150th anniversary Gandhi

Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary widely celebrated in Russia

October 2, 2019
As this year the world celebrates Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Embassy of India in the Russian Federation in collaboration with the State Duma of the Russian Federation have organized an Exhibition dedicated to the deep friendship and mutual influences of Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy on each other’s work and philosophy.

"A man of God disguised as a politician", this is what they used to say about Mahatma Gandhi.  

Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin almost a decade ago said: “After the death of Mahatma Gandhi, there’s nobody left to talk to…” while commenting on the violations of human rights and freedoms in the West. This one statement was enough to justify the influence of Mahatma on world politics.

As this year the world celebrates Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Embassy of India in the Russian Federation in collaboration with the State Duma of the Russian Federation have organized an Exhibition dedicated to the deep friendship and mutual influences of Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy on each other’s work and philosophy. 

The Exhibition, curated by renowned Gandhi scholar, Dr. Birad Yajnik, is showcasing the correspondence between the two great souls of the 20th century, tracing their relationship and the impact this had on their individual journeys.

The interaction was over a period of less than a year over letters and exchange of books. It was such a significant exchange of ideas that Mahatma Gandhi recognized Leo Tolstoy among the 3 most important influencers of his life along with John Ruskin and Shrimad Rajchandra (Raichand). The exhibition juxtaposes Leo Tolstoy’s Bread Labour and Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha, and their understanding of Truth, Kindness and Love being the solution for this world. Their belief in Non-violent resistances and the merits of vegetarianism. 

The exhibition quotes from the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, display copies of the books that influenced the two great souls and share a timeline. 

Prior to the event, the Embassy of India in the Russian Federation, in collaboration with the Leo Tolstoy Museum and Estate and the Institute of Oriental Studies organized a day-long Exhibition and Academic Conference dedicated to the deep friendship between Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy, at the Tolstoy Estate in Yasna Polyana on 28 September 2019. 

This was done as part of the series of commemorative events being organized by the Embassy since October 2018 to celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, as well as the year-long joint celebrations of the 200th Anniversary of the Institute of Oriental Studies. 

The event was inaugurated by the Honorable Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, who was in Moscow to attend the SCO Ministerial Meeting the previous day, along with Ambassador of India to the Russian Federation, DB Venkatesh Varma, and Ekaterina Tolstoy, Director of the Tolstoy Estate and granddaughter-in-law of Leo Tolstoy.

Commemorating the 150th anniversary, JSC Marka - a hundred-year-old Russian enterprise that publishes postal stamps has launched a special postage stamp in order to show the importance of close relations between Russia and India. It was presented to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 4, on the sidelines of 20th Bilateral Summit in Vladivostok. 

Gandhi’s life and heritage

Born on October 2, 1869, Mahatma Gandhi was the last child of his parents, Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai. He was named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by his parents. The title Mahatma which means Great soul was given to Gandhi later in life to suit his identity. 

Gandhi left India at the age of 18 for his law degree in London. It was the time when he explored himself and found his passion for vegetarianism. In that process, he joined the London Vegetarian Society through which Gandhi began to really read Bhagvad Gita -a sacred text for Hindus. This a great role in forming his strong belief in Aparigrah (non-possession) and SamaBhav (equability) that later influenced his freedom struggle and can be seen in his various moments like "Satyagraha" (force of truth), "Non-Cooperation movement", “Civil-Disobedience movement”, "Salt March" and many others. These movements not only surprised Indians but also the British raj, who always stayed in a state of shock by seeing his perseverance. 

During his time in London, he was introduced to the works of intellectual authors like Leo Tolstoy. The way in which Gandhi was influenced by his work, can be traced in his autobiography where Gandhi wrote how Tolstoy's book, 'The Kingdom of God is Within You', which he read on October 1, 1904, during a train journey from Johannesburg to Durban in South Africa, changed his life.  

Being deeply impressed with the book, he wrote a letter to Tolstoy on October 1, 1909. The correspondence between Tolstoy and Gandhi became epoch-making in the golden chapter of the Indo-Russian relations. 

Mahatma Gandhi spent twenty years in South Africa fighting discrimination. His struggles had been reported in Press worldwide. It was 1915 when he returned to India, by that time he was a national hero because of his efforts in South Africa.

The success with which Mahatma Gandhi was able to carry the message of his famous non-violent, noncooperation movement, in the course of one year to the heart of every Indian, is unparalleled in the recorded history of mankind. He was able to arouse three hundred twenty million people to political consciousness, whereas a large number of politicians and patriots, with greater powers of intellect, had failed to touch the masses, except for a small part. His continuous efforts brought India Freedom after two long centuries. 

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” - The famous quote practically justified what Mahatma was all about. It was his ideology of non-violence which still after a span of 150 years of his birth is remembered and admired all over the world.

Today the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti i.e. Mahatma Gandhi's birthday even after 150 years is being celebrated worldwide. Gandhi might not be here physically present among us. But his thoughts, struggles, philosophy, teachings and triumphs are still alive in our hearts and is a guiding light towards our bright future.

By Charu Madan