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Mahatama Gandhi and Celibacy and Asceticism

When Gandhi was 16 his father became very ill. Being very devoted to his parents, he attended to his father at all times during his illness. However, one night, Gandhi’s uncle came to relieve Gandhi for a while. He retired to his bedroom where carnal desires overcame him and he made love to his wife. Shortly afterward a servant came to report that Gandhi’s father had just died. Gandhi felt tremendous guilt and never could forgive himself. He came to refer to this event as “double shame. The incident had significant influence in Gandhi becoming celibate at the age of 36, while still married. [78] This decision was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Brahmacharya — spiritual and practical purity — largely associated with celibacy and asceticism. Gandhi saw Brahmacharya as a means of becoming close with God and as a primary foundation for self realisation. In his autobiography he tells of his battle against lustful urges and fits of jealousy with his childhood bride, Kasturba.

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He felt it his personal obligation to remain celibate so that he could learn to love, rather than lust. For Gandhi, Brahmacharya meant “control of the senses in thought, word and deed. “. [79] Towards the end of his life, it became public knowledge that Gandhi had been sharing his bed for a number of years with young women. [80][81] He explained that he did this for bodily warmth at night and termed his actions as “nature cure”. Later in his life he started experimenting with brahmacharya in order to test his self control.

His letter to Birla in April, 1945 referring to ‘women or girls who have been naked with me’ indicates that several women were part of his experiments. [82] He wrote five editorials in Harijan discussing the practice of brahmacharya. [83] As part of these experiments, he initially slept with his women associates in the same room but at a distance. Afterwards he started to lie in the same bed with his women disciples and later took to sleeping naked alongside them. [82] According to Gandhi active-celibacy meant perfect self control in the presence of the opposite sex.

Gandhi conducted his experiments with a number of women such as Abha, the sixteen year old wife of his grandnephew Kanu Gandhi. Gandhi acknowledged “that this experiment is very dangerous indeed”, but thought “that it was capable of yielding great results”. [84] His nineteen year old grandniece, Manu Gandhi, too was part of his experiments. Gandhi had earlier written to her father, Jaisukhlal Gandhi, that Manu had started to share his bed so that he may “correct her sleeping posture”. [84] Gandhi saw himself as a mother to these women and would refer to Abha and Manu as “my walking sticks”.

Gandhi called Sarladevi, a married woman with children and a devout follower, his “spiritual wife”. He later said that he had come close to having sexual relations with her. [85] He had told a correspondent in March, 1945 that “sleeping together came with my taking up of bramhacharya or even before that”; he said he had experimented with his wife “but that was not enough”. [84] Gandhi felt satisfied with his experiments and wrote to Manu that “I have successfully practiced the eleven vows taken by me.

This is the culmination of my striving for last thirty six years. In this yajna I got a glimpse of the ideal truth and purity for which I have been striving”. [86] Gandhi had to take criticism for his experiments by many of his followers and opponents. His stenographer, R. P. Parasuram, resigned when he saw Gandhi sleeping naked with Manu. [87] Gandhi insisted that he never felt aroused while he slept beside her, or with Sushila or Abha. “I am sorry” Gandhi said to Parasuram, “you are at liberty to leave me today. Nirmal Kumar Bose, leading anthropologist and close associate of Gandhi, parted company with him in April, 1947 post Gandhi’s tour of Noakhali, where some sort of altercation had taken place between Gandhi and Sushila Nayar in his bedroom at midnight that caused Gandhi to slap his forehead. Bose said, “there was no immorality on part of Gandhi. Moreover Gandhi tried to conquer the feeling of sex by consciously endeavouring to convert himself into a mother of those who were under his case, whether men or women”. This maternal emphasis has also been pointed out by Dattatreya Balkrushna Kalelkar, a revolutionary turned disciple of Gandhi


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