Mohandas Gandhi is usually remembered as one of history’s greatest leaders. His quotes, and often quotes attributed to him that he never actually said, are often brought up as a source of deep wisdom about peace and love. And in many ways, this image of Gandhi is close to the mark. He did lead one of the most successful non-violent resistance movements of all time, and people did recognize that he seemed to possess a lot of spiritual wisdom. But like so many historical figures, Gandhi had a few dark skeletons in his closet.
Gandhi was often referred to by the title “Mahatma,” meaning “great soul.” The title was a recognition of his dedication to spiritual learning and advancement. To that end, Gandhi tried to live a life of spiritual purity. He was a life-long vegetarian, and later in his life, took a vow of strict chastity. That desire to refrain from having sex may have been rooted in the fact that Gandhi himself seems to have had a fairly healthy libido from a young age. At just 13 years old, Gandhi was married to a girl who was a year older, which wasn’t uncommon in India at the time.
Gandhi was skeptical of the marriage at first and worried that both he and his wife were too young. But he quickly took a liking to the physical aspect of marriage. He frequently complained that he and his young wife were having so much sex that he had little time to do anything else. And Gandhi’s libido does seem to have had a serious effect on his scheduling priorities. For instance, even when his father lay dying, Gandhi left his side to have sex with his wife. Gandhi was so busy doing that, that he missed his father’s passing.
Gandhi seems to have felt a lot of guilt at not being present when his father died because he was overcome with physical desire. But it wasn’t until he was in his 30’s that he took a personal vow of chastity and poverty. And he was very vocal about the benefits of the lifestyle. He frequently encouraged young couples who were getting married to abstain from sex. But his natural interest in sex didn’t go away just because he wasn’t having any. In fact, many have described Gandhi as being “obsessed” with sex.
Gandhi preached the importance of celibacy, often in graphic detail, to just about anyone who would listen. He even went so far as to say that it was the duty of every Indian not to marry. And if they did marry, they should abstain from sex with their spouse for the benefit of their souls. As Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, described these ideas, they struck many as “abnormal and unnatural.” But Gandhi was absolutely dedicated to the idea of chastity. He even began conducting strange sexual experiments to discover the best way to stay chaste. Or at least, that’s how Gandhi explained them to others.