Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was a prominent leader of the Indian Independence Movement who became renowned for his revolutionary ideology of non-violence (ahimsa) as a tool against the British Rule. He was conferred the title of Mahatma (derived from a Sanskrit word which means great soul) in 1914 during the revolutions in Africa. The name stuck and soon he was known around the world as Mahatma Gandhi. People in India, however, also call him "Bapu", meaning father. After independence, Mahatma Gandhi was conferred with the honour of Father of the Nation and his birth anniversary – October 2 was declared a national holiday.
Mahatma Gandhi was born in a Hindu family in the small town of Porbandar, in the coastal state of Gujarat, India. His father, Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi was a diwan (chief mnister) of the Porbandhar state. The family had been working in the position for quite some time. His mother, Devi Putli Bai was his father’s fourth wife and had three sons and one daughter. Mohandas was the last son of his father. From the early days, he was only an average student. His teachers referred to him as good in English but poor in Georgraphy. He started his education at a local school. Though he was only an agerage student, he was able to clear the entrance examination for Kathaiwar High School and was enrolled in the school in the year 1881. He had a rather eventful childhood which he has carefully chronicled in his biography. His childhood was motivated by the stories of Raja Harishchandra and Shravana. In his biography he mentions how he was goaded to try meat and visit a brothel by a friend but had found the experience abhorring. He was married to Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia when he was only 13 years old in 1883. His wife at the time was merely 14. They had five sons, the elder of which did not survive beyond a few days. His other four sons Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas were born in 1888, 1892, 1897 and 1900 respectively.
After completion of his graduation, as he was the most educated of all siblings, his family hoped that he would follow in his father's footsteps and become the diwan of Rajkot. His uncle suggested that he should become an English barrister by going to London, as the degree would help him lay claim to the post. The suggestion was met with great opposition as the cultural and religious beliefs of the family suggested that crossing the 'black waters' (the sea) would make him loose his caste. He was able to convince his mother but was declared an outcast nonetheless by the society elders who were not convinced of his intent. His stay in London was an important part of his life. An important pledge he had taken was that if sticking to pure vegetarian food while in London. It was in search of food that he met members of a Theosophical Society who introduced him to Bhagvad Gita (both English translations and original text). This marked Gandhi's interest in religious thought. He returned after being called to bar in 1891. Upon his return he was informed that his mother had passed away. He started his practice in Bombay but it was a failed attempt as he was unable to cross question the witnesses. After trying for a while he decided to return to Rajkot and accepted working as a draftsman for writing petitions. He came in to a spot of bother with a British policeman and had to close his practice. It was then that in 1893 he accepted a yearlong contract from a law firm, Dada Abdulla & Co., to work in their South African office, which was also a part of the British Empire. Little did Gandhi know at that young age of 24 that his life was about to change forever.
Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893. South Africa was at the time inhabited by British, wealthy Muslims and Indian labourers along with the native African people who worked primarily as slaves. Gandhi was racially discriminated against and was outraged in public. Many incidents occurred which left an indelible mark on Gandhi's memory. During his initial days he was thrown off the train, beaten by a policeman for not giving room to a European and even asked to remove his turban in court by the magistrate. He noticed how all coloured people were discriminated against and was outraged by the ill treatment of all Indians at the hands of British. Widely disturbed, he decided to stay on in South Africa to fight against the bill that would deny the Indians to vote. Though he could not stop the bill, his movement gained him strong recognition in Africa. He stayed on in Africa till 1914 and it was during his stay in Africa that Satyagraha formed shape when Gandhi decided against the use of violence and suggested that truth shall always prevail. He insisted that "an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind" and that non violence is the only way of humans. By 1914, the outcry had turned into a struggle for freedom and it was then that Gandhi decided to return to India and participate in the struggle of Indian Independence which had started to gain strong momentum.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and his reputation as a political speaker and negotiator preceded him and he was invited to join the Indian National Congress. He continued to be an active member of the Congress and became its leader in 1920. Gandhi's thoughts and ideas started to inspire people to take on the path of Satyagraha and non violence. Gandhi is credited with many successful campaigns against the British Empire. The most famous of them is the Non-cooperation and Boycott movement where he inspired the Indian farmers to boycott the revenue officers. In 1930, his famous salt Satyagraha wherein he invited Indians to join him in opposing the tax on salt, left the British Empire astounded. Thousands of Indian followed the man from his ashram in Sabarmati to the Dandi (a distance of 388 kilometers) to make sale. The movement was a great success and left the British Empire very angry, resulting in the imprisonment of over 60,000 people. He is also famous for his stance for equality in the society and abolition of un-touchablity in India. His most decisive campaign against the British was the Quit India Movement in 1942. His consistent efforts finally bore fruit and India gained its independence on August 15, 1947, though at a terrible cost of partition. He was completely opposed to the idea of a divided India and against the formation of Pakistan. When the riots broke out in 1946, he was extremely mortified and went personally to the areas to bring peace. The communal discords, however, were not satiated and the country was divided. He was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 when he was on his way to offer prayers. The death of the most loved "Bapu" further ignited the communal tension in the country but the government decided to use the assassination to consolidate the authority of the government and further made it public that the assassin was not a Muslim but instead a Hindu.
Mahatma Gandhi's ashes, as per Hindu traditions were sent across the country to be immersed in the rivers/ oceans. While most of them were immersed at Sangam in Allahabad, two urns still remain. One at Aga Khan Palace where he had been imprisoned for two years and another at another in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles. A memorial was erected in his memory at Raj Ghat in New Delhi, the capital of Independent India.