Home Biographies A Biographical Event: Rev. Dr. King’s Pilgrimage in India
A Biographical Event: Rev. Dr. King’s Pilgrimage in India PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Panakal Ph.D   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 15:12


People have been traveling to India for thousands of years; they were lured by its landscape, rich heritage and history. They were also fascinated by the globe’s oldest culture, gems of classical wisdom, wealth on land and precious metals buried deep under the ground. The travelers included ancient Chinese, the Greek thinker Megasthense, the Persians, the Romans and today hordes of young people with backpacks from all over the world.

If in the past the long voyage to India had been limited to a coterie of individuals, in our times the situation has changed with safe and affordable air travel resulting in the increasing number of people visiting India. The long waiting lines at airport ticket counters, crowded airports and planes would attest to this fact.


On February 10, 1959, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King landed in New Delhi prompted by his vehement desire to see Gandhiji’s homeland, to gather relevant data on Satyagraha or the most enlightened political-spiritual ideology of the last century, in contrast to Nazism and Fascism ravaging Europe. He wanted also to hold discussions with India’s leaders. Upon arrival at the Palam airport in New Delhi, he said: “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but I come to India as a pilgrim. It is because of Mahatma Gandhi, a truly great man of our times.” The following is a compendium of his memorable visit to a vast region of the world, India; he termed “the land of Gandhi”.

After months of negotiation, a generous grant from the American Friends Society or the Quaker community financed his travel to India, touring and benefiting from a ship-load of experience gained on the subcontinent, from February 10 to March 12, 1959. His busy travel schedule included a visit to Raj Ghat, a series of lectures at renowned Indian universities, interviews with journalists who gave him wide and objective press coverage. In addition, he went to Gandhi’s village and two villages established by Vinobha Bhave as part of his Bhoodan Movement. “Bhave,” according to Dr. King, “was a great spiritual man, moving in a humble way to keep the spirit of Gandhi’s philosophy alive.” The American leader benefited much from the humanitarian attitude of Bhave in the distribution of land to the landless as a part of Sarvodaya.

Rev. Dr. King had been Gandhiji’s most renowned globally known disciple, even winning Nobel Prize for peace, and espousing the Gandhian ideology as the basis of his home-grown civil rights movement. African-Americans had no qualms in embracing the fundamental values of India’s nonviolent ideology under the aegis of the Nobel laureate. Racism is violence of the mind that can have gory physical manifestations.

In the last century, the world had witnessed two highly significant nonviolent campaigns – one in India and the other in the United States. While Gandhiji had strengthened Satyagraha (a Sanskrit term generally known as nonviolent resistance or civil resistance) for India’s freedom, Dr. King inaugurated ‘Neethigraha’1 for justice for African Americans. Yet, these two pivotal events did not receive the significance they actually deserve in history books, nor did they become part of the educational curricula to underline the importance of employing nonviolent methods for conflict resolution. Consequently, many leaders always lean to the side of violence, as the leaning Tower of Pisa, to resolve problems prolonging violent agitations at various levels. In history leaning towers and buildings have tumbled down.


While in India, the honorable guest said that his hosts in the subcontinent showered on him “the most generous hospitality imaginable.” Notwithstanding the fact that he was visibly moved by the poverty of many people, he also conceded: “They [the Indians] are kindly people. They do not abuse one another, verbally or physically as readily as we do. We saw but one fist fight during our entire stay.... The Indians who are rich, have luxurious houses, landed estates, wear fine clothes and show evidences of overeating.” (Large bellies).

Certain landmarks in the annals of India’s vast and nonviolent record book such as the Gandhian Quit India Movement and Salt Satyagraha had profoundly influenced the late Rev. Dr. King and his philosophy. Gandhiji embarked on those two historic campaigns of the world’s largest nonviolent movement, with the unprecedented endorsement by the Indian people whose political destination had been to end the unlawful British colonial policy of conquer, rob, divide and leave. The considerations of legal validity in the policy of the kingdom of colonizers had been as irrelevant as beauty and charm in a zoo keeper.

Visits to certain regions and conversations with other human beings can alter our outlook on life and its divergent aspects. Rev. Dr. King’s memorable voyage and sojourn in India (including Kerala) as well as the impressions he had formed about the land of Gandhi need to be quoted in order to assess the full value and impact the visit had on his nonviolent struggle in Alabama and elsewhere in the United States.


“The trip,” he admitted, ‘had a great impact upon me personally. It was wonderful to be in the land of Gandhi, to talk with his son, his grandsons, his cousins and other relatives, to visit his ashram2 and finally to lay a wreath on his entombed ashes at Rajghat. I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. It was a marvelous thing to see the amazing results of a nonviolent campaign… The spirit of Gandhi is very much alive in India today. But any objective observer must report that Gandhi is not only the greatest figure in India’s history, but that his influence is felt in almost every aspect of life and public policy today.”

Gandhiji, the father of India’s nonviolent political renaissance, developed codes for Satyagrahis, an operator’s manual, in three distinct periods –in 1920, l930 and in l935. What were the codes with their eternal legacies? And how humane were they?

1. A Satyagrahi should have abiding faith in God who is his eternal guide.
2. He should believe in the basic goodness of human beings.
3. He should lead a chaste life willing to give up his life and earthly possessions.
4. A Satyagrahi should obey with an open heart all the codes of discipline as may be laid down from time to time.
5. He should not use alcohol to enable him to have a clear vision.
6. Harbour no ill-feelings or anger toward the opponent whose assaults should receive no violent response in a spirit of love and reconciliation.
7. Refrain from resisting arrests.
8. Do not insult or swear at the opponent.
9. Even at the point risking life, protect the adversary from physical attacks or insults from others. 10. During negotiation do not provoke the opponent.
11. If imprisoned, act in an exemplary and civilized manner toward the officials.
12. As a volunteer of a Satyagraha unit, accept the orders of the Satyagraha leaders, but resign in the event of serious differences of opinion.

Code 9 may be considered the extremely humane Gandhian philosophy that has transformed Gandhiji into the Man Of The Millennium out of millions of people in the world dead, living or doing nothing in our times --in our midst. These codes inspired the principles of the Civil Rights Movement.  In addition, the U.S. House of Representative passed a resolution recognising the influence of Gandhi on Dr.  King.

The southern city of Atlanta in Georgia is synonymous with Dr. M.L. King’s highly effective management and success of Gandhian Satyagraha. In Atlanta as well as in other cities and hamlets, African-Americans (called Negroes in the early sixties) were forced to sit in the back of buses, were denied permission to attend colleges, to drink water from public fountains to quench thirst or rent rooms in hotels. Drivers refused to stop buses for Blacks or who were asked to get out of them.


Dr. King’s successful boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, catapulted him into a national hero whose mission had been to attain equality and justice, a mission predicated on the Gandhian ideals of nonviolence and reconciliation. In the absence of the nonviolent manifesto, the collective attempts by Rev. Dr. King for justice would have slipped into hideous conflicts ravaging the society. In India voting rights were granted to every adult, with no violence, regardless of ethnic background or religious variations after the country attained freedom from colonial molestation and malpractice.

In the United States, African-Americans had to struggle for years, face threats to life and property in the polling stations in order finally to receive franchise only a few decades ago in different regions of the country which was widely regarded as the champion of liberty and human rights. In India, voting rights were granted to everyone without having to spend a day in jail, all under the enlightened leadership of Gandhiji and Nehru, among others. As far as we know no one in India had to throw bricks or break windows to gain voting rights which were denied to African- Americans who had to resort to violent means for franchise. Rev. Dr. King, a Gandhian, exhorted his followers to stay away from the road of violence and acrimony.

It is noteworthy that Gandhi was against any kind of oppression. He didn’t adhere to the system of untouchability, he was against female’s oppression and Dr. King embraced these principles. Slavery, another kind of oppression was routinely practiced in America and by people in different regions in Europe in the 19th century and beyond. Slavery in any form is anti-thesis to civilization in all forms.

A reading of the centuries old history of India would reveal that there never was a slave market in any part of the subcontinent. In the past slave markets –selling, buying or auctioning the freely imported African people—were as common as vegetable and meat markets, Jamestown in West Virginia in the U.S.A. being the leader in the free trade and the despicable commerce of slavery.

Today’s African-Americans come from a lineage of slaves, but thanks to Rev. Dr. King’s conscious efforts in the past for justice and equality, they have made remarkable strides and serve now as judges, senators, educators, well known singers, artists and now we have an African-American President. It is impossible to turn the wheels of justice and progress once the wheels are set in quick motion. (A few thousand African-Americans still live in the United States without inter-marriage and keeping their pure African lineage).

After carefully assessing various aspects of the Gandhian ideology and discussing with eminent leaders, such as the late philosopher-president, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Jawaharlal Nehru, among others, Rev. Dr. King completed his round trip; he came back to the United States convinced more than ever that the laws of the potent Gandhian nonviolent movement are an effective therapy to cure the ills of injustice faced by individuals.


1 Movement or combat for justice

2 A spiritual hermitage


The prominent writer Dr.  Panakal has published more than 300 articles and 16 books, besides giving lectures in universities and various gatherings in Canada, Germany, India, Switzerland. Trinidad, West Indies and the United States. The article above has been published in India last winter. Dr.Thomas Panakal Ph.D, handicapped after an auto accident, presently lives in Montreal, Canada. E-mail  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


The readers can also click on this link Dr. Panakal's interview to see a past Mega Diversities' Tête-à-Tête with Dr. Panakal .