“This man has won my heart in spiritual matters, and no one else has made on me the same impression” – Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Modern Review’, June 1930
A man as great as Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, was captivated in spiritual matters by Shrimadji, as by none other. “I have said elsewhere that besides Kavi (Shrimadji), Ruskin and Tolstoy have contributed in forming my intrinsic character; but Kavi has had a more profound effect because I had come in personal and intimate contact with Him,” Gandhiji’s public acknowledgment of Shrimad Rajchandraji as his foremost spiritual guide in the ‘Modern Review’, June 1930.
A close association
The first meeting with Shrimadji left a deep-rooted impression on Gandhiji. It happened in V.S. 1947, in Mumbai on Gandhiji’s return from England. He was two years younger than Shrimadji. Subsequent meetings ensued in the two years that Gandhiji spent in Mumbai, where Gandhiji would visit Shrimadji’s office on a regular basis, posing doubts which Shrimadji would resolve with utmost ingenuity. In those visits, Gandhiji intently observed Shrimadji’s way of life. As the association grew, his respect for Shrimadji grew in leaps and bounds. The ease with which He performed His duties as a pearl and diamond jeweler with a perfectly detached attitude amazed Gandhiji.
In tribute, Gandhiji writes: “Raichandbhai’s commercial transactions covered hundreds of thousands. He was a connoisseur of pearls and diamonds. No knotty business problem was too difficult for him. But these things were not the center round which his life revolved. That center was the passion to see God face to face. Amongst the things on his business table, there were invariably to be found some religious book and his diary. The moment he finished his business he opened the religious book or the diary. Much of his published writing is a reproduction from this diary. And I saw him thus absorbed in Godly pursuits in the midst of business, not once or twice, but very often. I never saw him losing his state of equipoise.” (The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Part II, Chapter 26, Raichandbhai.)
Gandhiji says: “The man who, immediately on finishing his talk about weighty business transactions, began to write about the hidden things of the spirit could evidently not be a businessman at all, but a real seeker after Truth.”
Even after Gandhiji moved to South Africa, the meetings continued, though not in person, but through correspondence. This close association with Shrimadji, in person in Mumbai and then through correspondence from South Africa, contributed a great deal in molding Gandhiji’s character. In fact, he attributes his strong foundation of truth, non-violence, and self-improvement, to Shrimadji. This beautiful association continued intermittently for several years until the end of Shrimadji’s life.
Refuge in spiritual crisis
In South Africa, Gandhiji was faced with constant pressure from his Christian and Muslim friends to adopt their faith. In this moment of spiritual crisis, he resorted to Shrimadji for help, conveying his doubts through 27 questions by post. Shrimadji’s judicious, direct, and pertinent answers resolved his doubts and restored his faith in Hinduism. There remained no question of converting to another faith.
This letter along with two others is included in the volume titled ‘Shrimad Rajchandra’. However, it is certain that the correspondence was far more than this because Gandhiji mentions in his autobiography that he remained in touch with Shrimadji through letters till the very end.
Influence of Shrimadji’s teaching
Shrimadji’s teachings left an indelible mark on Gandhiji. Shrimadji’s priceless letters and compositions were his constant companions – physically and mentally. He contemplated upon them and he also often recited Shrimadji’s poem ‘Nirkhine Nav Yauvana’ to strengthen his belief in celibacy. He had also rendered Shri Atmasiddhi Shastra into English prose. In fact, he had carried this text of Shri Atmasiddhi Shastra and some of the letters from Shrimadji with him to London – but the entire bundle was lost on a bus journey. Shrimadji’s unique composition ‘Apurva Avsar Evo Kyare Aavshe?’ was one of Gandhiji’s favorite compositions which were included in his ‘Ashram Bhajanavali’ – a collection of devotional songs sung at his daily public prayer meetings.
Gandhiji writes about Shrimadji’s works: “The lines of his poem, ‘When Will That Unique Moment Come?’ (Apurva Avasar Evo Kyare Aavshe) are soaked in the spirit of detachment which I have seen epitomised in every moment of Shrimad’s life during my last two years of deep and abiding friendship with him. His writings are unique in that, they unfold his real experience and do not contain even a single grain of artificiality. I have never seen him writing a single line with the ulterior motive of pleasing others.” (Raichandbhaina Ketlak Smarano – Shri Rajchandra Jeevanyatra tatha vicharratno, page 94)
Gandhiji says: “It is my firm belief that those who want to free themselves from the torture of their souls, and are eager to know what is their main duty in this life, will gather a lot from Shrimad’s writings, then may he be a Hindu and for that matter, follower of any other religion.” (Raichandbhaina Ketlak Smarano – Shri Rajchandra Jeevanyatra tatha vicharratno, page 89)
Heartfelt tributes to Shrimadji
With great reverence, Gandhiji mentions Shrimadji in his writings. His words are windows to a heart overflowing with devotion for Shrimadji, particularly in the chapters ‘Raichandbhai’, ‘Religious Ferment’, ‘Comparative Study of Religions’ and ‘Brahmacharya’, in his autobiography.
Shri Revashankar Jagjivanbhai even requested Gandhiji to author the preface to the second edition of ‘Shrimad Rajchandra’, to be published by Paramshrut Prabhavak Mandal in V.S. 1982. Gandhiji agreed and wrote an article titled, ‘Raichandbhaina Ketlak Smarano’. In it, he incorporated the reminiscences of Shrimadji he had written earlier in Yervada Jail after completing and making several additions to them. He paid glorious tributes to Shrimadji on several occasions, such as, being present at the celebrations of Shrimadji’s birth anniversary in Rajkot and Wadhwan; celebrating Shrimadji’s birth anniversary on kartik purnima, at Kochrab Ashram, near Ahmedabad, and later at Sabarmati Ashram. Gandhiji took these opportunities to publicly acknowledge his indebtedness and express his heartfelt gratitude to Shrimadji.
About such a saintly personality Gandhiji adds: “We are all worldly people whereas Shrimad was not of this world. We will have to take many births whereas for Shrimad perhaps one birth is sufficient. We will perhaps be running away from liberation whereas Shrimad was advancing towards liberation at a very fast pace.” (Raichandbhaina Ketlak Smarano – Shri Rajchandra Jeevanyatra tatha vicharratno, page 88-89)
Contribution to the nation
Gandhiji’s memorable accounts on Shrimadji testify the profound influence that Shrimadji’s personality exerted on the Mahatma’s life. Shrimadji’s emphasis on truth, compassion, and non-violence in every walk of life, later crystallised as the fundamental tenets of Gandhism, which played a significant role in the Indian struggle for independence. In the history of India, the success of Gandhiji’s non-violent struggle as a means of achieving freedom will be engraved in golden letters. Even in the history of the world, his unique contributions will be immortalised.
Gandhiji, who has been praised by the whole world as a messenger of non-violence, will ever remain indebted to the teachings of Shrimadji. Thus, the role of Shrimadji’s spiritual teachings in the regeneration of a new India can hardly be exaggerated.
The inner bond between Shrimadji and Mahatma Gandhi initiated a brilliant new chapter, not only in their own lives, or in the history of Gujarat, but in the cultural, political and spiritual history of the entire nation.