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Priest
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 gatherings.
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 Rama."
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."