60 Interesting and unusual Facts about Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was born: 2 October 1869, Porbandar, India.
Gandhi is considered the “Father of the Nation” for being a mobilising force behind Indian independence.
Gandhi was an advocate of non-violence and truthfulness and often led campaigns of boycott against the British Empire.
In 1930, he was the Time Magazine, Person of the year.
His birth name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. “Mahatma” was an epithet meaning ‘great-souled one’ that was added to his name.
He was first called ‘Mahatma’ by Rabindranath Tagore in 1915.
Gandhi married aged 13 to Kasturbai aged 14. Child marriage was common at the time, but Gandhi later came to oppose child marriage.
They had five children, one dying in infancy.
At school, his academic results were described as mediocre. One report concluded that Gandhi was “good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting.”
His first English teacher was an Irishman, and so Gandhi spoke English with an Irish accent.
As a teenager, he rebelled against the strict orthodox teachings of no alcohol, meat or womanising. But, after each experiment he made a vow to live a virtuous life.
Aged 18 he travelled to England to train to be a barrister, he was made to swear a vow, by his orthodox Hindu family, he would not touch wine, women or meat.
In London, he became a committee member of the London Vegetarian Society, which counted luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw. At the time, vegetarianism was quite rare.
In India, a Muslim friend encouraged Gandhi to eat goat’s meat. As Gandhi was physically weak, he agreed to it. But, that night he had a dream that the goat was crying inside his stomach. He said “I can’t eat meat anymore. I have seen the goat crying inside me.” He never ate meat again.
Gandhi later made a vow to not take milk products, but ill-health forced him to change his mind and he took goats-milk.
In his adult life, Gandhi never drank alcohol and claimed that alcohol was ‘one of the most greatly-felt evils of the British Rule.’
As a lawyer and political activist
Gandhi in South Africa
Gandhi’s early law career in India was a struggle. He was also refused a job as a high-school teacher in Bombay. To make a living, he took a job in South Africa for an Indian law firm.
In South Africa, Gandhi became aware of the strong racism in South African society. He was thrown off a train in Pietermaritzburg and left shivering at the train station. This was a turning point in his life as it made him more aware of the political struggle.
His first political action was to try and oppose a bill which stripped Indians living in Natal, the right to vote.
In 1897, he was nearly lynched by a white mob in Natal, but when the governor sought to press charges, Gandhi refused – saying he didn’t want to use a court of law for personal issues.
In 1899, at the outbreak of the Boer War, he formed an Indian ambulance service encouraging his fellow Indians to serve the British – despite the prejudice they were facing.
At the Battle of Spion Kop, Gandhi served as a stretcher bearer, Winston Churchill served as a courier and the future S.African leader Louis Botha led the Boer army.
For his service in the Boer War, Gandhi was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal.
In 1906, Gandhi led the Indian population in South Africa in a series of non-violent protests against new laws forcing Indians to register. It was the birth of satyagraha (“devotion to truth”)
“The votary of non-violence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. He who has not overcome all fear cannot practise non-violence to perfection.”
When Gandhi left South Africa in 1914, the South African leader Jan Smuts wrote to a friend “The saint has left our shores,… I hope forever.”
Gandhi was never a man to hold a grudge. While in jail in South Africa he prepared a pair of sandals for Jan Smut to prove there was no ill-feeling. Smuts, in turn, admired his political adversary, Gandhi.
During the First World War, Gandhi lived in India and was generally supportive of the British war effort, and even encouraged soldiers to join the British Indian army.
Leader of Indian independence
1919 was a turning point for Gandhi; the government passed a new law which said those accused of sedition could be imprisoned without trial, also the Amritsar Massacre where 400 protesting Indians were killed. It was in 1919 that Gandhi turned against acquiescence to the British Empire and he began to lead non-violent protests.
Gandhi on the Salt March
In Feb 1922, Gandhi electrified the country by transforming the Indian National Congress into a mass membership and leading boycotts of British goods and institutions. Thousands of Indians across the country followed Gandhi, and many ended in jail.
Gandhi’s most famous campaign was the Salt march of 1930. Gandhi walked to the ocean to make his own salt – thereby non-violently oppose the British law which forbade the Indians from making their own salt.
“With this I’m shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” – Gandhi – after holding up a cup of salt
Gandhi campaigned vigorously for the rights of the untouchable caste or Dalit caste. He once remarked that if he was to be reborn, he would like to be reborn amongst the untouchable cast.
“I do not want to be reborn, but if I have to be reborn I should be reborn an untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings, and the affronts levelled against them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from their miserable condition.” – Gandhi
After returning from Africa to India. Gandhi opened an ashram, which was supported by rich businessmen. However, when Gandhi allowed an untouchable into his ashram, the businessmen, who were orthodox Hindus, stopped giving money – causing the ashram financial difficulties. However, one businessman started giving money to Gandhi on the condition of anonymity.
In 1931, Gandhi was the sole Indian representative to the Second Round Table Conference talksin England on the future of India.
On his visit, Gandhi met with mill workers in Darwen, Lancashire and workers in the East End.
In 1931, Gandhi was given an audience with King George V. An apocryphal account says Mahatma Gandhi was asked “what he thought of Western civilization?” he replied that “he thought it might be a good idea.
In 1934, Gandhi resigned from the National Congress believing leaders were insincere in their adoption of non-violence. Gandhi concentrated on promoting education, home-spinning and weaving.
In April 1942, an early Indian independence leader Sri Aurobindo urged Mahatma Gandhi to accept the proposals of Sir Stafford Cripps which gave India dominion status as a way to secure a united independent India. Gandhi refused the Cripps proposals.
On 8 August 1942, Gandhi began a “Quit India Movement”. His speech urged Indians to ‘do or die.’
“We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of slavery.” – Gandhi, 1942.
Gandh and Lady_Mountbatten during prayer 1947.
At the outbreak of communal violence after the partition of India, Gandhi went on a fast unto death to bring a halt to the violence in cities such as Calcutta and Delhi.
Rabindranath Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, was a great admirer of Gandhi, it was often Tagore alone who could persuade Gandhi to give up his fasts unto death.
India achieved her independence on 15 August 1947.
Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948, while leading a communal prayer group.
Gandh and Lady_Mountbatten during prayer 1947.
Gandhi was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, but he was never awarded the prize. In 1948, the prize was left unawarded with the committe seriously considering a posthumous prize.
His 2 October birthday is a national holiday in India. It is also the International Day of Non-Violence.
It was said Gandhi never told a lie. On one occasion, an inspector came to visit a school and gave students a dictation test. Gandhi did not know how to spell and his teacher nudged Gandhi to copy from a fellow class-mate. But, Gandhi refused to cheat in the test, saying he was sorry his teacher was angry for not copying the correct spelling, but ‘I can’t tell a lie and I can’t say anything that is false.‘
In 1906, aged 38 Gandhi took a vow of brahmacharya (celibacy) and struggled throughout his life to be celibate in both actions and thought.
Gandhi was drawn to a simple life, and he founded an ashram (model community) based on traditional ways of living.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Gandhi placed great value on self-sufficiency. As a lawyer he learnt to wash his own clothes, and later he also learnt to cut his own hair. Even though he was initially ridiculed for his messy hairstyle.
Gandhi went to jail for his beliefs many times. The first occassion was 11 January 1908. The last time was 6 May 1944. In total, he spent 2,338 days in jail.
“We shall feel happy and free like a bird even behind the prison walls. We shall never weary of jail-going. When the whole of India has learned this lesson, India shall be free. For, if the alien power turns the whole of India into a vast prison, it will not be able to imprison her soul.” – Gandhi
Gandhi was brought up a Hindu, in the Vaishnava tradition. This is a sect that worships the Hindu god Vishnu.
Gandhi’s family was also closely connected to Jainism, a religion which made non-violence a key element.
“My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount.” – Gandhi
During his life, Gandhi studied all the major religions – the Bible, The Qu’ran, The Buddhist scriptures and of course the major Indian classics, such as the Bhagavad Gita. In London he also studied Theosophy.
Gandhi said of religion.
“After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism.”
Gandhi was also inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” John Ruskin (for his critique of capitalism) and Leo Tolstoy and his philosophy of non-violence.
Two terms in the Bhagavad Gita resonated with Gandhi samabhava (“equability”) – meeting fate with a sense of detachment. And aparigraha (“nonpossession”) willingness to give up all material objects.
Gandhi was close to a Jain friend Rajchandbhai Mehta.
Gandhi asked him on a principle of non-violence “If a snake is about to bite me, should I allow myself to be bitten or should I kill it?” His mentor Rajchandbhai wrote back, “If the person lacks the development of a noble character, one may advise him to kill the snake, but we should wish that neither you nor I will even dream of being such a person.”
Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic on 30 January 1948, New Delhi, India.