Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 787
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.
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.
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.
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.