Kalaa Paani – The Cellular Jail

Kalapani, Cellular Jail are names which inspire visions  of the freedom struggle and the tortures faced by the Indian freedom fighters immortalized by the 1958 and the 1996 movies of the same name. No visit to the Islands of the Andaman and Nicobar are complete without a visit to the jail and the accompanying sound and light show. History tells us that the construction of the jail was started in 1896 and completed in 1906 with seven wings shaped like spokes of a wheel radiating from a central column. Each wing had three floors with 698 isolated cubicle like rooms which ultimately gave the jail its name. The Hindu tells us that the jail cost just Rs. 5.17 lakh to build.

Today just three wings stand testimony to the troubles endured by these men during the freedom struggle. Each cell is small and bare with cold walls with an individual locking system and a barred door and a small barred window high up on the wall giving you a claustrophobic sensation.

The most famous inhabitant of the jail Veer Damodar Savarkar has his cell preserved for posterity. A poem penned by Savarkar is inscribed on the cell wall.

The Gallows on the ground stands silently, their ropes ready for the next victim. For some time the prisoners were executed at Viper and Ross islands before the gallows were built. Prisoners were executed three at time and it is said that the bell mounted on the central column would toll to signal a successful execution.

 

The central column is now a museum of sorts with vintage photographs and newspaper articles adorned on its walls along with a list of prisoners and is now called Martyr’s column. There is a small gallery in the jail grounds containing statues and models of the different activities used torture the prisoners. A museum is also housed on the premises.

A sound a light show is conducted every evening on the jail grounds. It is essentially a conversation between the central column of the Jail and a very ancient Peepul tree on the grounds of the jail. It’s a must see.

The Jail was briefly occupied by the Japanese during world war II. They destroyed two wings of the jail while two more were destroyed after independence. There were protests against further destruction of the jail by the freedom fighters who wanted the jail to be preserved as a monument to free India. In May 1969, in deference to their requests, the jail was declared as a national monument. An eternal flame was set up in the complex in 2004. It is said to be only the second such flame in the country the first being the flame at the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It is supported by the Indian Oil Foundation.

 

19 Comments

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful write up supported by some excellent pictures. Your narrative almost brought to life the supreme sacrifices made by the freedom fighters. Good to note that this place has been declared as a National Monument.

  • Karthik says:

    Thanks for sharing this!! Sad that more than half of the monument stands destroyed, but again , good that some of it still remains to tell the story.

    Nice pics too!!

  • nandanjha says:

    Brilliant pics. Helps someone to experience the story better.

    Any clue on why its called ‘Kaala Paani’ ?

    There is a flame at “India Gate”, Delhi which I guess is also kept flaming all the time.

    • Ashwani says:

      Dear Nandan

      when your life become full of sorrow and you can’t see anymore than a darkness (Kaala) around you. Moreover you are all the way surrounded by water. So called KALA PANI.

      And for your information, flame at India gate keep lit all the time.

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks Ram, Kartik and Nandhan.

    Kaala paani possibly cos from a prisoners point of view the waters are ugly dark and deep and there is virtually no escape.

    Yes when i read about the flame being only one of two i did remember the one at India gate – I beleive its called Amar Javan jyothi – Not sure though. Then i figured this was probably 1 of 2 flames which honour freedom fighters cos it is called Swatantra Jyoti and the one at Jallianwala bagh also has a similiar name.

  • Vamsee says:

    Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for a very well written piece supported by great pictures. I wonder why they took the pains of transporting prisoners all the way to the island.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Patrick,

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to start my day with a salute to those freedom fighters, from whom the British Government was so scared that they could not keep them on mainland.

    “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab humare dil mein hai,
    Dekhne hai jor kitne Bajuae kaatil mein hai”

    This nation is grateful to Veer Savarkar and other many lesser known freedom fighters. My salutes to them who suffered such a harsh life, for us to enjoy free India.

    Beautiful photographs that give life to the whole era.

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks Manish. The visit was heart warming and humbling at the same time. The sound and light show was also very good. you should visit some time.
    Patrick

  • Jason says:

    Awesome.

  • anjaly says:

    wonderful post. i really do want to see the jail!

    would be glad to know how to get to andaman? heard there were flights from chennai? if you have any details, please let me know. anjalytn@gmail.com

  • Sameeha says:

    No need to read this article, pictures are worth wording, Wishing Happy Independence Day.

  • patrick says:

    thanks everyone – happy independence day

  • patrick says:

    thanks everyone – happy independence day – Anjaly i have replied to your mail ID.

  • Rahul says:

    i think these pics will help da world know bout what cost have these prisoners paid 2 get freedom……Dec 18,2008 was da day i got a chance 2 visit da jail & it was a great experience. i think after visiting da jail i have realised da value of freedom…….
    Today da jail is opene 4 da tourists but even 2day one can easily imagine dat life in da jail was full of athrocities & pain…. I think even if da person is just left alone there wihout any physical torcher, even in dat case da person will break down mentally…..
    i think v should salute da persons who spent their time in dat difficult environment…….

  • Ahmed says:

    Interesting article. A thought comes to mind after reading it. I assume some of Cellular Jails inmates (or their colleagues) might have (later on) played some role in the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan. To think that descendents of these comrade-in-arms have now turned against each other. How ironic.

  • Jasmeet Singh Chhina says:

    Hi,

    I hope anyone can help me in finding my Grandfather (Labh Singh Rajasansi) history.

    He was prisoner in Port Blair (Cellular jail) form 1905-1919.

    I am looking for history or any book where the name of prisoner are listed.

    Thanks

  • darshan says:

    it is good photos

  • SUDHEESH KUMAR KC says:

    This is bringing us the memories of the suffering which the proud sons of India have made…
    I request every Indian must visit this place…..
    The govt should preserve the remains……………

    Jai.. Bharat …. Mata.. Ki

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