Gandhi Jayanti – History and significance

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. This year will mark Gandhi’s 152nd birth anniversary.

He was an anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist, he used nonviolent resistance to lead India’s successful independence campaign from British rule and helped inspire movements that have fought for freedom and civil rights all over the world. He was also a successful Indian lawyer, trained at Inner Temple, London. He passed the law exam at the age of 22, in June 1891.

He then moved to South Africa, where he lived for 21 years. The first nonviolent campaign for civil rights took place in South Africa where Gandhi engaged in nonviolent resistance and raised his family. He returned to India in 1915, at the age of 45 and took over the leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921. In addition to his national campaigning for eradicating poverty, expanding women’s rights, promoting religious and ethnic harmony, and ending untouchability, Gandhi also pushed for Swaraj or self-rule. During the 1920s, Gandhi also began wearing a loincloth and a shawl (in the winter) made of yarn hand spun on a traditional spinning wheel known as a “Charkha” to symbolize the poor of rural India. Furthermore, as a mean of self-purification and political protest, he also began to live modestly in a self-sufficient community, eat simple vegetarian fare, and fast for long periods.

Gandhi often ignited a spirit of anti-colonial nationalism to the common Indians, making them challenge the severe British-imposed norms. One such incident marked in history was the Dandi Salt March in 1930. The Dandi Salt March also known as the Salt Satyagraha was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience in colonial India led by Mahatma Gandhi. It was a twenty-four day march lasting from 12 March 1930 to 5 April 1930, covering a distance of 400 km (250 mi) and symbolized a direct action campaign of tax resistance and nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly.

Mohandas Gandhi was called “Mahatma” meaning “great-souled” by the common people, who viewed him as India’s national and spiritual leader. This honorific was first applied to him in 1914 in South Africa, is now used throughout the world. His legacy continues to this day which is why he is still regarded as the “Father of the nation”

Gandhi’s vision for an ideal Indian is based on four pillars – Truth (satya), non-violence (ahimsa), welfare of all (sarvodaya) and peaceful protest (satyagraha). These principles together are the backbone of “Dharma” which means ‘to hold together’.

Satya means truth or oneness in your thoughts, speech and actions. Gandhi believed that “there is no religion higher than truth”. This is evidently witnessed in Gandhi’s classic autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”. Written between his childhood and 1921, this is a magnificent piece of literature touching on his life. It was written in weekly instalments and published in his journal Navjivan from 1925 to 1929.

Ahimsa or non-violence means the personal practice of not causing harm to one’s self and others under every condition.  It should be practiced not only in actions but also in thoughts and speech. Ahimsa also forms the basis of Jainism and Hinduism as a religion.

The third principle is sarvodaya or welfare for all. The basic fundamental teaching of the Vedic science is also based on sarvodaya. It talks about “bahujan hitay-bahujan sukhay” – “the good of the masses, the benefit of the masses”.

Satyagraha is protest based on satya (path of truthfulness) and non-violence and includes peaceful demonstrations, prolonged fasts etc. i.e., a non-violence-based civil resistance. It is based on the law of persistence. 

Gandhi’s teachings and principles are still preached among the civilians today. His vision for India is celebrated on his birth anniversary. This day, 2nd October is declared as a national holiday across India. On this day, people celebrate with prayer services, commemorative ceremonies and cultural events that are held in colleges, local government institutions and socio-political institutions. The statues of Mahatma Gandhi are decorated with garlands and flowers. His favourite song Raghupati Raghava is also sung at some of the meetings.

Many other countries celebrate his birth anniversary as well. In a resolution adopted on June 15, 2007, the UN General Assembly designated October 2 as International Day of Non-Violence. Resolution reiterates “the universal significance of non-violence” and pledges to “to cultivate a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding, and non-violence”.