Gandhi was born in Porbandar, on the 2nd of October 1869. Porbandar is one of the many princely States in Kathiawad (Saurashtra) which is now in the state of Gujarat. Gandhi's father belonged to a family that was well known and highly respected in Porbandar as well as in neighbouring states like Rajkot and Junagarh. The family was not known for its wealth or scholarship. But two of the members of the family had occupied the high position of "Dewan" or Chief Minister of the state of Porbandar. They had earned a high reputation for their honesty and wisdom, and their knowledge of the arts of administration and the affairs of the court of the Ruler. They were also known for their loyalty as well as their tact in handling citizens and situations. They were men of culture and high principles in public and private life.
sometimes got them into trouble with the Ruler or highly placed members of
the royal family and court. But they conducted themselves with such
exemplary courage and rectitude that their views and acts were vindicated,
and the reputation of their rectitude spread to other parts of Saurashtra.
Uttamchand Gandhi was an able administrator. But he ran into trouble with
the Queen-mother-Regent because he refused to do what her maids asked of
him. The Regent then dispatched the army and got Uttamchand's house shelled.
But Uttamchand did not budge. He preferred to leave her service and move to
Junagarh. There he had the audacity to salute the Nawab with his left hand.
He was asked to explain
why he had shown such disrespect to the Nawab. He explained that his right
hand had been pledged to Porbandar. The Nawab was pleased to see such
loyalty, and tried to get Uttamchand reinstated as Diwan of Porbandar when
the Queen-rnother passed away, and the successor ascended the throne. But
Uttamchand declined, and his son Karamchand was appointed Diwan at the young
age of 24.
Karamchand too was a man
of high principles and courage. He too incurred the displeasure of the Ruler
of Porbandar, and moved to Rajkot. He was appointed Diwan in Rajkot. There,
he could not bear the contemptuous manner in which the British Political
Agent talked of the Ruler. He protested, and the British officer retaliated
by ordering his arrest and detention. But Karamchand refused to relent or
apologize, and the Political Agent had to retract and release Karamchand
Gandhi, who later came to be known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born as the son of
this Karamchand Gandhi and his wife, Putlibai. Putlibai also came from the
trading community. She had not received much education. But she was very
knowledgeable about social affairs and matters of court, and could
participate intelligently in the talks and discussions that took place among
the ladies of the Royal Court. She was a devout Hindu, and used to visit the
Haveli or temple regularly. Gandhi used to accompany her to the temple,
although, he admitted, he was not attracted by the pomp and show and the
goings on in the temple. But what left a lasting mark on Gandhi's mind was
the genuine piety of his mother, her profound faith in God, and her
unswerving determination to take and adhere to even the hardest of vows in
the pursuit of her religious beliefs. To cite an instance, in the rainy
season, she would vow not to take her meals till she saw the sun, and would
often have to go without food because the sun disappeared behind clouds by
the time her children who had spotted the fugitive shouted to her, and she
came out to see the sun herself.
Both Karamchand Gandhi
and Putlibai were deeply religious although they were not scholars. They
were Hindus, perhaps orthodox in many respects. But sadhus and religious men
of many faiths (Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Parsi) visited their house and
engaged in religious discussions. All the members of the family and the
children including young Mohandas listened to these discussions with deep
interest and reverence. These discussions and the atmosphere of piety in the
house must have sown the seeds of faith and tolerance in the mind of young
Mohandas. In later years, they became the foundation of Gandhi's firm belief
that all religions deserved equal respect.
There were also days on
which the family listened to readings from the great Hindu devotional
classics like the Bhagavata and the Ramayana. Mohandas came under the spell
of the devotion and dedication to God that throbbed in these verses. He
learned to look upon Tulsidas's rendering of the Ramayana as the most moving
devotional classic in Hinduism, — perhaps in any religion.
Around this time, Gandhi
chanced to see a copy of the Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka on his father's
table. Though he was not given to reading books, this book attracted him. He
read it with great interest, and the picture of Shravana carrying both his
blind parents on his shoulders imprinted itself on young Gandhi's mind. The
thought arose in him that he should be as loyal to his parents as Shravana
was, and should serve them with as much dedication and self- surrender as
Shravana. The visit of a travelling troupe that exhibited pictures from
Shravana's life intensified this desire to serve his parents with devotion
Another portrayal that
created a lasting impression on Gandhi's mind was that of Raja Harishchandra
who had dedicated his life to truth. The ordeals through which the king had
to pass and the agony, sacrifices and suffering that he had to undergo to
stick to Truth melted Gandhi's heart.
He could not banish the
picture of Harishchandra from his mind.
Gandhi had always felt a
great fascination for Truth. The story of Harishchandra reinforced this
attraction and the determination to cling to Truth at any cost.