vithalbhai jhaveri

Vithalbhai Jhaveri (1916-1985) played a significant role in the Indian National Movement, fervently promoting Gandhian philosophy and safeguarding the legacy of India's nonviolent quest for independence. He dedicated his life to gathering photographs, films, and footage documenting the Mahatma—his life, era, and endeavors—from global sources. Jhaveri emerged as one of Gandhi's distinguished biographers, incorporating this visual material into his exhibitions, films, and written works.


Vithalbhai Jhaveri was a filmmaker and writer deeply involved in the Indian Independence movement from the Salt March onwards and was a co-founder of Congress Radio in 1942. He co-edited a book to celebrate Gandhi's 75th birthday, titled 'Gandhiji: His Life and Work' (Bombay, 1944), contributed numerous illustrations to D.G. Tendulkar’s extensive eight-volume 'Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi' (Bombay, 1951-54), directed the significant documentary 'Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869–1948' (1968), and organized various Gandhi exhibitions in India, including 'My Life is My Message' in New Delhi. Jhaveri pioneered the portrayal of Gandhi's life using diverse visual media and devoted years to gathering an extraordinary collection of photographs, films, and footage of the Mahatma from global sources, some of which featured in his publications. The present collection was obtained from Jhaveri’s descendants.

The Vithalbhai Jhaveri estate

The initial photographs collected by Jhaveri predominantly feature formal poses, such as images of Gandhi as a young barrister and with his wife Kasturba. While there are fewer photographs from his time in South Africa, the collection does contain significant photographs from Tolstoy Farm and some of the earliest snapshots of Gandhi as a public figure, notably during the 1913 Satyagraha campaign. Upon Gandhi's return to India, the number of photographs was limited; however, the collection boasts a notable image from a reception in his honor and a remarkable series of photographs depicting Gandhi on the operating table for an emergency appendectomy in 1924.


One of the most captivating aspects of these early photographs is the noticeable transition in Gandhi's attire, from formal Western suits to the traditional Indian garb of increasing simplicity. There is a number of striking photographic portraits from the mid-1920s, often semi-posed at least. The collection features images of critical historical events, such as Gandhi defying the salt law by lifting a clump of natural salt at Dandi on April 6, 1930. Numerous photographs pertain to Gandhi's trip to Britain for the Round Table Conference in 1931, including extensive series of images aboard ship, in London at the conference, in Lausanne for a Pacifist conference in December 1931, and at large gatherings upon his return to India.


The photographs from his return to India are categorized mainly into two groups: snapshots of his everyday life, frequently captured at the ashram (a number of these were obtained by Jhaveri from Kanu Gandhi, hence they are replicated in the Kanu Gandhi collection), and images of significant public events where press photographers were in attendance. These often depict him at formal gatherings, with large assemblies, in the company of other Indian Independence movement leaders, or during negotiations (for instance, with the last British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten). The absence of posed photographs mirrors Gandhi's growing aversion to being photographed. The collection concludes with scenes of grief and images of Gandhi's remains at Birla House.


The collection was primarily gathered from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Jhaveri typically acquired the images directly from the photographers. Most of the prints originate from around the 1950s, although a few are earlier, and vintage prints were sometimes provided. Nearly all bear an identifying Jhaveri stamp (fig. 5), and many also carry copyright stamps indicating the original source, including Indian photographers like the Counsic Brothers of Bombay, P.N. Varma and Co., Western press agencies, and government entities.