Interpretation of MK Gandhi’s Hinduism (2): Sanatani Hindu

By Prashant Jain

Next in the series of our articles on Gandhi’s Hinduism, we bring to you his definition of Sanatani Hindu. For those who have missed out on the first article which clearly defines the intent of this article series, I would request them to please read it here.

Let’s look at the excerpts first from one of his articles in Young India.

“In dealing with the problem of untouchability, I have asserted my claim to being a Sanatani Hindu with greater emphasis than hitherto, and yet there are things which are commonly done in the name of Hinduism, which I disregard. I have no desire to be called Sanatani Hindu or any other, if I am not such. And I have certainly no desire to steal in a reform or an abuse under cover of a great faith.

It is therefore necessary for me once for all distinctly to give my meaning of Sanatana Hinduism. The word Sanatana is used in its natural sense.

I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because, 

(1) I believe in the Vedas, the Upnishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth.

(2) I believe in the Varnashrama dharma in a sense in my opinion strictly Vedic, but not in its present popular and crude sense.

(3) I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular.

(4) I do not disbelieve in idol-worship.”

Young India, 6 October 1921

This is one of the best writings of Gandhi on Hinduism in the sense that he clearly defines his own practice of it. For him, Hinduism is all about seeking truth through non-violent means and anybody can have any definition by making sure that the eventual end is being met.  He acknowledges in this excerpt that Hinduism is being interpreted in an incorrect sense due to which many evils are being associated with it. Worst among these evils is untouchability.

Let’s interpret in detail what Mahatma has to say for being a Sanatani Hindu.

  • Belief in Vedas: Gandhi maintained that Vedas are excellent documents and maintained that the Bible and Quran are equally divinely inspired. This also means that not every single verse of Veda is to be believed. One should always apply his conscience in interpreting Vedas.
  • Varnashrama Dharma: In Vedas, it is written that the society should be divided into 4 strata according to one’s occupation. By this logic, a brahmin’s son can be a baniya if he is involved in trade and commerce. This means birth is not a criterion for division of society into four folds. Looking it through a reverse angle, there is no job which should be reserved for a particular set of people. Moreover, social dignity and status should not be associated with any particular occupation. As all the occupations are necessary, all are equally dignified and hence there should not be an existence of social evils like untouchability.
  • Cow Protection: Why cow is chosen for the protection is simple as she has been the companion and mother for many. It provides plenty and takes minimal. While we blame muslims for the cruelty on cows, we are also at fault. We bleed her to take the last drop of milk from her, we ill-treat the calves, we deprive them of their portion of milk, we treat the oxen cruelly, we castrate them, we beat them and we overload them. If they had speech, they would bear witness to our crimes against them which would stagger the world. The way to protect is to die for her. It is a denial of Hinduism and Ahimsa to kill a human being to protect a cow. Hindus are enjoined to protect the cow by their tapasya, by self-purification, by self-sacrifice.
  • Idol Worship: Gandhi showed his indifference to the practice of Idol Worship. Idol worship is a part of human nature because humans relate to the symbols. A true Hindu never mistakes an image for the God. Its just that people want to show their gratitude and that gratitude cannot be in air, it has to be directed towards something. This means idol worship is actually a non issue.

Even after nearly 100 years of this article, understanding of Hinduism has been partially flawed. Gandhi was a logical man who saw religion from rational perspective. He used religion to promote truth and nonviolence and remained successful till his last breath. It is a shame for India that his writings on Hinduism are not considered primary while understanding it.

P.S. The opinions expressed in above article are extensions of MK Gandhi’s notion of Hinduism and we do believe that they are highly relevant in current context of India. We, at Know India, do not propagate any religion in any preferential manner.

About the Writer: Prashant is a graduate from IIT Bombay and a co-founder of Know India. He can be reached on facebook and on mail at

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