When Gandhi took to the life of a brahmachari and voluntary poverty, he affirmed that those who wanted to do humanitarian service should remain unmarried.
Before this idea gripped him, he was keen on
getting his bachelor as members of one big family. He advised his Indian
co-workers to come to South Africa with their wives and encouraged his English
friends, Mr. West and Mr. Polak, to get married soon. Polak was hesitant because
of his financial difficulties. Gandhi said it was not right to postpone a long
arranged match when there was a heart union. On the next day of the bribe's
arrival in South Africa from England, Polak married her. Gandhi made all
arrangements for the marriage and himself acted as the best man.
In his ashrams in India, Gandhi sometimes acted
as the priest. His method of match-making and of performing the priest's duty
was unorthodox. He tried to reform the Hindu marriage system and defied its
customary usages. Dowry, wealth, diplomas and high caste, he never
considered as qualifications that made a bride or a groom more eligible. Health,
character and fitness for doing body labour were the essential qualifications.
In a marriage blessed by him the bride and the groom wore hand-spun hand-woven
khadi, used no other ornament than hand spun yarn garlands which they exchanged
before a sacrificial fire. they chanted Vedic mantras. No costly presents or
dowry were given to the groom.
Gandhi decried the evil custom of deti-leti
(dowry) and chastised college students for reducing women to slaves/ Instead of
making their wives the queens of their homes and their heart, they converted
them into described as ardhanga the better half of men? he said: " If I had a
girl under my charge. I would rather keep her a maiden all her life than give
her away to one who expected a single pice for taking her for his wife."
Gandhi disliked a show of pomp and elaborate
arrangements for marriage feasts. He thought that in this age of democracy, more
than ten rupees should not be spent for the religious ceremony. And nothing
beyond the religious ceremonial should considered a part of marriage rites. Even
for the poorest in the land this tall order was very difficult to execute. To
the peasants who incur heavy debts due to marriages or shradh ceremony, he said:
" I shall become your priest. Much money is not needed to perform a marriage or
shradh ceremony." he did not believe in the shradh ceremony as it is commonly
understood by the people. To him, the only true way of celebrating the shradh of
one's ancestors was to translate into daily life their good qualities. He also
did not accept the mystical meaning that a yajnopavita is supposed to possess: "
I see no sense in investing people with it. The Aryans. If it is fit only for
the distinction of high and low, it is fit to be cast away. Observance of
chastity is the best of threads."
This priest did not demand any fee but sometimes
asked for donations to the Harijan fund. He once performed the marriage ceremony
of an inter-caste couple and received five thousand rupees for building wells
for the Harijans. Once a Harijan Christian acted as the priest in marrying a
Hindu Brahmin couple in the ashram.
At one marriage Gandhi served the guests with
fresh gur that cost him six annas.To a bridegroom he once wrote: " You come here
alone, I shall marry you and send you in pair." He did not think that the groom
needed any friends or relatives to accompany him. When he saw a party of seven
he remarked : " Ah the saptarshi has come." They added: " Yes, Arundhati (
bride's mother) too."
At the marriage of his third son, Gandhi
presented the couple with a copy of the Gita, Ashram Bhajanavali, a mangal mala
and a takli. He told his son: " You will guard your wife's honour and be
consecrated to the service of the motherland. You will both earn your bread by
the sweat of your brow." The bride's mother presented a charkha to the
bridegroom. Before the ceremony, the couple fasted, cleaned the well basin and
cow-shed and watered trees to symbolize unity with the whole creation. They also
span and read the Gita. All these acts were parts of Gandhi's idea of saptapadi
ritual of the pair's moving seven steps forward. The groom's betrothal was kept
pending for two years till the bride reached her eighteenth year. Gandhi
discouraged child marriages: " As i see the youngsters of the age of 13 about me
I think of my own marriage. I am inclined to pity myself... I can see no
religion to have as one's wife a girl who is fit only to sit on one's lap. I do
not regard a girl married, who is given away in marriage by her parents without
her consent. I cannot conceive a girl of 15 becoming a widow. Widows have as
much right to remarry as have the widowers." He supported divorce under certain
conditions and once from jail sent his blessings to a Hindu woman who was going
to marry a second time, though her first husband was alive.
In spite of claiming to be a sanatani Hindu,
Gandhi advocated inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-provincial marriage.
Every mixed marriage, he thought, would bring people together. He was happy when
his youngest son, a Gujarati bania, married a South Indian brahmin girl.
Gandhi was greatly influenced by his devout
Vaishnava parents. From the age of 12 he regarded untouchability as a sin, at 17
he learnt to treat all men alike without distinction of caste or creed and at 21
he studied the Gita, Bible and books of other religions. He believed it was
foolish for the followers of one religion to say, " Ours is the only true
religion and all others are false." He was well versed in the Gita and
Upanishads and read parts of the Vedas. He never quoted the scriptures unless he
had subjected them to the test of personal experience. His study of religions
taught him tolerance and gave him courage to bear sorrow bravely. He also learnt
that the man who depended on physical force understood true religion. Conversion
was meaningless to him. He could explain the basic tenets of Hinduism, Sikhhism,
Buddhism, Islam and Christianity with equal ease. He often attended services at
churches. He once delivered a series of four lectures on Hinduism in which he
pointed out the distinctive merit of each religion.
He could quote Christ's sayings so aptly that
some Europeans thought he was a born Christian. On the Christmas Eve, his
co-passengers once requested him to speak on the teachings of Jesus on the deck
of a steamer. During prayers, he recited ayats from the Koran in mass prayers
meetings. Some Hindus and Muslims objected to it. He held very bold views about
Hinduism and disowned inequality of castes. This made the orthodox Hindus angry.
They insulted him with black flag demonstration, a garland of shoes and tried to
kill him. Still he said: " I refuse to be a Hindu, if untouchability is apart of
it. Hinduism ought to perish, if this blot on humanity is not removed. Our
religion is based on ahimsa which is nothing but love, love not only our
neighbours, not only to our friends, but love even to those who may be our
enemies." Gandhi did not visit any temple that was not open to all. After years
of pleading, he succeeded in getting many temples thrown open to the Harijans.
To him God was truth and religion was to be
lived. God was present in a drop of water or in tiny specks of dust. Gandhi
preferred the worship because " those who worship idols, worship not the stone
but the God who resides in it", while arguing on idol worship, he once told
Tagore; " The outcaste's little piece of red-painted is the only link between
himself and God. You dare not take the crutch from a lame man's arm until you
have taught the cripple how to walk." He also saw nothing harmful or evil in
tree-worship: " I find in it a thing instinct with a deep pathos and poetic
beauty. It symbolizes true reverence for the entire Vegetarian Kingdom which
declares the greatness and glory of god."
Gandhi strongly protested against the opening of
" a temple to Gandhiji" and in the ashram made it criminal to touch his feet.
This saintly soul initiated his countrymen in to
a new mantra service to the motherland and Daridranarayan, the mantra of
liberty, equality and fraternity all human beings, the mantra of liberation of
the mind from all fears and slavery. He demonstrated the noble and brave art of
sacrificing self in the various walks of life. He never got tired of repeating
how" mankind has to get out of violence through non-violence and hatred can be
overcome only by love".
Gandhi led a very active life. He agreed with the
teaching of the Gita that he who eats food without offering a daily sacrifice,
Karmayajna or body labour, steals his meal. Bread labour he counted as aone of
the Karmayajnas. He never spent a day without doing some sort of body labour. He
never told lies, never molested any living creature and never uttered a slander.
He woke up early before sun-rise and every morning and evening offered his
prayers. His daily prayer was a selection from the Gita and Upanishad, Koran and
Zend-Avesta. While on land or sea, on a moving train or ship, whether under the
roof of a Muslim, Christian or an outcaste or while moving from village to
village on foot, he stuck to this practice. Life in jail proved no exception. He
could deny himself food for 21 days but could not pass a day without saying his
prayers. Prayer was not a lip-service to him, but a living faith in God. The
object of prayer was not to please God, but to practice brahmacharya and
introduced congregational prayer in the Phoenix Settlement. Every evening,
bhajans and Christian hymns were sung there. in the late years of his life, in
mass prayer meetings, he invited people to join singing Ramdhun to the beating
of time with hands. He loved to see the whole of India covered with prayer
Gandhi could not put up with deception but he did
not punish others for their lapses. If anyone told lies or did any wrong he
himself fasted for purification.
In keeping images in temples and priestly class,
he more than once installed images in temples and performed opening ceremony of
temples. He laid the foundation stones of schools and hospitals. In Noakhali,
Gandhi reinstalled an image defiled by the Muslims. He opened the Laxminarayan
Temple in Delhi, the Bharatmata Temple at Varanasi, a temple for the Harijans at
Selu and the Maruti temple in Ratnagiri. At Ratnagiri he said: " I install the
image of Maruti not merely because he had the strength of the giant. Even Ravana
had that strength which was the direct fruit of his brahmacharya and devotion to
Gandhi's faith in Ramanam was unshakable. While
going to the prayer meeting, when he was shot by a fanatic Hindu, Gandhi
breathed his last uttering " He Rama."