Gandhiji’s life was dedicated to the ideals of Truth, Non-violence and Love. 'The Bhagavad Gita is my mother,' he once said; and the name of Sri Rama was his shield. He was the architect of India's freedom and one of the greatest men of this century.


A traveler, who came from Europe to India about thirty-five years ago, was asked: ‘What do you wish to see in India?’ His reply was: 'The Himalayas, The Taj Mahal and Mahatma Gandhi.'It was neither wealth nor power that made Gandhiji so famous. He became famous for certain goodquality that he possessed. He always practiced what he taught. He did not do evil to any body; and also, he did not even consider the evil doer as wicked.He wished him well; and wished all well; he wished well to everything,and at all times.He looked upon all with love,and worked all through life to put an end to hatred and to spread love. From ancient times such a man of lovehas been called a 'Mahatma 'in India.

Truthful and Religious Parents

'Gandhi' is a family name. The Gandhi’s had been merchants for many years. They lived in a town called Porbandar. It now belongs to Gujarat State. The town had stone walls around it. As the stones shone in the sun, the town was known as 'Shwetapuri' (the White City).

Uttamchand Gandhi was the grandfather of Gandhiji. He was the Diwan or the Prime
Minister or the Rana (ruler) of Porbandar. His son Karamchand Gandhi was Gandhiji 's father. Gandhiji's full name was Mohan- das Karamchand Gandhi. He was born on October 2, 1869.

Karamchand Gandhi was the Diwan of Porbandar State for some time, and later became the Diwan of Raikot State. Like his father, he too was an honest and a courageous man. His wife's name was Putlibai. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was their youngest son.

Karamchand Gandhi was a very practical man. Gandhiji describes his father in his
autobiography as follows: 'My father was a lover of his clan, truthful, brave and gene- rous.'Often there used to be readings from the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha in his house.There used to be religious dis- cussions also among Jain,Parsi and Muslim scholars. Young Gandhi listened to all this with attention.

Putlibai was in the habit of visiting temples every day. She used to take Gandhi also with her. She used to keep stern vows and fasts. Religious practices were her very life breath. Her influence on the son was great. Many years later,Gandhiji, recollecting his early years, said, 'If there is any purity in me, it is all due to my mother.' The son imbibed from his mother the qualities of service, sacrifice and affection for others.

The Great Force of Religion

Gandhi was married to Kastur Ba in his thirteenth year. Kastur Ba was also a girl of the same age. It was a case of child- marriage, and child-marriage was acustom of those days. It was a marriage of two persons, who did not understand anything about it. The immediate result of this was that a year's studies were spoiled. By the time Gandhi's High School education ended, a child was born, and died, and another was born. A boy of fifteen or sixteen years had already become a father. By that time Gandhi's father also had passed away.

A Gujarati poem, by Shyamlal Bhat, that Gandhi read in deep impression on his mind. The lines were:

For a bowl of water give a goodly meal;

For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal;

For simple penny pay thou back with gold;

If thy life were rescued, life does not withhold.

Thus the words and actions of the wise regard;

Every little service tenfold they reward.

But the truly noble know all men as one,

And return with gladness good for evil done.

This became the ideal of Gandhi's life. He understood that revenge was not true religion. He understood what the 'Religion of Humanity' was. He understood the great force of religion.

In England

After completing his High School studies, Gandhi joined the Samaldas College, Bhavnagar and continued his studies for some time.

One day, a Swamiji who came to Gandhi's house remarked: "Why don't you send this boy to England for studies? The family can regain its honor." This appealed to Gandhi. He had a great desire to study medical science; but his brother was not in favor of it. Further, in those days it was supposed to be, against religion to cross the sea. His mother too did not consent. Her fear was that her son might take to liquor and meat eating. At last, Gandhi gave his word to his mother that he would not do anything immoral, and got her consent. His brother agreed to bear the burden of the expenses, though he was not a rich man. It was finally decided that Gandhi should go to England and study Law to become a Barrister.

Gandhi was only nineteen years old then. He was to leave for England onSeptember 4, 1888. The elders of his caste learnt this. They opposed his journey. But Gandhi disobeyed them and left. The elders declared that Gandhi was an outcaste.

Gandhi had learnt from some elders about life in London as also about manners to be
observed in English society. Friends had told him that it was difficult to live without
drinking wine and eating meat, in a cold country like England. But Gandhi tried hard to keep his promise to his mother. He went in search of vegetarian hotels, and was content to eat whatever food he got there. Every day he had to walk a long distance from his residence to the hotel. But he never felt it a hardship. In the end, he decided to cook his food himself.

Gandhi also tried to practice English gentlemen's ways and manners and to learn to speak French, dancing and the art of public speaking. His expenses increased. Neither could he learn any of them. And then the realization came to him that his brother was struggling hard tosend him money. Then he gave up all needless expenses, and began to live a simple life. His studies became his sole aim.

Gandhi developed great intimacy with an English family. He pretended to be an unmarried man. He used to be quite free with the two-grownup daughters of the family. It looked as if the friendship would go beyond the proper limits. It was a testing time for Gandhiji. At that hour, he remembered the promise he had made to his mother. It saved him from a moral fall. He felt repentant, and wrote a letter of apology to the lady of the house, confessing that he was a married man and the father of a child.

Gandhi stayed in England for two years and eight months. He obtained the degree of Barrister-at-Law. Without staying even for a day more, he started on the return journey to India, on June 12, 1891.

During his stay in England, Gandhi tried some experiments in vegetarian diet. He came to the conclusion that a human being should not eat non-vegetarian food for any reason. He got acquainted with some great persons of the day, like Dadabhai Naoroji and Dr. Beasant. But there was no indication at all that some day Gandhi would become a great man. For the first time Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita, in the company of two English Theosophist friends. Together they studied 'The Song Celestial' (the English translation of the Gita) by Sir Edwin Arnold. This roused Gandhi's interest in the Holy Books of the Hindu religion; and his interest grew with time.The teaching of the Gita was a source of spiritual strength to Gandhi.

What Next?

A great sorrow awaited Gandhi on his return to India. His mother had passed away while he was in England. But his brother had not informed him of this. In England, Gandhiji had dreamed of telling his mother how he had struggled hard to keep his promise to her and of her joy when she listened to his story. But Gandhi was denied this pleasure.

Now, Gandhi was an young man of twenty- two. His son Harilal was a boy of four. Gandhi began the practice of law withgreat zeal in Bombay. But he lacked the courage to plead a case in the court. He could not conduct the very first case. He was deeply disappointed in the profession. He could not get any suitable work. At last he returned to Rajkot. His brother too was disappointed.

At this time, there arose a hope that the eldest brother Lakshmidas might become the Diwan of Porbandar State. But he had incurred the anger of the British Political Agent. Gandhi had met that Political Agent when he was in London. Lakshmidas naturally expected that his brother would recommend his case. Though Gandhi was unwilling he called on the Political Agent and pleaded the case. He was warned that it was improper to make such a plea. Still Gandhi continued to plead for his brother. This put out the Agent, and he ordered his servant to show Gandhi the door. Gandhi felt greatly ashamed. But he was helpless. He felt distressed at his pitiable condition. This bitter event led to a total change in his way of life.

The Call from South Africa

Some Gujarati merchants had trade relations with South Africa. One of them, a relative of a merchant called Dada Abdulla

Sheth, was a friend of Gandhi's brother, He asked Gandhi's brother if Gandhi would be willing to go to South Africa to assist his relative's English Lawyer in a lawsuit pending before a court. The work would take a year. All expenses would be borne by the merchant and, in addition, Gandhi would get one hundred and five pounds as fees. This seemed a good opportunity to Gandhi, as he was not only disappointed in the profession, but had also been put to shame by the English Political Agent. He obtained his brother's consent and set sail to South Africa in April 1893. He was only twenty-four years old.

'Do you have self respect?’

Two or three days had passed after Gandhi's arrival in Durban, in Natal State. Gandhi was wearing a turban on his head when he went to the court. The judge, noticing it, ordered him to remove it. All Indians, except the Muslims,who habitually wore a turban, had to remove it as a mark of respect to the court. Gandhi refused to remove it and went out of the court. This was the first insult that he had to suffer in South Africa.

After a week Gandhi had to makea journey by train. He had bought a first class ticket.
The train reached Maritzburg station. It was a bitter cold night. An officer of the railway
came to Gandhi and asked him to vacate his seat for a white man, and to move to the van on the train. Gandhi refused. The railway officials, with the help of the police, had his things, thrown out. He was also removed from the carriage by force. The train left. Gandhi sat alone on the platform in the dark station and brooded over the insult he had suffered. In India a white officer put him to shame; should such a thing happen here too! The cup of sorrow was full. The next day, he continued the journey. It had to be done partly by horse
coach and partly by train. Only Europeans were permitted to sit inside the carriage. Gandhi could not sit with them. He sat outside by the side of the coachman. Some time later, he was ordered to sit on the footboard. Gandhi could not bear it. He refused to carry out the order.The super- visor of the carriage, a European, attacked Gandhi and began to thrash him. Gandhi suffered the blows but did not at all move from where he sat. At last, the passengers intervened and checked the supervisor.

Thus Gandhi was subject to untold shame. But when he learnt that such a shame was the fate of all Indian settlers, he was a transformed man.

Indians had begun to settle in South Africa in 1860. Many of them were laborers in the
sugar cane, tea and coffee plantation's belonging to Englishmen.

In the eyes of the white Europeans all Indians were 'coolies'; the merchants were 'coolie merchants'; Barrister Gandhi was a 'coolie Barrister'. All were put to shame by being called 'Girmitias' and 'Samy'. (Girmitia is an ugly form of 'permit', and 'Samy' the ugly form of 'Swamy'.) In Natal no Indian was allowed to move about after 9 at night. In Orange Free State, no Indian could acquire property; he could neither be an agriculturist or a tradesman.In Trans- vaal, he had no right to own land;in addition to this, he had to pay a settlement tax of three pounds. All Indians had to live in dirty areas. Once Gandhi himself was knocked down by police patrol-guards, for being out after 9 at night. In short, Indians were not considered as human beings. The South African Indian problem was thus a problem of life and death for a hundred thousand people.It was a problem of life and death for a hundred thousand people. It was a problem of life and death for a hundred thousand people. It was a problem of self- respect.All Indians suffered the shame mutely.

Barrister Gandhi Leader of the fight for self-respect

Gandhi was successful in bringing about a compromise in the lawsuit of Abdulla Sheth. His work in South Africa was over.

The time to return to India had come. A meeting was arranged to bid him farewell. Those who had assembled discussed a news item, which had appeared in the papers that day, under the title 'The Indian Franchise'. Finally they decided to request Gandhi to stay in South Africa for some time more, to help them. Gandhi agreed. The assembly to bid farewell to Gandhi was converted into an action committee to fight for citizenship rights of the Indian settlers of South Africa. This laid the foundation for Gandhi's stay in South Africa. Thus the seed of the fight for the rights of Indian brethren was sown.

Gandhi started an organization and called it 'The Natal Indian Congress'. It was to carry on the struggle of the Indians. He also started a newspaper. It was called 'The Indian Opinion'. The paper became an organ to give information about the struggle.

It created unity and a sense ofself-respect among the Indian settlers. Gandhi once visited India and attended the session of the Indian National Congress; he spoke about the hardships of the South African Indians, and got the Congress to pass a resolution supporting the struggle.

While in India, Gandhi made some speeches about the South African question. They were misreported in the press. The white men of South Africa who read the report became angry with Gandhi. They were waiting for Gandhi's return. As soon as he left the ship, they attacked him. His life was in danger. They kept shouting 'Hang Gandhi'. They also threw brickbats and rotten eggs at him. At that critical time, the wife of a European police officer courageously entered the fray, and led Gandhi to a place of safety.

Gandhi was determined in his struggle. He united the Indian settlers and carried on the struggle. At that time, the Zulus, the natives of South Africa, rose in rebellion against the British. Gandhi suspended the struggle, formed a Red Cross Corps, and served the wounded soldiers. This was a great service. The British Government appreciated it, and awarded him the 'Kaiser-i- Hind' medal.

The Birth of 'Satyagraha'

Towards the end of 1907, the Government of South Africa tightened its laws against the Asian settlers in South Africa. It was called the 'Asiatic Act'. It lay down that all men and women of Asian origin above the age of eight years should get their names registered. In addition to this, the Government recognized only Christian marriages as legal. The result of this was that a Hindu couple or a Muslim couple who were married according to Hindu and Muslim religious rites were no longer considered as legally wedded husband and wife. Further, there was restriction on movement from one province to another.

Gandhi advised his men not to honor and obey the Registration Law. This led to a fierce struggle.Gandhi called it'Satyagraha' ; it was the use of 'Soul-Force' or 'Love- Force' against 'Brute-Force' or violence. He trained men, women and children as volunteers to offer Satyagraha. He called his band a 'Peace Brigade'. It had to enter Transval from Natal. This was the civil dis- obedience that he planned. It continued for six months. All the Satyagrahisincluding Gandhi were arrested and put into prison. At last, the Government of South Africa came to an honorable settlement with Gandhi. The citizenship rights of Indians were recognized. Thus Gandhi was the champion of the self-respect of the Indians in South Africa.

Satyagraha, this new way of struggle in South Africa, began a new chapter in the political history of the world, Politics is generally understood to permit cheating, killing and violence. Its policy is that the end justifies the means. But Gandhi taught the principle that both the end and the means must be equally pure and moral.He himself put that principle into practice. He showed that if this is to be possible, love or nonviolence alone is the way to it.

Gandhi now became a world-renowned person. He was considered by many famous persons in the West as an incarnation of Jesus Christ. This was for his nonviolent struggle - Satyagraha. He stayed in South Africa for 22 years. When he finally returned to India, he was welcomed and honored by the millions of his countrymen as 'Mahatma Gandhiji'.


Gandhiji formed an Ashram near Ahmedabad. It was called 'Satyagraha Ashram'. The way of life that he practiced there was known as 'Sarvodaya' - the well being of all. It was the way of life that he practiced in South Africa. In South Africa, he had started two institutions -the Phoenix Settlement and the Tolstoy Farm. The aim of these Ashrams was plain living and high thinking. He believed that by such a way of life the well being of all men could be secured. 'A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye’ was not true religion, that is, revenge was not religion. His desire was that the individual should lead a truthful, religious and loving life. Man should strive to establish truth, piety and love in human society. It was Gandhiji's belief that the power of goodness that comes from such a life could transform the worst power on earth.

Gandhiji -The Leader of India

The people of India were also carrying on a struggle for freedom from the British rule. The Indian National Congress was striving for it. In 1919, British soldiers had acted in a brutal manner against an innocent and unarmed assembly ofpeople, who had gathered for a meeting at Jalian- wala Bagh in Punjab. There were walls around with only a small passage to go out of the Bagh. The soldiers fired on the assembly, and killed and wounded many
people mercilessly.

Lokamanya Tilak, the great Indian national leader, passed away at that time. The nation was looking for an able leader. The Mahatma, the hero of the Satyagraha struggle in South Africa, had attracted the attention of many Indians. Thus leadership courted him naturally. There was great charm in his words. His conduct was flaw- less and crystal clear. He filled the nation with a new spirit. Under his leadership the weakest man, woman and child, as well as innocent ryots, were ready for a nonviolent fight. They were ready to sacrifice their all. Self-sacrifice and service became the religion of the nation.

The Indian National Congress carried on five major struggles for freedom, during three decades, under the leadership of Gandhiji. In 1920-22, it was called 'The Non-Cooperation Movement'. Government schools and colleges, courts and Legisla- tures were all boycotted. Gandhiji himself was arrested, and was sentenced to six
years imprisonment. His trial in the court at that time drew the attention of the entire
civilized world.

In 1922, there was Hindu-Muslim disturbances in Bombay.Many were injured and killed on account of religiousmadness. Gandhiji was shocked to the core, He called his son Devadas and advised him: "Go and tell Hindus and Muslims, wherever they may be fighting, that this hatred is bad. It does not matter even if they kill you. I would be happy to sacrifice my son for the cause of Hindu-Muslim amity."

The Salt Satyagraha of 1930-31 became world-famous. It was known as the 'Dandi March'. Manufacturing salt from sea- water was the monopoly of the Government. By breaking the Salt Law Gandhiji desired to show that the Indians were a free nation. On March 12, he went on foot with seventy-nine trusted disciples, from his Ashram at Sabarmati to Dandi, a 0sea- side place 241 miles away. Staff in hand he walked about 10 to 15 miles each day. The determination of the 62-year-old 'young man' was wonderful. He was like one in quest of Truth. His action shook the foundations of the British Empire. The courage and the spirit of self-sacrifice with which he filled the hearts of millions of Indians were amazing. There was Civil Disobedience or non-violent breaking of the law throughout the country. Cities, towns and villages were all scenes of Satyagraha. Heroism was the order of the day. The British Government put Gandhiji in prison again.

In 1932, when Gandhi was behind thebars, an extraordinary event took place. In the name of political reforms, the British Government planned to cut away millions of Indians called 'untouchables' from the Hindu Society. Their principle was to 'Divide and Rule'. In 1924, Gandhiji had fasted for 21 days to bring about Hindu- Muslim unity. He had been saying that un touchability was a shame to Hindu Society. Hinduism should be purged of that guilt. When he saw what the Government was doing, he became unhappy, and decided to fast unto death. There was great commotion in the entire country. The Government realized its folly and gave up the plan. There was an awakening among the people. Government temples, wells and public places were declared open to the untouchables. Gandhiji called the untouchables - 'Harijans' (men dear to God). He started three periodicals 'Harijan Sevak', 'Harijan-Bandhu' and 'Harijan'-all devoted to the service of the Harijans. He took a vow not to re-enter his Ashrarn at Sabarmati until untouchability became a thing of the past in India. He settled down at Sevagram,(near Wardha) a newAshram, which he started there.

In 1941, the Satyagraha struggle took a different shape. It was called the'Symbolic
Satyagraha', and was different from the previous mass Satyagrahas. Only the individuals, whom Gandhiji selected or permitted, had to offer Satyagraha. This change was made because Gandhiji, the Truth-seeker, knew that the past mass Satyagrahas had not been entirely free from violence. Thus he conducted this experiment to make Satyagraha free & from violence as far as humanly possible.

In 1942, there came the final struggle for freedom. The call was 'Britishers, Quit India'. For this struggle, Gandhiji gave the inspiring message, 'Do or Die'. Gandhiji expected that the struggle would be purely non-violent. It did not happen that way. Out there was great national upsurge for freedom. Thousands were put into prison.They faced the lath and the bullet, and gave up their lives. A whole nation rose up against an alien empire. It took all the suffering on itself cheerfully, without a word of demur or hatred or ill will. The way India got her freedom is unique in the history of the world. And all the glory of this unique struggle goes to the great leader Gandhiji.