A Celebrated icon on postage stamps, Mahatma Gandhi is someone nations world over turn to for inspiration

Mahatma Gandhi’s steadfast belief in, and practice of, non-violence and peace has been a source of inspiration around the world. He is of course the father of the Indian nation, but his is a global iconic status. Countries around the world have naturally turned to the great apostle of ahimsa (non-violence), whether they were fighting for freedom from colonialism or seeking to establish human rights and peace. The United Nations has also declared his birthday, October 2, as the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi has been honoured by countries around the world on their stamps depicting diverse aspects of his life, work and philosophy, making him perhaps the personality most featured globally on postal stationery.

The very first set of stamps on Mahatma Gandhi was brought out in India in 1948. Anil Dhir, in his book Famous Stamps — The Romance of Rarities, writes about the stamp issue right from the concept, in 1947, of having a set of stamps on Gandhi to be released to commemorate his 80°i birthday, on October 2, 1949. However, the great leader was assassinated on January 30, 1948, and the set of stamps was released on August 15, 1948, marking India’s first anniversary of independence. The stamps were printed in Switzerland rather than India! Some of the stamps were then ‘Service’ overprinted back home in India for Governor General C. Rajagopalachari’s official correspondence. Then in 1969, the birth centenary of Gandhi was commemorated by India by issuing four stamps. Gandhi and his wife Kasturba, affectionately addressed as Bapu and Ba, were shown on the ‘Ba-Bapu’ stamp.

South Africa was crucial to Gandhi’s Satyagraha (insistence on truth), and in 1995 a joint stamp issue of India and South Africa was released. The stamps show the young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the elderly Mahatma. The illustrations on the miniature sheet show Gandhi spinning the charkha and at historic Dandi, as also his belongings such as a timepiece, spectacles and slippers that portray his frugality and simplicity. The ‘Centenary of Satyagraha’ also saw India Post bringing out four stamps in 2007 depicting events from Gandhi’s life in South Africa.

As the leading light of the freedom struggle in India, Gandhi served as the president of the Indian National Congress in 1924. And he is shown on the stamps released by India in 1985 marking the party’s centenary. The other noteworthy stamps have been themed on Salt Satyagraha, Dandi March and Quit India Movement. A celebrated stamp was released in the millennium’s first year based on Gandhi’s caricature by well-known cartoonist Ranga that interestingly also bears semblance to the outline map of India! And ‘Mahatma Gandhi Man of the Millennium’ was the theme of the stamps issued the next year.

The charkha as the symbol of non-violence is a leitmotif on the stamps on Gandhi. And in 2011 India Post released the world’s first khadi stamp. The unique diamond-shaped Z100-denomination stamp shows Gandhi’s face in profile and the charkha on khadi cloth with his words, ‘Be true’.

Besides stamps, Gandhi has been featured on India Post’s pre-paid postal stationery such as inland letter cards, postcards and envelopes. There are also permanent cancellations issued from post offices in Gujarat showing the Alfred High School, where Gandhi did his schooling, his ancestral home and Kocharab Satyagraha Ashram. A unique special cover with a hologram showing Gandhi was also brought out by the South India Philatelists’ Association, with the postal department’s approval. Globally, stamps and postal stationery on Gandhi have been released by more than 90 countries. The United States of America, Mauritius, Fiji, Switzerland, Guyana, Poland, Bhutan, Myanmar, Mexico, Iran, Ireland and the former USSR are only some of the countries. An error occurred when Trinidad and Tobago brought out a stamp in the year 1970 instead of 1969 to mark the leader’s centenary! Britain, despite having the tradition of not issuing a stamp on a non-British personality, issued a Gandhi stamp in 1969.

The United Nations too brought out a stamp on Gandhi in 2009 designed by Miami-based artist Dr Ferdie Pacheco. Pacheco reveals that the colours in the stamp depict what Gandhi epitomised: “I chose these colours: red because it is the colour of energy, his energy even when he was fasting, green the colour of healing, white of purity, blue of serenity, yellow of balance and brown of the Earth as he helped people here on Earth. All of these colours represent a peaceful man who helped the world.” Indeed a true representation of the Mahatma in the miniature art piece that a stamp is.

Source: N Kalyani
India perspectives, Vol 27 Issue 4, Sep – Oct 2013