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Gandhi for Kids
His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
By Ellen Mahoney
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2016 Ellen Mahoney
All rights reserved.
EARLY YEARS BY THE SEA
If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. — M. K. Gandhi
When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in the small coastal town of Porbandar, India, his world was already changing. By his birthday, the torrential rains and high winds brought on by the region's monsoon season had passed, and drier, more comfortable winter days were on the way.
Porbandar was a seaport located in the large state of Gujarat in northwest India. Situated on the shores of the Arabian Sea in the ear-shaped Kathiawar Peninsula, Porbandar overlooked an expansive blue ocean framed by long stretches of white sandy beaches. It offered young Mohandas an exciting place to live during his early childhood. Small fishing boats and large ships would come and go, and townsfolk could fish or swim in the ocean or fly kites and walk along the beach. As waves continually crashed against the shoreline, the port was often highlighted by beautiful rainbows, colorful sunsets, or dramatic lightning storms.
As a boy, Mohandas was surrounded by wildlife. Cows, horses, goats, cats, and dogs roamed the streets of Porbandar, and it was common to see oxen pulling passengers or cargo in two-wheeled or four-wheeled bullock carts. A wide range of colorful birds such as pink flamingos, great white pelicans, egrets, and herons could be seen flying about, perched in trees, or standing on beaches or in marshes. In the distant forests and plains of Gujarat, lions, leopards, and deer roamed their natural habitats.
Fishing was an important industry in Porbandar, and fishermen would take out their wooden boats and cast wide nets to catch shrimp, tuna, eel, squid, and catfish. The tangy smell of fish drying in the salty ocean breeze was a familiar scent around town. Porbandar was also a hub for trade with Africa and the Middle East, and large ships were often seen transporting products such as tobacco, timber, and cotton.
Gujarat was rich in the mineral limestone, and a thick limestone wall had been built near the water to protect the city from ocean storms and high waves. As it aged, the limestone wall eventually hardened and turned to a yellow-white color. When the sun reflected off the white wall, it was a dazzling landmark for incoming sailors who could easily spot it. Porbandar was sometimes called "The White City" because of the wall's bright white appearance.
A BUSY HOME
Mohandas was born in a large three-story house in the heart of Porbandar, not far from the sea. Like most structures of the region, this building was constructed of limestone. Homes in the neighborhood were built close to one another with tight alleyways between them. Mohandas's neighborhood had narrow lanes that were lined with temples, shops, street vendors, and bustling bazaars.
The extended Gandhi family lived in this home for nearly a century before Mohandas was born. He lived with his parents, a sister, and two brothers on the first floor, and his extended family of stepsiblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents resided on the two upper floors. It was common for extended Indian families to all live under one roof in this way.
Wood-framed windows and a large door and veranda welcomed visitors to their box-shaped house. For decoration, intricate floral patterns adorned many walls and doorways. There were not many windows throughout the home, and because the sparsely furnished rooms tended to be dark, Mohandas's family relied on oil lamps for light and warmth. A large balcony on the upper floor provided sunshine and fresh air, and family members often enjoyed spending time there.
Freshwater was a precious commodity in Porbandar. Drinking water could taste salty, so the Gandhi family devised a way to obtain freshwater. Before the monsoon season, the flat roof of their three-story home was cleaned so it could catch rainwater. The rainwater was then funneled down through a pipe and stored in a large underground tank built below Mohandas's house.
Mohandas's home also had a small kitchen, where aromatic vegetarian dishes such as lentils with flatbread were prepared. Foods were cooked and water was heated on a stove fueled by firewood or cow dung patties. When ignited, the flat, round cow dung patties provided consistent heat for cooking.
A special family puja room was a sacred and serene area of the home used for prayer, worship, and meditation. Mohandas's family members were Hindus and practiced the religion of Hinduism.
A CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY
Although Mohandas's father's name was Karamchand, friends and family fondly called him Kaba. For many years, Kaba experienced heartache. He had already been married three times when he married 13-year-old Putlibai in 1857. Two of Kaba's former wives had died, and he had two daughters from these previous marriages. His third wife was unable to bear children, which was difficult for the couple, and this marriage had also ended.
Hinduism is the most popular religion in India, and there are nearly one billion followers worldwide today. Hinduism is one of the three largest religions in the world along with Christianity and Islam. Many historians view Hinduism, which originated in India, as one of the oldest religions on Earth. Its followers are called Hindus, and there is no single founder or prophet.
Hinduism is a unique religion with a wide variety of deities, rituals, traditions, and celebrations. It is often regarded as a way of life that influences followers' everyday thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Hindus accept different faiths as valid and believe that there are many paths to God, as expressed in the saying, "Truth is one, paths are many."
At the core of Hinduism is the worship of a Supreme Being. Hindus also worship many deities, which may take on human or animal features. Some of the most popular Hindu deities include Rama (an avatar, or human incarnation, of Vishnu), Ganesha (the elephant deity), Krishna (the blue-skinned deity), and Lakshmi (the goddess of good fortune).
Hinduism has four major denominations including Shaivism, which honors the deity Shiva as God; Vaishnavism, which honors Vishnu as God; Shaktism, which honors the Divine Mother as God; and Smartism, which honors many deities. Gandhi's family belonged to the Vaishnavism denomination and worshipped Vishnu and his divine avatars, Krishna and Rama.
The Vedas are sacred Hindu texts and shed light on four basic principles: karma (the consequences of one's positive or negative actions), samsara (the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth; reincarnation), all-pervasive divinity (the belief that God is everywhere, in everyone and everything), and dharma (the act of leading a righteous and compassionate life).
When Putlibai married Kaba, it was her first and only marriage, and she eventually gave birth to a daughter, Raliatbehn, and three sons: Laxmidas, Karsandas, and Mohandas, who was nicknamed "Moniya."
Raliatbehn, the eldest, often cared for young Moniya, as did his aunts, cousins, and a beloved nanny, Rambha. The entire family enjoyed Moniya's inquisitive nature, and Raliatbehn spent a great deal of time outdoors with her baby brother, as he loved to see the many animals around town.
Although Porbandar was a picturesque place to live, the town sometimes bothered Mohandas as he grew older. Hard-nosed, rum- drinking sailors with salty language and bravado frequented the seaport, and ancient tales of seafaring pirates abounded. In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi admitted he was shy as a boy and frightened by many things, including thieves, ghosts, snakes, spiders, and even the dark. He often sought refuge in the safety of his home. Realizing Mohandas was struggling with many fears, Rambha encouraged him to repeat the word "Ramanama" over and over again for comfort and strength. "Ramanama" means the "name of Rama."
Kaba and Putlibai were hardworking individuals and had an important influence on Mohandas's entire life. Mohandas respected and admired his father but regarded him as somewhat stern. In his autobiography, Gandhi later wrote, "My father was a lover of his clan, truthful, brave and generous, but short-tempered." Kaba worked as a prominent Porbandar official called a diwan and was regarded as a man of high moral standing. When Mohandas would walk around Porbandar with his father, townsfolk would sometimes give him coins, sweets, and flatbreads out of respect.
Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed god, is one of the most popular Hindu deities. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles in one's life, the destroyer of selfishness, vanity, and pride, and the reminder of life's abundance and joy.
Ganesha is depicted in different ways and often has four arms, two legs, and a round belly. In his hands he holds various symbolic objects, such as a lotus flower for enlightenment, a small ax to sever negativity, and a plate of sweet dumplings to symbolize the rewards of a good life. Ganesha also holds up a right hand with his palm facing forward as a blessing of protection for all who view him. A small mouse sits beside Ganesha as a reminder that one's ego can nibble away at happiness and success in life.
Create a Toran
In India, torans are used to adorn doorways, especially for Hindu festivals and weddings. Also called bandanwaars, these auspicious and welcoming door hangings are made with a variety of materials, such as leaves, flowers, fabric, beads, and metals. Torans often honor Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and are symbols of love, happiness, and positive energy. Make your own toran with a festive design of mango leaves and marigolds.
* Printer paper
* 4 sheets of green construction paper
* Dark green colored pencil
* 1 sheet of yellow construction paper
* Dark orange colored pencil
* Paper punch
* Twine, 42-inch (107-cm) length
* Twine, 16 4-inch (10.2-cm) pieces
1. Use printer paper to trace the mango leaf and marigold flower patterns on this page, and cut each out.
2. Use the leaf pattern you made in step 1 to draw and cut out 16 leaves on the green paper. Next, draw in the veins of each leaf with a dark green colored pencil.
3. Use the flower pattern you made in step 1 to draw and cut out 16 marigolds on yellow paper. Next, draw in flower petals on each flower with a dark orange colored pencil.
4. Place the flowers over the leaves at the top of the leaves, and use a paper punch to make a single hole in each of the 16 leaf and flower sets.
5. Use the 16 4-inch (10.2-cm) pieces of twine to tie the leaf and flower sets to the 42-inch length of twine.
6. Make a small loop at each end of your toran so you can hang it in a doorway.
Kaba enjoyed talking with many people from different religions and backgrounds, and he was very open to hearing others' points of view. As a boy, Mohandas observed how his father interacted with individuals from diverse backgrounds. He also watched his father help his mother around the house with chores such as cutting vegetables or washing clothes. These insights played a key role in the young boy's future as a husband, father, and leader.
Mohandas had a close and caring relationship with his mother, and they seemed to have a lot in common. Putlibai was highly regarded in the community for her intellect and thoughtfulness. She took Mohandas and her other children along when she cared for others who needed medical attention. His mother's generosity helped him learn about being kind to others. She was also known for keeping a cool head. Once when a deadly scorpion came near her, she calmly picked it up and tossed it out the window.
Mohandas's mother belonged to the Pranami Vaishnava faith, which was a sect of Hinduism that included elements of Islam. She also grew up honoring the ancient traditions of Jainism, a religion that focused on vegetarianism, compassion, fasting, and tolerance. Putlibai had deep religious feelings but did not insist that others follow her beliefs or traditions. However, she did cultivate Mohandas's curiosity about religion, spirituality, and faith. She also planted many seeds in his mind about how to conduct one's life with integrity.
Mohandas's childhood was busy and filled with love. He grew up enjoying many Hindu holidays and festivals, such as Diwali, the Festival of Lights, which represents the start of the Hindu New Year. Diwali lasts five days and celebrates light over darkness and goodness over evil.
SPECIAL FAMILY TRADITIONS
Like many Hindus, the Gandhi family practiced vegetarianism; most family members did not eat meat. Putlibai also taught Mohandas about the practice of fasting, which is the intentional act of not eating foods for personal or religious reasons. The term breakfast refers to the breaking of one's fast after a night of sleep. At times Putlibai's fasting upset Mohandas. In his autobiography, he wrote about his mother's strict fasting during Chaturmas, a holy period that lasted four months from July to October and coincided with the rainy monsoon season.
To keep two or three consecutive fasts was nothing to her. Living on one meal a day during Chaturmas was a habit with her. Not content with that, she fasted every alternate day during one Chaturmas. During another Chaturmas she vowed not to have food without seeing the sun. We children on those days would stand, staring at the sky, waiting to announce the appearance of the sun to our mother. Everyone knows that at the height of the rainy season the sun often does not condescend to show his face. And I remember days when, at his sudden appearance, we would rush and announce it to her. She would run out to see with her own eyes, but by that time the fugitive sun would be gone, thus depriving her of her meal. "That does not matter," she would say cheerfully, "God did not want me to eat today." And then she would return to her round of duties.
Mohandas and his extended family members were part of an ancient Indian system of social classes. Often called castes, these self-governing classes were developed for social stability and a sense of community; members shared similar occupations and typically married within the group. The system was based on four main groups, called varnas, which included Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (kings and warriors), Vaishyas (traders, artisans, and farmers), and Shudras (peasants and laborers).
The Sacred Cow
In Hinduism the cow is revered and respected as a cherished symbol of life, abundance, strength, and the Earth. Hindus do not worship the cow as a deity, but rather the cow is an adored and protected animal that should never be injured or killed. Many Hindus are vegetarians and most do not eat beef, but cows do provide Indian families with milk and cream, used to make ice cream, custard, yogurt, soft cheese, and ghee, which is a special clarified butter used in many foods. Cows often roam freely in the streets of India, and during special Indian festivals such as Diwali, cows are washed and decorated with garlands, paint, and ornaments; they are fed special sweets and paraded through towns.
Make Diya Candleholders
Diyas are traditional Indian lamps used for special occasions such as Diwali. These small, cup-shaped oil lamps are made of baked clay and typically use a cotton wick placed in the lamp's oil. You can make decorative diyas out of salt dough and use tea lights.
ADULT SUPERVISION REQUIRED
* Flour, 1 cup
* Salt, ½ cup
* Mixing bowl
* Water, ½ cup
* Cookie sheet
* Tea light
* Acrylic paints
* Craft glue
* Glitter and sequins
* Felt (optional)
1. Stir together the flour and salt in the mixing bowl. Slowly add water and mix all ingredients with a fork until the dough thickens.
2. Shape the dough into a small ball with your hands and then halve.
3. Place the two halves of the dough on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Shape and flatten each one into a round form with slightly dampened fingers.
4. Gently push a tea light into the center of each dough mound to form a groove for the candle. Remove the tea light so you can widen the groove and smooth the clay. You can use a fork to make decorative ridges on the outside of the diyas.
5. Bake diyas (without tea lights) at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours. Check them about every hour for doneness; they should slowly harden as they bake.
6. After baking, remove the diyas from the oven. Let them cool and harden for two days. Use the spatula to loosen the diyas from the cookie sheet. The top and bottom should dry completely.
7. Once the diyas have hardened, decorate them with paint, glitter, and sequins.
8. Place a tea light in the center of your finished diya. Remember — never leave a lit candle unattended.
Mohandas's family belonged to a subcaste called Modh Bania of the larger Vaishya caste, and this was an important part of their lives and place in their community. The word Modh indicates the Gujarat region, and the word Bania means "trader."
A group known as "untouchables" existed as a community outside the caste system. These individuals were responsible for the most unclean work in the community, such as sanitation and cremation. As an adult, Gandhi believed untouchables were treated unfairly and preferred to call them Harijan, which means "children of God."
BETROTHED AT SEVEN
The betrothal and marriage between a boy and girl of the same religion and caste have been a tradition in Indian culture for centuries. It was a common practice when Mohandas was a boy. A betrothal is a formal agreement to marry someone else and is arranged by the parents of the bride and groom.
By the time Mohandas was seven years old, he had already been betrothed three times, but two of the girls had died. In 1876, seven-nyear-old Kastur Kapadia, a neighborhood girl, was chosen to be Mohandas's future bride. On a specially chosen day, Mohandas's father, Kaba Gandhi, visited Kastur's parents and asked if their daughter could marry his youngest son. The offer was accepted, and a decorative plate filled with fruits and flowers was placed on Kastur's head. A Hindu priest then gave his blessing to affirm the betrothal. After the engagement ceremony, guests enjoyed eating traditional Indian sweets and cookies.
Excerpted from Gandhi for Kids by Ellen Mahoney. Copyright © 2016 Ellen Mahoney. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsNote to Readers,
Introduction — Mohandas Gandhi,
1. EARLY YEARS BY THE SEA,
2. NEW HORIZONS,
3. A LAWYER AND A REBEL,
4. THE ASHRAM LIFE,
5. THE POWER OF NONVIOLENCE,
6. SPINNING AND FASTING,
7. MARCHING TOWARD INDEPENDENCE,
8. GANDHI'S LEGACY,
Places to Visit, in Person or Online,