Mother of political and spiritual leader of India
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi)
Putlibai was born in 1839. She descended fr om a wealthy family belonging to the caste of tradesmen – third –privileged after the castes of Brahmins and warriors. In the 19th century India the girls’ education was strictly religious: since early childhood Putlibai was taught to rigidly observe and honor sacred traditions.
She married Karamchand Gandhi, a man of her own caste. He was already in his early forties, had been widowed three times and was left with two daughters from previous marriages. Karamchand was a son of affluent parents. In the course of twenty eight years he had been holding the post of Chief Minister in the small state of Porbander. Putlibai had given her husband four children. The youngest and the most favored of them was Mohandas Ghandi, who was born on October 2nd, 1869, when his mother was thirty years old.
The strongest formative influence on young Mohandas was that of his mother Putlibai – his ideal and role model throughout life. Intelligent and talented, Putlibai was respected and well-received in the royal circles: however family and home were her utmost priority. Putlibai was an extraordinary mother: she cared for her children with complete dedication, thanks to her vigilant fostering all of her children had survived, a rare phenomenon for India of that time. If someone in the family fell ill she would selflessly nurse them day and night. Putlibai was absolutely devoid of weaknesses characteristic for women of her age and class: she was indifferent to fine objects and glamorous jewelry. Her life consisted of an endless chain of fasts and vows – it seemed that Putlibai’s fragile frame was thriving by the strength of her faith.
Putlibai, with children clinging to her, divided her time between the temple and home. Her children were intrigued and fascinated by their mother’s fasts and vows. Frequently Gandhi’s mother would follow a vow not to eat anything until she hears a cuckoo sing. One time the cuckoo had been silent for a very long time. Gandhi, still a baby, could not bear to see his mother starve. Out of love, worried for his dear mother, he went behind the house and began emulating the bird. Then he came back inside and told his mother that she might already eat, for he had heard the cuckoo sing. Of course, he had done it out of kindness, with good intentions – the little boy was terrified that his mother could starve to death. Nonetheless, Putlibai was very upset – she knew that her son wanted to deceive her. With tearful eyes, she exclaimed, “What have I done, what sin have I committed to have born a liar of a son!” Notwithstanding that Gandhi’s lie was “saintly”, he vowed that he would never lie again. Following his mother’s precepts, Gandhi stayed true to his promise forever.
Putlibai’s abounding love, her ascetic resolve and iron will had left an indelible imprint on the soul of her youngest son – Mohandas. Owing to Putlibai, the image of woman perceived by him was one of love and sacrifice. From his mother he had inherited a speck of maternal love, and as he grew, it filled him to the brim, until, overflowing and bursting the bonds of family and community, it engulfed the entire human race. Gandhi owed to his mother not only his affinity for nursing – he washed leper’s sores in his ashram, but also the ability to appeal to the heart through self-suffering: a technique which wives and mothers have practiced from time immemorial.
Putlibai was a remarkably pious woman, and her influence on young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had determined his destiny. Like most families, religion was taught early on in life, the house was always open to holy men of all religions, who would be frequent guests of the Gandhi home. Religious rituals including periodic fasts were part of the household culture and upbringing. The elders were held in high esteem and would be obeyed as a rule.
Putlibai was thirty-seven years old when due to disagreements with the government her husband had to leave for Raikot, wh ere he died ten years later. In a year Mohandas started his higher education. By then he had turned into an atheist: he smoked, ate meat, etc, which was considered sinful in Hindu religion. Putlibai, unaware of his digressions, became extremely preoccupied when she learned that Gandhi intended to go to England to continue his education. She was horrified when the elders of the caste announced that going to England was against their religion. Mother made her son swear that he would not touch wine, women, meat and tobacco during his stay in England. Most were skeptical about his resolve, only Putlibai believed him, for she knew him better than anyone else. She was convinced that Mohandas would never break the promise he had solemnly vowed. In 1888 Gandhi journeyed to England. He quickly befriended many: most of his friends regarded him as a man of truth. Putlibai never saw him again. She died in 1891 before her son returned to India.
His first lessons in human psychology Mohandas Kramchand had learned from his mother. Owing to his mother’s love Mohandas Gandhi became Mahatma -“The Great Soul” in Sanskrit.
Historical Notes: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 –1948) was the pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India during the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of satyagraha—resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, firmly founded upon ahimsa or total non-violence—which led India to independence and has inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly known around the world as Mahatma. He is officially honored in India as the Father of the Nation; his birthday, 2 October, is commemorated there as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence.
Gandhi first employed non-violent civil disobedience while an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, during the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he organized protests by peasants, farmers, and urban labourers concerning excessive land-tax and discrimination. After assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, build religious and ethnic amity, end untouchability, and increase economic self-reliance. Above all, he aimed to achieve Swaraj or the independence of India from foreign domination. Gandhi famously led his followers in the Non-cooperation movement that protested the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (249 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930. Later he campaigned against the British to Quit India. Gandhi spent a number of years in jail in both South Africa and India.
As a practitioner of ahimsa, he swore to speak the truth and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn he had hand spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.