Mohandas K. Gandhi, byname Mahatma (“Great-Souled”) Gandhi (b. Oct. 2, 1869, Porbandar, India—d. Jan. 30, 1948, Delhi), Preeminent leader of Indian nationalism and prophet of nonviolence in the 20th century.
Gandhi grew up in a home steeped in religion, and he took for granted religious tolerance and the doctrine of ahimsa (noninjury to all living beings). He studied law in England but seemed too diffident to become a successful lawyer. He took a job with an Indian firm in South Africa. There he became an effective advocate for Indian rights. In 1906 he first put into action satyagraha, his technique of nonviolent resistance. His success in South Africa gave him an international reputation, and in 1915 he returned to India and within a few years became the leader of a nationwide struggle for Indian home rule. By 1920 Gandhi commanded influence hitherto unattained by any political leader in India. He refashioned the Indian National Congress into an effective political instrument of Indian nationalism and undertook major campaigns of nonviolent resistance in 1920–22, 1930–34 (including his momentous march to the sea to collect salt to protest a government monopoly), and 1940–42. In the 1930s he also campaigned to end discrimination against India’s untouchable class—whom he renamed Harijans (literally “children of God”)—and concentrated on educating rural India and promoting industry. India achieved dominion status in 1947, but the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan was a great disappointment to Gandhi, who had long worked for Hindu-Muslim unity. In September 1947 he ended rioting in Calcutta (Kolkata) by fasting. Known as the Mahatma (“Great-Souled”), Gandhi had won the affection and loyalty of millions. In January 1948 he was shot and killed by a young Hindu fanatic.