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    Kanu Gandhi (b. 1917; d. 1986)

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    A self-taught Indian photographer, Kanu Gandhi is best known for his candid documentation of the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a leading figure of the Indian independence movement widely known by the honorific ‘Mahatma’. A grand-nephew of MK Gandhi, Kanu Gandhi began photographing in 1936 when he became a member of the leader’s staff at the Sevagram Ashram in Wardha, Maharashtra. His large body of photographs shows several momentous as well as quotidian events during MK Gandhi’s last decade. 

    Born in 1917, Kanu Gandhi grew up in the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, which his father was managing at the time, and alongside Sevagram, was MK Gandhi’s residence when he was not travelling. He became closely involved with Gandhi’s nonviolent political agitation, soon getting arrested, at the age of fifteen, for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement. As he became a formal member of Gandhi’s personal staff, he was encouraged by Shivaji Bhave — the brother of social reformer Vinoba Bhave — to take up photography and document events and life at the Sevagram Ashram. With a gift of Rs 100 from industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla to purchase equipment, he took up the task of documentation in 1936 with a Rolleiflex camera. He worked under strict conditions from Gandhi that there would be no use of flash, no posing for photographs and no financial support from the Ashram for his work. He was eventually able to sustain his photography through sales of the images and a regular stipend from Amritlal Gandhi.

    Due to his proximity to the leader, Kanu Gandhi’s photographs capture very intimate moments from MK Gandhi’s day-to-day life between 1936 and 1948, when the latter was assassinated. They show life at the Ashram as well as significant moments during MK Gandhi’s travels across the country and meetings with other public figures. Kanu Gandhi produced nearly two thousand images, many of which were often widely circulated, though he was not credited. In the 1980s, Peter Rühe, a computer engineer from Germany who was archiving memorabilia and histories connected to MK Gandhi’s life, met Kanu Gandhi and his wife Abha, and helped Abha organise, copyright and preserve her husband’s photographs after his death. He also acquired a large number of these photographs, which went on to become a significant part of his seminal archive The Gandhi Collection

    In 1995 Kanu Gandhi’s images were exhibited and his contribution to the documentation of MK Gandhi’s life publicly highlighted for the first time, with the show Kanu Gandhi’s Mahatma at the Leicestershire Museum & Art Gallery, UK, envisioned and curated by UK-based artist Saleem Arif Quadri. Following this, Prashant Panjiar, a photographer and editor of Outlook magazine, published a photo story featuring a selection of images sourced from the Gandhi family home in Gujarat. In 2015, Panjiar’s organisation Nazar Foundation published a monograph featuring forty-two of Kanu Gandhi’s photographs and, in collaboration with the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, organised a travelling exhibition titled Kanu’s Gandhi, curated by Panjiar and the photographer Sanjeev Saith. These images are now housed at the Gandhi Research Foundation in Jalgaon, Maharashtra. 

    Following MK Gandhi’s death, which had a profound impact on him, Kanu Gandhi briefly continued pursuing photography, documenting other public figures as well as the effects of the Bihar Famine of 1966–67, before relocating to Rajkot with his wife. Here Kanu and Abha Gandhi managed two organisations supporting small-scale industries and school education, whilst promoting Gandhian principles.

    Kanu Gandhi died in Madhya Pradesh in 1986 at the age of sixty-nine.



    Das, Soma. “Kanu Gandhi: The Unsung Photographer Who Chronicled the Mahatma.” Hindustan Times, January 5, 2017.

    Deboo, Khorsed. “Indelible Impressions of the Mahatma.” The Hindu, January 13, 2017.

    GandhiServe. “The Gandhi Collection.” Accessed April 3, 2024.

    Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation. “Kanu’s Gandhi.” Exhibitions. Accessed June 13, 2021.

    Mahurkar, Uday. “Harvesting a Legacy.” India Today, January 7, 2010.

    Ratnam, Dhamini. “In Your City: Mumbai.” Mint, January 13, 2017.

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