What is meant by the idea of Satyagraha | UPSC

What is meant by the idea of Satyagraha: Satyagraha is a Hindu religious word which conjoins two separate words: ‘Satya’ means Truth and ‘Agraha’ means adherence. It was popularised by Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian Independence Movement. Contrary to popular belief, the term Satyagraha was not coined by Mahatma Gandhi, instead, it is found in the great Indian epics and religious texts such as Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, Vedas etc.

Satyagraha is a complex mixture of many things including adherence to Truth, Non-violence, having minimum desires, being fearless and much more. Since being widely popularised by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Abroad, Satyagraha has emerged as a political tactic that has proved to be effective. Moreover, many competitive exams such as UPSC-CSE regularly ask questions about the meaning and idea of Satyagraha. This article discusses the idea of satyagraha in detail.

What is meant by the idea of Satyagraha?

Satyagraha is a philosophy that requires a Satyagrahi to adhere to the truth come what may. It means adherence to the principles of non-violence, bread labour, non-possession, having minimum desires, secularism, fearlessness, and, most importantly, clinging strongly to the truth. To the core of the idea of Satyagraha is self-sacrifice, which is always superior to sacrificing others. Satyagraha, in fact, is often referred to as ‘the law of self-suffering’.

Satyagraha is not a weapon for the weak or faint-hearted but requires immense strength of the soul and mind. It is because Satyagraha requires patience and tolerance. As Mahatma Gandhi himself noted multiple times, “Satyagraha does not work wonders in the short run”. He further says that the Satyagrahis must be ready to sacrifice a number of things since such sacrifices have a lasting effect on both the Satyagrahi and the opponent. The main idea is to inflict difficulties – both moral and material – upon the opponent without inflicting any harm. Sacrifice is not only consistent but an essential part of the idea of Satyagraha.

Components of Satyagraha

Satyagraha, as mentioned above, is a highly complicated topic and one needs a nuanced approach to understand the idea behind the principle. The following are the main components of Satyagraha

Non-violence (Ahimsa)

To understand what non-violence means to Satyagraha, it is important to emphasize the difference between anger and hatred. Anger is permissible for a Satyagrahi; in fact, having anger is absolutely normal and consistent with the idea of Satyagraha. However, having anger towards anything does not warrant having hatred towards it. Hatred towards the opponent is against the idea of Satyagraha. In other terms, a true Satyagrahi hates the sin and not the sinner. In Gandhianism, not hating the sinner is considered a virtue and violence is seen as an evil. As per Gandhi, all people, irrespective of the deeds they commit, deserve equal respect. 

Gandhi addresses the issue of non-violence at the individual level. He had often associated the thoughts of unleashing violence with that of all kinds of wicked thoughts within us. Thus, Satyagraha doesn’t just entail a fight against external evil, but also against the evil within. In fact, the two fights should be simultaneous. Gandhi had, thus expanded the definition of non-violence by including not wishing ill for others, not having grudges, not associating with one’s evil thoughts and not having hatred toward others.

Gandhi, however, also differentiates between outward and inward violence. Outward Violence is bodily violence, such as police action, war or violence for delivering justice. Outward violence is often necessary and was treated as expedience by Gandhi. Gandhi conceded that though it is sometimes necessary, outward violence must be accompanied by compassion. Inward Violence refers to personal hatred and malice one has for other person(s). Refusing to adhere to such violence is absolutely non-negotiable for a Satyagrahi.


To Gandhi, the truth is tantamount to God. “Truth is God” is his famous saying. Hence a search for the Truth is equivalent to a search for God. A Satyagrahi searches for the Truth through his/her actions. Also, a Satyagrahi discovers the truth by ‘living the truth’. Truth forms an essential part of the idea of satyagraha.

Truth is perhaps the most complex component of Satyagraha. Gandhi, in fact, advocated for almost a dialectical approach towards the search for the Truth. This is because, as per Gandhi, neither the oppressor nor the oppressed can claim to have knowledge of absolute Truth. Thus, negotiation and cooperation are cornerstones of satyagraha. However, the equation of truth and God, in Gandhian Satyagraha, does not invoke any particular religion. Even atheists who are Satyagrahis and commit sacrifices in the search for the truth are as spiritual as religious persons. 

The truth Gandhi talks about is not some kind of ultimate Truth. In fact, Gandhi had said multiple times that the Truth he often talks about is moral and spiritual. This truth can only be discovered by a Satyagrahi who has the right temperament, is willing to sacrifice, has minimum desires, has a pure heart, controls his senses and adheres to non-violence. However, Gandhi also agrees it is impossible to attain absolute Truth due to the limitations humans have.

Control of Desires

Can a person who is easily influenced by strong desires be a true Satyagrahi? As per Gandhi, it is hardly possible. A person who is swayed by desires cannot sacrifice anything for the larger good. He/she becomes incapable of struggling against the opponent and can easily resort to violence.

Gandhi was among the strongest critics of materialism, which he considered an evil. As per him, the advancement of materialism has led to the preference of people for material luxuries over real happiness. However, Gandhi didn’t hold any ill will against the people who preferred materialism as he viewed materialism as a disease and such people under its grip. This view of Gandhi is in tandem with his view of not hating the sinner and non-violence.

Gandhi’s idea of having control over desires is in consonance with his other ideals such as bread labour, non-possession, swadeshi and his emphasis on the village economy. He even preached to his followers to adopt voluntary poverty and celibacy, both of which, in his view, are idols for living a meaningful life. One becomes full of joy without sexual desires and material possessions.


The idea of non-possession is similar to that of Control of desires, It differs only in one way that non-possession focuses more on material possessions. Gandhi believed that possessing a thing that is not needed is equal to stealing it since it would be better that it would be in the hands of someone who needs it more. He also believed that if someone needs a thing, it will be provided by God to him. 

Gandhi’s ideas hold true when we acknowledge the fact that no rich person is ever content with the money he makes. Thus Gandhi’s ideas on non-possession are actually more about dispossession. Gandhi urged the rich multiple times to give up their excessive possessions to the downtrodden. It must be noted that the idea of non-possession was taken seriously by a lot of millionaires.


Gandhi has popularly said that Satyagraha is a weapon for the strong while guns, canons etc. are weapons for the weak. The fear Gandhi talks about does not merely relate to physical fear such as fear of getting hurt or contracting a virus, but also mental fears such as fears of dispossession or losing a dear one. In fact, Gandhi lays a far greater emphasis on mental fears than physical fears, perhaps because he considered mental fears to be far more harmful than physical fears- both for oneself and others.

The idea of Satyagraha revolves around the idea of ‘enjoying the things of the world by renouncing them’. Satyagraha means being fearless of your own desires. It means to be devoid of any fears of losing something or someone dear. This also includes embracing God, since there is no truth except God. Gandhi’s idea of Fearlessness is borrowed from the Bhagavada Gita and his sermons are similar to those given by Lord Krishna.


Equally respecting all religions is an essential part of the idea of Satyagraha. Gandhi encouraged not only respecting other religions but also knowing them and getting involved in the religious activities of other religions, since for Gandhi, all religions espoused the same idea about God and promoted harmony among the children of God. 

However, the kind of secularism promoted by Gandhi was different from the Western brand of secularism that detaches the state from religion completely. Gandhi’s secularism requires, on the contrary, an active involvement of the state. He voiced his opinion in favour of teaching the principles of different religions to kids in schools. He was also in favour of balancing the competing interests of various religious groups in order to maintain stability.


During Gandhi’s time, Socialist movements such as Marxism, Leninism, Guild Socialism etc. Many parties across the world were concerned about the exploitation of labour. Gandhi’s ideas on labour were inspired by John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy, through a concept called Bread Labour. 

Gandhi was opposed to the bloody revolutions overthrowing the capitalist systems. Instead, he saw a divinity in labour. Bread Labour means that each person must do a definite amount of work -manual labour or intellectual labour- each day in order to live and eat. Like many of Gandhi’s ideas, he implemented this idea in his Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm in South Africa. Manual Labour was compulsory for a few hours every day. Gandhi thought that the true goal of manual labour is to advance human higher thinking, just as how food supports and strengthens the physical body. 

Bread labour was Gandhi’s way of establishing a classless society. Bread Labour consists of the following components that help in the establishment of an equitable society.

(i) Minimum physical labour necessary for the human body must be done every day

(ii) Instrument of self-acctualisation

(iii) Method for public service

Satyagraha is a powerful method of direct action, but requires patience, fearlessness and all the above characteristics in order to yield results. It is not like a revolution that gives instant results but requires long periods of struggle and endurance. However, to become a true Satyagrahi, one needs to bring about an internal revolution and cling to the ideals no matter the hindrance. This is what the idea of satyagraha is all about.

Thank you for reading our article on the idea of Satyagraha

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top