From Mohandas to Mahatma Gandhi


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

One of the most noted icons of the last century would undoubtedly be Mahatma Gandhi who was born on 2 October 1869 in Gujarat and was assassinated in New Delhi on 30 January 1948. His full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but worldwide he is known just as Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi.

His date of birth — 2 October is celebrated as the International Day of Non-Violence and the day he was assassinated or his martyr day is also remembered in many parts of the world and especially in India, not only as a day of sorrow but also as a day to rededicate ourselves to the values and vision of Gandhi. Among the many values that he encouraged, cherished and promoted worldwide, he is remembered as an apostle of Non – Violence, Truth and Passive Resistance against injustice, exploitation, and greed.  The non-violence that he preached and followed, allowed India to become free from colonial rule in 1947. It also helped many countries of Asia and Africa to free themselves from foreign yoke. This form of social struggle has been adopted by many peoples all over the world not only for political freedom but also in campaigns for social and political justice and against racism.

The principle of non-violence in action or even in thought, rejects the use of physical force in order to achieve social or political change. However, non-violence did not signify cowardice but meant remaining steadfast against oppression and injustice. In addition, non-violence means not only avoiding physical force but rejects even the idea of hatred against one’s opponents. Gandhi used to say that he was opposed to British rule in India but he did not have hatred for the British people.

Gandhi has been an inspiration for non-violent movements for civil rights and social change across the world. Many world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu of South Africa and Martin Luther King Jr. of USA, the Dalai Lama, and several prominent leaders of the world openly acknowledge the inspiration of Gandhi in their struggles for justice, freedom and resistance against racial and other discriminatory practices. Mandela used to say that India had sent Mohandas, but South Africa made him a Mahatma – a noble soul.

It is generally believed that the Nobel prize winner poet Rabindranath Tagore was the first person to call Gandhi as Mahatma. But some people believe that he was first addressed as Mahatma in 1915 on his return from South Africa.

In India of course Gandhi is called the Father of the Nation and Mahatma – the noble soul for his contributions in several fields – in politics, in education, in promotion of rural welfare and an area that has become crucial in today’s discourse – the importance of keeping the environment clean and unpolluted. Gandhi was aware even about a century back the need for maintaining nature clean and healthy. For him nature meant not only the rivers, air and soil but also flora and fauna – trees, plants, animals, and even insects – all living creatures in addition to human beings. He often said the there is enough for people’s needs but not enough for people’s greed and consequently we must live in a simple manner without overexploiting the earth’s resources. This issue has today become extremely critical – we are aware of the pollution and degradation of the environment that is leading to pollution of air, rivers and climate change and results in deforestation, disease, and destitution of people in many regions of the world.

His simplicity and care for nature has been an inspiration for several persons who have worked for keeping the environment clean – people such as Sunderlal Bahugana (known for Chipko andolan – hugging the trees and against deforestation), Rajendra Singh and Medha Patkar a brave woman who has struggled against big dams and the displacement of people and submergence of farmlands and villages as a result of development activities in India.

As mentioned earlier, his birth day is celebrated worldwide as the international day of non-violence and the day of his assassination in 1948 as a day to remember his life that was devoted to freedom, justice and welfare of all peoples. In India there is often a debate on what would have happened if he was not shot on 30 January and its impact on Gandhi’s legacy which survives seventy years after his death. The non-violent struggles that he inspired, his role in diverse areas such as relevant form of education, protection of nature, village uplift, and working for the down trodden peoples continue to be recognized in India and in several regions of the world.

Apart from speeches and other events on the occasion of his death anniversary, some events are organized for the benefit of students and children. One such event that is regularly organized is in Gandhi Bhawan of Delhi University where children — some even five year olds, sing some songs that were dear to Gandhi and perform small skits popularizing various aspects of Gandhi’s life and activities.

One such is the effort that he encouraged among Indians to not to over exploit the earth’s resources and lead a simple and uncluttered life for the benefit of the environment as well as all for the living beings on this planet. This would also bridge the difference between the rich and the poor. Another activity that was popularized by him was charkha spinning, weaving cloth by a simple hand operated wooden device called charkha that would be beneficial for both men and women villagers. Gandhi felt that modern technology often leads to joblessness among the village people who are then forced to migrate to cities for survival for themselves and their families. Apart from agriculture, charkha was one means of providing facilities to the villagers by utilizing simple skills that they possessed.

Gandhi’s photo is printed on all Indian currency notes. But in addition, he remains a person who is admired not only as a Mahatma who fought for non-violent struggles and justice, but a person who continues to be relevant in diverse ways in today’s complex world. It is not only older educated people who remember him but as pointed out earlier, even young children lovingly perform simple activities that Gandhi cherished and promoted.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Feb 2018.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: From Mohandas to Mahatma Gandhi, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

One Response to “From Mohandas to Mahatma Gandhi”

  1. Narayan Valluri says:

    At the outset, let me begin with a disclaimer. I am no expert on Gandhian thought and philosophy nor even a student of it and its precepts. Having said that, my understanding—which could well be flawed—of Gandhi’s economy philosophy, to put it simply, is that it is underpinned by a village-centric focus and (traditional) artisan-based rural industries.

    Even granting for argument’s sake that this model of economic development was appropriate or relevant for his times, one has to recognize that everything has a context: in time, in place or location and its attendant circumstances. What may seem appropriate at a given time, a given place and in a given environment and circumstances is not carved in stone as it were or immutable across time, space and circumstances. The world is in a constant state of flux and evolution. Whether one likes it or not, today’s world is technology-driven. That is not to say one endorses or approves it, or rejects or condemns it, but only to recognize what is. Over time, even that may change and be eclipsed by something else.

    Industrial revolution was followed by computer-revolution, Internet and lately AI (artificial intelligence).For example, driverless vehicles may soon be a pervasive reality. Companies and industries that were once dominant are becoming obsolete and extinct; jobs are destroyed not just those involving repetitive functions or semi-skilled and skilled jobs. For instance, even radiologists among the highest paid professionals (in the US and perhaps elsewhere too) are a threatened species because of off-shoring and computers; soon human surgeons may be displaced by computer-guided robotic surgery (perhaps it is already happening in a small way). (Just as an aside, when we ordered bottled water from room service in a Shanghai hotel recently, it was delivered by a robot which came up an elevator and called our room from the door telling us to collect the bottle from it.)

    To hark back to Gandhi’s economic thinking is to cling to notions of an idyllic Ramrajya (Indian-speak for Utopia) rooted in wistful longing for what is not.