilak was arrested for sedition. In the ensuing trial, Tilak was convicted by a jury and sentenced to a jail term of six years (1908 - 1914) and sent to – hold your breath – to Mandalay! Same Mandalay capital of Burma from where the King of Burma was exiled to Ratnagiri, birth place of Tilak! And in overlapping time frames!

Mahratta announcing Tilak's return to to India - Teen Murti Museum, New Delhi

Tilak spent six years imprisoned in Mandalay in the company of a fellow Marathi gentleman named Kulkarni who would cook for him. It was here that Tilak composed his famous commentary on Gita called Gitarahasya (Mystery of Gita).

The British after plundering the Mandalay Palace had converted it into a garrison called Fort Dufferin. Was Tilak imprisoned here in the palace – this is something that can be looked into?

The British really had some wicked sense of humour.

Harshringar Flowers paying homage to Lokmanya Tilak - Mimosa

Still recovering from the Mandalay surprise you walk to the rear of the house where an endearing garden is laid out. Coconut trees create a canopy. It is calm and soothing and surreal here. You spend some time soaking it up all.

Thibaw and Tilak - two different lives intertwining inexplicably and unexpectedly in Ratnagiri and Mandalay. This is what makes history so powerful and interesting.

Surprises are coming in fast here in Ratnagiri. It is time to go visit Ratnadurg and the lighthouse.

Yet Another Surprise - Four Bharat Ratna (India's highest Civilian Award) awardees were born in Ratnagiri: Dr Dondo Keshave Karve or Maharishi Karve - social reformer; Dr Pandurang Vaman Kane - Indologist and Sanskrit Scholar; Acharya Vinoba Bhave - known for Bhoodan Movement; Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar- principal architect of India's Constitution. Two other Bharat Ratnas Sachin Tendulkar and Govind Ballabh Pant have their ancestral roots in Ratnagiri.

Getting There: Ratnagiri lies on the south west coast of Maharashtra on the Mumbai-Goa highway and is well connected by trains from Mumbai. Ratnagiri is about about 350 kms from Mumbai and 300 kms from Pune. In Ratnagiri you can hire auto rickshaws to take you around the town and to the fort. The Jijamata Garden will offer you spectacular views of Arabian Sea and Bhatye Beach. Other attractions are the Ratnadurg with its Lighthouse and ThibawPalace, now turned into a museum. Take the bus to Ganpatipule Beach to see mist envelope the hills and sun create scintillating light effects on the water.

Photography is not allowed inside the house.


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  1. A delightful post that immediately brings to mind Lal Bal and Pal, the extremists who changed the safety-valve nature of the early Indian National Congress and gave us the slogan Swaraj and Swadeshi ....still being encashed by our present Prime Minister!
    The photographs do justice to the graceful proportions of the traditional architecture of the house,the shot of the ground cover of harshringar flowers paying homage to the great leader is the best icing on the cake!!

    1. Hi Mimosa,

      Yes, just found out about Lal Bal Pal during recent visit to Teen Murti Bhawan. Bal played an extremely important part in the freedom struggle and paid price for his fiery articles.

      It was a great feeling walking in the small graceful house of an Indian Hero.

      Thanks for reading and writing!


  2. Mimosa I would have not thought of the last picture the way you have!

    1. Yes Krinna,

      Great observation indeed!

      Thanks for visiting the post!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Harshad,

      Do go visit Ratnagiri in the monsoons- you will love it!