A British-educated lawyer, Gandhi first employed his ideas of peaceful civil disobedience in the Indian community's struggle for civil rights in South Africa. Upon his return to India, he organized poor farmers and labourers to protest against oppressive taxation and widespread discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for the alleviation of poverty, for the liberation of women, for brotherhood amongst differing religions and ethnicities, for an end to untouchability and caste discrimination, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but above all for Swaraj—the independence of India from foreign domination. Gandhi famously led Indians in the disobedience of the salt tax on the 400 kilometre (248 miles) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and in an open call for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years on numerous occasions in both South Africa and India.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into the Hindu Modh family in Porbandar, l.a., in 1869. He was the son of Karamchand Gandhi, the diwan (Prime Minister) of Porbandar, and Putlibai, Karamchand's fourth wife, a Hindu of the Pranami Vaishnava order. Karamchand's first two wives, who each bore him a daughter, died from unknown reasons (rumored to be in childbirth). Living with a devout mother and surrounded by the Jain influences of Gujarat, Gandhi learned from an early age the tenets of non-injury to living beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between members of various creeds and sects. He was born into the vaishya, or business, caste.
Gandhi and his wife Kasturba (1902)
In May 1883, at the age of 13, Gandhi was married through his parents' arrangements to Kasturba Makhanji (also spelled "Kasturbai" or known as "Ba"). They had four sons: Harilal Gandhi, born in 1888; Manilal Gandhi, born in 1892; Ramdas Gandhi, born in 1897; and Devdas Gandhi, born in 1900. Gandhi was a mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Rajkot. He barely passed the matriculation exam for Samaldas College at Bhavanagar, Gujarat. He was also unhappy at the college, because his family wanted him to become a barrister.
At the age of 18 on September 4, 1888, Gandhi went to University College London to train as a barrister. His time in London, the Imperial capital, was influenced by a vow he had made to his mother in the presence of the Jain monk Becharji, upon leaving India, to observe the Hindu precepts of abstinence from meat, alcohol, and promiscuity. Although Gandhi experimented with adopting "English" customs — taking dancing lessons for example — he could not stomach his landlady's mutton and cabbage. She pointed him towards one of London's few vegetarian restaurants. Rather than simply go along with his mother's wishes, he read about, and intellectually embraced vegetarianism. He joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee, and founded a local chapter. He later credited this with giving him valuable experience in organizing institutions. Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 to further universal brotherhood, and which was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmanistic literature. They encouraged Gandhi to read the Bhagavad Gita. Not having shown a particular interest in religion before, he read works of and about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other religions. He returned to India after being called to the bar of England and Wales by Inner Temple, but had limited success establishing a law practice in Bombay. Later, after applying and being turned down for a part-time job as a high school teacher, he ended up returning to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants, but was forced to close down that business as well when he ran afoul of a British officer. In his autobiography, he describes this incident as a kind of unsuccessful lobbying attempt on behalf of his older brother. It was in this climate that (in 1893) he accepted a year-long contract from an Indian firm to a post in Natal, South Africa.
The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Furthermore, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists, as it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than the transfer of power. Furthermore, Lord Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, embarked on a new campaign of repression against the nationalists. Gandhi was again arrested, and the government attempted to destroy his influence by completely isolating him from his followers. This tactic was not successful. In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932, successfully forcing the government to adopt a more equitable arrangement via negotiations mediated by the Dalit cricketer turned political leader Palwankar Baloo. This was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. On May 8, 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast of self-purification to help the Harijan movement.
In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on his life.
When the Congress Party chose to contest elections and accept power under the Federation scheme, Gandhi decided to resign from party membership. He did not disagree with the party's move, but felt that if he resigned, his popularity with Indians would cease to stifle the party's membership, that actually varied from communists, socialists, trade unionists, students, religious conservatives, to those with pro-business convictions. Gandhi also did not want to prove a target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted political accommodation with the Raj.
Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or Satya. He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and conducting experiments on himself. He called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth.
Gandhi stated that the most important battle to fight was overcoming his own demons, fears, and insecurities. Gandhi summarized his beliefs first when he said "God is Truth." He would later change this statement to "Truth is God." Thus, Satya (Truth) in Gandhi's philosophy is "God".
The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonresistance has a long history in Indian religious thought and has had many revivals in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish and Christian contexts. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. He was quoted as saying:
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall — think of it, always."
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
As a young child, Gandhi experimented with meat-eating. This was due partially to his inherent curiosity as well as his rather persuasive peer and friend Sheikh Mehtab. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply engrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, and, in his native land of Gujarat, most Hindus were vegetarian. The Gandhi family was no exception. Before leaving for his studies in London, Gandhi made a promise to his mother, Putlibai and his uncle, Becharji Swami that he would abstain from eating meat, taking alcohol, and engaging in promiscuity. He held fast to his promise and gained more than a diet, he gained a basis for his life-long philosophies. As Gandhi grew into adulthood, he became a strict vegetarian. He wrote the book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism and several articles on the subject, some of which were published in the London Vegetarian Society's publication, The Vegetarian. Gandhi, himself, became inspired by many great minds during this period and befriended the chairman of the London Vegetarian Society, Dr. Josiah Oldfield.
This decision was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Brahmacharya—spiritual and practical purity—largely associated with celibacy and asceticism. Gandhi saw brahmacharya as a means of going close to God and as a primary foundation for self realization. In his autobiography he tells of his battle against lustful urges and fits of jealousy with his childhood bride, Kasturba. He felt it his personal obligation to remain celibate so that he could learn to love, rather than lust. For Gandhi, brahmacharya meant "control of the senses in thought, word and deed."
Gandhi earnestly believed that a person involved in social service should lead a simple life which he thought could lead to Brahmacharya. His simplicity began by renouncing the western lifestyle he was leading in South Africa. He called it "reducing himself to zero," which entailed giving up unnecessary expenditure, embracing a simple lifestyle and washing his own clothes. On one occasion he returned the gifts bestowed to him from the natals for his diligent service to the community.
Gandhi was born a Hindu and practised Hinduism all his life, deriving most of his principles from Hinduism. As a common Hindu, he believed all religions to be equal, and rejected all efforts to convert him to a different faith. He was an avid theologian and read extensively about all major religions. He had the following to say about Hinduism:
Gandhi's birthday, 2 October is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti.
The word Mahatma, while often mistaken for Gandhi's given name in the West, is taken from the Sanskrit words maha meaning Great and atma meaning Soul. It is a titular reference that the Indian people refer to the greatest by, similar to the British honorifics like Your Excellency or Sir but unlike in that these are officially conferred. Most sources, such as Dutta and Robinson's Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology, state that Rabindranath Tagore first accorded the title of Mahatma to Gandhi. Other sources state that Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta accorded him this title on January 21, 1915. In his autobiography, Gandhi nevertheless explains that he never felt worthy of the honour. According to the manpatra, the name Mahatma was given in response to Gandhi's admirable sacrifice in manifesting justice and truth.
Gandhi in film, literature, plays, and popular culture
Main article: List of artistic depictions of Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi has been portrayed in film, literature, and in the theater. Ben Kingsley portrayed Gandhi in the 1982 award-winning film, Gandhi. Philip Glass and Constance de Jong made an opera of Gandhi's early years in South Africa titled Satyagraha. Gandhi is also a central figure in the 2006 Bollywood film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The philosophy of Gandhism is an important thematic component of both the 2005 film, Water and the novel by author Bapsi Sidhwa based on the film, also called Water (Gandhi also appears as a character in both). The Making of the Mahatma documents Gandhi's 21 years in South Africa. The play Mahatma vs. Gandhi explores his troubled relationship with his eldest son Harilal Gandhi. The Tamil film 'Hey Ram', directed by the famous south-Indian actor, Kamal Hassan, deals with the theme of Gandhi's assassination and its precursors.