Vithalbhai Jhaveri

Vithalbhai Jhaveri (1916-1985) was a member of the Indian National Movement and did much to promote Gandhian philosophy and preserve the memory of the unique nonviolent struggle for Indian independence. He made it his life's mission to collect photographs, films and footage of the Mahatma - his life, time and work, from sources around the world. Jhaveri became one of Gandhi's most eminent biographers and used some of the photographs and film material for his own exhibitions, films and publications.

Vithalbhai Jhaveri (1916-1985) was a film-maker and writer who was involved in the struggle for Indian Independence from the Salt March period and was one of the founders of Congress Radio in 1942. He co-edited a book in celebration of Gandhi’s 75th birthday, Gandhiji: his life and work (Bombay, 1944), was responsible for the many illustrations in D.G. Tendulkar’s monumental eight volume Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Bombay, 1951-54), directed the important documentary film Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869–1948 (1968), and curated a number of Gandhi exhibitions in Indian cities, including ‘My Life is My Message’ in New Delhi. Jhaveri was the first to present Gandhi’s life through the use of various visual media, and spent many years assembling a remarkable collection of photographs, films and footage of the Mahatma from sources around the world, some of which were used in his various publications. The current collection was acquired from Jhaveri’s heirs.

The Vithalbhai Jhaveri estate

Many of the earliest photographs collected by Jhaveri are formal posed photographs, including images of him as a young barrister, and of him with Kasturba. There are a relatively small number of images from his time in South Africa, but they include photographs taken on Tolstoy Farm and the earliest images of him as a public figure, especially during the 1913 Satyagraha campaign. There were relatively few photographs taken of Gandhi in his early years back in India, although the collection includes an interesting image of a reception held for him on his return to India and an extraordinary series of photographs of Gandhi on the operating table during his emergency appendectomy in 1924.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these early photographs is the gradual change in Gandhi’s dress, from formal Western suits to traditional Indian costume of increasing simplicity. There are an number of striking photographic portraits from the mid 1920s, often at least semi-posed. The collection includes images of pivotal historic moments such as Gandhi breaking the salt law by picking up a lump of natural salt at Dandi on 6 April 1930. There are many photographs relating to Gandhi’s visit to Britain for the Round Table Conference of 1931, including long series of images on board ship, in London for the conference itself, in Lausanne where he went for a Pacifist conference in December 1931, and at mass meetings on his return to India.

The photographs following his return to India fall into two main groups: there are photographs of his daily life, often at the ashram (many of these were acquired by Jhaveri from Kanu Gandhi so are duplicated in the Kanu Gandhi collection), and there are photographs of major public events at which press photographers were present, which often show him at ceremonial occasions, with large groups, alongside other leaders of the Indian Independence movement, or at negotiations (alongside the last British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, for example). The lack of formal images reflects Gandhi’s increasing reluctance to pose for photographs. The collection ends with images of mourning and of Gandhi’s body at Birla House.

The collection was mostly assembled from the late 1940s through to the early 1960s. In most cases Jhaveri obtained the images from the original photographers. The vast majority of the prints date from c.1950s, but some are earlier and vintage prints were occasionally supplied. Almost all have an identifying Jhaveri stamp (fig. 5), but many also have copyright stamps identifying the original source. These include Indian photographers such as Cousnic Brothers of Bombay and P.N. Varma and Co., Western press agencies, and Government sources.

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Vithalbhai Jhaveri (left) at work for his 5-hrs documentary MAHATMA, 1968.

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