Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, in North West India, on 2nd October 1869, into a Hindu Modh family. His father was the Chief Minister of Porbandar, and his mother’s religious devotion meant that his upbringing was infused with the Jain pacifist teachings of mutual tolerance, non-injury to living beings and vegetarianism.
Born into a privileged caste, Gandhi was fortunate to receive a comprehensive education, but proved a mediocre student. In May 1883, aged 13, Gandhi was married to Kasturba Makhanji, a girl also aged 13, through the arrangement of their respective parents, as is customary in India. Following his entry into Samaldas College, at the University of Bombay, she bore him the first of four sons, in 1888. Gandhi was unhappy at college, following his parent’s wishes to take the bar, and when he was offered the opportunity of furthering his studies overseas, at University College London, aged 18, he accepted with alacrity, starting there in September 1888.
Determined to adhere to Hindu principles, which included vegetarianism as well as alcohol and sexual abstinence, he found London restrictive initially, but once he had found kindred spirits he flourished, and pursued the philosophical study of religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and others, having professed no particular interest in religion up until then. Following admission to the English Bar, and his return to India, he found work difficult to come by and, in 1893, accepted a year’s contract to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa.
Although not yet enshrined in law, the system of ‘apartheid’ was very much in evidence in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Despite arriving on a year’s contract, Gandhi spent the next 21 years living in South Africa, and railed against the injustice of racial segregation. On one occasion he was thrown from a first class train carriage, despite being in possession of a valid ticket. Witnessing the racial bias experienced by his countrymen served as a catalyst for his later activism, and he attempted to fight segregation at all levels. He founded a political movement, known as the Natal Indian Congress, and developed his theoretical belief in non-violent civil protest into a tangible political stance, when he opposed the introduction of registration for all Indians, within South Africa, via non-cooperation with the relevant civic authorities.
On his return to India in 1916, Gandhi developed his practice of non-violent civic disobedience still further, raising awareness of oppressive practices in Bihar, in 1918, which saw the local populace oppressed by their largely British masters. He also encouraged oppressed villagers to improve their own circumstances, leading peaceful strikes and protests. His fame spread, and he became widely referred to as ‘Mahatma’ or ‘Great Soul’.
As his fame spread, so his political influence increased: by 1921 he was leading the Indian National Congress, and reorganizing the party’s constitution around the principle of ‘Swaraj’, or complete political independence from the British. He also instigated a boycott of British goods and institutions, and his encouragement of mass civil disobedience led to his arrest, on 10th March 1922, and trial on sedition charges, for which he served 2 years, of a 6-year prison sentence.
The Indian National Congress began to splinter during his incarceration, and he remained largely out of the public eye following his release from prison in February 1924, returning four years later, in 1928, to campaign for the granting of ‘dominion status’ to India by the British. When the British introduced a tax on salt in 1930, he famously led a 250-mile march to the seato collect his own salt. Recognizing his political influence nationally, the British authorities were forced to negotiate various settlements with Gandhi over the following years, which resulted in the alleviation of poverty, granted status to the ‘untouchables’, enshrined rights for women, and led inexorably to Gandhi’s goal of ‘Swaraj’: political independence from Britain.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Gandhi suffered six known assassination attempts during the course of his life. The first attempt came on 25th June 1934, when he was in Pune delivering a speech, together with his wife, Kasturba. Travelling in a motorcade of two cars, they were in the second car, which was delayed by the appearance of a train at a railway level crossing, causing the two vehicles to separate. When the first vehicle arrived at the speech venue, a bomb was thrown at the car, which exploded and injured several people. No investigations were carried out at the time, and no arrests were made, although many attribute the attack to Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fundamentalist implacably opposed to Gandhi’s non-violent acceptance and tolerance of all religions, which he felt compromised the supremacy of the Hindu religion. Godse was the person responsible for the eventual assassination of Gandhi in January 1948, 14 years later.
During the first years of the Second World War, Gandhi’s mission to achieve independence from Britain reached its zenith: he saw no reason why Indians should fight for British sovereignty, in other parts of the world, when they were subjugated at home, which led to the worst instances of civil uprising under his direction, through his ‘Quit India’ movement. As a result, he was arrested on 9th August 1942, and held for two years at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. In February 1944, 3 months before his release, his wife Kasturbai died in the same prison.
May 1944, the time of his release from prison, saw the second attempt made on his life, this time certainly led by Nathuram Godse, although the attempt was fairly half-hearted. When word reached Godse that Gandhi was staying in a hill station near Pune, recovering from his prison ordeal, he organised a group of like-minded individuals who descended on the area, and mounted a vocal anti-Gandhi protest. When invited to speak to Gandhi, Godse declined, but he attended a prayer meeting later that day, where he rushed towards Gandhi, brandishing a dagger and shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. He was overpowered swiftly by fellow worshipers, and came nowhere near achieving his goal. Godse was not prosecuted at the time.
Four months later, in September 1944, Godse led a group of Hindu activist demonstrators who accosted Gandhi at a train station, on his return from political talks. Godse was again found to be in possession of a dagger that, although not drawn, was assumed to be the means by which he would again seek to assassinate Gandhi. It was officially regarded as the third assassination attempt, by the commission set up to investigate Gandhi’s death in 1948.
The British plan to partition what had been British-ruled India, into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, was vehemently opposed by Gandhi, who foresaw the problems that would result from the split. Nevertheless, the Congress Party ignored his concerns, and accepted the partition proposals put forward by the British.
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
The fourth attempt on Gandhi’s life took the form of a planned train derailment. On 29th June 1946, a train called the ‘Gandhi Special’, carrying him and his entourage, was derailed near Bombay, by means of boulders, which had been piled up on the tracks. Since the train was the only one scheduled at that time, it seems likely that the intended target of derailment was Gandhi himself. He was not injured in the accident. At a prayer meeting after the event Gandhi is quoted as saying:
“I have not hurt anybody nor do I consider anybody to be my enemy, I can’t understand why there are so many attempts on my life. Yesterday’s attempt on my life has failed. I will not die just yet; I aim to live till the age of 125.”
Sadly, he had only eighteen months to live.
Placed under increasing pressure, by his political contemporaries, to accept Partition as the only way to avoid civil war in India, Gandhi reluctantly concurred with its political necessity, and India celebrated its Independence Day on 15th August 1947. Keenly recognizing the need for political unity, Gandhi spent the next few months working tirelessly for Hindu-Muslim peace, fearing the build-up of animosity between the two fledgling states, showing remarkable prescience, given the turbulence of their relationship over the following half-century.
Unfortunately, his efforts to unite the opposing forces proved his undoing. He championed the paying of restitution to Pakistan for lost territories, as outlined in the Partition agreement, which parties in India, fearing that Pakistan would use the payment as a means to build a war arsenal, had opposed. He began a fast in support of the payment, which Hindu radicals, Nathuram Godse among them, viewed as traitorous. When the political effect of his fast secured the payment to Pakistan, it secured with it the fifth attempt on his life.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
On 20th January a gang of seven Hindu radicals, which included Nathuram Godse, gained access to Birla House, in Delhi, a venue at which Gandhi was due to give an address. One of the men, Madanla Pahwa, managed to gain access to the speaker’s podium, and planted a bomb, encased in a cotton ball, on the wall behind the podium. The plan was to explode the bomb during the speech, causing pandemonium, which would give two other gang members, Digambar Bagde and Shankar Kishtaiyya, an opportunity to shoot Gandhi, and escape in the ensuing chaos. The bomb exploded prematurely, before the conference was underway, and Madanla Pahwa was captured, while the others, including Godse, managed to escape.
Pahwa admitted the plot under interrogation, but Delhi police were unable to confirm the participation and whereabouts of Godse, although they did try to ascertain his whereabouts through the Bombay police.
After the failed attempt at Birla House, Nathuram Godse and another of the seven, Narayan Apte, returned to Pune, via Bombay, where they purchased a Beretta automatic pistol, before returning once more to Delhi.
On 30th January 1948, whilst Gandhi was on his way to a prayer meeting at Birla House in Delhi, Nathuram Godse managed to get close enough to him in the crowd to be able to shoot him three times in the chest, at point-blank range. Gandhi’s dying words were claimed to be “Hé Rām”, which translates as “Oh God”, although some witnesses claim he spoke no words at all.
When news of Gandhi’s death reached the various strongholds of Hindu radicalism, in Pune and other areas throughout India, there was reputedly celebration in the streets. Sweets were distributed publicly, as at a festival. The rest of the world was horrified by the death of a man nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Godse, who had made no attempt to flee following the assassination, and his co-conspirator, Narayan Apte, were both imprisoned until their trial on 8th November 1949. They were convicted of Gandhi’s killing, and both were executed, a week later, at Ambala Jail, on 15th November 1949. The supposed architect of the plot, a Hindu extremist named Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Gandhi was cremated as per Hindu custom, and his ashes are interred at the Aga Khan’s palace in Pune, the site of his incarceration in 1942, and the place his wife had also died.
Gandhi’s memorial bears the epigraph “Hé Rām” (“Oh God”) although there is no conclusive proof that he uttered these words before death.
Although Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, he never received it. In the year of his death, 1948, the Prize was not awarded, the stated reason being that “there was no suitable living candidate” that year.
Gandhi’s life and teachings have inspired many liberationists of the 20th Century, including Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko in South Africa, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.
His birthday, 2nd October, is celebrated as a National Holiday in India every year. [From: History.co.uk]
“Where there is love there is life.”
Gandhi was a prolific writer. One of Gandhi’s earliest publications, Hind Swaraj, published in Gujarati in 1909, is recognized as the intellectual blueprint of India’s independence movement. The book was translated into English the next year, with a copyright legend that read “No Rights Reserved”. For decades he edited several newspapers including Harijan in Gujarati, in Hindi and in the English language; Indian Opinion while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and Navajivan, a Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. Later, Navajivan was also published in Hindi. In addition, he wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers.
Gandhi also wrote several books including his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Gujarātī “સત્યના પ્રયોગો અથવા આત્મકથા”), of which he bought the entire first edition to make sure it was reprinted. His other autobiographies included: Satyagraha in South Africa about his struggle there, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a political pamphlet, and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last. This last essay can be considered his program on economics. He also wrote extensively on vegetarianism, diet and health, religion, social reforms, etc. Gandhi usually wrote in Gujarati, though he also revised the Hindi and English translations of his books.
Gandhi’s complete works were published by the Indian government under the name The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1960’s. The writings comprise about 50,000 pages published in about a hundred volumes. In 2000, a revised edition of the complete works sparked a controversy, as it contained a large number of errors and omissions. The Indian government later withdrew the revised edition.
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Time magazine named Gandhi the Man of the Year in 1930. Gandhi was also the runner-up to Albert Einstein as “Person of the Century” at the end of 1999. The Government of India awards the annual Gandhi Peace Prize to distinguished social workers, world leaders and citizens. Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa’s struggle to eradicate racial discrimination and segregation, is a prominent non-Indian recipient. In 2011, Time magazine named Gandhi as one of the top 25 political icons of all time.
Gandhi did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948, including the first-ever nomination by the American Friends Service Committee, though he made the short list only twice, in 1937 and 1947. Decades later, the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission, and admitted to deeply divided nationalistic opinion denying the award. Gandhi was nominated in 1948 but was assassinated before nominations closed. That year, the committee chose not to award the peace prize stating that “there was no suitable living candidate” and later research shows that the possibility of awarding the prize posthumously to Gandhi was discussed and that the reference to no suitable living candidate was to Gandhi. When the 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Film and literature
Mahatma Gandhi has been portrayed in film, literature, and in the theater. Ben Kingsley portrayed him in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Gandhi was a central figure in the 2006 Bollywood comedy film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma documented Gandhi’s time in South Africa and his transformation from an inexperienced barrister to recognized political leader.
Anti-Gandhi themes have also been showcased through films and plays. The 1995 Marathi play Gandhi Virudh Gandhi explored the relationship between Gandhi and his son Harilal. The 2007 film, Gandhi, My Father was inspired on the same theme. The 1989 Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy and the 1997 Hindi play Gandhi Ambedkar criticized Gandhi and his principles.
Several biographers have undertaken the task of describing Gandhi’s life. Among them are D. G. Tendulkar with his Mahatma. Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in eight volumes, and Pyarelal and Sushila Nayyar with their Mahatma Gandhi in 10 volumes. There is another documentary, Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869–1948, which is 14 chapters and six hours long. The 2010 biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld contained controversial material speculating about Gandhi’s sexual life. Lelyveld, however, stated that the press coverage “grossly distort[s]” the overall message of the book. The 2014 film Welcome Back Gandhi takes a fictionalized look at how Gandhi might react to modern day India.
“God has no religion.”
Current impact within India
India, with its rapid economic modernisation and urbanisation, has rejected Gandhi’s economics but accepted much of his politics and continues to revere his memory. Reporter Jim Yardley notes that, “modern India is hardly a Gandhian nation, if it ever was one. His vision of a village-dominated economy was shunted aside during his lifetime as rural romanticism, and his call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power.” By contrast Gandhi is “given full credit for India’s political identity as a tolerant, secular democracy.”
Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October, is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti. Gandhi’s image also appears on paper currency of all denominations issued by Reserve Bank of India, except for the one rupee note. Gandhi’s date of death, 30 January, is commemorated as a Martyrs’ Day in India.
There are two temples in India dedicated to Gandhi. One is located at Sambalpur in Orissa and the other at Nidaghatta village near Kadur in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. The Gandhi Memorial in Kanyakumari resembles central Indian Hindu temples and the Tamukkam or Summer Palace in Madurai now houses the Mahatma Gandhi Museum. [From: Wikipedia.com]
“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Amazing Facts About Him:
Gandhi the part-time pacifist
Although Gandhi became famous for his pacifism, his beliefs here evolved considerably over the years. In fact, until the British massacred hundreds of peaceful Indians at Amritsar, Gandhi was such a faithful British subject that he served in the imperial army.
In the Boer War, Gandhi led the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps and, in one of those weird coincidences, was one of the three future world leaders at the Battle of Spioenkop, along with Winston Churchill and Louis Botha. For his good work, Gandhi eventually won the War Medal and was promoted to sergeant major.
Gandhi also volunteered to serve in World War I, one of the few Indian activists to support England unconditionally. A bad case of pleurisy prevented him from serving, and in fact forced him to leave England and return to India.
Gandhi and World War II
Gandhi never quite seemed to realize that the non-violence he urged against the British would have failed horribly if applied to the Nazis. He urged the British to surrender, and suggested that the Czechs and even the Jews would have been better off committing heroic mass suicide.
Even as late as June 1946, when the extent of the Holocaust had emerged, Gandhi told biographer Louis Fisher: “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.”
As the Japanese advanced into Burma (now called Myanmar), there was a real possibility of an Axis invasion of India. Gandhi thought it was best to let the Japanese take as much of India as they wanted, and that the best way to resist would be to “make them feel unwanted.”
(In fact, the Axis was helping a buddy of Gandhi’s to raise an army of Indians that would have seized the country from the Brits, but that’s another story.)
Gandhi’s funny sex ideas
When Gandhi was 16, he was having sex with his wife at the very moment his father died. The trauma seems to have led him to develop some odd ideas about sex. He thought married couples should only have sex three or four times … in total. In fact, Gandhi credited his spiritual powers to his ability to avoid ejaculation, and one morning he flipped out on discovering that he’d had a nocturnal emission.
Gandhi also had an unusual way of testing his celibacy. As an old man, he would ask the local hotties to spend the night lying naked beside him. His wife was no longer temptation enough, apparently, and he described her as looking like a “meek cow.”
Gandhi, family man
Gandhi’s opposition to modern technology, including modern medicine, took odds turns. He didn’t want his wife to take life-saving penicillin, because it would be administered with a hypodermic needle. He did, however, allow himself to be treated with quinine and even to be operated on for appendicitis.
He refused to allow his sons to get a formal education, and also tried to force his oddball sexual ideas on them. He so disapproved of the wife of his eldest son that the Mahatma disowned him. This son broke from the family and became an alcoholic. In rebellion against everything his father stood for, Harilal Gandhi even announced at one point that he had converted to Islam.
The Mahatma also had trouble with his second son, Manilal, who had an affair with a married woman. Dad made the matter a public scandal and pushed the woman involved to shave her head. Manilal was also briefly exiled from the family for lending money to fellow black sheep Harilal.
Gandhi and the bathroom
In the movie, Gandhi is seen fighting with his wife over her refusal to clean the latrine in the ashram.
This just scratches the surface of the one of the strangest elements of the Mahatma’s makeup … a fixation on bodily excretions that he pushed whenever he could on his family and disciples.
Gandhi seemed to be almost as interested in Indian sanitation as he was in Indian freedom. At his ashram, he designed latrines and ran latrine drills. “The bathroom is a temple,” he once said. “It should be so clean and inviting that anyone would enjoy eating there.”
Gandhi also took a great deal of interest in the bowel movements of his friends, and life at the ashram was marked by daily enemas. He also experimented with diet, to see what effect different types of food had on excretions.
Weirdest of all, it seems he also made a habit of drinking his own urine. [From: Triviahalloffame.com]
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
Interesting Trivia on Mahatma Gandhi:
- Gandhi’s nickname at school was Moniya.
- Mahatma Gandhi was only 13 years old when he married the 14 year old Kasturba Gandhi.
- Between 1893 and 1914 Mahatma Gandhi lived in South Africa where he was practicing law.
- Gandhi was a vegetarian and undertook long fasts for self purification and social protests.
- While at university in England, Gandhi was elected to the vegetarian society executive committee of which he founded a local chapter.
- While studying in England, Gandhi tried learning dancing and playing the violin to try and live more like an Englishman, but later gave it up for a simple living.
- Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 5 times between 1937 and 1948 but never won it.
- Gandhi undertook a vow of celibacy in 1906.
- In 1921 Gandhi discarded his clothes and shaved his head and wore only a loin cloth.
- Gandhi had four sons; Harilal, Manilala, Ramdas and Devdas.
“To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
Now Watch His Videos:
Mahatma Gandhi First Television Interview (30 April 1931)
Mahatma Gandhi Speech