Gandhi Discovery Box
© Cindy Johnson , Susan Loewenstein, Katie Marien, Sarah Olson,
David Piovanetti, Don Vincent



Grades: 6 – 12

Overview: Objects tell a lot about a person and the life they lead. In the case of Mohandas Gandhi, the few objects he called his own speak volumes. At the time of his death, Gandhi’s earthly possessions could be counted on two hands: His two dinner bowls, wooden fork and spoon, the famous porcelain monkeys, his diary, prayer book, watch, spittoon, letter openers and two pair of sandals. Many of these objects, along with several other items related to the life and death of Gandhi, are included in the Discovery Box that accompanies this lesson plan. This lesson allows students to see, smell, and touch the accompanying objects, to learn about the life and times of Gandhi, and to analyze the importance of objects in all of our lives.

Objectives: Links with state of Wisconsin Content and Performance Standards (in parenthesis).

Students Will Be Able To:

  • Interpret the meanings behind objects and artifacts related to Gandhi’s life. (B.12.2)
  • Analyze the symbolism behind objects and artifacts related to Gandhi’s life. (B.12.1)
  • Demonstrate Parallels between Gandhi’s life and other historical events locally, nationally, and globally. (B.12.3)
  • Evaluate the significance of objects in their own lives. (B.12.8)

Content Standards: Content Standard Social Studies Standard B - History: Time, Continuity, and Change

B.12.1: Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data

gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches.

B.12.2: Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion.

B.12.3: Recall, select, and analyze significant historical periods and the relationships among them.

B.12.8: Recall, select, and explain the significance of important people, their work, and their ideas in the areas of political and intellectual leadership, inventions, discoveries, and the arts, within each major era of Wisconsin, United States, and world history.

Assessment Activities: Accompanying each object in the Discovery Box is a brief description along with pre and post questions for students. The teacher may choose to use the objects as an anticipatory set activity prior to a more in-depth lesson on Gandhi, or you may let the objects be the lessons themselves, with each one telling an important piece Gandhi’s life story. The activity may be teacher directed with the teacher asking the questions and providing the answers, or the teacher may wish to give students the objects and questions to research and present their findings to the class.

Suggested Activities: Brainstorming

Small group discussion

Large group discussion

Written responses to pre and post questions

Reflection Paper (Possible Topics):

a) Compare and contrast objects and artifacts significant to the lives of Gandhi and another individual we have studied in history.

b) Evaluate the importance of objects in our own lives.

c) What five objects best symbolize United States history?

d) What 3-5 objects would be most closely associated with important figures in United States history?

To Borrow the Discovery Box, please contact:

Rachel Weiss
Outreach Specialist
Center for South Asia
University of Wisconsin-Madison
203 Ingraham Hall
1155 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706

Phone: 608-262-9224
Fax: 608-265-3062



Possessions of Gandhi


Objects tell a lot about a person and the life they lead. In the case of Mohandas Gandhi, the few objects he called his own speak volumes. At the time of his death, Gandhi’s earthly possessions could be counted on two hands: His two dinner bowls, wooden fork and spoon, the famous porcelain monkeys, his diary, prayer book, watch, spittoon, letter openers and two pair of sandals.

In this Discovery Box you will find some of these items along with additional objects that were inextricably tied to the life and death of Mohandas Gandhi. Accompanying each object is a brief description along with pre and post questions for students. You may choose to use the objects as an anticipatory set activity prior to a more in-depth lesson on Gandhi, or you may let the objects be the lessons themselves, with each one telling an important piece Gandhi’s life story. The activity may be teacher directed with the teacher asking the questions and providing the answers, or you may wish to give students the objects and questions to research and present their findings to the class. However you choose to use these items, know that most all of them came all the way from India, from teachers just like you who are dedicated to spreading the teachings of Gandhi and the beauty that is India into all of our classrooms.

As Gandhi himself once said, “My life is my message.”

May the objects contained in this box help to carry that message along.

“A Passage to India-2005” Fulbright-Hays Teachers

Cindy Johnson

Susan Lowenstein

Katie Marien

Sarah Olson

David Piovanetti

Don Vincent

1. The Indian Flag


  1. Why do nations have flags?
  2. What do you know about the history and meaning of the American flag?
  3. Why are symbols important?
  4. What do you think the colors and picture on the Indian flag represent?


National Flag


The Indian flag was designed as a symbol of freedom. The late Indian Prime Minister Nehru called it "a flag not only of freedom for ourselves, but a symbol of freedom to all people."

The flag is a horizontal tricolor in equal proportion of deep saffron on the top, white in the middle and dark green at the bottom. The ratio of the width to the length of the flag is 2:3. In the centre of the white band, there is a wheel in navy blue to indicate the Dharma Chakra, the wheel of law. (The Chakra is a Buddhist symbol and dates back to the 3 rd century B.C.E. and the rule of Emperor Ashoka in Sarnath, India. Sarnath is said to be the place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, taught his first disciples and introduced the world to his doctrine of peace.) On the modern flag the Chakra is located on the center of the white band and it has 24 spokes. The saffron stands for courage, sacrifice and the spirit of renunciation; the white, for purity and truth; and the green for faith and fertility. (Source: High Commission of India in London Website)

The flag is modeled after the flag of the Indian National Congress which dates back to the 1920s. At that time the orange (saffron) represented Hinduism, green represented Islam, and white, a hoped for unity and peace. A blue spinning wheel was shown in the center representing Gandhi’s call for economic self-sufficiency through hand-spinning. The spinning wheel was replaced with the wheel of law to add historical depth (the Chakra dates back the 3 rd century BC) and to separate the national flag from the Indian National Congress party flag. The official flag was first flown in 1942. (Source: Flags of the World Website)


  1. What do the colors of the Indian flag represent?
  2. Why do you think the color saffron would be chosen for the Indian flag?
  3. Why did the Indian government choose to change the flag in 1942?
  4. Why do you think the Indian flag would be included in a discovery box about the life of Gandhi?
  5. On your own, research flags from other countries and present your findings in a written or oral report. What colors are most prevalent? Do you notice any common themes or traditions associated with the flags you researched?

2. The Spinning Wheel (Charkha or Charakha)


  1. What do you think is inside this box (while box is still closed)?
  2. Now what do you think this is (with box open)?
  3. What is a spinning wheel used for?
  4. How has cloth and the making of cloth played an important role throughout history?
  5. Why do you think a spinning wheel would be included in a discovery box on Gandhi?


The Man and  His Wheel

The Charkha is the symbol of nonviolence on which all life, if it is to be real life, must be based.--Gandhi

Charkha, literally meaning “wheel,” is India’s generic term for any spinning wheel or hand-cranked spinning machine. During his lifetime, Gandhi referred to the spinning wheel as a symbol of non-violence, independence, and the tool needed to lift India out of poverty.

Returning to India from South Africa, where he had enjoyed a successful legal practice, Ghandi gave up wearing Western-style clothing, which he associated with wealth and success. He dressed to be accepted by the poorest person in India, advocating the use of homespun cloth (khadi) and a simple living lifestyle. Gandhi and his followers adopted the practice of weaving their own clothes from thread they themselves spun, and encouraged others to do so. While Indian workers were often idle due to unemployment, they had often bought their clothing from industrial manufacturers owned by British interests. It was Gandhi's view that if Indians made their own clothes, it would deal an economic blow to the British establishment in India. Consequently, the spinning wheel was later incorporated into the flag of the Indian National Congress. (Source:

Gandhi worked on his spinning wheel until his last days, claiming that he felt like he was eating stolen food if he did not work. “ India,” Gandhi said, “as a nation can live and die only for the spinning wheel.”


  1. Why did Gandhi believe the spinning wheel was key to Indian independence and self-sufficiency?
  2. How did Gandhi practice what he preached?
  3. How is Gandhi’s action an example of non-violence?
  4. What are some positives and negatives to Gandhi’s plan?
  5. Can you think of similar actions in history, past or present?

3. Bowl:


  • Explain the possible significance of Gandhi’s ownership of only two bowls in contrast to what your family has and uses on a daily basis.
  • Why would Gandhi own two bowls and not just one?
  • What types of foods would you imagine Gandhi consumed?


Possessions of Gandhi

Bowls – The small, stainless steel bowls are similar to the bowl that Gandhi had. By using a small bowl, Gandhi was reminded to eat moderately. Additionally, Gandhi frequently cooked his own meals and adhered to a vegetarian lifestyle. Hindu and Buddhist religious renunciates (denouncers of all earthly pleasures) are known to own only the clothing they wear and a single bowl with which to receive food from charitable people.

From “The Gospel of Non-Possession” Gandhi writes, “Why should all of us possess property? Why should not we, after a certain time, dispossess ourselves of all property? Unscrupulous merchants do this for dishonest purpose. Why may we not do it for a moral and a great purpose? For a Hindu it was the usual thing at a certain stage. Every good Hindu is expected, after having lived the household life for a certain period, to enter upon a life of non-possession of property.” (

Gandhi also said, “You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.” On the other hand, he also said, “This does not mean that, if one has wealth, it should be thrown away and wife and children should be turned out of doors. It simply means that one must give up attachment of these things and dedicate one's all to God and make use of His gifts to serve Him only.” (H, 28-4-1946, p. 111)

As you can see by the few objects that Gandhi owned at the time of his death, Gandhi indeed lived what he advocated others to do. By having only the basic necessities, Gandhi gave up his attachment to material goods, and devoted his life to a higher purpose.


  • What significance does owning an empty bowl exemplify for religious ascetics throughout India?
  • How did Gandhi’s bowl symbolize charity and a rejection of materialism?
  • Speculate on how Gandhi may have been similar or different from his contemporaries.

4. Eyeglasses


  • What do you think the literacy rate was in India in 1947 when Gandhi was assassinated?
  • Contrast the materials of Gandhi’s glasses with the materials used today.



Eyeglasses – Eyeglasses serve as a way in which to see the world. And while Gandhi needed his glasses to see, glasses also serve as a symbol for vision.

Gandhi’s Vision on Planning: “Real planning consists in the best utilization of the whole man-power of India and the distribution of the raw products of India in her numerous villages instead of sending them outside and re-buying finished articles at fabulous prices”. (H, 23-3-1947, p. 79)

Gandhi’s Vision on Property : “No man should have more land than he needs for dignified sustenance. Who can dispute the fact that the grinding poverty of the masses is due to their having no land that they can call their own?”
(H, 20-4-1940, p. 97)

Gandhi’s Vision on Education: But it must be realized that the reform cannot be rushed. If it is to be brought about by non-violent means, it can only be done by education both of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. The former should be assured that there never would be force used against them. The ‘have-nots’ must be educated to know that no one can really compel them to do anything against their will, and that they can secure their freedom by learning the art of non-violence, i.e., self-suffering.


  • Then and now are glasses associated with the intelligence of a nation?
  • Could the average Indian of Gandhi’s time afford a pair of glasses?

5. Three Monkeys


1. Have you ever seen a statue of 3 monkeys?

2. What do you think the monkeys represent?


You may have heard of the three monkeys that are sometimes mentioned along with Gandhi's name. But do you know how they came to be with him in the first place? Find out from this recollection by someone who worked with Gandhi:

Most of the people who came to see Gandhi sought his advice. But one day a party of visitors from China brought Gandhi a small gift. It was no bigger than a child's toy, but it was famous in China. To Gandhi's delight it was a set of the three monkeys. This gift was kept near and dear to Gandhi for the rest of his life.

The monkeys represent "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" and is a common phrase, usually used to describe someone who doesn't want to be involved in a situation. But where did the saying originate?

Unfortunately, no one knows for sure where it originated. Because the saying is typically associated with three monkeys one covering his eyes, one covering his ears, and the other covering his mouth . Some scholars claim that the saying may have its origin in a 17th century temple in Japan.

The temple is known today as the Ink Toshogo Shrine, also known as the Sacred Stable of Japan. Inside is a carving of three wise monkeys.

Many scholars believe the monkeys were carved as a visual representation of the religious principle, "If we do not hear, see, or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil." Others believe that the saying originated from a Japanese play on words. "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," translated into Japanese is, "mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru." The Japanese word for monkey is "saru", and sounds very similar to the verb-ending "zaru". It is easy to see how the saying may have originated from a fun play on words. The only problem with this explanation is that some scalars say the three wise monkeys aren't originally from Japan .

Research suggests that in the eighth century A.D. a Buddhist monk from China introduced the three wise monkeys to Japan . They were associated with a fearsome blue-faced deity called Vadjra. It is believed that the monkeys' gestures were a representation of a command of the deity to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Just as there is disagreement about the origin of the phrase, there are differing explanations of the meaning of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Some contend that it is a proverb reminding us not to be so snoopy, so nosy, and so gossipy. Others say that it is a warning to stay away from places where immoral acts are taking place. Whatever the origin and meaning of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," it is one of the most visual phrases in existence. It's impossible to hear it spoken without thinking of three wise, but very cute, little monkeys.


1. Why do you think Gandhi kept the statue of the three monkeys with him?

2. Which story of the three monkeys do you think is correct?

3. Now that you have read these stories, what do you think the three monkeys represents?

4. Do some research of your own and see if you can find out what this statue meant to Gandhi.


6. Gandhi's Sandals


1. Why do you think Gandhi's sandals are included in this box?

2. How important are your shoes or sandals?

3. Can you imagine walking without shoes or sandals?

Text Box:

Gandhi considered sandals ideal for the climate…While in jail in South Africa, Gandhi made sandals.

--Surendra Bhana, The Tolstoy Farm: Gandhi's Experiment In Cooperative Commonwealth

Gandhi's struggle did not begin in India. 21 years of his life were spent in South Africa. Many, who have not suffered from social injustice, do not understand the language of social justice. How did Gandhi's struggle begin? Did it begin as an economic struggle? Did it begin as a political struggle? It began years back, during more than two decades in South Africa, as a struggle for social justice, for the dignity of man and against racism. And, there he succeeded to a great extent. Gandhi once wrote: "I was born in India but I was made in South Africa".

There is an interesting experience of Gandhi in South Africa, which has a great human touch. Gandhi's struggle in South Africa was over. General Smuts, the great dictator, who exploited the people, indulged in racism in South Africa, again and again put Gandhi to jail and made him suffer rigorous imprisonment. But Gandhi developed skills during his rigorous imprisonment. He learned from a cobbler, how to make leather sandals. When General Smuts called Gandhi and told him that there was general amnesty and he was released, Gandhi presented to General Smuts a small packet. He asked: "what is it, any bomb?" When he opened the packet, Smuts found a pair of sandals. Gandhi told Smuts: "This is my parting gift." On the occasion of Gandhi's birth-anniversary, General Smuts sent a letter on which he wrote: "I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man." The man, who oppressed Gandhi and subjected him to rigorous imprisonment, responded with such warmth.

Gandhi always used to say, "Hate the sin not the sinner." General Smuts sent the sandals to the Gandhi museum when Gandhi died.


1. When Gandhi died, why do you think General Smuts sent his sandals to the Gandhi Museum?

2. Why did Gandhi consider sandals ideal for his climate?

3. Knowing what you know of Gandhi's life and philosophy, discuss the symbolism of making his own footware.

More information about Gandhi's life can be found at the following websites


7. Salt


  • How do you think salt relates to Gandhi’s life?
  • Why would salt be important to a typical Indian?


Text Box:

Gandhiji and the Marchers, accompanied by Sarojini Naidu,
reach Dandi.
April 6, 1930

Text Box:

The photograph that has gone down in history. Gandhi inaugurating the salt satyagraha by breaking the Salt Law on the morning of April 6, 1930.


On April 6, 1930 after having marched 241 miles on foot from his village to the sea, Mohandas K. Gandhi arrived at the costal village of Dandi, India, and gathered salt. It was a simple non-violent act, but one which was illegal under British colonial rule of India. Gandhi and his followers were openly defying the British Salt Law. The Salt Tax essentially made it illegal to sell or produce salt, allowing a complete British monopoly.  Since salt is necessary in everyone’s daily diet, everyone in India was affected.  The Salt Tax made it illegal for workers to freely collect their own salt from the coasts of India, making them buy salt they couldn’t really afford. Following Gandhi’s march to the sea to gather the salt, people all over India began making salt illegally, and more than 100,000 people, including Gandhi, were sent to jail. This march marked one of Gandhi’s most successful protest movements and mobilized many new followers from around the world for Indian Independence.

Post Questions:

  1. Why was Gandhi’s march to the sea important to his movement for independence?
  2. Why do you think a British monopoly on salt would cause people to rebel?
  3. Why do you think Gandhi chose to protest this tax on salt, rather than many of the other injustices happening in India at this time?
  4. Do you think Gandhi’s non-violent protest to the Salt Tax was appropriate? What else could Gandhi have done to object?

8. Sand


  1. List the bodies of water that surround the subcontinent of India.

    Text Box:

  2. How do you think sand relates to Gandhi’s life?

Text Box:

Gandhi and others breaking the Salt Laws, on the beaches of Dandi, April 6, 1930.

After 23 days of marching in early March 1930, Gandhi’s most successful protest movement ended at the sea about 320 km from Ahmedabad. When he arrived at the seashore, he implored thousands of followers to begin to make salt wherever “was most convenient and comfortable” to them, along the seashore. Thousands of Indians made salt, or bought illegal salt. This march to the sea created a turning point in the struggle for Indian independence and made Gandhi a worldwide phenomenon as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1930.


  1. Based on your knowledge of Indian geography, why would the sea/ocean be symbolic to many Indians?
  2. Why do think this salt march made an American magazine, Time, take notice of Gandhi’s independence movement?

  3. Can you think of any American protest movements that were closely followed by the public and media?


9. Maps of India : Pre-Partition and Post-Partition


  1. What do you notice has changed about the map?
  • Do you think it is a change for the better or worse?
  • What do you think might have caused those changes?


The Map of India has changed drastically over the years, specifically after independence from the British in 1947 and after partition.

The partition of India was the process by which India was granted its independence from the British and four new states were created. These four new states included India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. When partition occurred there was much celebration because the Indian people were rid of British rule. However, it also led to further conflicts between India and Pakistan. Much of this violence was rooted in religious differences being that Muslims typically settled in Pakistan and Hindus in India. Nearly one million people died in the riots that ensued between Hindus and Muslims.

There were several people credited with being leaders of the independence movement in India. Mahatma Gandhi was both a spiritual and political leader of the movement. He believed in using civil disobedience in the nonviolent fight against British rule. He was a great leader who led by example and made changes for the Indian people. Jawaharlal Nehru was another leader of the movement who actually became the first prime minister of India after its independence was won.


  • How were these geographic changes positive and negative for the people of India?
  • What effect does partition still have on Indians today?
  • Why do you think the Indian map after partition would be included in a discovery box about the life of Gandhi?

10. Newspaper Headline: January 31, 1948


  1. Who do you suppose is the father of the nation referred to in this headline?
  2. What kind of details might this article give?
  3. What is significant about the name of this newspaper?

January 31, 1948

Father of the Nation Assassinated!


On January 30 th, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi, who many called Father of the Nation, was assassinated by a fellow Hindu named Nathuram Godse. Godse felt Gandhi had betrayed the Hindu cause by trying to improve Muslim/Hindu relations. Gandhi died at age 78. He was on his way to a prayer meeting when he was shot three times in the chest.

It is said that Gandhi’s dying words were an homage to God, or Rama: “He Ram!” (Oh God!) This does not come as a surprise, knowing how spiritually connected Gandhi was to Ram. Some people are skeptical of these being his last words but several eyewitnesses have attested to it. It was also claimed by some that when Gandhi fell to the ground dying, he clasped his hands together in the form of the namaste (Indian greeting or parting, meaning “I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me .”)

The prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru announced Gandhi’s death with these words:

“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that, nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years. We will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow not for me only, but for millions and millions in this country.”

Nehru was right. This assassination will affect the millions of Indians living in the country as well as people all around the world. (


  1. How would the people of India react to this tragic news?
  2. How would the people of the world react to this tragic news?
  3. What might some long term effects of Gandhi’s death be?
  4. What other world political leaders have been assassinated?
  5. How was the reaction of the world similar and/or different?
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