Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar, one of scores of tiny princely states and now part of theIndian state of Gujarat. Although the Gandhis, meaning grocers, were merchants by caste, they had risen to important political positions. Mohandas’s father was the chief administrator and member of the court of Porbandar, and his grandfather that of the adjacent tiny state of Junagadh.
Gandhi grew up in an eclectic religious environment. His parents were followers of the largely devotional Hindu cult of Vishnu (or Vaishnavites). His mother belonged to the Pranami sect, which combined Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs, gave equal honour to the sacred books of the Vaishnavites and the Koran, and preached religious harmony. Her religious fasts and vows, observed without
exception all her life, left an abiding impression on her son. His father’s friends included many Jains who preached a strict doctrine of nonviolence and self-discipline. Gandhi was also exposed to Christian missionaries, but Christianity was not a significant presence in his childhood. Like many Hindus he unselfconsciously imbibed a variety of religious beliefs, but had no deep knowledge of any religious tradition including his own.
Gandhi was a shy and mediocre student, and completed his school education with average results. He was married to Kasturbai when they were both 13 years of age, an experience that turned him into a bitter enemy of child marriage. Sex understandably obsessed him greatly in his early years. One night when he was 16 years of age, he left his dying father to spend some time with his wife. His father’s death during his short absence hurt him deeply.
Although many commentators have used this incident to explain his hostility to sex, there is little real evidence to support this view. In his autobiography Gandhi only said the incident created a deep sense of ‘shame’ in him. What is more, he continued... [continues]
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