Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

The editor-in-chief of the Collected Works of Mahatma, prepared in ninety volumes, K. Swaminathan and his team skillfully presented Gandhi’s words with context.

One of the most notable people I know was Madras literature professor K. Swaminathan, who later became the chief editor of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Swaminathan was born on December 3, 1896, in Pudukottai.

In 1996, as his birth centenary was being celebrated, I wrote on his biography in The Hindu (later compiled in detail in my book An Anthropologist, Among the Marxists and Other Such).

Nearly a quarter-century later, on the occasion of his birthday, I am writing about the great project of editorial scholarship that was completed under his supervision.

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

After Mahatma’s assassination, the Congress Working Committee established the National Memorial Fund in his name.

In addition to encouraging inter-religious harmony and the creative works of Gandhi’s beloved, it was also resolved that ‘all his writings and teachings available in different languages ​​would be collected, preserved and published and material related to Gandhi in a museum’ Will be kept protected.

Gandhi Memorial Fund was established in 1949. In collaboration with the Sabarmati Ashram, it began to archive the widely spread writings of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in various genres and with different titles, in English and Hindi as well as in his mother tongue Gujarati.

Gandhi wrote three books, hundreds of pamphlets, dozens of petitions, hundreds of news articles and thousands of letters. He gave many interviews and many speeches.

He also invented a mode of writing. This was the remark of ‘Day of Silence’, which he often wrote on Monday when he kept silent.

In 1956, the Gandhi Memorial Fund found that it had accumulated enough material that the work of bringing it into book form could be started.

After the demise of the well-known Gujarati speaking Congressman Vallabhai Patel, an advisory board was set up under the chairmanship of Morarji Desai to prepare the Collected Works.

Other members of the board included a representative of Navajivan Press – his cooperation was necessary, as he owned the copyright to Gandhi’s writings – several social activists close to Gandhi and the Mahatma’s younger son Devdas, who was himself the editor of the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

Devdas Gandhi was instrumental in making a documentary about the life of the Mahatma and was now going to play a part in preserving his writings forever.

The first person to be appointed as the first chief editor of Collected Works was Bharatan Kumarappa.

Bharatan was a scholar of philosophy and religion and received his doctoral degrees from the Universities of Edinburgh and London, as well as spending many years with Gandhi on rural construction.

Bharatan Kumarappa was the perfect person for the job of adjusting and editing Gandhi’s writings. But he died of a heart attack in June 1957, after the first volume was sent to the press for publication.

Former freedom fighter Jairam Das Daulatram was brought in his place, but his heart did not make this work. After spending two years in unhappiness, he parted ways to become a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Instead of Daulatram, K. Swaminathan, whose name was highly recommended by Vinoba Bhave.

At the age of sixty-three, Swaminathan left his illustrious career in literature and came to Delhi. His training and orientation were in many ways similar to that of Bharatan Kumarappa, the project’s exceptional first editor.

Both took pride in their Tamil roots, both were bilingual, in their mother tongue and English accepted by the global intellectual world.

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

Both were cosmopolitans religiously, Bharatan was a Christian who wrote a book on Ramanujacharya, and Swaminathan was a Hindu who loved to read the Bible.

Swaminathan’s most relevant ability to handle such responsibility was his ability to take everyone along and work with them as a team member.

For a long time, he served as the head of the English department at the Presidency College Madras, and for five years he was the principal of the Government Arts College.

The first person whom Swaminathan appointed was C.N. Patel, himself a professor of English and like Gandhi, spoke Gujarati. He served as the Deputy Editor-in-Chief on this project.

Other members of Swaminathan’s team included J. P. Uniyal, who worked in the Himalayas with Gandhi’s disciple Miraben.

Besides him was the well-known poet Bhavani Prasad Mishra, who acted as editor-in-charge of Hindi translation of Collected Works.

In 1964, when the nine volumes had arrived, Gandhi’s American scholar Joanne Bondurant wrote about it in Modern History.

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

The project, he wrote, deserves the ‘highest acclaim’. In no case have the editors interfered in this, Yet they have been successful in answering frequently asked questions that may arise in the minds of well-informed readers.

They have met the highest standards of scholarship, in the verification of sources, authentication of authorship, identification of little-known persons in letters, and adding valuable background and addendum material.’

This level remained in the coming years. Although there was some interruption during the Emergency in 1975-77, by then it had had more than fifty sections.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s nemesis wanted to get rid of Swaminathan because he would send sections one by one to the chairman of the advisory board, Morarji Desai, who was then in jail.

Fortunately, understanding prevailed, and then the editor-in-chief remained for several years and retired in 1985 after the original ninety-volume set of Gandhi’s chronological writings was ready. (followed by seven supplementary sections)

Swaminathan was highly appreciated by his colleagues. The Gujarati writer Hasmukh Shah wrote of his editor-in-chief that ‘he created a simple system for completing the vast task of editing and research.

Ninety Volumes: Words of Mahatma Gandhi

He was quick to assess the limitations and personality characteristics of his team. I have never heard him raise his voice or scold anyone. His life and dedication were reminiscent of the era of ancient scholars and sages.

I have a printed set of Collected Works. It is also available online on Gandhi Heritage Portal, a trusted portal related to Gandhi, which is operated by Sabarmati Ashram.

Apart from the unborn scholars and Indians, many other nationalists will have a good reason to express their gratitude to Swaminathan and his team of skilled editors and translators.

Leave a Comment