(Photo courtesy (Hindu Newspaper): Mahatma Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 and blazed a trail with resistance campaigns against colonial rule, which was in a sense the progenitor of the African National Congress (ANC).)
The Sanskrit word Mahatma, which means a great soul, is often taken to be Gandhi’s given name in the West. History books tells us that poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore bestowed the title on Gandhi in 1915 while writing his autobiography after the latter called him Gurudev. There is no data with the government of India to substantiate this revelation. No one knows who gave the title to M K Gandhi also lovingly called as ‘Bapu’ or Gandhiji !
During the year 2004, I got an opportunity to visit the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmadabad, Gujarat state. It was listed in my travel plan for a long time. For some reason or other, it was getting delayed until it actually happened in the year 2004. The Ashram is located on the banks of the River Sabarmati, four miles from the town hall. An ashram is a Hindu religious retreat. But, this was one of the residences of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, generally called as ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, who lived there for about twelve years, with his wife Kasturba. After my visit to the ashram, I read the autobiography, ‘The story of my experiments with the truth’ written by Mahatma Gandhi, in a single sitting at a stretch. There is a separate blog post describing this ashram, which is appended at the end of this post. I could not visit the Tolstoy farm while i was visiting South Africa on business assignment. Some day, I would like to go and visit the farm.
There is a higher self within each of us. We do not recognize it most of the time because we are absolutely pre-occupied in knowing what others think about us. So much so, we do not pay attention to what we think of ourselves. There is an equivalent opportunity or choice to do the right as much we have to do the wrong. In my opinion, M K Gandhi could understand himself very well through the experiences in his daily life, as if he had a ‘barometer’ built into his mind to constantly gauge his actions – whether right or wrong ? And this self-awareness enabled him to improve himself at every step of his life.
‘Mahatma’ is nothing but a higher plateau of our self – achieved through one’s self-discipline, one’s devotion to a singular motive or vision, aided by self-belief that is more than self-confidence, and effective politics which is good ‘morally right’ inter-personal skills. There has to be a greater goal through which others can be benefited besides one’s own self. Altruistic people are selfless in the real sense, because they act keeping ‘selflessness’ as the center of their actions. Self-effacing or ‘self-sacrifice’ can lead one to his higher self. Knowledge of own self can make one to be a Mahatma. Humility, self-endurance and ‘sincere and righteous’ public empathy can make one lead a life of a Mahatma.
With these thoughts on my mind, I look forward to celebrate ‘Gandhi Jayanti (Oct 2, 2013) tomorrow. Let me tell you, I do not easily bring myself to admire anyone, other than my parents. But, M K Gandhi continues to be a marvel to me – he was a ‘one man army’ to fight the British colonial rulers with the strength of his mind; a ‘simplicity’ personified individual; a constant self-searching spiritual seeker; a patriotic ‘secular’ citizen of India; a man loaded with great self-respect and self-esteem; a compassionate Bapu and a lot more to many of his admirers. I admire him, after reading a lot about him and particularly after visiting the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmadabad, Gujarat.