Respected author S. Somaskandan’s life- long association with famed Banaras Hindu University, (BHU) started as a student and continued even after his retirement. As a result, he had the rare opportunity to closely observe and interact with educational luminary Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (Mahamana). He had equal high regard for Mohandas Gandhi (Mahatma). So he thought about writing about these two legendary architects of modern India. He began writing the above book but sadly passed away without finishing it. But his gifted, loving and duteous daughter Dr.Rama Venkataraman completed the work as visualized by her late father.
The deeply researched, well documented, erudite, motivating and inspiring book about the lives and times of two renowned illustrious Indian nationalists and freedom-fighters, imbued with a spirit of self-sacrifice and selfless service, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Mahatma Gandhi, against a backdrop of social, cultural and political changes, has garnered critical praise.
The book is divided in three parts. The first part deals with the fully chronicled life of Malaviyaji, the large hearted (Mahamana). The second part covers 21 years spent by Mahatma (The great soul) Gandhi in South Africa. And in the third part the authors highlight the similarities and some major differences between them.
Malaviyaji was born in Allahabad, known as Teerthraj Prayag, in an orthodox high caste Brahmin family of Brij Nath and Moona Devi, on 25th December 1861. He was a voracious reader with a sharp memory-he knew many slokas of Manusmruti, Gita and other holy epics by heart. He was of austere habits, performed very well in studies and sports. Dr.Radhakrishnan lauded his captivating oratory, “Greatest orator in both Hindi and English’. He also excelled in debates and dramas.
At the age of 16, he married Kundan Devi. He earned his B.A.Degree in 1884. He had to discontinue his studies for M.A. Degree due to family circumstances. He became a teacher, and a member of the Indian National Congress and also worked as Editor of ‘Hindustan’, ‘Indian People’’Leader’, etc.to support the cause of the Indian National Congress by propagating its ideals and principles. ‘
After about two and half years in journalism, he studied law. He had a very lucrative law practice, but he quit it in order to devote full time in social work and political activities. During his career as a lawyer, he petitioned the Government for use of Hindi as court and official language. In 1900, the Government acceded to the use of Nagri script in Court documents.
During the second session of Congress, he made an eloquent and strong plea to the British Government for representative institutions for Indians. Due to his impressive performance at the two Congress sessions, he emerged as a national leader. He served as member of the Allahabad Municipal Board, Provincial Legislative Council and Imperial Legislative Council.
The Theosophical Society had established its Head- quarters at Adyar, Madras in 1882. Annie Besant who arrived in India in 1893 felt that there was a strong need to arouse a spirit of nationalism through an education founded on Indian ideals rather than just the thought and culture of the West. Central Hindu College was opened in 1898.Mrs.Besant then thought of establishing a national University.Malaviya’s dream was also to establish a Central Hindu University at Banaras. He, Annie Besant and the Raja of Darbhanga worked together and the dream project of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was realized on 4th February 1916.BHU today is one of the leading educational and research institutions in India, with an enrollment of over 20,000 bright minds and hostel accommodation for over 9,000 students (boys and girls). It is the largest residential University in Asia.Gandhiji was proud of Malaviya’s efforts in founding BHU but disapproved of the comforts provided to the hostel-inmates.
Mohanlal Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869. He was married to Kastur before he was thirteen. After his high school studies, he went to London and passed London Matriculation examination with Latin. He was called to the Bar in June, 1891, and after enrollment in the High Court, returned to India. He set up a small office in Rajkot but after a few months, sailed to South Africa at the invitation of Dada Abdulla. Gandhi persuaded the two opposing parties to settle the case out of court.
The case was over, But Gandhi, instead of returning to India spent almost 21 years in South Africa to help the indentured Indian labour who were called ‘Coolies’ win their rights and dignity. Indians were not allowed to own land or enjoy the rights as a citizen. They had to live in segregated areas. They had to register and carry passes. Children could not attend public schools.
Gandhi too suffered segregation and humiliation. He was thrown out of a train despite a ticket, physically assaulted when he landed from the steamer, fined and imprisoned on a number of occasions. During the Boer War, between the Dutch (Boers) and the British, he helped the British through Indian Ambulance Corps. He founded the Natal Indian Congress in May 1894. He launched a weekly journal ‘Indian Opinion ‘in 1903.
In 1906, Transvaal Government published an Ordinance that every Indian entitled to reside in the Transvaal must register with the Registrar of Asiatic and take out a Certificate of Registration. Gandhi and others refused to register. Their resistance efforts marked the first use of nonviolent non-cooperation by the Indian minority in South Africa, soon called Satyagraha, or "soul-force" Despite the visit of Gandhi and H.O.Ali to England, the Black Act was passed in May 1907.Smuts promised to withdraw the Black Act if the Indians registered voluntarily but did not keep his word. The second deputation of Gandhi and Sheth Haji Habib also failed, so the Satyagraha was intensified. A new crisis was brewing. In March 1913, the Supreme Court ruled that all marriages effected outside were unacceptable in South Africa except those celebrated under Christian rites and registered by the Registrar of Marriages.Now women also joined the satyagrahis.Coal miners went on strike in support. Finally Indian Relief Bill was passed and the Satyagraha struggle ended after eight years. Gandhi returned to India. His close friend and dedicated patriot friend Gokhale passed away on Feb.19, 1915.Gandhiji settled down in Sabarmati Ashram to wage his battle for India’s freedom.
Both Mahamana and Mahatma worked for the same purpose –i.e.freedom of India. Both practiced law but never took fees from the poor. Both persuaded their clients to settle their cases out of court. Mahamana renounced his lucrative practice to raise funds for and to concentrate on establishing BHU and to devote more time to political and social activism. Likewise Gandhi also threw up his practice to serve the nation and attain India’s freedom.
During the Plague in Bombay in1896, Mahamana helped the needy through Chairmanship of Municipal Board. Similarly during the Black Plague in South Africa, Mahatma and his volunteers helped the patients. Mahamana and Mahatma worked together for cow protection, on enquiry and relief in the Punjab, swadeshi movement, the Khadi movement and opposition of the Communal Award.
But there were issues when they did not think alike. They worked passionately for the uplift of untouchables (Harijans).But on Harijan Temple entry, Malaviya believed that the best way to achieve it was through persuasion and not legislation according to Gandhi.
The Khilafat movement received Gandhi’s support as he felt that it would promote Hindu-Muslim unity ,and so he linked it with his non-cooperation movement but Malaviya did not support mass movement under existing conditions.
Gandhi wanted to nationalize the BHU as he felt that the Government controlled the BHU by giving it grants. Gandhi also called for boycott of Government-aided institutions, Legislative Council, Law Courts ,etc. But Malaviyaji was against boycotting educational institutions.
Although they did not see eye to eye on all issues, they agreed to disagree and did not let differences endanger any bitterness or rancour.Gandhiji treated Malaviyaji as his elder brother and always sought his blessings. Both had similar vision, goals and principles.
In conclusion, they respected each other and had deep concern for each other’s welfare. When Gandhiji undertook a three weeks fast in September 1924 at the residence of Mohammad Ali, Malaviyaji recited the Srimad Bhagavata to invoke divine help for Gandhiji. The latter wrote in his autography that when he heard the recitation from Malaviyaji, it invoked such a deep religious fervor in him that he wished he had heard his uplifting recitations in childhood “so that I could have formed a liking for it at an early age. Impressions formed at that age strike deep roots deep down into one’s nature…”to form a liking for
The engrossing book written in lucid prose provides interesting insights and profound portraits of world’s two great exemplary humanists. It has rare black and white photographs and useful glossary of Hindi and Sanskrit words.
Dr.(Mrs) Rama Venkataramn is a BHU alumna from Sanskrit faculty. She did her MA (1965) and PhD (1970)in Sanskrit from BHU. She is a prolific writer and lives in Chennai.
Late Shri S.Somaskandan was born in Punalur (Kerala) and brought up in Banaras. He joined BHU in 1939 and while in service there he completed his post-graduation in Psychology (1952). Author of several books, he also had a deep knowledge of scriptures, music and astrology.
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