'God Bless Gandhi'
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869, the year the Suez Canal was opened, in the sleepy little fishing port of Porbandar, one of the web of 200 or so tiny princely states that stretched across the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat, midway between Bombay and Karachi. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was then dewan, chief minister, of Porbandar, but seven years later he moved to Rajkot as dewan to the rulers of both Rajkot and Wakaner. From his earliest years, therefore, Mohandas Gandhi was familiar with the processes of government, albeit on a minor scale, while at the same time he was insulated from direct British rule.
The Gandhis were Modh Banias, a sub-caste of the Vaishya class, the third of the four main Hindu divisions, originally composed of store-keepers and money-lenders (the name Gandhi means grocer in Gujarati). The family were devout Hindus, but not rigidly orthodox: they visited the temples of other Hindu sects and welcomed men of different faiths and traditions into their home — Muslims, Parsis and especially Jains. Monks of the Jain community called regularly and even ate with the family, and Jainism was to play a great part in shaping Gandhi's thinking.
Jainism, which started in about 500 BC as a breakaway Hindu reform movement, is particularly strong in Gujarat. It is an ascetic religion, based on the belief that everything in nature, even a rock or a stone, has a soul, and that it is wrong to destroy life in any shape or form. The eating of meat is unthinkable to Jains, who consume even vegetarian foods with great reluctance as an unfortunate necessity. Other central tenets of Jainism include the belief that fasting to death is the surest path to salvation - the founder of the faith, Mahavira, did so, though it took him 13 years.
Fasting has also always been part of Hindu tradition, both as a means of self-purification and through the practice of dharna. This is a means of shaming a