For many years Ahmedabad was the center of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. The energy of that movement can still be felt at the Satyagraha Ashram that he established on the banks of the Sabarmati in 1917, after the previous Kochrab Ashram had to be abandoned because of a breakout of plague. He chose a location that was, at the time, far out of the city so that he could try farming and other such experiments.
He learnt the art of spinning and weaving, and soon the ashram began to buzz with khadi, not just as a way of producing clothes, but also as a way of thought. The activity waned when he moved to Sevagram Ashram near Wardha, Maharashtra, after the Namak Satyagraha, leaving the Ashram in the hands of the Harijan Sevak Sangh.
You can get a sense of his life, the history of the movement and those who worked alongside him, at the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, a small museum that includes excellent pictorial and written documentation, a library of Gandhian literature and paintings, and an immense archive of letters written by Gandhiji, every single one on the back of used paper.
The grounds include the Hridaykunj, Gandhiji’s sparse living quarters, Vinoba-Mira Kutir, where Vinoba and Mira each stayed on separate visits, a prarthana bhumi, a guest house and a building used as a training center for cottage industries, all preserved as part of the museum. The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset, but the best time to visit these grounds is early morning, as the sun rises over the river, and people are in a meditative spirit.
Tucked away on one side is also Manav Sadhna, a non-profit Gandhian organization dedicated to seva. Many of the people who work or volunteer in the group live in the ashram, which actually covers a lot more than just the preserved memorial grounds.
Across the road is a whole residential neighborhood of families, many of which have elders who worked alongside Gandhiji, and have the history of the movement built into their houses, inevitably reaching the younger generations.
Near the memorial grounds in the rest of the Ashram is the Environmental Sanitation Institute, an organization that addresses waste-related diseases and ecologically minded sanitation, Kalam Kush, where beautiful hand-made paper is made, as well as spinning wheels and other equipment, three khadi stores, and most recently, a khadi weaving workshop to re-educate people about the concept, resuscitating the activity after decades of lull following Gandhiji’s move to the Sevagram Ashram. After the move, it may have seemed that the ashram was no longer functioning, but generations later, the people who populate Manav Sadhna, or work in the ashram bookstore, or the fact that the new khadi workshop is run by the grandson of the couple who taught Gandhiji and his cohorts to make khadi, are all testament to the living legacy left behind.