Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maganlal Gandhi: Mahatma Gandhi’s innovation partner

"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.


  1. Very interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Ravi and Gaurai. I am glad you found the story interesting and informative.

  3. Input from a friend, Mahesh Mehendale:


    Thank you for sharing this article on Maganlal Gandhi. I don’t think many people know about him (at least I didn’t), so it’s to see this article about the unsung hero.

    The title of your article highlights him as Mahatma Gandhi’s innovation partner. The innovative aspect of Maganlal Gandhi’s work doesn’t adequately come out in your article.


  4. The evolution of the word Satyagraha is an interesting study.Even more interesting is the study of Gandhiji's Swadeshi movement. Its worth mentioning here that even before Gandhiji made Ahmedabad his home on Feb 1, 1915 , the swadeshi and 'wearing self-spun clothes' movemnet was picking up in Ahmedabad. Ambalal Sakarlal Desai and seven others in the city and Mumbai were pioneering this movement. But the seed of swadeshi were sworn in ahmedabad even before Ambalal, a chunk of Bengali revolutionaries who set base in Ahmedabad in the early 1900s were teaching locals of the Ahmedabad pols the art of making their own clothes and even taught Vande Matram. The Bengalis were oulaws and had hired a house in the Ahmedabad walled city and called it the United Bengal Home. Gandhiji's reason to be in Ahmedabad for 15 years was quite palpable. He even states it in his autobiography-The story of my experiments with truth.
    The Movement of Satyagraha in South Africa would not have been possible if Surendrarai Medh of Aka Sheth Kuan ni pol in Ahmedabad did not help Gandhiji. Medh was a lawyer in South Africa and president of the Gujarati community in South africa. The people of ahmedabad had formed the 'Dakshin Africa no Hindvano No Madat Fund' to fund Gandhiji's movemnet in South Africa. Mr Polak, Gandhiji's trusted aide has made seveal visits between 1900 and 1909. There are few of the many reasons why Gandhiji chose Ahmedabad. But sadly very few have documented his life in the city. Ahmedabad is the cradle that nurtured India's soul.