Mahatma Gandhi, the Man Who Became One with the Universal Being

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search
Mahatma Gandhi
The man who became one with the universal being

written by Romain Rolland, translated by Catherine Daae Groth
About the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, The man who became one with the universal being. English translation of Catherine D. Groth

In connection with the present essay I wish to tender my affectionate thanks to my faithful collaborator, my sister, and to my friend, Kalidas Nag, whose deep knowledge and indefatigable kindness have guided my steps through the forest of Indian thought. I also wish to thank the publisher, S. Genesan, of Madras, for having placed, spontaneously, his publications at my disposal.

The literal translation of Mahatma, the name which the people of India gave to Gandhi, is the great Soul," maha, great ; atma, soul. The word goes back to the Upanishads, where it is used in speaking of the Supreme Being, and, through communion of Knowledge and Love, of those who become One with Him:

"He is the One Luminous, Creator of All, Mahatma,
Always in the hearts of the people enshrined,
Revealed through Love, Institution, and Thought,
Whoever knows Him, Immortal becomes. . . . . "

Tagore, on a visit to Ashram, Gandhi's favourite retreat, quoted this stanza, referring to the Apostle.

The Editor's Preface

The Indian Edition of this famous book is produced under the shadow of an overwhelming tragedy—the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on 30th January, by a Hindu fanatic. The country is now prostrated with grief, nay, the whole world is mourning. The emotions released by this great calamity, if directed to constructive purposes, may, however, lead to the world-wide fulfilment of those principles of conduct for which the Mahatma laid down his life.


Romain Rolland (1866-1944)

I. Life and Works

Romain Rolland, the great French author and thinker, was born at Clamecy, Nievre, on January 29, 1866. He received his education at first at Clamecy, and later in Paris. After a distinguished academic career he was appointed Professor of art history at the Ecole Normale Superieure (1899-91). Later he was appointed Professor at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris). A keen student of music all his life, Rolland introduced the study of the history of music at the Sorbonne.

His earliest reputation was that of a scholarly critic and historian of art. Among his critical works we may mention Les origines du theatre lyrism moderne, Histoire de l’opera en Europe avant Lulli et Scarlatti (1895), Des causes de la decadence de la painture italienne (1895), Le Théâtre du peuple (1901), etc. He also wrote studies of Millet (1902), Beethoven (1903), Michel Angele (1906), Les Tragédies de la foi, Saint Louis, Le Triomphe de la raison (1913), etc.

But the work with Rolland established his European or world reputation was a romance, Jean-Christophe (1904-1912), purporting to be the biography of a German musician. It is in three series, Jean-Christophe, Jean-Christophe en Paris, and La Fin du voyage, and appeared in 10 volumes. The books is at once the story of a great artist and an examination of all the values of life obtaining in Europe during the period it surveys. It is inspired by a flaming idealism.

Rolland obtained the Noble Prize in literature in 1915.

During the first world war (1914-18) however, his reputation suffered a set-back in France on account of his outspoken pacifism and extreme political opinions. But his plays written or performed about this time increased his popularity abroad. Among these were Danton, Le 14 juillet and other plays belonging to the series, Théâtre de la Révolution.

Mahatma Gandhi appeared in 1924.

His later works include : Colas Breugnon (1918), Les Precurseurs (1919), Clerambault, Pierre et Luce (1919), Voyage musical aux pays du passé (1919), Lilui (1919), Annette et Sylvie (1922), L’Été (1924), Mère et fils (1927), Beethoven the Creator (1929), etc.

He broke fresh ground when he wrote his famous studies of two saints of modern India, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda (1928-1930). It was Mr. Dhan Gopal Mukerjee, the talented Indian writer, who had first revealed Ramakrishna's existence to Rolland. His faithful, friend, Dr. Kalidas Nag, also helped him to understand the mission of this saint, as earlier, Dr. Nag had interpreted Gandhism to him. Rolland took keen interest in Indian affairs till his death in 1944.

II. Romain Rolland and Mahatma Gandhi

Romain Rolland's interest in India was first aroused by Tagore, the first exponent of Indian philosophy and culture in the first quarter of this century. Rolland had the greatest admiration for Tagore's writings and personality. Coming into contact with him, he conceived a warm personal feeling for the Indian poet.

Gandhi's appeal to him was of a different, and in certain ways, more impressive kind. To Rolland, Gandhi was the dawn of a new hope for humanity. He was the symbol of spirit fighting against matter, soul force fighting against brute force. A born idealist and champion of the downtrodden and the oppressed, Rolland found in the Indian leader's career a practical challenge to the oppressive futility and complexity of Western materialism at a time when the greatest thinkers of the war-weary West did not know which way to turn for the spiritual deliverance of Europe. Tagore's magnificent presence and stirring eloquence were already kindling a new interest in Indian thought, when the doings of an Indian fakir (an erstwhile barrister) suddenly focussed the attention of people on the strength and abiding vitality of the spiritual conception of life.

Rolland wrote his biography of Mahatma Gandhi when, to all practical purposes, the movement launched by him had failed to win its objective. The Mahatma then was in jail atoning, Christ-like, for the failings of his own countrymen. To Rolland the spectacle was inspiring. His book is an impassioned defence of Gandhi and Gandhism at a time when they were in danger of being derided as outplayed in the West, thanks to systematic British propaganda. Romain Rolland the humanist could not bear to see this happen.

It was but natural that Gandhi, although not much interested in art and literature, should now be drawn towards his eminent French biographer and admirer. The two men met at last on December 6, 1931, when the Mahatma was on his way back to India after attending the Second Round table Conference. Correspondents have described this meeting as if it were like the union of two long-separated lovers. Gandhi stayed with Romain Rolland and his sister at their residence at Villeneuve (in Switzerland) for five days. The Swiss peasants still tell the story of Romain Rollands frenzied search for goats milk for his strange friend from India!

Gandhiji kept up his contact with Rolland till his death. Rolland was very ill early in 1944. On May 22, Gandhi received a cablegram dated March 15 from Edmond Privat : "Rolland well, love from us both". This cablegram was not delivered to Gandhiji earlier, as he was then kept in detention in the Aga Khan's palace. But Rolland died soon afterwards.

III. Romain Rolland's Interest in Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

After writing the biography of Gandhi Rolland became more and more interested in the dynamic side of Indian thought. The result was his famous interpretation (for such they are) of Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. It was a long journey from the music and art and literature of Europe to the mysticism of India where man's spiritual urges took forms and spoke a language difficult for the Western mind to grasp. Yet, in spite of the difficulties involved in this adventure (not the least of which was the fact that Romain Rolland did not know Sanskrit or Bengali and had only a limited knowledge of English), Rolland penetrated to the truth that these two great Indians embodied and preached.

It may not be out of place here to quote a few sentences from Romain Rolland's prefatory words, "To my Eastern Readers", in The life of Ramakrishna:

"I must beg my Indian readers to view with indulgence the mistakes I may have made. In spite of all the enthusiasm I have brought to my task, it is impossible for a man of the West to interpret men of Asia with their thousand years experience of thought; for such interpretation must often be erroneous. The only thing to which I can testify is the sincerity that has led me to make a pious attempt to enter into all forms of life...

"And it is because Ramakrishna more fully than any other man not only conceived, but realised in himself the total unity of this river of God, open to all rivers and all streams, that I have given him my love; and I have drawn a little of his sacred water to slake the great thirst of the world."

His purpose is further revealed in his address To my Western Readers :

I have dedicated my whole life to the reconciliation of mankind. I have striven to bring it about among the peoples of Europe. For the last ten years I have been attempting the same task for the West and the East. I also desire to reconcile, if it is possible, the two antithetical forms of spirit for which the West and the East are wrongly supposed to stand—reason and faith—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the diverse forms of reason and of faith; for the West and the East share them both almost equally although few suspect it.

"In our days an absurd separation has been made between these two halves of the soul, and it is presumed that they are incompatible. The only incompatibility lies in the narrowness of view, which those who erroneously claim to be their representatives, share in common."

Part One


Soft dark eyes, a small frail man, with a thin face and rather large protruding eyes, his head covered with a little white cap, his body clothed in coarse white cloth, barefooted. He lives on rice and fruit, and drinks only water. He sleeps on the floor — sleeps very little, and works incessantly. His body does not seem to count at all. There is nothing striking about him — except his whole expression of "infinite patience and infinite love." W.W. Pearson, who met him in South Africa, instinctively thought of St. Francis of Assisi. There is an almost childlike simplicity about him.[1] His manner is gentle and courteous even when dealing with adversaries,[2] and he is of immaculate sincerity.[3] He is modest and unassuming, to the point of sometimes seeming almost timid, hesitant, in making an assertion. Yet you feel his indomitable spirit. He makes no compromises and never tries to hide a mistake. Nor is he afraid to admit having been in the wrong. Diplomacy is unknown to him ; he shuns oratorical effect or, rather, never thinks about it ; and he shrinks unconsciously from the great popular demonstrations organized in his honour. Literally "ill with he multitude that adores him,"[4] he distrusts majorities and fears "mobocracy" and the unbridled passions of the populace. He feels at ease only in a minority, and is happiest when, in meditative solitude, he can listen to the "still small voice" within.[5]

This is the man who has stirred three hundred million people to revolt, who has shaken the foundations of the British Empire, and who has introduced into human politics the strongest religious impetus of the last two thousand years.


His real name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was born in a little semi-independent state in the north-western part of India, at Porbandar, the "White City" on the sea of Oman, October 2, 1868. He comes of an ardent and active race, which to this day has been split by civil strife; a practical race, commercially keen, which established trade relations all the way from Aden to Zanzibar. Gandhi's father and grandfather were both leaders of the people and met with persecution because of their independent spirit. Both were forced to flee for safety, their lives in peril. Gandhi's family was well-to-do and belonged to a cultivated class of society, but it was not of superior caste. His parents were followers of the Jain school of Hinduism, which regards ahimsa,[6] the doctrine of non-injury to any form of life, as one of its basic principles. This was the doctrine which Gandhi was to proclaim victoriously throughout the world. The Jainists believe that the principle of love, not intelligence, is the road which leads to God. The Mahatma's father cared little for wealth and material values, and left scarcely any to his family, having given almost everything away to charity. Gandhi's mother was a very devout woman, a sort of Hindu St. Elisabeth, fasting, giving alms to the poor, and nursing the sick. In Gandhi's family the Ramayana was read regularly. His first teacher was a Brahman who taught him to memorize the text of Vishnu.[7] In later years Gandhi expressed regret at not being a better Sanskrit scholar, and one of his grievances against English education in India is that it makes the natives lose the treasures of their own language. Gandhi became, however, a profound student of Hindu scriptures, although he read the Vedas and the Upanishads in translation only.[8]

While still a boy he passed through a severe religious crisis. Shocked at the idolatrous form sometimes assumed by Hinduism, he became, or imagined he became, an atheist, and to prove that religion meant nothing to him he and some friends went so far as to eat meat, a frightful sacrilege for a Hindu. And Gandhi nearly perished with disgust and morification.[9] He was engaged at the age of eight and married at the age of twelve.[10] At nineteen he was sent to England to complete his studies at the University of London and at the law school. Before his leaving India, his mother made him take the three vows of Jain, which prescribe abstention from wine, meat, and sexual intercourse.

He arrived in London in September, 1988, and after the first few months of uncertainty and deception, during which, as he says, he "wasted a lot of time and money trying to become an Englishman", he buckled down to hard work and led a strictly regulated life. Some friends gave him a copy of the Bible, but the time to understand it had not yet come. But it was during his stay in London that he realized for the first time the beauty of the Bhagavad Gita. He was carried away by it. It was the light the exiled Hindu had been seeking, and it gave him back his faith. He realized that for him salvation could lie only in Hinduism.[11]

He returned to India in 1891, a rather sad home-coming , for his mother had just died, and the news of her death had been withheld from him. Soon afterward he began practising law at the Supreme Court of Bombay. He abandoned this career a few years later, having come to look upon it as immoral. But even while practising law he used to make a point of reserving the right to abandon a case if he had reason to believe it unjust.


  1. As C.F. Andrews says, "He laughs like a child and adores children."
  2. "Few can resist the charm of his personality. His bitterest enemies become courteous when confronted with his beautiful courtesy" (Joseph J. Doke).
  3. "Every departure from truth, no matter how trifling, is intolerable to him" (C.F. Andrews).
  4. "He is not a passionate orator; his manner is calm and serene and he appeals particularly to the intelligence. But his serenity places the subject he discusses in the clearest light. The inflexions of his voice are not varied, but they are intensely sincere. He never makes any gestures with his arms, in fact he rarely even moves a finger. But his luminous words, expressed in terse, concise sentences, carry conviction. He never abandons a subject before he feels that he had made it perfectly clear" (Joseph J. Doke).
  5. Young India, March 2, 1922. The dates cited in the notes of this volume refer to the date of publication of Gandhi's articles in Young India.
  6. A, privative, himsa, to do evil. Hence, ahimsa, principle of not harming any form of life, non-violence. It is one of Hinduism's most ancient precepts, proclaimed by Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, by Buddha, as well as by the disciples of Vishnu.
  7. He attended the elementary school of Porbandar till the age of seven and then the public school of Rajkot till ten. After that he went to the high school of Katyavar until, at the age of seventeen, he entered the University of Ahmedabad.
  8. He described his childhood in a speech at the Pariah Conference, April 13, 1921.
  9. Long afterward he told Joseph Doke of the anguish he had suffered after eating meat. He was unable to sleep; he felt like a murderer.
  10. He is not in favour of child marriages, however, and made a campaign against them, on the ground that they weaken the race. In exceptional cases, however, he says that such unions, sealed before the individual's character is moulded, may build up between husband and wife an exceptionally beautiful relationship of sympathy and harmony. Gandhi's own wife is an admirable example of this. Mrs. Gandhi shared all her husband's trials and adversities with unfailing steadfastness of purpose and indomitable courage.
  11. Speech of April 13, 1921.



Editing Young India and Navajivan. Jail diary and autobiography published serially.

Swarajists led by C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru dominating Congress, Gandhiji believing in the programme of boycott and Khadi.

In September Gandhi started a 21 days fast as a penance for the communal disturbances sweeping the country. In December he presided over the Belgaum session of the Congress. Council-entry allowed.

1925 : Touring South-India. Advised Satyagraha for redressing grievances of untouchables in Travancore State. Movement successful. In September All-India Spinners Association founded. 7 days fast in November on discovering lapses in his ashram. Took the vow of political silence.

1926 : Protest against the despatch of Indian troops to China. Vow of political silence broken.

1927 : Announcement regarding Simon Commission. In Madras session of the Congress Independence resolution passed. Mahatmaji, who had opposed the resolution the year before, did not like it.

1928 : Simon Commission arrived and was boycotted everywhere. Bardoli Satyagraha led by Vallabhai Patel with the blessings of Gandhi brought to a successful conclusion. Calcutta session of the Congress demanded Dominion Status by 1929.

1929 : Gandhi visited Burma. Labour Government in power. The Viceroys declaration that a Round Table Conference of Indian leaders would be held in London. Congress met at Lahore in December and passed the Independence resolution.

1930 : January 16 celebrated as Independence Day. Congress legislators resigned. Civil Disobedience plan—Gandhiji plans to break salt law. His ultimat-um to Viceroy carried by Reginald Reynolds. Gandhijis famous march to Dandi (March 12). He reached Dandi and broke salt law. Great excitement in the country. Congress leaders arrested. Gandhiji arrested and removed to Yervada prison. Civil Disobedience spreads. Negotiations between Congress leaders and Government failed.

1931 : January 25, Viceroys declaration releasing Mahatma Gandhi and Congress leaders. Gandhi Irwin Pact conceding "substance of Independence". Karachi Congress. Gandhi appointed representative of the Congress for the second Round Table Conference. Gandhiji attended Round Table Conference. Trouble in India. Truce-terms broken by Government. Gandhi received great ovation abroad. Returned to India to find Government determined to repress the Congress.

1932 : Gandhiji arrested (January 4). Most leading Congress men gaoled. The Government award on minorities representation announced. Gandhiji protested against separate electorates for the Depressed Classes. He started fast unto death (September 20). Pooona Pact signed and accepted by the Government and Mahatma broke fast (September 26).

1933 : Harijan started. Gandhi announced a self-purificatory fast for 21 days (May 8), Government released him. Mass civil disobedience suspended, individual civil disobedience allowed. Arrested and sentenced to one years imprisonment. Commenced fast on August 16, released soon. Tour undertaken for Harijan uplift.

1934 : He suspended civil disobedience on April 7. Political prisoners released. All India Village Industries Association formed. Gandhiji announced his exit from Congress.

1935 : Wardha Gandhijis headquarters. Constructive work. Country busy with the coming reforms.

1936 : Preaching the adoption of Hindustani as lingua franca. Khadi and cottage industries.

1937 : Visit to Travancore with a view of removing the disabilities of Harijans. Gandhi advising Congress regarding acceptance of office. Suggested as urgent reforms basic education, relief to peasantry, prohibition etc. Presided over the Educational Conference at Wardha (Oct. 22-23).

1938 : Lord Lothian visited him at Segaon (Seva Gram). Toured Peshawar district. Upheld Congress non-intervention in the internal affairs of the States. Denounced Munich Pact and expressed sympathy for the Jews.

1939 : Gandhi intervened in Rajkot. Subhas Bose elected President of the Congress. Rajkot fast began (March 3) and was broken (March 7). In July he addressed an open letter to Hitler condemning the use of violence. Viceroy invited Gandhi after the declaration of War. Gandhi expressed his sympathy for England at war. Working Committee disagreed with Mahatma Gandhi. Congress ministers resigned.

1940 : Government and Congress drifting apart. On the fall of France Mahatma issued his famous "To every Briton" appeal, but it was ridiculed. Gandhiji launched individual Satyagraha denouncing war-effort.

1941 : The movement continued throughout 1941. Satyagrahis released in January 1942.

1942 : Historic meeting between Mahatma and Marshal and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at Calcutta (February 18). Cripps Mission. Gandhiji described the Cripps proposals as "a post-dated cheque." Proposals rejected. Gandhiji assumed leadership of Congress. "Quit India" resolution. Leaders including Gandhi arrested (August 9). August Movement throughout the country, great commotion. Mahadev Desai died on August 15.

1943 : Gandhiji started a three weeks fast (February 10) in Aga Khans palace to vindicate his position vis-a-vis the Government. He was not released. Completed fast on March 3.

1944 : Kasturba died on February 22. Gandhi ailing. Released unconditionally on May 6. Recouping at Juhu. Kasturba Memorial Fund started. Gandhi-Jinnah negotiations failed. 75th birthday of Mahatma celebrated.

1945 : Release of the Congress leaders. Simla Conference failed. Congress to fight elections. Labour party victorious in England. New hopes.

1946 : The Cabinet Mission came to India. Mahatma advised the country to accept the Mission plan. Interim Government plan. The League intransigent. Calcutta riots and Noakhali happenings. Gandhi went to Noakhali. Bihar riots.

1947 : Punjab riots. The Pakistan plan adopted by Congress—Gandhi against division of India. August 15, the day of Indian Independence. Terrible rioting in the Punjab. Gandhi performed a miracle by restoring communal harmony in Calcutta by fasting. Came to Delhi where the situation had taken an ugly turn.

1948 : Undertook a fast to restore, Hindu-Muslim amity in Delhi and in the country generally. Pleaded for better treatment of the minorities.

30-1-48 : The Father of the Nation, our beloved Bapuji, was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic immediately after 5 p.m., when he was coming to the prayer meeting from Birla House, where he was staying. With Ram Naam on his lips and with folded hands he bowed before his assassin, collapsed and died shortly after.

SemiPD-icon.svg Works in this category cannot be definitively established as in the public domain because relevant information has not been found. Most significantly the person's date of death is not known. To be eligible for this category the first publication of the person's most recent work must have taken place more than 50 years ago.