Ghandi’s philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience helped unite the Indian people after nearly three centuries of British rule. But what was his sex life like?
I’m currently reading Dominique LaPierre and Larry Collins 1975 book “Freedom at Midnight” about the Brits and Indians responsible for the birth of sovereign India (and Pakistan) in 1947. This surprisingly interesting 500-page historical narrative tells you everything you never knew you wanted to know about India in 1947, including the sex life of one of the most inspirational figures of the 20th century: Mahatma Ghandi (Fun fact: Mahatma isn’t Ghandi’s first name. It was a title given to Ghandi by the poet and Nobel laureate Rahndranath Tagore. It means “great soul”).
For instance, when Ghandi was 77 and traveling the countryside going from village to village pleading with Muslims and Hindus to keep the country united rather than slice a chunk off to form Muslim Pakistan, he slept naked every night with his 19-year old grandniece Manu.
As the book explains: “They would, he decreed, share each night the crude straw pallet which passed for his bed. He regarded himself as her mother; she had said that she had found nothing but a mother’s love in him. If they were both truthful, if he remained firm in his ancient vow of chastity and she had never known sexual arousal, then they would be able to lie together in the innocence of a mother and daughter. If one of them was not being truthful, they would soon discover it.”
According to the book, Ghandi often slept alongside naked women to test his sexual restraint. His decision to live a chaste life, according to the book, was because “for countless centuries, a Hindus route to self-reliazation had passed by the sublimation of that vital force responsible for the creation of life. Only by forcing his sexual energy inward to fuel the furnace of his spiritual force, the Hindu ancients maintained, could a man achieve the spiritual intensity necessary for self-reliazation.”
Ghandi didn’t always practice celibacy. He was married at 13 to a 14-year girl named Kasturba and the two practiced as normal a sex life as two prepubescent teenagers can. In fact, shortly after their nuptials Kasturba was pregnant with the first of the couples eventual four children. However, at the age of 15, Ghandi’s father died while Ghandi was having sex with Kasturba. Ghandi was stricken with a deep sense of guilt and sorrow at his father’s passing. He would eventually take a vow of brahmacharya, which in India means living a spiritual life.
Ghandi was firm in his belief that he needed to channel his sexual energy to give him the moral and spiritual power to achieve his life goal: a free and united India.
But this was no easy task. Ghandi was a sexual being and admitted that he found it hard to curb his arousal. In fact, the book explains an episode in 1936 that Ghandi referred to as his “darkest hour.”
“That night, at the age of 37, Ghandi awoke after an arousing dream with what would have been to most men of that age the source of some satisfaction, but was to Ghandi a calamity, an erection,” the book says. “There, quivering between his loins was proof that he had still not reached the ideal toward which he had been striving for three decades. The body that he thought he had controlled had thrown up its manifest evidence of his own imperfections. Ghandi was so overwhelmed by anguish at ‘this frightful experience’ that he swore a vow of total silence for six weeks.”
Ghandi also set up “experiments” where he would arrange for men and woman to bathe together naked as a test of their own sexual desires. He eventually came to the scientific conclusion that if a man wants to have sex with his wife, he should take a cold bath instead.
But unlike what he told his followers, Ghandi had his own version of chastity, and it involved sleeping with naked woman to test his sexual fortitude. Ghandi said that “the perfect brahmachari in Ghandi’s mind was a man who could ‘lie by the side of a Venus in all her naked beauty, without being physically or mentally disturbed.”
Noteworthy is Ghandi’s philosophy on semen, which he viewed as having mythical powers and that “one who conserves his vital fluid acquires unfailing power.” The Mahatma complained of nightly “discharges” sometimes, which may or may not have something to do with his sleeping arrangements.
Unsurprisingly, in volatile 1947 India, Ghandi’s practices were deeply frowned upon, including by some of Ghnadi’s very own followers. The situation reached a head in 1947 when word broke that Ghandi was sleeping with his 19-year old grandniece. Ghandi tried to explain his reasoning, saying “if I don’t let Manu sleep with me, though I regard it as essential that she should, wouldn’t that be a sign of weakness in me?”
I imagine most people probably rolled their eyes.
Eventually, Manu told Ghandi that they should sleep in separate beds so as not to attract negative attention.
“The concession that she proposed was only temporary, she assured him, a concession to the smaller minds around them who could not understand the goals he sought.”
Ghandi’s brahmachari is something of a stain on his legacy, albeit one that has peen pushed to the margins if not completely ignored. And in the end, a dissenting Ghandi was forced to watch from the sidelines as the leaders of India’s Congress Party negotiated the terms of the country’s independence. The Mahatma’s vital fluid could only do so much.