Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism and the prophet of nonviolence in the 20th century, was born, the youngest child of his father's fourth wife, on Oct. 2, 1869, at Porbandar, the capital of a small principality in Gujarat in western India under British suzerainty. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, who was the dewan (chief minister) of Porbandar, did not have much in the way of a formal education but was an able administrator who knew how to steer his way between the capricious princes, their long-suffering subjects, and the headstrong British political officers in power.
Gandhi's mother, Putlibai, was completely absorbed in religion, did not care much for finery and jewelry, divided her time between her home and the temple, fasted frequently, and wore herself out in days and nights of nursing whenever there was sickness in the family. Mohandas grew up in a home steeped in Vaishnavism (Vaisnavism)--worship of the Hindu god Vishnu (Visnu)--with a strong tinge of Jainism, a morally rigorous Indian religion, whose chief tenets are nonviolence and the belief that everything in the universe is eternal. Thus he took for granted ahimsa (noninjury to all living beings), vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between adherents of various creeds and sects. (see also Index: ahimsa, or ahimsa)
The educational facilities at Porbandar were rudimentary; in the primary school that Mohandas attended, the children wrote the alphabet in the dust with their fingers. Luckily for him, his father became dewan of Rajkot, another princely state. Though he occasionally won prizes and scholarships at the local schools, his record was on the whole mediocre. One of the terminal reports rated him as "good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting." A diffident child, he was married at the age of 13 and thus lost a year at school. He shone... [continues]
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