20 Facts About the Life of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi Facts, Quotes, Holidays, and Places to Visit in India

Mahatma Gandhi in robes sitting
De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images  

A few facts about the life of Mahatma Gandhi are surprising.

Many people don't know he was married at age 13 and had four sons before taking a vow of celibacy. The teachers at his London law school complained incessantly about his bad handwriting. Many other lesser-known facts about Gandhi 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. Gandhi's actions sparked world attention and ultimately led to India’s independence from the British on August 15, 1947, and the country's rise to world superpower in South Asia.

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

The life of Mahatma Gandhi inspired the thinking of many world leaders, among them Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. His wisdom and teachings are often quoted.

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 on October 2, 1869, as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Karamchand was the name of his father. The honorific title Mahatma, or "Great Soul," was given to him in 1914.
  1. Gandhi is often called Bapu in India, a term of endearment that means "father."
  2. 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. His mother and father had different religious traditions.
  1. Gandhi demanded fair treatment for the untouchables, India’s lowest caste; he underwent several fasts to support the cause. He called the untouchables harijans, which means "children of God."
  2. Gandhi ate fruit, nuts, and seeds for five years but switched back to strict vegetarianism after suffering health problems. He maintained that each person should find their own diet that works best. Gandhi spent decades experimenting with food, logging the results, and tweaking his eating choices. He wrote a book named The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.
  3. Gandhi took an early vow to avoid milk products (including ghee), 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.
  4. Government nutritionists were called in to explain how Gandhi could go 21 days without food.
  5. The British government wouldn't allow official photos of Gandhi while he was fasting, for fear of further fueling the push for independence.
  6. Gandhi was actually a philosophical anarchist and wanted no established government in India. He felt that if everyone adopted nonviolence and a good moral code they could be self-governing.
  1. One of Mahatma Gandhi's most outspoken political critics was Winston Churchill.
  2. Through a prearranged marriage, Gandhi was wed at age 13; his wife, Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia, was one year older. They were married 62 years.
  3. Gandhi and his wife had their first child when he was 16 years old. That child died a few days later, but the couple did have four sons before he took a vow of celibacy.
  4. Despite being famous for nonviolence and involvement in 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.
  5. Gandhi's wife died in 1944 while imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace. Her day of death (February 22) is celebrated as Mother's Day in India. Gandhi 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 cult-like 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, California.

Famous Quotes by Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi's wisdom is often quoted by business leaders and volunteers. Here are a few of his most famous quotes:

  • "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
  • "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."
  • "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
  • "There is more to life than increasing its speed."
  • "Man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes."
  • "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Sites to Visit in India Honoring the Life of Mahatma Gandhi

During your travels in India, consider visiting a few sites that honor the memory of Gandhi. While there, be mindful of the lesser-known facts of his life and his attempts to instill nonviolence in all of India's struggles.

  • Gandhi Memorial in Delhi: 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. This is where Gandhi was cremated in 1948 after his assassination. A quick stop at the monument during your travels in Delhi is well worth the time.
  • Sabarmati Ashram: The museum at the Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi Ashram) in the Sabarmati suburb of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, commemorates 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 there 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. His actions 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.

Gandhi’s Birthday

Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, celebrated on October 2, is a major national holiday in India. Gandhi’s birthday is known as Gandhi Jayanti in India; the event is commemorated with a prayer for peace, ceremonies, and with singing "Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram," Gandhi’s favorite song.

In 2007, to honor Gandhi’s message of nonviolence, the United Nations declared October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence.

Indian Independence Day and Republic Day

Two national holidays celebrate patriotism in India: Independence Day and Republic Day.

Independence Day is observed with parades and lots of flag waving on August 15 every year. India may have achieved independence in 1947, however, the British were still heavily involved on the subcontinent. To commemorate India becoming a self-governing republic, the Republic Day holiday was created.

Not to be confused with Independence Day, Republic Day is observed on January 26 to commemorate India's adoption of a constitution and governing body in 1950. The annual Republic Day parade is anticipated along with the show of might from the military.