Bengalis are proud of two common things, Netaji and Rosogolla and there is an ongoing debate as to who these two belong to originally. Both people of Bengal and Odisha claim it to be theirs. Well, me being a true blood Bengali won’t participate in that debate as I will be biased by default.
My fascination with World War II is not something unknown to many, I have done many types of research regarding the bombings of Calcutta during WWII and something which always came into the picture was INA and Netaji. I got so intrigued that I traveled all the way to Myanmar (Mandalay & Yangon) to know more about this period of history.
Netaji Birthplace Museum Cuttack
During my recent trip to Odisha as a part of Times Passion Trails organized in association with Odisha Tourism I had the opportunity to visit the city of Cuttack for the very first time and after crossing several narrow lanes and by-lanes which resembled more like an extended market which covered the street we reached a large gate with a mural of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. At once I knew that I was about to reach the house where Netaji was born on the 23rd of January 1897.
I had read about this long time back so this opportunity was truly a moment to cherish for me as I could see the very place where the great leader was born.
This place is open to all and does not require any tickets, photography, and videography is prohibited and let me put a disclaimer that I had prior approval before shooting photos here. There are eleven galleries out here depicting the different important aspect of the life of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Each of the galleries contains letters, photographs and various artifacts related to his life.
Netaji Birthplace Museum – Exteriors
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 1 (Study)
Janakinath Bose, the father of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, settled in Cuttack in 1885 to practice law. He had his legal office here at Janakinath Bhawan. He became a successful lawyer and earned the membership of Bengal Legislative Council in 1912. In the same year, he became Government Pleader and was elected at the first non-official Chairman of the Cuttack Municipality. Some of the old furniture which originally belonged to his father can be seen here in this gallery.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 2 (Early Life)
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born here at Janakinath Bhawan on 23rd of January 1897. He was the ninth child and sixth son of his parents, Janakinath Bose and Prabhabati Devi. He spent his early childhood days in this house with his large family and had his early education at Cuttack from Protestant European School (Stewart School) and Ravenshaw Collegiate School. Netaji completed his schooling in 1913 and left for Calcutta (Kolkata) where he joined the Presidency College to pursue higher studies. He came back and stayed at Cuttack with his family during 1916-17. He left Cuttack in 1917 to join the Scottish Church College (Calcutta) to complete his education.
This gallery features various copies of old photographs of Netaji and his early life.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 3 – Prison Life
This gallery is designed in form of a Prison, to depict the “Prison life of Netaji” which had been a significant feature of the freedom struggle of India. During his stay in prison, Netaji had penned down a number of letters to his parents. The letters, displayed on the board are from various jails such as Mandalay Central Jail, Insein Central Jail, Alipore Jail, Presidency Jail, Rangoon Jail etc.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 4 – Political Life
In 1920 Netaji was selected for the esteemed Indian Civil Service, but he had other plans. Influenced by the ongoing freedom struggle and inspired by the teachings of Vivekananda, Netaji had made up his mind to serve his country. He turned down the appointment and came back from England to join active politics. In the midst of an intense nationalist ardor during the non-cooperation movement, Netaji went to Bombay (Mumbai) and met Mahatma Gandhi. Following his instruction, he returned to Calcutta and met Deshbanshu Chittaranjan Das, the Congress working committee member and the leader of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement in Bengal. Over the years, C.R. Das and Netaji developed a warm relationship. He readily introduced Netaji to the political scenario of the province to its youth movement; the trade union movement and assigned him important responsibilities.
While Gallery 1 – 4 is located on the ground floor rest of the galleries are located on the first floor
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 5 – National Bank of Azad Hind Limited
Determined to carry on the war of Indian Independence until the country was finally free from British shackles, Netaji placed the programme of “Total Mobilisation” before the Indians in East Asia and added: “I then demanded of my countrymen an increasing flow of men, money, and materials so that we could prepare for and launch an armed struggle for the freedom of our country“. The response was overwhelming and Netaji gratefully acknowledged the fact that his countrymen in East Asia had responded generously to his appeal. Accordingly, it was possible to fulfill his pledge to set up a second front in India and fight the enemy on the sacred soil of India. In the execution of the financial programme, they were able to start a bank of their own. The National Bank of Azad Hind Ltd., at the beginning of April 1944 in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar). The Bank had proved to be such a success that branches were opened in many places.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 6 – Indian National Army
The Indian National Army (INA) was founded by Captain Mohan Singh in Singapore on 1st September 1942 with Japan’s Indian “Prisoner of War” in the Far East with the support of ‘The Indian Independence League’, headed by expatriate nationalist leader Ras Behari Bose. The first INA was however disbanded in December after a disagreement between the Hikari Kikan and Mohan Singh, who came to believe that the Japanese High Command was using INA as a mere pawn and propaganda tool. However, the idea of a Liberation Army was revived with the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943. Ras Behari Das handed over control of the organization to Subhas Chandra Bose. This is where he earned the name “Netaji“. He was able to recognize the fledgling army and gather massive support among the expatriate Indian population in South-East Asia. INA had a separate women’s unit, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment (named after Rani Lakshmi Bai) headed by Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal (Swaminathan), which is said to be the first ‘all women’ regiment in the world.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 7 – Provincial Government of Azad Hind
On October 21, 1943, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose proclaimed the formation of the Provincial Government of Azad Hind (Free India) at a historic assembly at Cathay Cinema Theatre in Singapore. The Provincial Government was recognized by nine states including three world powers – Japan, Germany, and Italy. Thus for the first time during two hundred years, Indian freedom fighters tasted independent statehood. The first official act of the Provincial Government was to declare war on Britain and America; and to solemnly declare “the permanent Government of India will be formed after the war, in accordance with the will of the Indian people“. This event was a memorable document in the history of India’s freedom struggle. After proclaiming the government, Netaji took the oath as the Head of The State and Prime Minister of The Provincial Government of Azad Hind.
On 22nd October 1943, Netaji formally inaugurated the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Azad Hind Fauj. This fighting unit of Indian women warriors was concrete expression if Netaji’s belief on the equality of men and women and his determination to give women equal and full opportunity in every aspect of life and human endeavor.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 8 – Azad Hind Radio
In 1942 Netaji called for “Total Mobilisation” for the cause of the freedom of our motherland. He demanded from the masses, “Men, Money, and Materials”. To take his message to every doorstep he needed a powerful medium of mass communication, hence the proposed and started the Azad Hind Radio. This service was started in early 1942 and it helped Netaji to spread his message to every corner of the nation.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 9 – Birth Room
Janakinath Bose wrote in his diary, dated 23/01/1897, that Subhas was born this day a few minutes after 12 noon here in this house. This particular room is believed to have been the birth room of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The room displays, an old bedstead, photographs, copy of the diary page recording and decorative objects belonging to the Bose family.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 10 – Spiritual Life
The revolutionary spirit of Netaji was inspired by spiritualism, deeply influenced by Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sri Aurobindo, and the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy and teachings on Nationalism, Universalism and Social Reformation had a profound impact on him from his childhood. His political and socialistic thoughts also drew inspiration from the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, inculcated in him by his mother Prabhabati Devi.
Netaji Birthplace Museum –Gallery 11 – Family Life
In 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose reached Berlin and set up an Indian Embassy in Germany. An Austrian lady Mill Emilie Schenkl joined the Indian Embassy as Secretary, Her devotion to duty and love for India impressed Netaji so much that in the beginning in 1942 he proposed and got married to her at a ceremony in Vienna. It was a “Gandharva Vivaha” because they could not be married under the then existing German Marriage Law. The marriage took place at the residence of Miss Schenkl and an Indian friend and a Viennese gentleman were present during the function. On 29th November 1942, in Vienna, a daughter was born to Subhas and Emilie. They named her Anita.
Overall, this museum is a nice place to spend half a day; it would take time to go through all the exhibits, as there are quite a few in each of the sections. There is ample parking space available if you approach the museum from the main gate that is the Jail Roadside. There is a small shop at the entrance selling souvenirs and other reading materials, which you purchase if you want to know more about Netaji.