Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Essay - Critical Essays

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 1869-1948

Indian philosopher and political leader.

Gandhi was one of the most admired and influential religious and political leaders of the twentieth century. Using methods of Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance), he led the movement that ultimately achieved Indian national independence from Great Britain in 1947. During his lifetime Gandhi published numerous works on a variety of topics from practical guidebooks for daily living to spiritual works and philosophical essays. His autobiography, subtitled "The Story of My Experiments with Truth," comprises the chief account of his development of such concepts as Satyagraha and chronicles his spiritual quest for truth.

Biographical Information

Gandhi was born into a Hindu family of the Vaisya (merchant) caste in Porbandar, Kathiawar, where his father was a government minister. In 1888 he traveled to England to pursue legal studies. Returning to India in 1891, Gandhi established a law practice and in 1893 accepted a case representing an Indian in South Africa. He remained there for more than twenty years, establishing an ashram religious community) and championing the cause of Indian indentured servants and other Indian nationals who suffered racial prejudice from white South Africans. He organized his first civil disobedience campaign in South Africa in 1906. In 1914 Gandhi returned to India and rose to prominence as the leader of the movement for Indian national independence. As in South Africa, Gandhi established an ashram and undertook many human rights causes, including opposition to the "untouchability" of lower caste Hindus. In addition he established the newspaper Young India (later renamed Harijan) and contributed essays on such topics as land reform, Indian textile manufacture, village industry, and education reform. When his crusade in protest of legislation that prohibited organized political opposition to the British government erupted in violence in 1919, Gandhi ended the campaign and embarked on a widely publicized fast in order to return to nonviolent means of achieving his political aims. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Gandhi developed a social and economic philosophy that supported his efforts for Swaraj (Indian home rule). Key events of the period include the Salt March of 1930, in which he led a group of several thousand followers on a 200-mile trek to the sea in protest of a salt tax imposed by the British government, and the Roundtable Conference of 1931, a series of discussions held in London on the future of India. Gandhi was imprisoned numerous times as a result of his civil disobedience but continued to work for a peaceful end to British colonial rule and Indian national unity. While Indian political freedom was granted in 1947, factions within the country were unable to resolve their differences and the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan. In January 1948 a fast by Gandhi motivated Hindu and Moslem leaders to end the continuing violence between religious sects. He was assassinated soon afterward by a Hindu extremist who opposed Gandhi's tolerance for other religious groups.

Major Works

Gandhi was a prolific writer who published works in a variety of genres, including essays, poetry, letters, philosophy, and autobiography, and his works are chiefly noted for revealing the development of his religious philosophy, social program, and political technique of Satyagraha. As outlined in An Autobiography; or, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi's ideas derived from traditional Hindu beliefs as well as from aspects of Christianity and other religious faiths. Gandhi also credited the philosophy of nonviolence advocated by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, the anti-industrial social theories propounded by the English philosopher John Ruskin, and the principles delineated by Henry David Thoreau in his essay "Civil Disobedience" as contributing substantially to the formation of his thought. Based on Hindu concepts of ahimsa (innocence), satya (truth), and brahmacharya (self-discipline), Gandhi's teachings advocated such practices as vegetarianism, celibacy, and poverty. His social and economic program included collectivism, home industry, and the redistribution of agricultural land. Gandhi's seminal argument for Indian independence from Great Britain is contained in "Hind Swaraj; or, Indian Home Rule," an essay that originally appeared in the journal Indian Opinion. His writings have been meticulously collected by the Indian government and now comprise more than eighty volumes.

Critical Reception

Through his long public career Gandhi became one of the most influential spiritual and political leaders of the twentieth century, and his ideas have been adapted and implemented throughout the world in various social and political situations such as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States during the 1960s, and the campaign for democracy in Eastern Europe and Russia during the 1980s. Gandhi's legacy in India, where he acquired the honorific title "Mahatma" (great soul), continues to provide ideals for individual spiritual improvement as well as for social advancement and political equality.

Principal Works

An Appeal to Every Briton in South Africa (essay) 1894

The Indian Franchise: An Appeal (essay) 1894

"Hind Swaraj; or, Indian Home Rule" (essay) 1909; published in journal Indian Opinion

Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (essays and speeches) 1917

A Guide to Health (handbook) 1920

An Autobiography; or, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. 2 vols. (autobiography) 1927-29

Satyagraha in South Africa (autobiography) 1928; revised edition, 1950

From Yeravda Mandir (letters) 1933

Cent per Cent Swadeshi; or, The Economics of Village Industries (nonfiction) 1938

Christian Missions: Their Place in India (nonfiction) 1941

Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place (essay) 1941

Economics of Khadi (nonfiction) 1941

The Indian States' Problem (nonfiction) 1941

Women and Social Injustice (nonfiction) 1942

Non-Violence in Peace and War. 2 vols. (philosophy) 1942-49

Gandhiji's Correspondence with the Government, 1942-44 (letters) 1945

The Gospel of Selfless Action; or, The Gita According to Gandhi (philosophy) 1946

Dehli Diary (meditations and speeches) 1948

Bapu's Letters to Mira (letters) 1949; also published as Gandhi's Letters to a Disciple, 1950

Satyagraha: Non-Violent Resistance (philosophy) 1951

Sarvodaya (philosophy) 1954

The Removal of Untouchability (nonfiction) 1954

Truth Is God (philosophy) 1955


S. Radhakrishnan (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: An introduction to Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work, edited by S. Radhakrishnan, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. revised edition, 1949, pp. 13-39.

[In the following excerpt, Radhakrishnan discusses the religious basis of Gandhi's politics.]

The greatest fact in the story of man on earth is not his material achievements, the empires he has built and broken, but the growth of his soul from age to age in its search for truth and goodness. Those who take part in this adventure of the soul secure an enduring place in the history of human culture. Time has discredited heroes as easily as it has forgotten everyone else; but the saints remain....

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John Middleton Murry (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: "The Challenge of Gandhi," in Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work, edited by S. Radhakrishnan, George Allen & Unwin, revised edition, 1949, pp. 424-33.

[Murry is considered one of the most significant English critics of the twentieth century. Anticipating later scholarly opinion, he championed the writings of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Paul Valéry, D. H. Lawrence, and the poetry of Thomas Hardy through his positions as founding editor of the Adelphi, editor of the Athenaeum, and as a longtime contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. In the following essay, he discusses Hind Swaraj.]

I do not think that any...

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George Orwell (essay date 1949)

SOURCE: "Reflections on Gandhi," in Partisan Review, Vol. VI, No. 1, Winter, 1949, pp. 85-92.

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E. M. Forster (essay date 1949)

SOURCE: "Mahatma Gandhi," in Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work, edited by S. Radhakrishnan, George Allen & Unwin, revised edition, 1949, pp. 386-88.

[Forster was a prominent English novelist, critic, and essayist whose works reflect his liberal humanism. His most celebrated novel, A Passage to India (1924), is a complex examination of personal relationships amid the conflicts of the modern world. Although some of Forster's critical essays are considered unsophisticated in their literary assessments, his Aspects of the Novel (1927), a discussion of fictional techniques, is regarded as a minor classic in literary criticism. In the following...

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Arthur Koestler (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Mahatma Gandhi—Yogi and Commissar: A Re-valuation," in The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973, Hutchinson of London, 1974, pp. 221-54.

[A Hungarian-born English novelist, journalist, and popular philosopher, Koestler was a respected figure in twentieth-century intellectual life. In the following excerpt, which was originally published in 1969, he discusses what he calls the "disastrous aspects of Gandhi's life and philosophy. ']

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Nirmal Kumar Bose (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "The Theory and Practice of Sarnodaya," in The Meanings of Gandhi, edited by Paul F. Power, The University Press of Hawaii, 1971, pp. 79-89.

[In the following excerpt, Bose discusses the development of Gandhi's principle of Sarvodaya and its continuing application in Indian society.]

It was in South Africa that Gandhi first read Ruskin's Unto This Last. The book led to an immediate transformation in his way of life. Later he prepared a paraphrase of the book in Gujarati and published it in Indian Opinion which he had founded in South Africa to help the cause of satyagraha. The Gujarati version bore the title of "Sarvodaya." Literally, the...

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Glyn Richards (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "The Concept of Truth," in his The Philosophy of Gandhi: A Study of His Basic Ideas, Curzon Press, 1982, pp. 1-16.

[In the following excerpt, Richards focuses on truth as the central concept of Gandhi's philosophy.]

The concept of Truth (Satya) is fundamental to the thought of Gandhi. It is not without significance that the sub-title of his autobiography is 'The Story of my experiments with Truth', and his whole life might well be interpreted as an attempt to live in accordance with or an existential quest for Truth. Followers of Gandhi explicitly maintain that he was essentially a practical man with no concern for metaphysics or philosophical speculation, yet...

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Margaret Chatterjee (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "The Impact of Christianity on Gandhi," in Gandhi's Religious Thought, University of Notre Dame Press, 1983, pp. 41-57.

[In the following excerpt, Chatterjee examines the influence of Christianity on Gandhi's religious thought as well as the differences between Christianity and Hinduism .]

Gandhi's first impressions of Christianity were shaped by the aggressive evangelical style of missionaries of a bygone era in his home town. Several decades were to pass before this style was replaced by something more kindly, less arrogantly self-righteous. During his student days in London, Gandhi studied the New Testament and met a number of fine people among Quakers and...

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Raghavan Iyer (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. I, edited by Raghavan Iyer, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1986, pp. 1-12.

[In the following excerpt, Iyer presents an overview of Gandhi's teaching.]

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was too modest to be comfortable with the title of 'Mahatma', and too candid to be readily understood by his contemporaries. Throughout his life he saw himself and his ideas distorted or oversimplified by others. Patiently, he kept on affirming and amplifying his ideals so that those who cared might comprehend. Politically, he sought to touch people's hearts so as to awaken their faith both in themselves and in...

(The entire section is 4364 words.)

Mark Juergensmeyer (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Saint Gandhi," in Saints and Virtues, edited by John Stratton Hawley, University of California Press, 1987, pp. 187-203.

[In the following essay, Juergensmeyer considers Gandhi's lasting public image within the traditional Christian and Indian views of saintliness.]

In a reminiscence entitled "Saint, Patriot and Statesman," Henry S. L. Polak writes that when he first visited Gandhi he felt that he was "in the presence of a moral giant, whose pellucid soul is a clear, still lake, in which one sees Truth clearly mirrored." Writing in the same anthology, Gandhii as We Know Him, published in 1945, the Indian poet Sarojini Naidu unleashes a burst of...

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Further Reading


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.: A Bibliography. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1974, 379 p.

Annotated list of books about Gandhi that was compiled to commemorate the centenary of his birth.


Andrews C. F., ed. Mahatma Gandhi: His Own Story. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1930, 350 p.

Includes material from The Story of My Experiments with Truth, from Gandhi's writings in the Navajivan, and from his Satyagraha (Soul-Force) in South Africa.

Green, Martin. Tolstoy and Gandhi, Men of Peace: A Biography. New York: Basic Books, 1983, 319 p....

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