He woke before dawn, as he did every day at the ashram. In the darkness he led a prayer meeting on a patch of ground overlooking the Sabarmati River. Then he was ready. Dressed in a long loincloth, or dhoti, with a shawl around his shoulders, he grasped a bamboo staff and started out the gate. He was leaving his home of 13 years, a community devoted to his precepts of plain living and high thinking.
Mohandas Gandhi was not alone. As he stepped onto a dirt road on the outskirts of Ahmadabad, the largest city in his native state of Gujarat, 78 men, two abreast, clad in white, fell into a column behind him. Pressing in on the sides of the road, hanging from trees, leaning from windows, tens of thousands of people—supporters and curious alike—cried, “Gandhi ki jai. Victory to Gandhi.”
The date was March 12, 1930. Gandhi and his troops walked for 25 days and 241 miles to the Arabian Sea to defy the unjust British law that prohibited the collection of salt in its colony. Master of the dramatic gesture, Gandhi bent over near the shore and scooped up a handful of salty mud. As illegal salt-gathering spread across the country, arrests and beatings followed. Gandhi was jailed for almost nine months. What authorities had dismissed as a minor act of political theater swelled into a nationwide cry for independence. A broad array of India’s population—high caste and low, male and female, Hindu and Muslim—for the first time joined in protest against British rule. Now the masses had a leader. From the day he began the Salt March until his death 18 years later, Gandhi infused India with a revolutionary blend of politics and spirituality. He called his action-based philosophy satyagraha, or truth force.