20 Facts About the Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Father of Modern India

Visit the Gandhi Memorial in Delhi and the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad

Mahatma Gandhi
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

There are a few facts about Gandhi that surprise everyone. How about the facts that he was married at age 13 and had four sons before taking a vow of celibacy, that the teachers at his London law school complained incessantly about his bad handwriting, and other lesser-known facts that have been forgotten in light of his great accomplishments?

Mahatma Gandhi, known throughout India as the "father of the nation," was a powerful voice for peace during a very volatile time in India’s history.

His famous hunger strikes and message of nonviolence helped to unite the country and ultimately led to India’s independence from the British on August 15, 1947.

Sadly, Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, shortly after independence was achieved and while India was plagued with bloodshed over new boundaries between religious groups.

Sites to Visit in India Honoring the Facts of Gandhi's Life

There are a few sites you can visit that honor the memory of Gandhi. As you visit them, consider the facts of his life, his work to free India from British domination, his fight against the British Salt Law, his attempts to instill nonviolence in all of India's struggles during his lifetime, and more.

  • Among the most important Indian sites honoring Gandhi is the black marble Gandhi Memorial on the shores of the Yamuna River, at Raj Ghat in Delhi, where Gandhi was cremated in 1948 after his assassination. 
  • There is also the museum at the Sabarmati Ashram, or Gandhi Ashram, in the Sabarmati suburb of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, commemorating the ashram's purpose and Mahatma Gandhi's life and works. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a Gandhi disciple, inaugurated the museum in 1963. The ashram was one of the residences of Gandhi, who lived here for 12 years with his wife Kasturba Gandhi. In 1930, Gandhi used this ashram as his base for the nonviolent march he organized against the British Salt Law, which had a profound influence on the movement for Indian independence—achieved in 1947. In recognition of this, India established the ashram as a national monument.  

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    Below are 20 facts about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired the thinking of many world leaders, among them Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama.

    Interesting Facts About the Life of Gandhi

    Many people remember Gandhi for his famous hunger strikes, but there’s a lot more to the story.

    Here are some interesting Gandhi facts that offer a small glimpse into the life of the father of India:

    1. Mahatma Gandhi was born as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The honorific title Mahatma, or "Great Soul," was given to him in 1914.
    2. Gandhi is often called Bapu in India, a term of endearment that means "father."
    3. Gandhi fought for much more than independence. His causes included civil rights for women, the abolition of the caste system, and the fair treatment of all people regardless of religion.
    4. Gandhi demanded fair treatment for the untouchables, India’s lowest caste, and he underwent several fasts to support the cause. He called the untouchables harijans, which means "children of God."
    5. Gandhi ate fruit, nuts, and seeds for five years but switched back to strict vegetarianism after suffering health problems.
    6. Gandhi took an early vow to avoid milk products, however, after his health began to decline, he relented and started drinking goat’s milk. He sometimes traveled with his goat to ensure that the milk was fresh and that he wasn’t given cow or buffalo milk.
    7. Government nutritionists were called in to explain how Gandhi could go 21 days without food.
    8. No official photos of Gandhi were allowed while Gandhi was fasting, for fear of further fueling the push for independence.
    1. Gandhi was actually a philosophical anarchist and wanted no established government in India. He felt that if everyone adopted nonviolence they could be self-governing.
    2. Mahatma Gandhi's most outspoken political critic was Winston Churchill.
    3. Through a prearranged marriage, Gandhi was wed at age 13; his wife was one year older.
    4. Gandhi and his wife had their first child when he was 15 years old. That child died a few days later, but the couple did have four sons before he took a vow of celibacy.
    5. Despite being famous for nonviolence and the Indian independence movement, Gandhi actually recruited Indians to fight for Britain during World War I. He opposed India's involvement in World War II.
    6. Gandhi's wife died in prison in 1944; he was also in prison at the time of her death. Gandhi was released from prison only because he contracted malaria, and British officials feared an uprising if he, too, died while in prison.
    1. Gandhi attended law school in London and was famous among the faculty for his bad handwriting.
    2. Mahatma Gandhi’s image has appeared on all denominations of Indian rupees printed since 1996.
    3. Gandhi lived for 21 years in South Africa. He was imprisoned there many times as well.
    4. Gandhi denounced Gandhism and did not want to create a cultlike following. He also conceded that he had “...nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.”
    5. Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu on January 30, 1948, who shot him three times at point-blank range. More than two million people attended Gandhi’s funeral. The epitaph on his memorial in New Delhi reads "Oh God" which are purported to be his last words.
    6. An urn that once contained Mahatma Gandhi's ashes is now at a shrine in Los Angeles.

    Gandhi’s Birthday

    Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, celebrated on October 2, is one of only three national holidays in India. Gandhi’s birthday is known as Gandhi Jayanti in India and is commemorated with a prayer for peace, ceremonies, and with singing "Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram," Gandhi’s favorite song.

    To honor Gandhi’s message of nonviolence, the United Nations declared October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence. This went into effect in 2007.