Mahatma Gandhi became one of the greatest leaders India and the world ever had. His mission was to free India from British rule without using violence. Through his own life and teachings, he helped to change the course of history in India and to influence people all over the world.
While everyone is aware of Gandhiji’s political contributions and greatness, the simplicity of his personality is remarkable. I would like to cast light on some of the incidents from his life that simply stand out for his passionate and humble spirit. Something that we can all learn from and relate to in our everyday lives.
Birth and Parentage
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. His parents, Karamchand and Putalibai Gandhi, had four children – three sons and a daughter, of whom Mohandas was the youngest. His family called him Mohania, a shortened version of his name. Later, the name Mahatma—which means “great soul”—was given to him.
The outstanding impression his mother left in his memory was that of saintliness. She was deeply religious and would not take her meals without her daily prayers. She would take the hardest vows and keep them without flinching. He merely copied his mother when it came to fasting on Ekadashi. At that time, he did not understand nor believe in the efficacy of fasting. Later, through a friend of his, he came to know the advantages of fasting. Understanding that the metabolic changes caused by fasting are expected to give us wisdom for maintaining health and longevity.
It demonstrates the powerful influence parents can have on their children’s habit formation. Fasting on Ekadashi is very significant to Hindus. Fasting not only purifies the soul but also detoxifies the body, improves metabolism, and aids in the natural cleansing of the body. We are all aware of the advantages of the Ekadashi fast, which can lead to peace, harmony, and wealth. Do you know that there is current scientific evidence that long-term fasting initiates autophagy?
An early marriage
When Mohandas was 13 years old, his studies were halted by a special event. He got married to Kasturba Makanji, the daughter of a Porbandar merchant. His bride was also thirteen. The newlyweds developed a strong love for one another despite spending most of their early married life apart. They later had four sons: Ramdas, Devdas, Harilal, and Manilal. Kasturba Gandhi was a smart and competent woman who had learned to read and write after being married. She fought beside Mahatma Gandhi throughout the long struggle for Indian independence till her death in 1944. Despite having a good marriage, he firmly opposed child weddings, calling them “cruel.”
In his childhood, two incidents always clung to his memory. Shravana Pitrabhakti Nataka is a play about Shravana’s devotion to his parents. One of the pictures was of Shravana carrying, by means of slings fitted for his shoulders, his blind parents on the pilgrimage. The book and the picture left an indelible impression on his mind. He said to himself, “Here is an example for you to copy.” The second one was the play, Harishchandra which captured his heart. To follow and go through all the ordeals Harishchandra went through was the one ideal it inspired in him. The very thought of it made him weep.
During his father’s illness, what left a deep impression was the reading of Ramayana before him every day. The reader was a great devotee of Rama, Ladha Maharaj of Bileshwar. It is said of him that he cured himself of his leprosy not by any medicine, but by applying to the affected parts bilva leaves which have been cast away after being offered to the image of Mahadeva in Bileshwar Temple, and by regular repetition of Ramanama. His faith healed him. Gandhiji believed the story. He regarded the Ramayana of Tulsidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature.
While he was in London, Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most sacred Hindu texts. Its message is the importance of doing your own duty without thought of any reward for yourself, and it was to become Mahatma Gandhi’s daily guide throughout his life.
At high school, dedication to his parents
As soon as the school closed, he would hurry home and serve his bedridden father. His mother and himself were his principal attendants. He had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted of dressing the wound and giving his father his medicine. Every night he massaged his legs and retired only when he asked him to do so or after he had fallen asleep. He loved to do this service and never neglected it. He regarded it as his duty to study, and what was even a greater duty was his devotion towards his parents, Shravana having been his ideal since childhood.
His dedication to his parents at the age of thirteen is exemplary. I am sure many of us would be inspired. How many of us look at serving our parents and in-laws in their old age as a moral obligation? Our parents raised us with the utmost care until we were independent, providing for our physical, mental, and spiritual development from a young age. They also educated us. In their later years, they ought to be treated with the same care, love, respect, and dignity. The depleting moral values are due to the hurry to catch up with the fast-paced world is making us self-centered.
He believed that students should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to write, since poor handwriting should be seen as a sign of an imperfect education.
He felt resentful after spanking his children and then decided never to punish them again. He thought to bring a change in their behavior, we first need to understand the children, approach them in a friendly manner, and help them change. Also, discipline them by cutting their privileges as a consequence when a child misbehaves.
Life in London
Even though Mohandas wanted to fit into English society, he didn’t forget the promises he had made to his mother. So, he didn’t drink alcohol or eat meat, even though his English friends tried to persuade him to. He soon found a vegetarian restaurant not far from where he was studying and became a member of the Vegetarian Society of England. He also learned how to cook. To save money, he made his own breakfast of porridge and cocoa, then went to the restaurant for lunch. Dinner was bread and cocoa at home. Later, he learned how to make carrot soup.
He developed a sort of dislike for it. The reason being, back in those days, Christian missionaries used to stand in the corner near the high school pouring abuse on Hindus and their Gods. Furthermore, he learned that the recent convert had begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs, and their country. He could not endure this.
Hinduism is the religion of the majority in India. Hinduism teaches us how people of different religions can co-exist peacefully with full dignity. It teaches us that all religions are different pathways to the same destination, God. Why does every other religion not encourage co-existence? The question of superiority or conversion would never arise, and there would be no comparisons, only acceptance.
Mahatma Gandhi decided to give up his suits and ties and dress in plain white cotton loincloths and sandals—the clothes of a humble Indian villager. He believed that India needed to stop using western goods and rely on the goods it made itself. This was the way to win independence. So, he encouraged people to spin their own cotton and make their own clothes with hand-spun khadi. To him, spinning was more than just a functional activity; it was also a political statement.
The Untouchables and the Children of God
The fifth group of people, according to the varnas, were considered to be outside the caste system because they did the dirtiest jobs, such as street cleaning. These people were called untouchables. Untouchables weren’t allowed to touch higher-caste Hindus or anything they touched. Untouchables were also forbidden to enter Hindu temples, homes, and shops. This meant that they were forced to live apart from other people, often in squalid quarters, in the worst conditions.
Mahatma Gandhi called the caste system ‘a hideous system’. And throughout his life. he stood up for the untouchables. He welcomed a family of untouchables into his community, even though this upset many people in his community. He believed that untouchables had the same rights as everyone else and should be treated with dignity and respect. He even began to clean the communal toilets himself, a job traditionally done by untouchables. He did this to show people that there was no shame in it. He renamed the untouchables the Harijans, which means ‘Children of God’. Today, they prefer to be called Dalits, which means stepped on or oppressed.
Spirit of service
The question of simplifying his life and doing some concrete act of service to his fellow men had been constantly agitating him. when a leper came to his door. He had not the heart to dismiss him with a meal. So, he offered him shelter, dressed his wounds, and began to look after him. He longed for some humanitarian work of a permanent nature.
During the Boer War I, he offered his services as an ‘Ambulance corps’ for nursing the sick and wounded soldiers, and they worked in the line of fire, risking their lives. During these days, they had to march twenty to twenty-five miles a day, bearing the wounded on stretchers.
His sensitivity to the war soldiers, as well as his volunteerism, humble attitude, and spirit of service, all commendable.
Like many Hindus, Mahatma Gandhi was a vegetarian for most of his life. He had once eaten goat’s meat in secret with a school friend. But the meat made him sick, and he felt so guilty that he’d dreamt that the goat was bleating in his stomach! So, he now lived on a very simple diet of nuts, seeds, fruits, and goat’s milk. He often fasted or went without food for several days. He believed that this cleansed his body and mind. With fasting, he saw that the body was now being drained more effectively, the food yielded greater relish, and the appetite grew keener. It dawned upon him that fasting could be made as powerful a weapon of indulgence as a restraint. Experience had taught him that one should not eat in order to please the palate but just to keep the body going. He writes that there is an intimate connection between the mind and the body, and the carnal mind always lusts for delicacies and luxuries. To obviate this tendency dietetic restrictions and fasting would appear to be necessary.
The first step was to stop drinking milk. He chances to come upon some Calcutta literature documenting the tortures inflicted on cows and buffaloes by their custodians. He made the decision to eat just fruit, and only the cheapest fruit available. His objective was to live the life of the poorest people.
When he took the Brahmacharya vow, he decided not to intake salt and grains on the day of the fast.
Animal sacrifice and vegetarianism
While he was in Calcutta, at a Kali temple, he saw a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to Kali.
He was exasperated and grew restless at the sight of rivers of blood flowing as he passed by the temple. He could never forget that sight. He asked, “Do you regard this sacrifice as a religion?” Who would regard the killing of animals as a religion? Bengal, with all its knowledge, intelligence, sacrifice, and emotion, how is it that it tolerates this slaughter?” and felt that the cruel tradition needed to be stopped. To his mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. He felt one should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of human consumption. He held that the more helpless a creature is, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man. He prayed that some great spirit might be born on earth who would deliver us from this heinous sin and save the lives of innocent creatures. He thought we should be ashamed to sacrifice a multitude of other lives in the process of decorating the perishable body.
One ray of hope is that people are growing more conscious and becoming more aware of the importance of self-purification. The good news is that veganism is gaining popularity, particularly in the West, where the majority of people are not vegetarians. The idea behind veganism is a world in which all living beings live free from exploitation and intentional harm. We share the planet with many other creatures. They have the same right to live freely as we do. According to the post from worthview, the rate at which non-vegetarianism is growing in India is alarming. India once had the highest percentage of vegetarians in the world. I hope we all make conscious efforts to restore that image to the world and lead by example.
Dignity of Labour
While walking through the riot ravaged Noakhali and Tipperah districts of East Bengal, many a time the narrow footpaths were dirtied by Muslim League fanatics with human and animal feces to sabotage Bapu’s peace pilgrimage. The first couple of times, as soon as Bapu came upon the filth in his path, he did not sidestep and avoid the filth; he did not change his route or cancel his padayatra; nor did he order his workers to clean up the path. On seeing the filth, Bapu picked up palm fronds and swept off the filth, then walked down the clean footpath. Seeing this, after a few attempts, the miscreants desisted. This is Satyagraha at work. This is also an example of the power of the dignity of labour, the quality of considering no work below oneself. Not only this, but there are also many instances where he could not stand the insanitation in certain places he visited, both in India and South Africa, where he cleaned the toilet himself, putting everyone to shame.
He could not stand the sight of Bhangi, a cleaner who carried the night soil to sanitize public lavatories. He resisted the caste system and taught self-reliance. He strived to appreciate the hard work of others by taking part in it himself.
When we do the menial jobs ourselves, we tend to empathize with the people who are employed to do menial jobs and gain a broader perspective of respecting and honouring those who perform them. The most important value that is instilled in us is to respect labour and have the humility to recognize the importance of the most menial of jobs.
Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born at a time when his country was under British rule. It seemed impossible that a small, slender man in a loincloths and sandals could take on the might of the British Empire.
From his early days in South Africa, Mohandas championed the cause of people who were poor and downtrodden. These include the Indian workers in South Africa and the untouchables back home in India. He himself thought of everyone as equal, regardless of the colour of their skin or their religion. One of his greatest qualities was inspiring others by his example. He always practiced what he preached, even if this meant regular trips to jail. His curious mind picked up ideas from many different traditions. Together, these shaped his belief in Satyagraha, or non-violent protest. And it became a very powerful weapon in the fight for Indian Independence. Most remarkably, at a time of two terrible world wars, Mahatma Gandhi showed that peace could bring about extraordinary results.
But the Mahatma was no ordinary man. Through his philosophy of peace and non-violent action, he helped to set his country free and influenced millions of people—not only in India but around the world.
Many people took up Gandhi’s message of peaceful protest. They included Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), the leader of the civil rights movement in the USA. Although the two men never met, King used Satyagraha as a key part of the struggle to end racial hatred and get equal rights for black people. He and his fellow campaigners staged sit-ins, boycotted buses, and, held marches. just as Mahatma Gandhi had done. Even though King was assassinated in 1968, aged, just 39, his use of non-violent protests had already done much to change US laws and to bring hope to black people everywhere. While we know many international leaders like Nelson Mandela and others who followed Gandhiji’s nonviolent approach as means to achieve freedom, there are numerous unsung heroes in India who followed Gandhiji to the core and sacrificed their lives for many causes like the upliftment of the oppressed, women’s rights, children and poor.