In this eighty-seventh archive story by Kristian Bertel, we learn about Mahatma Gandhi from a portrait hanging on a wall in Varanasi, India. Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British Rule and in turn inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Mahatma Gandhi's life achievement stands unique in political history.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British Rule and in turn inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Mahatma Gandhi's life achievement stands unique in political history.

Bapu Gandhiji

Born and raised in a Hindu family in coastal Gujarat, western India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for various social causes and for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.

How does Gandhi define truth?

Gandhi believed that truth is the relative truthfulness in word and deed, and the absolute truth – the ultimate reality. This ultimate truth is God and morality and the moral laws and code – its basis. According to Gandhi, non-violence implies uttermost selflessness.

Gandhi's vision of an independent India
Gandhi led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 kilometres 'Dandi Salt March' in 1930 and later in calling for the British to quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand-spun on a 'Charkha'. He ate simple vegetarian food and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and political protest.

Gandhi's vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India. In August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to stop religious violence. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 when he was seventyeight also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Among them was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest.

Nonviolence in India
Although Gandhi was not the originator of the principle of nonviolence, he was the first to apply it in the political field on a large scale. The concept of nonviolence which is called 'Ahimsa' has a long history in Indian religious thought, with it being considered the highest 'Dharma', which means ethical value virtue a precept to be observed towards all living beings called 'Sarvbhuta', at all times called 'Sarvada', in all respects called 'Sarvatha', in action, words and thought. Gandhi used fasting as a political device, often threatening suicide unless demands were met. Congress publicised the fasts as a political action that generated widespread sympathy. In response the government tried to manipulate news coverage to minimise his challenge to the Raj. He fasted in 1932 to protest the voting scheme for separate political representation for 'Dalits', Gandhi did not want them segregated. The British government stopped the London press from showing photographs of his emaciated body, because it would elicit sympathy.

Untouchability and castes in India
Gandhi spoke out against untouchability early in his life. Before 1932, he and his colleagues used the term Antyaja for untouchables. One of the major speeches he made on untouchability was at Nagpur in 1920, where he called untouchability as a great evil in Hindu society. In his remarks, he stated that the phenomena of untouchability is not unique to the Hindu society, but has deeper roots because Europeans in South Africa treat that all of us, Hindus and Muslims, as Untouchables, we may not reside in their midst, nor enjoy the rights which they do. He called it intolerable. He stated this practice can be eradicated, Hinduism is flexible to allow this and a concerted effort is needed to persuade it is wrong and by all to eradicate it. While Gandhi considered untouchability to be wrong and evil, he believed that caste or class are based neither on inequality nor on inferiority. Gandhi believed that individuals should freely intermarry whoever they want to, but no one should expect everyone to befriend them. Every individual regardless of his or her background, stated Gandhi, has a right to choose who they welcome into their home, who they befriend and who they spend time with.

"Gandhi has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country, and practised it with greatest energy and devotion. The moral influence he had on the consciously thinking human being of the entire civilised world will probably be much more lasting than it seems in our time with its overestimation of brutal violent forces"

Gandhi is commonly, though not formally considered the 'Father of the Nation in India'. Because lasting will only be the work of such statesmen who wake up and strengthen the moral power of their people through their example and educational works. We may all be happy and grateful that destiny gifted us with such an enlightened contemporary, a role model for the generations to come. Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in India as 'Gandhi Jayanti', a national holiday and worldwide as the 'International Day of Nonviolence'. It has been seventy years since Mahatma Gandhi departed from our midst. But his life and soul continue to animate humanity transcending national and international boundaries. His contribution to human development is far too great and varied to have been forgotten or to be overlooked and as the photographer learned the world today recognizes him as a far more compelling social innovator than humanity ever realized. Government of India has decided to commemorate the 150 year birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, at national and international level to propagate his message

Read also:  An Indian portrait

Read also:  An Indian portrait

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in Varanasi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.