What was it about a simple loin cloth wearing man that people in thousands flocked to hear him speak? What was so inspiring about someone who himself needed support to walk, that taught a nation to stand tall? What was so stimulating in his life and work that he became the Father of the Nation called India?
These are the few questions that linger in your mind, when you first hear about Mahatma Gandhi. And it was the quest to find a little more about the man and his vision that we decided to visit the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, India.
The Sabarmati Ashram is also known as the Gandhi Ashram or the Harijan Ashram to the world and it is this place that Mahatma Gandhi spent approximately 12 years of his life.
Upon returning from South Africa on January 9, 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as was Mahatma Gandhi’s name was in search for a place to settle him and a small group who were with him in the African struggle. When someone asked him why he chose Ahmedabad as the hub of his activities Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Being a Gujarati, I thought I shall be able to render the greatest service to the country through the Gujarati language. And then as Ahmedabad was an ancient centre of handloom weaving, it was likely to be most favorable field for the revival of the cottage industry of hand spinning.’ He also added, ‘the city being the capital of Gujarat, monetary help from its wealthy citizens would be available than any other place.’
And so with logical reasoning Gandhi ji chose Ahmedabad as his first city of residence and resistance against the British rule over India. Initially, the Mahatma created Kochrab Ashram, which was located in proper Ahmedabad city however a plague epidemic broke in the area and forced him to look for another place for his Ashram. It was then that the Sabarmati river front was selected. This area was far from the city, surrounded by jungle and situated along the steep rugged cliffs of the Sabarmati River. Nearby, was a British Prison filled with the sounds of iron chains of the inmates engaged in manual labor.
When someone again asked him why he chose this particular location, Gandhi ji replied with his characteristic wit and intelligence, ‘This is the right place for our activities to carry on the search for Truth and develop Fearlessness – for, on one side, are the iron bolts of the foreigners, and on the other, thunderbolts of Mother Nature.”
The Ashram was indeed like an experimentation area for Mahatma Gandhi, where the subject were men and women who chose to strictly abide by the moral and spiritual values taught by Gandhi ji. It was a family not linked by blood or property, but by an allegiance to common ideals of Education, Truth (Non-Violence and Love), Celibacy, Control of the palate (no liquor or meat), No Stealing, Non-Possession (simple living high thinking), use of home-made articles, Conquer of Fear, and the eradication of untouchabiltiy, a social stigma of great proportion during those times.
It is no easy task today, and it was no easy task then to follow these rules but many did, quite willfully and found a place in the ashram. There greatest inspiration was undoubtedly the Mahatma himself whose daily rituals revolved around the ideals and whose strict regime was undeterred by work, health or other commitments throughout his life.
The Sabarmati Ashram premises today stands testimony to the ideals set by Gandhi ji. It is no longer an Ashram where people live, but a museum that represents the life that Gandhi ji created here.
The very first thing that greets you when you tread the Ashram paths is the serenity of the place. The premise is full of lush green shady trees, with squirrels hopping about and many birds nesting in the branches. There are innumerable photographs of India’s freedom struggle, Gandhi’s life and work, his speeches, daily routine, childhood, family, favorite pastime of weaving yarn on his spinning wheel and of his pupils who themselves became great men of the soil.
There are books about Gandhi and by Gandhi which you can easily read and buy as collectibles. There are inspirational quotes put up at many places spoken by the great man himself that are simple to comprehend but have deeper connotations even in the modern times. There is also a shop which sells books, key rings, spinning wheels, pens and other memorabilia of the place.
As you roam around, you find many cottages which were once inhabited by prominent leaders of the country. There is the Magan Niwas where lived Maganlal Gandhi, Gandhi’s nephew and his true follower, Vinobha Kutir belonging to Vinobha Bhave, whom Gandhi hailed for his total commitment to truth, Nandini the Guest house of the Ashram, and the Prarthana Bhoomi where prayers were offered and hymns sung.
But what stands as the heart of the Ashram, close to the river bed, is the aptly named Hriday Kunj (Home to the Heart), Mahatma Gandhi’s home at Sabarmati. It is here that you can truly relate to the simplicity of the man and the greatness he achieved in spite of his minimalist dwellings. The place is open, airy made in true Indian style with an inner courtyard and 4 rooms around it. It is not a palace but you can feel the air carrying whiffs of the many historical moments that have been preserved in its walls. It is here where you discover how the simpleton Mohandas became Mahatma Gandhi to the world: the spokesperson of Truth and Non-violence, and yet never left his simple life.
On March 12, 1930, Gandhi ji embarked on a 240 mile walk with 79 selected followers to break the Salt Tax, imposed by the British. This, known in history as The Dandi Salt March, united the country and set into motion the events that would later free a nation. Gandhi had then said that he would never return to Sabarmati until the nation was free. Destiny though had others plans. After India gained Independence on 15 August 1947, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January, 1948.
He could never return to Sabarmati Ashram.
And while you walk the paths and absorb the tranquility, you just might also feel the anticipation.
The Ashram seems to be waiting still… for his homecoming.
To know more about the Ashram and Mahatma Gandhi visit, Sabarmati