Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest known person in India. He is saved in the pages of history as the one who showed the path to the freedom, the one who fought to the end. His history is long and has many different sides. His childhood, education in Great Britain, war in Africa, racist discrimination, and fight for freedom in India. His mother was a great influence at him which made him a person he was.
While Gandhi had many influences in his life, none was greater in his spiritual development than his mother, Putilbai. A very earnest spiritual aspirant, Putilbai upheld in her own life that the greatest form of love meant the willing sacrifice of self for another. In his words, “she was deeply religious”.
Gandhi recalls, how, as a child, his mother’s devotion and very strong will would be manifest in various strict vows and religious fasts such as the 4-month period of Chaturmas (a Lent or Karem-like fasting period). He remembers how he and his siblings would watch for the sun so that their mother would have a meal with them, as her fasts would sometimes mean not eating until the sun shone its face on her. Quickly they would run to her to bring her out. If she didn’t see the rise of a sun or if it poked through the clouds she would not eat that day.
Religion was not a separate compartment in her life, nor was it for Gandhi. He recalls that she had a strong vein of common sense in all things political and was sought after in her community for it.
Before Gandhi left for his law studies in England, she would ask him to take three vows to express his commitment and love to her, which he did in earnest:
- no meat
- no women
- no alcohol or tobacco
When friends in England tried to convince him to remove the necklace that she gave him to remind him of his vows to her, he was not willing, nor would he let them call her superstitious.
So close was Gandhi to his mother that when she died while he was away, his family could not bear to give him the news, in fear that it would disrupt his studies, so he only learned of her death at the moment of his return to India. Yet the imprint of her maternal love was there. The seeds of his strength through gentleness had been planted in the young man later to become the “great soul”.