Globally, he’s one of the best known, most revered, and important historical figures of the 20th century. However, some misinformation persists in the legacy of Gandhi, regarded as “the father of the country” of India, helping his homeland attain independence from U.K. control on August 15, 1947. Learn more below, and check out a copy of his bio from our Show Me History series, Ghandi: The Peaceful Protester!
His first name wasn’t Mahatma.
“Mahatma” is an honorific, bestowed upon him by his admirers and followers. It means “Great Soul,” and is roughly equivalent to calling someone a saint (but not like how the Catholic Church officially recognizes some individuals as such). He’s frequently referred to as Mahatma Gandhi, but his real first name was Mohandas.
Was he outwardly religious?
He earned that “Great Soul” title through his revolutionary actions and compassionate advocacy of India’s impoverished communities. But there’s a perception that Gandhi was a frequent meditator, experienced to an expert-level in reaping the benefits of the calm-and-wisdom-seeking process. Gandhi didn’t really meditate all that much, at least in public. At his prayer meetings, he’d observe a moment of silence, something he said he lifted from Quaker practices.
His vegetarianism was complex.
Gandhi was born into a vegetarian lifestyle. His family followed the religious traditions of Hinduism, which for many, involves the eschewing of meat. As he aged into adulthood and became a philosophical and political leader, Gandhi’s eating habits became inexorably intertwined with his beliefs and aims. Before advocating for Indian independence, he spoke out on vegetarianism, and would later link it to his overriding philosophy of nonviolent revolution—after all, eating meat innately involves the death of animals.
He wasn’t always a man of the people.
Gandhi became a champion of India’s poor, overlooked, disenfranchised, and exploited as he led a peaceful, non-violent revolution to grant the country independence from the British crown. Gandhi was actually born into wealth and privilege and as a young man ran in the same circles as those he’d help expel from India. His father served as a prime minister to a local raja, and could afford a Western education for his son. Gandhi went to school in London, and even passed the U.K. bar exam to become a lawyer in 1891.
He wasn’t as slight as he seemed.
Because he dressed in simple, humble clothing in most of his public appearances—notably a cloth draped over his chest—Gandhi was perceived as small and skinny. That cloth was deceiving. Gandhi had a large, barreled chest and was somewhat muscular.