In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographies
  • Primary Texts
  • Major Influences on Gandhi
  • Theory and Practice of Ahiṃsā (Nonviolence) and Satyagraha (Truth Force; Nonviolent Resistance)
  • Gandhi’s Global Legacy: Nonviolent Leaders and Movements
  • Gandhi’s Moral Experiments and Religious Thought
  • Gandhi’s Contemporaries and Critical Appraisals
  • Intimate Reminiscence and Family
  • Gandhi: The Philosopher
  • Indian Independence Movement and Gandhi’s Leadership
  • Gandhi’s Death
  • Controversies and Constructive Programs: A Broad Overview

Hinduism Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Veena Howard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0225


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869–30 January 1948) is internationally known for his leadership in India’s independence movement and the methods of ahiṃsā (nonviolence) and satyagraha (truth force; nonviolent resistance). Because of his personal ascetic practices, political methods, and selfless service, he was given the honorific title Mahatma, “Great Soul.” Gandhi was born in a bania merchant subcaste in Porbandar (Gujarat), western India. His devout mother, Putali Bai, was a major influence in molding his character. Keeping with the norms of that time, his marriage was arranged at age thirteen to Kasturba, also thirteen. They had four sons—Harilal, Ramdas, Manilal, and Devdas—and many grandchildren. Gandhi’s character and political methods developed through his experiences studying law in England in 1888–1891, and his work commencing in 1893 as a lawyer for an Indian firm in South Africa, where he started a movement to end discrimination against Indians. The writings of Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin, as well as texts such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gītā, were influential both in his personal and activist lives. He established ashrams to train an army of nonviolent resisters and to disrupt inequality based on caste, economic status, religion, and gender. In his forty-year tenure as the leader of the movement against British occupation in South Africa and India, he led many nonviolent resistance campaigns, including the Salt March to protest the salt tax and the Quit India movement. He occasionally fasted to resist various forms of violence, including riots against Muslims. His dedication to India’s nation-building earned him the title “Father of the Nation.” Gandhi was also a prolific writer and authored many periodicals and books: an autobiography, a translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā, the manifesto Hind Swaraj, and others. His nonviolent methods have been utilized by international movements and leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, Nelson Mandela, and Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. Along with laudatory appraisals by prominent thinkers such as Albert Einstein, he has also had many detractors, such as B. R. Ambedkar, who confronted him on his views ofcaste and untouchability. Various Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim leaders saw his views on nonviolence, religion, culture, and politics simply as ideological and unfeasible. Numerous studies focus on his idiosyncratic practices of celibacy and his views on women, caste, and technology, which depict him as stubborn, unprogressive, and even dangerous. Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse in Delhi, on 30 January 1948. Even though Gandhi appears to be a forgotten figure in India, thousands of books about him, an Academy Award–winning film, and, more recently, renewed interest in his philosophy and methods all are a testament to the ongoing global impact of his life and legacy.

General Overviews

The literature analyzing various aspects of Gandhi’s life and work is vast and capacious. Several biographies and anthologies of Gandhi’s writings provide an excellent overview of his life, legacy, philosophy, and methods. Such works treat Gandhi’s life and his essential writings, articulating various facets of his political and personal philosophy and the methods of ahiṃsā and satyagraha. Parekh 1997 is an accessible introduction to Gandhi’s personal and political philosophy and offers a succinct overview of major philosophical insights and the limitations of Gandhi’s thought. Fischer 1997, cited under Biographies is a helpful biographical starting point for learning about Gandhi’s life. Iyer 1993, a collection of Gandhi’s letters, excerpts from his writings, and analysis, remains a great resource. Brown 2008 is a broad overview of Gandhi’s writings. A comprehensive study of Gandhi’s philosophy and methods is furthered in Brown and Parel 2011, which includes insightful essays by internationally renowned scholars. Johnson 2006 comprises both Gandhi’s essential writings and scholarly analyses of his philosophy, providing a survey of key events in Gandhi’s life, writings on satyagraha, constructive programs (which included communal unity, removal of untouchability, economic equality, etc.), and his moral and political thought. Allen 2011 is a biography that provides a new perspective on Gandhi’s life and helps us analyze his methods for our modern world.

  • Allen, Douglas. Mahatma Gandhi (Critical Lives). London: Reaktion Books, 2011.

    A fresh analysis of Mahatma Gandhi’s life, with emphasis on the satyagraha movement. Includes a critical evaluation of various topics such as exploitation, colonialism, oppression, social revolution, and Gandhi’s relevance for the modern world.

  • Brown, Judith M., ed. The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    A selection of Gandhi’s writings encapsulating the topics of ahiṃsā, God, self-discipline, satya, swarāj, and satyagraha, including references to figures that influenced his life and work.

  • Brown, Judith M., and Anthony Parel, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    A comprehensive volume with twelve chapters written by internationally renowned scholars on various aspects of Gandhi’s life, methods, and legacy. The first part traces Gandhi’s extraordinary story from his early life as a lawyer in South Africa, to his later period as a skilled political activist and leader of civil resistance in India, culminating in an examination of Gandhi’s vast legacy in India, the West, and beyond.

  • Iyer, Raghavan, ed. The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    A collection of Gandhi’s letters and excerpts from his writings, with the editor’s analysis; a great resource for learning about Gandhi’s life and his personal, moral, and political philosophy.

  • Johnson, Richard L., ed. Gandhi’s Experiments with Truth: The Essential Writings by and about Mahatma Gandhi. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006.

    A scholarly survey of Gandhi’s life and thought, and selections from Gandhi’s writings, with essays by eminent scholars on Gandhi’s practice and theory of satyagraha with respect to human rights, stopping terrorism, etc., and a critical appraisal of his impact on the world.

  • Nanda, B. R. Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography. 4th ed. New Delhi: Publication Division Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, 1987.

    An accessible and detailed biographical account of Gandhi’s life, his struggle for India’s independence, and his achievements, told through photographs, facsimiles of newspapers, articles, cartoons, etc.

  • Nayyar, Pyarelal. The Last Phase. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan, 1965.

    The earliest and most comprehensive personal account of Gandhi’s life, written by his personal secretary. Both volumes consist of authoritative accounts and documentation of Gandhi’s private, social, and political life, including the author’s firsthand experiences with Gandhi in the last four years of his life.

  • Parekh, Bhikhu. Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    A comprehensive survey of Gandhi’s philosophical, political, economic, and spiritual thought, referencing original source material.

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