Ambalal Sarabhai

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Ambalal Sarabhai (23 February 1890 to 13 July 1967) was an Indian industrialist, a visionary, a philanthropist, an institution builder, an ardent supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and a person with varied interests in culture. He was the chairman and promoter of Calico Mills and the founder of The Sarabhai group of Companies. He also was an active participant in India’s independence movement.

Background and early[edit]

Ambalal was born to Sarabhai Maganbhai and Godavariba at Chandra-Suraj Mahel, Khanpur. It was a firm belief of Godavariba that Ambalal was born through the grace of the deity Ambajimata and so he was given the name ‘Ambalal’.

He had joined Gujarat College in 1907, immediately after which due to the sudden death of his uncle Chimanbhai (who took great care of all the three children {Anasuya, Ambalal and Kanta} after the death of Sarabhai and Godavariba) he took over the management of Calico and Jubilee Mills. In 1910 he married Reva (daughter of Sri Harilal Gosalia), who was renamed as Saraladevi Sarabhai. He later joined as the director of Currumchand Premchand ni Pedhi (family business). Ambalal and Saraladevi had eight children; Mridula (1911-1974), Bharati (1912-1986), Suhrid (1913-1942), Leena (1915-2012), Gautam (1917-1995), Vikram (1919-1971), Geeta (1921-2011), Gira (1923-). His family was informally titled as Medici of Ahmedabad.  


In 1922, when Sarabhai returned to Ahmedabad from England, he introduced modern technologies and different ideas that lead to many innovations in the textile manufacturing industry. Calico Mill became the first mill in India to adopt these modern technologies.

In 1931, he bought Krishna Oil Mills which was renamed as Swastik Oil Mills, known for manufacturing groundnut and sesame oil with the help of latest technologies from the UK. Later, Swastik Oil Mills also started manufacturing detergent soaps and perfumed castor oil. In 1943 Sarabhai started Sarabhai Chemicals in Baroda which was managed by his son, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. He later developed collaborations with Squib & Company in New York, and also started Suhrid Geigy Limited with the Swiss company J.R Geigy and Sarabhai Merck Limited in collaboration with German company Merck.

The Sarabhais had taken over Calcutta-based Standard Pharmaceuticals Limited and were also associated with Synbiotics Limited. Sarabhai Chemicals manufactured streptomycin, penicillin, vitamins, and antibiotics.

Ambalal Sarabhai became the director of the Bank of India in 1919 and succeeded F.E Dinshaw as the chairman on 3 January 1935. He was associated with the Bank of India as an honorary adviser for over forty-five years. At the age of twenty-one in 1910, he was also appointed as a member of Ahmedabad Municipality by the government.

Role in India's Independence[edit]

In 1927, Sarabhai found the Swatantra Party (Independent) to compete with Vallabhbhai's Rashtriya Paksh (Nationalist).  Due to some differences between Sarabhai and Vallabhbhai, Sarabhai resigned in 1929. 

Even before Gandhi launched any big movement in India, Sarabhai had been an ardent supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Independence movement since 1916. Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram was revived by Sarabhai with a generous donation.

In 1947, Sarabhai became the Chairman of National Planning Committee.


The Ambalal Sarabhai Foundation, a trust founded by him, runs a hospital in Vadodara. The Ambalal Sarabhai Foundation for Health, Education & Welfare and Ambalal Sarabhai Trust are the other two major charitable trusts founded by him that are now looked after by his descendants. These trusts together run many schools, hospitals, charitable dispensaries, and other welfare activities in Ahmedabad and in other cities of Gujarat.


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