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Happy Birthday, Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, Non-Violent Leader in Indian Independence Movement

Written By Jennifer Ferris
Last updated: February 15, 2023

With a far-reaching legacy of peace and equality, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. In honor of the spiritual leader’s birthday, we explore his life, philosophy and the lasting effects of his work.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Early Days

Born Oct. 2, 1869, in Poorbandar, Kathiawar, West India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi showed few early signs of the genius he would exhibit later in life.

“I recollect having been put to school. It was with some difficulty that I got through the multiplication tables,” Gandhi wrote in his 1927 autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” “The fact that I recollect nothing more of those days than having learnt, in company with other boys, to call our teacher all kinds of names, would strongly suggest that my intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.”

Although later he would rarely be without companions, Gandhi said when he was young he was painfully shy and avoided most interactions with his schoolmates.

“My books and my lessons were my sole companions,” Gandhi wrote. “To be at school at the stroke of the hour and to run back home as soon as the school closed—that was my daily habit. I literally ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun at me.”

Married to his child-bride, Kasturbai, when he was 13, Gandhi first became a father when he was 15. The child died after a short time, but Gandhi went on to have four sons with his wife.

In 1888, Gandhi went to England to study law and five years later he traveled to South Africa to practice law. Over the next 15 years he would travel often between South Africa and his home country of India.

Related Links

Gandhi’s Notable Accomplishments

Sources in this Story

  • GandhiServe Foundation
  • Columbia University: An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mohandas K. Gandh
  • Time: Person of the Century Runner-up: Mohandas Gandhi
  • UN News Center: UN Declares Day of Non-Violence
  • Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi

Upon moving back to India in 1915, Gandhi immediately started to campaign for its independence from colonial rule.  Intertwined with his desire for literal freedom was his drive for personal and spiritual freedom as well. He began to unite disparate castes and achieved representation in the Indian National Congress for even the lowest caste members.

Gandhi’s first massive nonviolence effort was from 1919–1922 when he inspired his fellow countrymen to boycott anything British—from schools to goods to the English language. It was around this time many began to call him “Mahatma”: literally, “Great Soul,” an honorific bestowed on prominent people and one Gandhi frequently said he did not feel he deserved.

After a bloody massacre, the nonviolence movement was suspended and along with thousands of his followers, Gandhi was jailed for 22 months. After his release, he conducted another mass act of civil disobedience by inciting tens of thousands of followers to make their own salt, which was against a government decree.

After continuing to fight for India’s independence during World War II, Gandhi was jailed again, but negotiations with England seemed to be moving forward. On August 15, 1947, India was liberated. Contrary to Gandhi’s wishes, England at the same time created the Muslim state of Pakistan.

The Rest of the Story

On the evening of Jan. 30, 1948, while walking to his prayer ground, Mahatma Gandhi was shot by a Hindu radical, Nathuram Godse, who claimed that Gandhi had weakened India. Gandhi was 78 at the time of his death. His killer and a co-conspirator were executed the next year for their crimes. Gandhi was cremated and his ashes were distributed all over the world. Shrines featuring the ashes can be still found today.

Gandhi’s legacy is most often recognized through his message of nonviolence. Almost every great leader of the 20th century—from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela—has claimed Gandhi as inspiration.

Every year on his birthday, Indians celebrate Gandhi as the “Father of the Nation,” through a festival called Gandhi Jayanti. In 2007, the United Nations decided to commemorate the day as well, calling it the “International Day of Non-Violence.”

Charles Eames

Jennifer Ferris, a passionate science enthusiast, intertwines her love for exploration and discovery in every word she writes. With a background in both biology and physics, she brings a unique perspective to her compelling science literature. Her ability to convey complex ideas in an accessible and engaging way has made Ferris a beloved author for readers of all ages.

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