Mahatma Gandhi’s abode from 1917 to 1930 turned into an Ashram on the banks of river Sabarmati is a must visit place for any serious tourist or a Gandhian landing in Ahmedabad. This place was chosen by Gandhiji after his Kochrab Ashram built in the city in 1915 got affected by plague in 1917. Gandhi ji by that time after visiting whole of India on the advice of his political guru, G K Gokhale wanted a place where he could do constructive activities like farming, cow rearing and Khadi spinning and his other experiments with truth. He chose this place just outside the city of Ahmedabad, situated between a crematorium and a jail, which symbolically were very obvious places in times of freedom struggle in British Raj in India.
My visit to the ashram happened in 2012 and then again in Nov 2014. In my first visit while visiting various parts of Ashram I was very much influenced or struck by the topicality of various Gandhian thoughts showcased there on life size oil paintings and canvasses and big posters. The messages like, “my life is my message” and “if blood be shed, let it be our own”, and my favourite “be the change”, haunted me well after I had left the Ashram. The urge to revisit and see all of them again was too strong and therefore I was there again in Nov 14.
The Ashram is open to visitors all days of the week and sees almost 700000 tourists a year. It has preserved the original items used by Gandhi ji and placed them in Hriday-Kunj, the living place of Gandhiji. His house built around a courtyard exposed to sky, is small one and reflects appropriately his simplicity and frugal ways of his life. The rooms of Gandhi ji and Kasturba are built around this small courtyard and there is an opening at the back. Many utensils and other daily household item used by Gandhi ji have been placed as demonstrable in rooms. It gives you an obvious feel of the greatness of the simple man, Gandhi was. The front verandah of Hriday-Kunj has a room on one side where Gandhi ji used to meet visitors and on the other side, there is a functional charakha used by visitors to get some pictures clicked. I did not let me left behind either.
Just outside the Hriday-Kunj, there is a small room opening towards it which was used for many years by Meera Behen and Vinobha Bhave during their stay in Ahmedabad. Behind this room and up to the river there is an open area for prayers called as Upasana Mandir. This was used for prayers by Gandhiji along with his followers.
Besides that there is a museum or picture gallery which has no entry fee and which depicts through oil paintings the life and times and ideas and ideologies of Gandhiji. His journey to becoming Mahatma has been beautifully portrayed in the gallery. The various agitations like Champaran Satyagraha, Ahmedabad Mill strike, Non Cooperation movement, Chauri Chaura incidence and Salt Satyagraha etc have been portrayed there through pictures and dioramas. His most prominent thoughts and saying have also been presented very artistically and thoughtfully. His ideas on faith, human religion, communalism,khadi, search for truth, vegetarianism etc have been presented there. It’s very difficult to miss their impact on you as the man himself experimented and implemented all of them on himself.
His focus on ending untouchability was one of the principal tenets of his ideas and work there. He refused to compromise on this and did not mind letting his own siister leaving the Ashram after she complained about sharing space and kitchen with scheduled caste or untouchables. He fought for their rights so much that on many occasions the Ashram faced financial difficulties and he had to virtually beg from wealthy capitalists and industrialists of Ahmedabad to sail through. This was the place where he perfected his ideas on harmonious living be with respect to religion or be it with caste and creed. His idea of importance of physical labour and dignified living was also perfected here only and he clung to these ideas till his death in 1948. Likewise his unflinching faith in non violence is noticeable through paintings and pictures. A book shop selling books written by Gandhiji and by other authors on him and similar subjects is also in the same campus. There is a library also.
Gandhi ji lived in the Ashram for 13 years. On 12th March 1930 he launched his Daandi March(Salt Satyagrah) from here and vowed never to come back till he got freedom for India. Eventually the Ashram without Gandhi ji, became forlorn. Subsequently it was put under the management of ‘Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust’. The trust organised the activities of the Ashram and developed into a platform for publicising the life and ideals of Gandhi. The Sangrahalaya of the Ashram was shifted from the Gandhiji’s living area to the present day sangrahalaya in 1963. It was designed by Charles Correa and was inaugurated by Nehru ji, then prime minister of India.
I felt really satisfied by my second visit to the Ashram and I think my understanding about the father of nation has improved for sure. Interestingly two important observations I want to share about the Ashram. One, is on my testimony of seeing mobile youth engrossed into mobiles even while sitting in the Ashram. I don’t know where from they had come and what were they doing there, but I found them just lost in their mobile phone world. This perhaps needs some understanding of the minds of present day youth. Please have a look at the picture below.
The second incidence is about the purse of my sister. She somehow dropped it at Gandhi Book shop inside the Ashram. Obviously, it had some money and papers. She realised it late and was feeling very sad. She had no hope of getting it back but just to do the formality went to ashram next day to ask about it. To her pleasant surprise, someone had deposited the purse at the office and she got it back after some time. Ideas of honesty are perhaps embedded in the soil of Sabarmati Ashram!
Gandhi is dead, long live Gandhi ji!.