Gandhiji as a law student in London

Original Location + Cardinal Points: London, England,  Europe

Present Location: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi

Date/Period: 1890 

Medium: Photograph


On the advice of a friend and adviser of the Gandhi family Mavji Dave his brother Lakshmidas agreed to send the young Mohan to England, to qualify as a barrister at law – more suited to a bright young man like Mohandas. The idea caught everyone’s imagination. Mohandas set sail for England by the ship S.S. Clyde from Bombay on September 4, 1888 and reached Southampton in England after 25 days’ sailing. He took the train to London from there. London, as the capital of Great Britain, was the heart center of the British Empire. Since the British Empire was spread over half the world at that time, London could be said to have been the capital of the world. The glitter and glamour of the city, and the art and architecture of its buildings, simply overwhelmed him as he got his first glimpses of the city. For a short while he played the English gentleman’s role, aping the Westerner. But that was a passing phase in overcoming the ‘culture shock’. He finally found his moorings. He devoted the necessary time to his studies, lived a simple life, read the sacred texts of different religions as his innate interest led him, and made friends with some high-minded Englishmen. He passed the bar examinations and returned home. While in London he established close friendship with Tryambakrai Mazumdar, a lawyer from Junagadh and Dr. Pranjivan Mehta, a fellow Kathiawari. This friendship later proved a blessing for him. Dr. Mehta found a room for him in the house of an English widow who had earlier lived in India. The house was at 20 Baron’s Court Road, West Kensington. This house is looked upon as Gandhiji’s first home in London. Soon after his arrival in London Mohandas came to know that the Bar examinations (that is, examinations in law subjects) which he was required to pass to become a barrister, did not require much study. His weak English was a perpetual worry to him. A friend suggested that he should take the London Matriculation examinations, which would help improve his English, and his stock of general knowledge. He did accordingly, and passed the examination. For his training for the Bar he joined the Inner Temple, which was one of the four campuses that formed a legal university. He passed the Bar examinations, and also did what was known as ‘keeping the terms’. He was declared qualified as a barrister on June 10, 1891. He enrolled in the High Court on 11th and sailed for home on 12th June.

Stories and Legends

When young Mohandas decided that he would go to London for higher education no hurdle was too big for him to cross. He had full support of his elder brother Lakshmidas. But one objection was raised by his mother who was afraid that her son would abandon the grand moral traditions of the family under the influence of the West. This was overcome with the young Mohandas making the famous ‘three promises’ to his mother – firm “no” to ‘wine’, ‘women’ and ‘meat’. He lived up to those promises in the face of all odds.