9. FOUNDING OF THE ASHRAM
The pilgrimage to the Kumbha
fair was my second visit to Hardvar.
The Satyagraha Ashram was founded
on the 25th of May, 1915. Shraddhanandji wanted me to settle in Hardvar.
Some of my Calcutta friends recommended Vaidyanathadham. Others strongly
urged me to choose Rajkot. But when I happened to pass through Ahmedabad,
many friends pressed me to settle down there, and they volunteered to find
the expenses of the Ashram, as well as a house for us to live in.
I had a predilection for Ahmedabad.
Being a Gujarati I thought I should be able to render 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 the most favourable
field for the revival of the cottage industry of hand-spinning. There was
also the hope that, the city being the capital of Gujarat, monetary help
from its wealthy citizens would be more available here than elsewhere.
The question of untouchability
was naturally among the subjects discussed with the Ahmedabad friends.
I made it clear to them that I should take the first opportunity of admitting
an untouchable candidate to the Ashram if he was otherwise worthy.
'Where is the untouchable
who will satisfy your condition?' said a vaishnava friend self-complacently.
I finally decided to found the
Ashram at Ahmedabd.
So far as accommodation was
concerned, Sjt. Jivanlal Desai, a barrister in Ahmedabad, was the principal
man to help me. He offered to let, and we decided to hire, his Kochrab
The first thing we had to settle
was the name of the Ashram. I consulted friends. Amongst the names suggested
were 'Sevashram' (the abode of service), 'Tapovan' (the abode of austerities),
etc. I liked the name 'Sevashram' but for the absence of emphasis on the
method of service. 'Tapovan' seemed to be a pretentious title, because
though tapas was dear to us we could not presume to be tapasvins
(men of austerity). Our creed was devotion to truth, and our business was
the search for and insistence on truth. I wanted to acquaint India with
the method I had tried in South Africa, and I desired to test in India
the extent to which its application might be possible. So my companions
and I selected the name 'Satyagraha Ashram', as conveying both our goal
and our method of service.
For the conduct of the Ashram
a code of rules and observances was necessary. A draft was therefore prepared,
and friends were invited to express their opinions on it. Amongst the many
opinions that were received, that of Sir Gurudas Banerji is still in my
memory. He liked the rules but suggested that humility should be added
as one of the observances, as he believed that the younger generation sadly
lacked humility. Though I noticed this fault, I feared humility would cease
to be humility the moment it became a matter of vow. The true connotation
of humility is self-effacement. Self-effacement is moksha (salvation),
and whilst it cannot, by itself, be an observance, there may be other observances
necessary for its attainment. If the acts of an aspirant after moksha
or a servant have no humility or selflessness about them, there is no longing
for moksha or service. Service without humility is selfishness and
There were at this time about
thirteen Tamilians in our party. Five Tamil youngsters had accompanied
me from South Africa, and the rest came from different parts of the country.
We were in all about twenty-five men and women.
This is how the Ashram
was started. All had their meals in a common kitchen, and strove to live
as one family.