Netaji Bhawan A Warrior’s Abode

Joydip Sur

That afternoon, as I stood infront of India’s greatest warrior’s abode, my heart was filled with awe of a man whose life was a mystery and in death continues to be an enigma.


The external appearance of Netaji Bhawan with its traditional pillars and porticos is that of typical early 20th century Bengali residence. A marble plaque bearing the name of J. N. Bose, Netaji’s father, decorates the front entrance. As I entered this historical edifice, a fine profile of Netaji’s face grabbed my attention. On the opposite wall were facsimile of two pages of his political testament inscribed on marble.

At a few steps from here is the ‘Wanderer BLA 7169’ kept in a see-through glass enclosure. As I drew near, my eyes fell on the marble tablet on the wall beside the glass case that read, “This is the car in which Sisir Kumar Bose drove Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose from this house in Calcutta on the night of 16th-17th January 1941 to Gomoh on the first leg of Netaji’s great escape.”

In the inner portico stands a replica in red stone of the stately Indian National Army Martyrs Memorial with the I.N.A. motto ‘Ittefaq’, ‘Itmad’ and ‘Kurbani’ inscribed on it.

I climbed up the wooden stairs and walked along the corridor on the first floor to Netaji’s bedroom. This room has been kept just as it was in January 1941, when Netaji left. Janakinath’s large bed as well as Netaji’s own simple cot, clock, clothes, shoes, Ayurvedic medicines, Gita, old pictures and travel cases have been preserved here.

In the adjoining Sarat Bose Room, I saw oil portraits of Janakinath and Prabhabati, Netaji’s parents, which Sarat Chandra Bose had got painted in the early 30s. I also saw Sarat Bose’s bed, working table and a display of selected photographs, relics and documents in this room.

Netaji’s office room, which he used during the period of his Congress presidentship, is situated at the southern end of the corridor on the first floor. The wall of this room is painted in the Congress tricolour. Netaji’s working desk, chair, almirah, cabinet, sofa and other items are preserved in this room.

The museum galleries (Central Gallery, Europe Room and Asia Room) on the top floor have been completely renovated, redesigned and were ceremonially inaugurated by the Japanese Ambassador in India Mr. Hiroshi Hirayashi on January 23, 1999. The traditional ambience of the rooms has been restored while the original character of the ceiling, doors and windows have been retained.

Old photographs and documentary material have been scanned, cleaned, laminated and framed in traditional style. Modern scientific illumination makes the display lively and attractive. The galleries contain a treasure of a large number of photographs, documents and relics relating to Netaji’s life and work arranged in a systematic chronological order.

The Central Gallery consists of rare pictures and letters. Attractive relics in this area include a marble Buddha and a carved chair brought by Netaji from Burma in 1927. His original uniform as GOC, Congress Volunteers, in a tall showcase is a rare and precious exhibit. Photographs include a rare one taken inside Mandalay Jail, as General Officer Commanding of Congress volunteers in 1928 and as Mayor of Calcutta. There are also photographic displays of his activities during his sojourn in Europe from 1933 to 1936. The heavy overcoat and the black achhkan he wore in Europe and his usual attire in India, Khaddar dhoti, Punjabi and Gandhi cap and finally the Congress President’s tie are also on display.

Among the other important items displayed at the northern end of the Central Gallery is a full size oil painting of Netaji, his last photograph taken in his bedroom in December 1940, facsimile of his political testament, precious relics like the silk dhoti and chaddar he wore and the marble plate and bowl in which he was served dinner on the night of his escape from this house. The video monitor at this point brings live narration of the escape by Sisir Kumar Bose and reenactment of the most sensational event of the final phases of our struggle for freedom.

The Europe Room contains photographic display of Netaji’s activities in Germany and the organisation of the Indian Legion (European I.N.A.). It also contains important documentary material including his letter to Sarat Chandra Bose on the eve of his departure for East Asia. Several rare photographs of Netaji’s daring submarine voyage from Europe to Asia are on display in this room. Among the relics is a crystal cigarette box presented to him by the German Government. On the video monitor here, I saw footages of Netaji presenting the ‘Leaping Tiger’ standard to the I.N.A. contingent in Germany and inspecting the Guard of Honour.

As I walked across the central corridor to the Asia Room, the drama of the organisation of the Indian National Army and its historic assault on the north-eastern frontier of India unfolded before me. Netaji’s parley with Japanese leaders, the proclamation of the Provincial Government of Azad Hind, the Greater East Asia Conference, Netaji’s visits to Andaman Islands and Indo-Burma front are shown through the display of photographs. The Supreme Commander’s cap, belt and top boots, the desk and chair used by him in Singapore, the garland he received on October 21, 1943 and the sword presented to him in Japan have been preserved in this room. Finally, the last available photograph taken in Saigon on August 17, 1945, facsimile of the last Order of Day and enlarged photocopies of impressions of his palms are among the most engaging exhibits that I saw in this room.

The video monitor brings back film footage of Netaji in action as Supreme Commander, India National Army in East Asia. The air-conditioned Sarat Bose Hall on the ground floor has a large screen video projection facility. Arrangements can be made for special screening of the Netaji Research Bureau video documentary film “Netaji and India’s Freedom” and other historical and cultural films for tourists and batches of school & college students.

The Sisir Kumar Bose Conference Room contains rare photographs and documents relating to Sisir Bose’s role in Netaji’s escape and the letters he wrote during his imprisonment.

In the bookshop on the ground floor, visitors may buy a whole range of Netaji Research Bureau publications, audio cassettes of Netaji’s speeches, video documentary on Netaji’s life and many others interesting things relating to Netaji’s work and life. A selection of Netaji’s photographs is also available in this bookshop.

Visiting Netaji Bhawan was truly an enlightening experience. This 100 years old building is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. I strongly urge the readers to visit this historical edifice, which was once the abode of India’s greatest warrior.