Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most influential people in history. He developed a passive resistance movement that led India to emancipation from the British Empire and influenced the philosophies held by icons like late South African president Nelson Mandela. He spent 21 years living in South Africa and transformed from a humble youth to a great leader.
Gandhi’s contemplation on racial discrimination originated when he was arrested for insisting on his right to travel in a ‘whites only’ train car during his stay in South Africa. This eventually led to the development of his philosophy of passive resistance.
His philosophy took form while living at Satyagraha House in Orchards, Johannesburg in 1908 and 1909. Gandhi led a number of peaceful protests in the defence of Indian people while on his quest for Satyagraha, which means the insistence of truth. He was arrested for this on numerous occasions- often on his own insistence.
Hermann Kallenbach a German architect and Gandhi’s close friend built Satyagraha House in 1907. The pair lived in the house and shared the kitchen and living room. This house was called the Kraal and actually consisted of two rondavel huts resembling the building style of a traditional African farmhouse. Here Gandhi slept in an attic room and the men spent their time in meditation while leading celibate lifestyles.
The house had undergone some renovations a few years ago. A historian, curator, architect and two interior designers worked together to restore the house. Later a cottage was added and a modern wing followed in 2010. Visitors can stay at Satyagraha House, enveloping themselves with the spirit of Gandhi. The guesthouse features a museum dedicated to Gandhi and his stay at Satyagraha House, serve only vegetarian food and offer beginner yoga and meditation sessions. For inquiring minds the library offer a variety of books focusing on different political philosophies.
The Old Fort at Constitutional Hill is located a short distance from Satyagraha House. Originating as a military fort the Old Fort was later converted to a Jail, now the oldest jail in Johannesburg. It is here were both Gandhi and Nelson Mandela served time.
The Old Fort, the Women’s Jail and Number Four is a museum depicting the lives of iconic figures like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Barbara Hogan along with exhibitions by contemporary artists and historians. Visitors can travel back in time as they wander through the empty cells and courtyards, getting glimpses of what life inside these walls were like.
In 1994 the constitutional court of South Africa was moved to the location of the Old Fort- leading to the space becoming known as Constitutional Hill. The building is full of meaningful architecture and worth a visit.
Satyagraha House is a unique space that has managed to capture and amplify the spirit of one of the most significant individuals that lived. It is a place to slow down and connect with your breath and yourSelf while absorbing a little bit of Gandhi’ essence along the way.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com