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Pitamber Hathibhai Mehta (1838-1922)

Pitamber Hathibhai Mehta was one of the most prominent and renowned names in the history of Palanpur during the last century.

 

He served as Diwan of Nawab Sher Mohammed Khan and developed a great reputation for his diplomacy and intelligence. He is recognized not only as an extraordinary statesman, but also an eminent social reformer, sober in his tastes and simple, benevolent and sympathetic to ordinary people.

 

The role of Diwan was a difficult one, and many of those who occupied the seat lasted for a very short time in the position. Pitamberbhai, however, was extremely successful and remained in the position for a long period. He was a wise, intelligent and sharp state official, with good foresight and encouraged transparency in dealings.

 

His sharp political and administrative acumen was evident on several occasions, and his decisions in complex situations were widely appreciated. One such occasion was when he released all prisoners of the British Agency during Nawaab Sher Mohammed Khan’s coronation, incurring the displeasure of the British government. Yet he managed to solve the imbroglio in his intelligent way, and reduce the displeasure of the British authorities.

Vyayamshala which was
built in his memory in
Palanpur

During the VS 1956 famine, better known as ‘Chhappaniya dukaal’ in Gujarati, the Nawab planned to build a palace in Rajgadhi. Pitamberbhai advised the Nawab to abandon this plan as it was not appropriate to build a luxurious palace when people of the state were suffering from scarcity. He also regained possession of the land at Tekara village near Deesa from the British Agency. 

 

Pitamberbhai’s initiative led to the construction of the first Maternity home and Female Hospital in Palanpur after he saw a woman dying due to lack of proper facilities and space for treatment for pregnant women. He was also instrumental in establishing a dharmshala for the people coming to the city for treatment of different ailments. All these facilities were made possible with the initiative and help of the State, the Nawab.

 

He was instrumental in many social reforms within the Jain community. For example, he brought an end to the custom of having a public feast after a person’s death, curbed excessive displays of sorrow and other traumatic forms of mourning death, and helped reduce unnecessary expenses on lavish displays at the time of marriages.

 

Pitamberbhai was a Mahajan in every sense, helping the poor and supporting needy families in times of need. He distributed blankets to people sleeping on streets during winter. He also took various steps to encourage students to pursue higher studies and boost education for women, and established the first private school in Palanpur with the help of philanthropists -- a school for Sthanakvasi girls – also providing those who needed it with scholarships and even in the 19th century he ensured that his three sons completed their higher studies.

 

Pitamberbhai believed in the principle of simple living and high thinking. He was very fond of meeting and talking to sadhus and saints both due to his thirst for knowledge and for the solace it provided. He believed in social equality as well as Hindu–Muslim unity.

 

This great personality is fondly remembered even today and a gymnasium (vyayamshala) was built in his memory by the erstwhile Palanpur state and other prominent citizens.

 

When he died at the age of 84 in 1922, erstwhile state of Palanpur mourned for three days.


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