Mahatma Gandhi Gift For Bonhams Asian Art Auction

A Burmese Arakan gilt bronze figure of a seated Buddhist Deity, possibly Avalokitesvara, The Bodhisattva of Compassion, 17th Century, given to Emma Harker by Mahatma Gandhi, will be sold by Bonhams at the sale of Asian Art on 8th September in Knightsbridge. The 13in high sculpture is estimated to sell for £3,000-5,000.

mahatma-gandhAccording to reliable Harker family tradition, this sculpture was given to the vendor’s grandmother, Emma Harker, by Mahatma Gandhi [1869-1948. The published Collected Works of Gandhi support a special friendship with Emma.

Emma Harker was a brilliant Irish widow who went to India to stay with a daughter whose husband was in the Civil Service there. It was through that influential connection that Emma became close friends with senior Indian and Moslem politicians, particularly Sarojini Naidu, the top woman politician who had accompanied Gandhi on the Salt March.

A letter from Gandhi to Emma, dated September 19th, 1934, suggests that Emma has volunteered to assist with relief work amongst the poor in the flooded areas of Bihar or Orissa. It may have been on an appropriate occasion, such as this, that Gandhi presented Emma with a reminder of The Buddha’s Compassion and Humanity.

Gandhi might have been presented with the Buddhist Deity during one of his trips to Burma. Three visits are known to have taken place, the last in March 1929. Gandhi laid some emphasis on Burma’s Buddhism or on the enlightenment and ideas of The Buddha’s teachings.

James Hammond Head of Asian Art at Bonhams Knightsbridge, comments: Emma Harker who died in 1957 knew Gandhi well, corresponding with him over a number of years, and on one occasion introduced her grand-daughter, the owner of this sculpture, to him. The little girl asked the maker of Modern India if he had any sweets for her. Gandhi replied that he didn’t eat sweets but asked: ‘Where would you keep your love for me? In your eyes or in your stomach? The little girl answered In my eyes. And Gandhi replied Let it ever be so.

James Hammond adds: Bonhams is honoured to be selling an item of such historic interest with such a wonderful provenance.

By the time that Mahatma Gandhi had been elected President of the Indian National Congress on 21st August, 1929 [a position which he declined to accept], he had already been in correspondence with Emma Harker for over two years. Indeed, Gandhi had written to Emma from the Ashram at Sabarmati on 12th February 1928, outlining to her the expenses and lifestyle of Ashram life. Gandhi made certain to tell her that Sabarmati was close to Jacobabad, said to be the hottest place in India. For Emma, then resident at New Delhi, this challenge was not an opportunity to be missed, and she is known to have stayed at the Ashram on several occasions. Gandhi even allowed her to smoke during these visits.

Significantly, Emma’s correspondence with Gandhi continued during his imprisonment at the Yeravda Central Prison in Poona during 1932. In one letter to Emma [handwritten on paper addressed as: ‘Superintendant, Yeravda Prison, Poona] and dated 9th October1932, Gandhi teases her that her Urdu is poor, and that she will have to take lessons from him. Emma’s loyalty appears to have been entirely reciprocated. In a letter, also from Yeravda, dated 8th July,1930 Gandhi gives a list to Major R.V. Martin of those who should be allowed visiting rights since they ‘…are like blood relations to me’. Emma Harker’s name is on the list (‘The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi).

Mahatma Gandhis Gift To His Irish Friend, Emma Harker, For Sale At Bonhams