"He [Maganlal] was, in my opinion, a genius... He laid the foundation of the science of Khadi by writing his Vanat Shastra” said Mahatma Gandhi at the inaugural ceremony of Magan Museum of Khadi (pdf) at Wardha on Dec 30, 19382. Ever since I read this, I became curious about Maganlal Gandhi. Where did Maganlal learn the science of khadi? Was this science backed up by rigorous experiments? If so, where did Maganlal perform those experiments? I wanted to find out. Finally, I got a peek into the story when my friend Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan connected me to Prof. Shambu Prasad of XIMB Bhubaneswar. Shambu has done extensive research on science of Gandhi. I found answers to some of my questions in an excellent article written by Shambu “Gandhi and Maganlal: Khadi science and the Gandhian scientist”. Here is a short summary.
Maganlal Khushalchand Gandhi (1883-1928) was Gandhi’s nephew (a grandson of his uncle) and 19 years younger to him. Maganlal met Gandhi in 1902, two days before Gandhi was to leave for South Africa. Maganlal was then on the lookout for a job in his native Kathiawar. Gandhi asked Maganlal to come to South Africa offering it as a land of opportunities with ample scope for growth. Maganlal was immediately put into business and was running a family shop of the Gandhis. When Gandhi quit his practice and decided to set-up a farm and take to farming as an occupation, Maganlal was the first to join him unconditionally knowing it involves self-imposed poverty.
In a short time, Maganlal picked up several skills at Phoenix Farm - composing and running the machines in the press, farming, carpentry and tailoring, keeping accounts of the settlement and teaching the children Gujarati and Mathematics. It was Maganlal who suggested the name Sadagraha to Gandhiji when he solicited a better term for “passive resistance” in the local newspaper Indian Opinion. Gandhi later modified Sadagraha to Satyagraha.
Later in India, Maganlal set-up and ran the khadi laboratory at Sabarmati Ashram as he was the head of the Technical Department of the All India Khadi Board (later the All India Spinners Association). Maganlal traveled to Madras Presidency to learn the art. The technical department of the Ashram, tested several samples of yarn (over 300 every month) and gave feedback to the Provincial Congress Committees. These results were widely reported regularly in Young India and Navjivan. As a resource centre in the field of khadi the Ashram used to send its staff, spindles, specimens of yarn, and charts explaining the effect of the wheel to exhibitions all over the country. Gandhi relied on Maganlal to test the various machines and always wanted Maganlal’s opinion on technical developments whether it was Mirabehn’s discovery of the soft spindle, Shankarlal’s Gandiva spinning wheel or the Ramachandra lift pump.
In 1922, a ‘Khaddar Information Bureau’ was constituted to provide or collect information on khadi from the provinces, to inform congress committees and selected workers on reports from the centres. Maganlal edited its ‘Khadi Bulletin’. A syllabus was formulated in 1923 for the weaving school with a regular six-month course. A khaddar service scheme was also instituted under which 600 instructors were to be trained in home carding.
Maganlal passed away while at work in Bihar due to typhoid on April 23, 1928, at the peak of his life and that of the khadi movement. In a moving tribute, titled ‘My Best Comrade Gone’ Gandhi remarked that: ‘The world knows so little of how much my so-called greatness depends upon the incessant toil and drudgery of silent, devoted, able and pure workers, men as well as women. And among them all Maganlal was to me the greatest, the best and the purest.’
1. Gandhi and Maganlal: Khadi science and the Gandhian scientist” by Shambu Prasad, Presented at the Seminar ‘Gandhi and his Contemporaries’ held at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, April 13-15, 1999
2. “Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Gandhi” by D. G. Tendulkar, volume 5, page 6.
3. Maganlal’s photo is from "Magan Nivas" at Sabarmati Ashram.