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
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.
- 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,
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
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,
Center for South Asia
University of Wisconsin-Madison
203 Ingraham Hall
1155 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
GANDHI DISCOVERY BOX
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
1. The Indian Flag
- Why do nations have flags?
- What do you know about the history and meaning of the American
- Why are symbols important?
- What do you think the colors and picture on the Indian flag represent?
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)
- What do the colors of the Indian flag represent?
- Why do you think the color saffron would be chosen
for the Indian flag?
- Why did the Indian government choose to change the
flag in 1942?
- Why do you think the Indian flag would be included
in a discovery box about the life of Gandhi?
- 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)
- What do you think is inside this box (while box is still closed)?
- Now what do you think this is (with box open)?
- What is a spinning wheel used for?
- How has cloth and the making of cloth played an important role
- Why do you think a spinning wheel would be included in a discovery
box on Gandhi?
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
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: www.wikipedia.org)
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.”
- Why did Gandhi believe the spinning wheel was key to Indian independence
- How did Gandhi practice what he preached?
- How is Gandhi’s action an example of non-violence?
- What are some positives and negatives to Gandhi’s
- Can you think of similar actions in history, past or present?
- 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?
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.” (http://www.mkgandhi.org/momgandhi/chap37.htm)
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.
- 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.,
- Then and now are glasses associated with the intelligence of a
- 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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
- How do you think salt relates to Gandhi’s
- Why would salt be important to a typical Indian?
Gandhiji and the Marchers, accompanied by Sarojini Naidu,
April 6, 1930
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.
- Why was Gandhi’s march to the sea important
to his movement for independence?
- Why do you think a British monopoly on salt would
cause people to rebel?
- 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?
- Do you think Gandhi’s non-violent protest
to the Salt Tax was appropriate? What else could Gandhi have done
- List the bodies of water that surround the subcontinent of India.
do you think sand relates to Gandhi’s life?
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.
- Based on your knowledge of Indian geography, why would the sea/ocean
be symbolic to many Indians?
- Why do think this salt march made an American magazine, Time, take
notice of Gandhi’s independence movement?
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
- 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
- Who do you suppose is the father of the nation referred to in this
- What kind of details might this article give?
- 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
Nehru was right. This assassination will affect the millions of Indians
living in the country as well as people all around the world. (Source:www.wikipedia.org)
- How would the people of India react to this tragic
- How would the people of the world react to this tragic
- What might some long term effects of Gandhi’s
- What other world political leaders have been assassinated?
- How was the reaction of the world similar and/or different?