Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary

Forty years ago today the General Post Office released the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist. The stamp in question celebrated the birth centenary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, although it was released to coincide with Indian Independence Day (15th August), rather than Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October).

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 stamp

The designer of the stamp was Biman Mullick an Indian graphic designer and illustrator then teaching at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts. Mullick’s design was simple but effective, showing Gandhi in front of the Indian flag. “The design brief gave complete freedom to the designers,” Mullick said. “Mahatma Gandhi maintained an extremely simple life style. This was a lead for me. I set out to achieve stark simplicity in this design.”

Scans of newspaper articles and other material related to the stamp issue can be seen on Mullick’s website. One interesting item is a Post Office press release from 14th May 1970 stating that the Indian Philatelic Society gave the Gandhi stamp a Gold Medal at the international Gandhi stamp exhibition in Calcutta that year. Mullick’s website also contains information about Bangladesh’s first stamps, which he designed following that country’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds a great deal of material about the Gandhi stamp, including essays and unadopted designs. Six other artists submitted designs for the stamp – Bradbury Wilkinson, Rosalind Dease, Harrison & Sons, Philip Sharland, R. Stribley and Martin Stringer – and many of the un-adopted designs included the Charkha (spelt “Chakra” in our archives) or spinning wheel.

“The spinning wheel eventually became the symbol not only of Gandhi, but also the symbol of the Indian Congress Party,” noted a caption for one rejected design. “Ashoka’s Wheel, on the Indian National Flag of today, has a clear link with Gandhi’s spinning-wheel” it continued.

While the Charkha did not appear on the Gandhi stamp, it was used in poster advertising for the issue.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

A rejected design by Mullick also featured Gandhi’s honourary title Mahatma (“Great Soul”) in devanagari, the script used for many South Asian languages.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp.

10 responses to “Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary

  1. Pingback: 1969 Gandhi Stamp Marks First for Britain | Stamps Blog

  2. Robert Bostock

    You refer in this article several times to ‘chakra’ – surely you mean ‘charkha’?? The former is a term used in yoga whilst the latter is the spinning wheel associated with Gandhi.

    • The material in our archive related to this stamp issue refers to the spinning wheel as a “chakra” on multiple occasions.

      • Robert Bostock

        Perhaps your archive material is wrong too?

        Oxford Dictionaries indicate as follows:

        • (in Indian thought) each of seven centres of spiritual power in the human body.

        (also charka)
        • (in South Asia) a domestic spinning wheel used chiefly for cotton.

      • Not saying the archive material isn’t wrong, was simply explaining why we went with that particular spelling.

      • Robert Bostock

        I think it’s less a question of spelling than the use of the wrong word.

      • We accept your point, and appreciate your feedback.

      • Robert Bostock

        My apologies for insisting on this but you still haven’t got it right.
        All you have done is add the letter ‘h’ after the ‘k’ which still makes it sound like the original ‘chakra’.
        The spinning wheel is


        ie the ‘r’ is before the ‘k’.

      • Hope we have it right now.

  3. I just came accross to this discussion on CHARKA and CHAKRA. Please note, before Indepedence (1947) flag of Indian National Congress Party had CHARKA the spinning wheel. Mohatma Gandhi was the leader of India and the Indian National Congress Party. The flag was known as the National Flag. Mohatma Gandhi was a great believer of industrial revolution through cottage industry. The CRARKA was a symbol of cottage industry and self reliance. In 1947 the flag was adapted for the idependent India and the Charka was replaced by ASHOK (Legendary King of India) CHAKRA the weel, a symbol of justice. The old flag with CHARKA, the spinning wheel is appropriate with Mahatma Gandhi and Indian freedom movement headed by Mahatma Gandhi. Biman Mullick, Designer, Gandhi Centenary 1969

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