Magazine 2013
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
The Study Of Salient Features Of  
Gandhian Ashrams  
Ashok Bhise, Praveen Saptarshi,  
Ravindra Jaybhaye,  
Mahatma Gandhi set up two Ashram in South Africa and two ashrams in India. These ashrams  
were places of divergent activities. The ashrams were laboratories for experiments. But maximum  
activities and decisions were carried out in satyagraha ashram at Sabarmati. The activities are focussed  
on manual labour, handicraft, agriculture, and literacy for self sufficiency. It is not old age home or  
abode for rest. It is place for dynamic activities. The ashram dwellers voluntarily perform their specific  
duty without spending idle time. It is mandatory for all the members to take oath for 11-ideals (vows)  
and follow the same though out the life. These ideals are effective even in the modern period. The first  
part of the study includes various activates carried out in Gandhian ashrams. In the Second part  
Gandhian ideals have been discussed based on traditional Indian philosophy. In the third part efforts  
have been made to compare the activities with few other places which are not Gandhian ashrams as  
observed by researchers during his field visits.Gandhian ideals are respected by many thinkers and  
high profile person. It appears that these principles are found relevant even in the present situations.  
Keywords - Ashram, Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Aparigraha  
Gandhian Ideals are considered to be outdated by many people in the world. These ideals are still alive  
and could be useful in influencing life style of youngsters. It is to be inculcated in youth by parents, teachers  
and eminent figures for shaping future of youth.  
The present paper attempts to study activities performed in Gandhian ashrams and compare it with other  
ashrams as observed by researchers during the field visits. It also tries to examine usefulness of Gandhian ideals  
based on traditional Indian philosophy and influence of Gandhian ideals and philosophy in personality  
development and shaping views of youngsters at global level. The study is based on literature review, observations,  
discussions, dialogue with experts during field visits to Gandhi ashrams and other places.  
There are various types of depending on the objectives for setting up ashrams as follow  
Traditionally, an ashram (Sanskrit/Hindi: 6M0.M) is a spiritual hermitage. An ashram would typically, but  
not always, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing  
natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. It is a hermitage or place of  
religious retreat for Hindus and community life model on the Indian ashram.  
Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, founded by Swami Sivananda in 1936. It is spiritual ashram :  
The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical  
exercises, such as the various forms of Yoga. Other sacrifices and  
penances, such as Yajnas were also performed. Many ashrams also  
served as Gurukuls or residential schools for children.  
In Ramayana and Mahabharata epoch, the princes were given  
martial instruction in ashram from the sage, to the use of Divine  
weapons, called Divyastras (Sanskrit Divya: Divine + Astra: missile  
weapon; the Sanskrit word ‘astra’ opposed to ‘shastra’, which means  
a hand-to-hand weapon, such as a mace.) These ashrams were  
Valmiki, Drona, Sandipani ashrams departing knowledge in martial,  
intellectual and spiritual matters.  
The Hindus believed the ashram system for fulfilment of the four aims of life namely, Dharma (righteousness),  
Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure), and Moksha (liberation).  
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Ashrams have been a powerful symbol throughout Hindu history and theology. Most Hindu kings are  
known to have had a sage who would advise the royal family in spiritual matters, or in times of crisis, who  
was called the Rajguru (royal teacher). A world-weary emperor going to this guru’s ashram, and finding  
solace and tranquillity, is a recurring motif in many folktales and legends of ancient India.  
Additionally, today the term ashram often denotes a locus of Indian cultural activity such as yoga, music  
study or place of moral and religious instruction.  
The term Ashram also indicates Hindu social system based on stages of life that is Bramhacharya (student’s  
life-age 5-27), Grihatha (house-hold life - age 27-54), Vanapratha (retired life - age 54-81), Sannyasa  
renounced life - age 81-108).  
viii) Muni Seva Ashram (MSA) was established near a village called Goraj in Dist. Vadodara to implement the  
integrated community welfare programmes in the sector of health care, education, family centres and  
training activities.  
In different countries different words are used such as dojo in Japan and band in Italy for ashram conducting  
similar types of activities.  
Residential schools in tribal India called ashram shala or ashram schools are educational institutes.  
Now-a-days ashrams are places of rest. These are old age homes for lone old parents. There are no  
specific activities due to old age. It is pace of rest with minimum recreational activities.  
On above back ground, Gandhian ashrams are quite different. In the ashrams various activities are  
performed. The activities are focussed on manual labour, agriculture, and literacy for self sufficiency. It is not  
old age home or abode for rest.  
The objective of this paper is to study various activates carried out in Gandhian ashrams. Also to examine  
usefulness of Gandhian ideals based on traditional Indian philosophy. Besides to compare the activities with  
few other ashrams as observed by researchers during the field visits.  
The study is based on literature review, observations, discussions, dialogue with experts during field  
visits to Gandhi ashrams and other places. The information from available literatures has also been checked by  
discussing with the knowable persons and social workers at Sabarmati ashram to the possible extent.  
Gandhian Ashrams  
Mahatma Gandhi mainly set up following two Ashrams in South Africa and two ashrams in India:  
First ashram  
The first settlement was Phoenix established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1904. It was 100 acres surrounded  
by sugarcane fields situated at Inanda, Durban. The Settlement, devoted to Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha  
passive resistance) has played an important spiritual and political role throughout its long history, promoting  
justice, peace and equality. Gandhi established the settlement as a communal experimental farm with the view  
of giving each family two acres of land which they could develop. Gandhi believed that settlement like Phoenix  
which would form a sound basis for the struggle against social injustice.  
Ela Gandhi (grand daughter of Gandhi) points out that Gandhi used the Settlement to train political  
activists called satyagrahis and house their families, while they were engaged in the campaigns against unjust  
laws. Sita Gandhi (grand daughter of Gandhi) remarked “It was the most beautiful piece of land, untouched by  
the then racial laws”. Also the Phoenix Settlement was lively and everybody on the settlement had to participate  
in various activities such as dairy, gardening and communal activities such as the daily prayers and singing of  
hymns which Gandhi himself had instituted. It had a religious basis, but the visible object was purity of body,  
mind and economic equality. (  
Second ashram  
The Tolstoy Farm (Linden, South Africa) was named by Herman Kallenbach, Gandhi’s associate. It was  
founded in 1910 and disbanded in 1913. It was proved to be an ideal laboratory for Gandhi’s educational  
experiments. Tolstoy Farm was a family in which Gandhi occupied the place of the father and shoulders the  
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responsibility for the training of the youngsters. The routine of the children on the farm was divided between  
attending classes and contributing to the maintenance of the farm. Gandhi took this concept one step further at  
Tolstoy by introducing vocational training through the handicraft to enable each child to become self-supporting.  
The children had around two hours of book learning and eight hours of manual training per day. An added  
dimension of the Tolstoy Farm was to hold  
co-educational classes of boys and girls. The  
age range was from 6 to 16 years. The  
activities included general labouring,  
cooking, cleaning, sandal- making, simple  
carpentry and messenger work. The work  
given was essential for the maintenance and  
development of community life. Gandhi’s  
objective in this context was to inculcate the  
ideals of social service and citizenship  
through all the activities of children from the  
earlier formative years. (Harijan, 18-9-1937)  
Third ashram  
The ashram was first situated at the Kocharab Bungalow of Jivanlal Desai, a barrister. Ahmadabad. It was  
founded on May 25, 1915 when Gandhi returned from South Africa, with 25 inmates. Later on the ashram was  
shifted on the bank of river Sabarmati in July 1917. It was then called as Satyagraha ashram. The site coverage  
was 36 acres of a waste land. It was then converted into useful land through physical labour by ashram workers.  
It was started with two-fold purpose- one was to carry on the search for Truth, and the other was to create a non-  
violent group of workers, who would organize and help to secure freedom for  
the country under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi This ashram is famous as  
Sabarmati Ashram’. Gandhi stayed at the Ashram from 1915 to 1933 later on  
the Ashram was disbanded. The Ashram is a witness to many important  
historical events. In this place many experiments in agriculture, education etc.  
were carried out. Sabarmati Ashram  
Fourth ashram  
Sevagram is 8 Km. from Wardha Railway Junction and 6 km. Sevagram  
Station. It is accessible by Cycle rickshaws, autos and buses.Gandhiji stayed  
from 1936 to 1948 at Sevagram Ashram. In April 1936, Gandhiji established his residence in the Sevagram,  
which means ‘village of service’. From then on, Sevagram has become an inspiring place. Many decisions on  
important national matters and movements were taken at Sevagram. It became the central place for a number  
of institutions for the nation building activities devised by Gandhiji to suit the inherent strength of this country.  
Nai Talim Parisar (Basic Education  
Premises): It was guided by Gandhiji  
and constructed by late Ashadevi and  
Aryanayakamji. It is holistic method  
of education includes primary, skilled  
and value education. Gandhi Started  
serving leprosy afflicted persons.  
First person treated was Sanskrit  
pandit Parture) This act of Gandhiji  
helped others to overcome their fear  
of leprosy patients and some of them  
even came forward to serve them. The tendency to hide this disease also became less and less. Shri Manoharji  
Diwan devoted his whole life to this cause. He started an institution to serve leprosy patients near Sevagram viz.  
Dattapur village. The treatment of disease is given to villagers by Dr. Sushila Nayar in Akhari Kutir.  
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Besides fixed prayer and food time the ashram inmates perform 5-6 hours of assigned work to become  
self-sufficient. The people who are willing to contribute their mite to achieve individual and social self-reliance  
based on the eleven vows of Gandhi were welcome in Gandhain ashrams. (  
Gandhi’s 11 Vows  
Gandhi wanted all people in ashram must observe following principles and bring them into day to day  
practice. Gandhi further advised to accept these principles after thoughtful consideration:  
. Ahimsa (Non-violence)  
Ahimsa is not merely a negative state of harmlessness, but it is positive state of love, even to the evil-  
doer. (Young India, 25-8-1920) It is an attribute of the brave. It does not come within the reach of coward. It is  
no wooden or lifeless dogma, but life giving force. (Young India, 6-9-1926) Ahimsa is not the way of the timid.  
It is the way of the brave ready to face death. (Young India, 11-10-1928)  
.Non-violence attitude must be with kaya, (physical) vacha (word) and manasa (mind) towards entire bio-sphere  
which means non-injury to men, animals, plants, micro-organisms. (Speech at Y.M.C.A., Madras 27-4-1917,  
CWMG 13:37, 65, 91, 262) It is micro-level thought of Gandhian Philosophy on environment. According to  
Gandhi the protection of environment and limited use of natural resources is also non-violent act.  
. Satya (Truth)  
Truth has no form. Therefore, everyone one will form such an idea or image of Truth as appeals to him,  
and there will be as many images of Truth as there are men. The truth is long lasting and enables a man to  
obtain everything he wants. (Diary of Mahadevbhai, pp 119-120) Truth should be truth in thought, truth in  
speech, and truth in action. The man who has realised the Truth in its fullness, nothing else remains to be known.  
What is not included is not truth and so not true knowledge. (Gandhi, 1932) Human must know that natural  
recourses are finite or limited and not infinite. (Speech at political Conference in Godhara on 3-11-1917, CWMG  
4:63) The fine truth at the bottom of this principle is that nature provides just enough and no more for our daily  
need. (CWMG 36:400) Diana Calthorpe Rose of the Garrison Institute says the power of satyagraha (truth force)  
is necessary to solve the crisis of global warming. (  
3. Asteya (Non-stealing)  
Non-stealing does not mean merely not to steal. To keep or take anything which not needed is also  
stealing. The stealing is fraught with violence. (Bapu-ke-Aashirvad, 24-11-1944) We are not always aware of our  
real needs, and most of us improperly multiply our wants and thus, unconsciously, make thieves of ourselves.  
Non-stealing must be observed to bring about a progressive reduction of wants. Much of the distressing  
poverty in this world has risen out of the breaches of the principle of Non-stealing. (Gandhi, 1932) It also means  
legitimate use of earth’s ecological assets.  
. Brahmacharya (Self Discipline)  
Brahamchraya (celibacy) means control of all the organs of sense. He who attempts to control only one  
organ, and allows all the others free play is bound to find his effort futile. (Gandhi, 1949) There is mating season  
for animals and plants. But there is no mating season for human race. Hence human should keep check on its  
proliferation of its own species. This will reduce demand for eco-assets. (Khoshoo, 1996)  
. Aparigraha (Non-possession)  
It is not possession of more than any thing needed. It is non hoarding or amassing earthly material for  
future. Aparigraha also means relinquish possessive attitude of Eco materials.  
. Sharirshrama (Bread Labour)  
Earn thy bread by the sweat of the brow- says Bible. Bread labour means that everyone is expected to  
perform sufficient body-labour to earn for their living. (Young India, 5-11-1925) The economics of Bread labour  
means that every men and women have to labour with his body for his food and clothing. (Harijan, 7-9-1947)  
The idea is that every healthy individual must labour enough for his food and his intellectual faculties but only in  
the service of mankind. If this principle is observed everywhere, all men world would be equal, none would  
starve. (Harijan, 3-8-1935)  
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(Bapu Ke Ashirwad. 26-11-1944) Fearlessness presupposes calmness and peace of mind. For that it is necessary  
to have a living faith in God. (Harijan, 3-11-1946)  
Sarva Dharma Samantva (Equality of the religions):  
It is the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. It is God given. The scriptures of all religions  
form standpoint of faiths at bottom are all one and helpful to one another. (Harijan, 16-2- 1934) Just as men  
have different names and forms, these religions also are different names. But just as all men are human, all  
religions are the same. We must treat all religions as equals.  
0. Swadeshi (Use Locally Made Goods)  
Swadeshi means serving immediate neighbour rather than those far away. (Discussion with Shrikrishnadas  
(Harijanbandhu, 22-7-1934)  
Jaju, 10-10-1944) The aim must be to serve the village first, then the neighbourhood, then the district and  
thereafter the province. (CWMG, 78:171) The Villages must act as production units. The villagers should use  
locally made goods for which people must be like minded.  
(Harijan, 28-7-1946; CWMG,  
11. Sparshbhavna (Untouchability)  
Untouchability means pollution by the touch of certain persons due to their birth in a particular caste or  
family. It is an excrescence. In the guise of religion, it is always in the way and erupt religions. Removal of  
untouchability means love for, and service of, the whole world and thus merges into Ahimsa. A removal of  
untouchability spells the breaking down of barriers between men and men and between the various orders of  
Beings. (Gandhi, 1932) The untouchability is a heinous crime against humanity. It is not a sign of self-restraint,  
but an arrogant assumption of superiority.  
(Young India, 8-12-920)  
Comparison of ashram activities  
The daily routine (activities) at Gandhi ashrams includes spiritual (morning and evening prayers), physical  
necessities (food, physical cleanliness), labour work, and self-study. The traits of activities are social, economical  
and scientific as follow:  
Gandhi Said “Science without humanity is a sin”. Gandhi did not condemn the scientific temper of the  
West, but he objected to the use of scientific discoveries against humanity. To be perfectly human one has to  
be spiritual. Hence he rightly place transformation of our inner being above that of the external world. This is  
only possible if individual is spiritual. Hence morning and evening prayers included in daily programmes of  
ashram. It was found during field visits to few ashrams such as Omh Malsti Tapovan, Maisal, Miraj prayer  
performed morning evening for purity of mind. Ashram members perform the activities such as horticulture,  
water conservation, sanitation, value education, health care etc. These are the similar activates are performed  
at Gandhian ashrams.  
He also foresaw environmental degradation, nuclear race, water pollution and similar other problems  
plaguing the world. He insisted for sustainable use of natural resources, sanitation, maintenance of premises,  
and the use of environmental friendly and simple machinery to prevent environmental degradation. He asserted  
for making of khadi. The machinery used was takli and charkha which simple, portable and easy to operate  
during leisure. Agriculture was mainstay for villagers. But it was seasonal. Khadi will give alternate source of  
subsistence to poor people. Gandhi was critique of modern civilisation and huge exploitive machineries.  
Gandhi has been labelled as against science and technology. But this was not true because it has not been  
addressed adequately either by his followers or by social analyst of Gandhi’s philosophy and practice. (CWMG,  
12: 146) He was not against science, scientist and technology. He said science has no value unless our hands,  
head and hearts work together. Gandhi’s critique of science emanates from his dissatisfaction with the divorce  
of science from morality. (CWMG, 16: 106-108) He was in favour of intermediate technology which now-a-days  
promoted as appropriate technology. During visit to khadi industry at Sabarmati revealed that machinery used  
is simple, environmental friendly. Khadi machine was hand operated, dynamo based and electricity saver.  
Khadi worker is paid more than 50% of wages as against 30% paid to mill worker (Dr. Suchak, 1999). Thus  
machinery used is with human face without expelling labour preventing unemployment. Hence every ashram  
member was earning by sweat of their brows. Hand papers main raw material waste rags and not wood pulp  
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saving tree cuttings and protecting environment. Other industries were soap, oil, solar cooker manufacturing  
industries. All industries are energy saver, environmental friendly and labour intensive. This is socio-economic  
effect of Gandhian philosophy  
The main purpose of Gandhi’s ashrams was in preparing Satyagrahi scientists. Through his experiments,  
he sought to articulate the concept of a community worker as a scientist. He highlighted the need to embed  
the community in the practice of science. According to him true progress of science would happen once the  
satyagrahi scientist like Maganlal and Mirabehn (Miss Madelene Slade) are created. These scientists would  
then go about creating a text and manuals necessary for the spread of science. Though Gandhi’s scientists  
were special, what he emphasised was the method, the fundamental possibility of every one being a person of  
science. Science was not an exclusive preserve of scientists working in laboratories. In a discussion with  
Rajagopalachari he pointed out that he treated his mother who was well versed in fasting as a scientist. “One  
who is pure, who adheres to truth and wants to cling to it is as much a scientist as a physicist” (CWMG, 55:  
Gandhi did not provide a blueprint for a scientific method but gave general guidelines for experimentation.  
He saw his community workers as scientists. His community workers had to go beyond learning the skill, which  
though important would not suffice for making experiments and discoveries. They were to see spinning and  
weaving not as a trade but as a science. Mastery of the art of spinning, sanitation, agriculture etc. was necessary.  
This mastery had to be transformed into a science. . His idea to reform was based on experiments carried out  
by this class. Some members of the class would first themselves master the science of sanitation, agriculture  
etc. to educate the others. (CWMG, 64:86) It is no use merely making speeches or giving lectures; we must  
make scientific experiments and declare from the housetops the results of our experiments. (CWMG, 78: 67)  
According to Gandhi practice of science required an attitude for research more than scientific qualifications.  
Gandhi sought to create a science which could be practised by every one without the distinction of being the  
expert and layman, the elite and subaltern. The scientist is not just concerned with the facts, but in creation of  
meaning (value) in all activities. His science spoke not only from the perspective of the human but also the non-  
human nature. He tried to fuse science, economics, religion and spirituality. Science to him was not above truth  
and ahimsa, which were ‘truer’ than many so-called scientific facts. (CWMG, 63:393; CWMG, 83: 355-56)  
Gandhi put forth details procedure of turning of human, animal excreta, kitchen waste into good manure.  
This helps in disposal of waste and it saves money on purchase of fertiliser. This keeps the premises clean,  
disease free, increase fertility of soil and saves labour work. In 1917 soil testing of Sabarmati land revealed that  
it is suitable for horticulture and not for agriculture. (Navajivan on 2-11-1919; CWMG 16:272-73) The effect of  
minute life, air and light will turn excreta into manure within one week. Also mixing of excreta and kitchen waste  
can not produce manure as bacteria acting on excreta and kitchen waste are different. (Harijan, 8-2- 1935) At  
present there is sanitation institute at Sabarmati imparting training for construction of water saving portable  
toilet, disposal of human waste and urine. (used as pest repellent observing Gandhain principle of ahimsa) The  
human urine and cow urine is used as pest repellent at Hiware Bazar, Ahemadnagar and Keshav Shrushti,  
Gandhi was particular about health. Hence recommended proper diet (ahar), exercise (vihar), rest (nidra).He  
made much experiment in diet. Gandhi recommended simple diet including Rice, Dal, Vegetable, and Indian  
bread, Milk and fruit juice and eggs for non- vegetarian. (Harijan, 16-5-1936) It is felt that present generation to  
note and adopt proper routine, otherwise may suffer from any disease and will retire at the early age from social  
life. The stress was given on “prevention is better than cure and said it is essential to have healthy body and  
mind to accomplish daily routine.” (CWMG 15:29) It is observed that the food was simple and healthy at Baif,  
Urlikanchan and Sabarmati. Various types of waste material are used for producing cooking gas at Gandhian  
Ashram. In Gandhi ashrams electricity produced by solar panels is used for heaters and lamps. It saves money.  
From above discussions, it is clear that Gandhi was not against science. He believed that true science is non-  
violent, truth finder, peace making. He sought to create science which could be practised by everyone without  
distinction of being expert or layman. Same was practiced at Gandhi ashrams and other places. Many experiments  
are carried at Gandhi ashrams on diet, soil, agriculture, use of intermediate machinery etc. The experiments  
carried out at Gandhi ashrams are not only scientific but energy saver, environmental friendly and labour  
intensive. It is observed that activities at Gandhian ashrams are scientifically, economically and socially integrated.  
The above facts are endorsed during the visits to Gandhi ashrams as enumerated above.  
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There are different types of ashrams places for various purposes. There are ashram schools for imparting  
residential education to girls and boys free of cost. Also there are spiritual ashrams imparting education in  
yoga, mediation, rituals, singing religious songs, spiritual talks, and discussions. These ashrams charge monthly  
fees for residents for stay and food. Besides there are old age homes for old lone people who could barely  
perform their day to day activates. The member has to pay monthly chares for their subsistence. They are taken  
care of by staff of ashram. But Gandhi ashrams are quite different. Gandhian ashrams are unique. It is unique  
because in Gandhi ashrams spirituality, ethics, yoga, diet and physical labour is part of daily routine. Along with  
primary education emphasis is also given on vocational education including craft, agriculture, and skilled  
education for youth for their subsistence. Also technical education is given in ashram schools like Vidyan  
Ashram founded by Dr. Kalbaug at Pabal, Pune. The Gandhian ashrams are well maintained taking care of  
environment. The experiments on diet, manure etc. carried out scientifically. Thus, Gandhain ashrams were  
place of dynamic activities not the place for rest or old age home.  
Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Government of India, New Delhi, Print  
Gandhi M.K., Mirabahen (1949): Mirabahen Bapu’s Letters to Mira, Navajivan Publishing House,  
pp.257-258. Print  
Gandhi M.K., My Experiments With Truth, Navjeevan Publications, Ahmedabad.  
Gandhi, M. K. (1961):My Philosophy of Life, Edt. and Publisher Anand T. Hingorani, Pearl Publication,  
Mumbai, pp 111-112,Print  
Gandhi, M. K., (1932): From Yeravda Mandir (Ashram Observance), Navajivan Mudranalaya, Ahmadabad  
pp 20-33, Print  
Harijan, 7-9-1947, Published by M. K. Gandhi, Print  
Harijanbandhu, 22-7-1934. Published by M. K. Gandhi, Print  
Kanhere, Ranjana (1997): Sabarmati Ashram, Lokvyanmaya Gratha Publication, Mumbai, pp 7-36. Print  
Khoshoo, T.N. (1996): Gandhi and the Environment, Worldwide Fund for Nature –India, New Delhi, pp 2-  
; pp 31-32. Print.  
Navajivan, 2-11-1919, Published by M. K. Gandhi, Print  
Suchak, Kavita (1999): Rural Industries with Special Reference to Khadi Yogesh Suchak, Mumbai pp133-  
34. Print  
Joshi, Umashankar, (1983) Mara Gandhi Bapu, Lok Milap Trust, Bhavnagar, pp 33-34,Print  
Young India, 5-11-1925, Published by M. K. Gandhi. Print