Gandhiji had a perplexing fascination for establishing Ashrams.In these all lived together,worked together,prayed together and tried to work out solutions to the problems of the day, with Gandhiji’s guidance and advice.
It was perhaps the ambience,these Ashrams generated an embience of extendd Indian joint family,where all stood for one and one stood for all ; an informality and bonhomie that bred a sense of mutual respect,affection and trust.Wrote the famed writer and journalist, Louis Fischer,after spending a week with Gandhiji in his Ashram at Sevagram (Wardha ) in the early forties,about the simple,disciplined life of the Ashram,as well as providing touching portrait of Gandhiji and Kasturba,amidst the swirling commotion of world events and hectic Indian Political developments which were drawing to a revolutionary climax: ‘Each day I had an hour’s interview with Gandhiji.
Kasturba,with sunken face,straight mouth and square jaw,seemed to listen attentively,but I did not hear or see her say a single word to her husband during the entire week,or he to her.At meals and prayer,she sat slightly behind his left shoulder fanning him solicitously.She always looked at him,he rarely looked at her,yet wanted her nearest to him and there appeared to be perfect understnding between them.
In course of time,Gandhiji’s Ashrams acquired great prestige; the pronouncements emanating from them influencing both the people and polity at large;much beyond their physical environment.As bastions of freedom,these Ashrams became powerful centres of thought and action,where the’armour’ of non-violent struggle to rid the country of foreign yoke was forged by Gandhiji and his followers.
First of these Ashrams was outside India,set up in South Africa,in 1904,where Gandhiji was leading the struggle of Indians settled over there and it was called ‘Phoenix Settlement’.This Ashram was followed by another,again in South Africa,known as Tolstoy Farm in 1910.In these Ashrams,Gandhiji worked as a scavenger,cobbler,giving up his law practice,living in voluntary poverty.(These Ashrams though not formally called as such,however,did function as Ashrams.)
Gandhiji returned to India in January 1915.In May 1915,he founded Sayagraha Ashram at Ahmedabad with 25 inmates.In 1917,this Ashram was shifted to a new site on the banks of river Sabarmati.