Famous Family History Mahatma Gandhi Parents

About the family of famous Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi, history of his father and mother.


(1869-1948), Indian political leader

His Roots: The family belonged to the Vaishya caste of farmers and tradesmen in the coastal town of Porbandar near Bombay, where Mohandas's paternal great-grandfather had established himself as a grocer. Gandhi, a Gujarati word for "grocer," was the surname taken by Mohandas's father, Karamchand, in obedience to a British edict intended to simplify the census.

The elder Gandhi became dewan (chief minister) under the ruler of Porbandar and held the post for 28 years. Karamchand Gandhi (1822-1885), also called Kaba, proved an astute official. He was blessed with natural tact in dealing with the British. Yet he sometimes found his duties and feelings in conflict. Mohandas later remembered preparations for a British governor's visit. "Our household was turned upside down.... If I were a painter, I could paint my father's disgust and the torture on his face as he was putting his ... feet into ill-fitting and uncomfortable boots." Broad and stocky in contrast to the spare frame of his youngest son, the devout Kaba was a strict disciplinarian at home. He was about 47 when Mohandas, third son and fourth child of his fourth marriage, was born, Kaba arranged for his son's marriage with a Porbandar playmate, Kasturbai Makanji (1869-1944), when both youngsters were 12-an action which Mohandas later criticized severely. En route to the wedding, Kaba's carriage overturned, and he spent his last three years in bed.

Psychologist Erik Erikson, author of Gandhi's Truth, has pointed out that, because of Kaba's several marriages, the adult son regarded him as "possibly oversexed." According to Erikson, "by insisting on the son's early marriage, [Kaba] had cursed the son with his own carnal weakness."

Mohandas's mother, Putlibai (1822-1891), was a frail, illiterate woman of sweet disposition. She devoutly adhered to the vows and fasts prescribed for self-purification. One account describes her attitude toward food. "It was a pity that one could not dispense with it altogether, for, she reflected... it entered the mouth fresh and fragrant, and left the body as waste. "Yet she displayed a tolerance for all religions and, according to Erikson, "a certain basic religiosity-the undogmatic sense of being carried along by a demanding and yet trustworthy universe."

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