Devoted to the late Mahatma Gandhi and his legacy, the first official “Eternal Gandhi” museum in the United States is the brainchild of an ambitious board of nine trustees whose vision for a premiere brick and mortar space is coming to fruition.
The completion and opening of The Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston (EGMH) is projected for July thanks to planning that began more than 10 years ago.
Located at 12379 Riceville School Road and Beltway 8 South in the Brays Oaks Management District, much of the space has already been built out. The 5,000 square foot interior is surrounded by 12,800 feet of grounds and parking. The exterior features a rotunda facing the tollway, with a large statue of Gandhi and a glass wall looking in on the museum, as well as signage visible from either direction.
The trustees hope the facility will become a premiere visiting spot for the diverse population of the Houston area (including neighboring Fort Bend County has a significant South Asian population) and for visitors from all over the world.
He was named the Time Magazine Person of the Year in 1930 for his unique way of leading his people to gain independence from a colonial ruler that imposed excessive taxation and discrimination. Leaders in decades that followed, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were inspired by his actions and philosophy.
School group field trips will be welcomed into the circular museum with a fully outfitted classroom as well as a theater. There will be many interactive exhibits so that each visitor will get to learn about the tenets of the influential leader, who was assassinated in 1940 in New Delhi.
“This will be first and foremost an educational institution,” said trustee and co-founder Atul B Kothari. “We hope to inspire with Gandhi’s teachings and share his message.”
The total budget for the museum is $10 million, of which $7.3 million has been raised. Foundation donations, grants, and private donations have helped the organization come close to reaching its final goal.
Fort Bend County government provided $475,000 from its share of the federal American Rescue Plan that was designed to speed the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID pandemic.
Divided into three distinct sections, the museum’s first gallery will feature “His Journey” – Gandhi’s life history and how he transformed his society with pacifism and ethical principles. A highlight of this area is the “satyagraha” experience – a movement of civil resistance “holding firmly to truth.”
The details of his 1930 Salt March provide a powerful example of popular resistance; Indians disposed of their salt due to excessive taxation on the staple in an action similar to our own country’s Boston Tea Party uprising against British rule. The Salt March is detailed in an exhibit.
The second gallery is “Our Journey” and highlights the many people Gandhi influenced, from King to the late U.S. farm workers’ leader Cesar Chavez, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Greta Thunberg, a young environmental activist from Sweden.
The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, has endorsed the Houston museum project in writing.
Museum highlights will include plenty of hands-on exhibits. As one example, a lighted 3-D “ripple wall” will simulate how just one person can cause ripples of change.
The last gallery will be a place of contemplation, called “My Journey,” where visitors may create artwork inspired by what they would like to do to contribute to world peace. The section contains thinking activities about what a single person can do to promote change.
The museum’s theater will hold 18 people at a time and will play a 3-D, seven-minute movie called “A Force More Powerful” in a continuous loop.
All school groups will begin with a lesson in a classroom space to learn about the great leader before experiencing the museum. The curriculum will meet all Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards for history.
The admission fee will be $20 per person. The lobby will also feature a gift shop. A donor wall will highlight major contributors to this important cultural institution.
—by Arlene Nisson Lassin