Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India
Front cover of the first American edition
Author Joseph Lelyveld
Country USA
Language English
Subject Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Genre Biography
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf (US)
Harper Collins India (India)[1]
Published in English
March 29, 2011
Pages 432

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India is a 2011 biography of Indian political and spiritual leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld and published by Alfred A Knopf.[1]

The book is split between the time Gandhi spent in South Africa and his return to India as the Mahatma.[2]

Great Soul has engendered controversy based on early reviews, which portray passages within the book as hinting that the relationship between Gandhi and his friend Hermann Kallenbach was more intimate than previously thought and possibly sexual in nature.

Critical and popular reception

Writing for The New York Times, Hari Kunzru finds Great Soul to be "judicious and thoughtful". Lelyveld's book, he writes, will be revelatory to American readers who may only be familiar with the rudiments of Gandhi's life and for those readers, perhaps especially Indian readers, who are better acquainted with the Gandhi story the book's portrait of the man will still be challenging.[2]

Reports of passages within the book regarding the nature of Gandhi and Kallenbach's relationship prompted media outlets to ponder "Was Gandhi gay?"[1] Kunzru for the Times observes that modern readers who are less familiar with the concept of Platonic love may interpret the relationship, in particular their romantic-sounding letters, as indicating a sexually charged relationship. However, he adds that Gandhi took a vow of celibacy in 1906, which both Gandhi and the people of India saw as a cornerstone of his moral authority.[2] Andrew Roberts for The Wall Street Journal counters this idea of celibacy with descriptions of Gandhi's 'testing' of his vow of celibacy with young women. He also quotes passages from Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach included in the text, such as "how completely you have taken ­possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance" to support his conclusion that Gandhi was a "sexual weirdo" along with being "a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist".[3]

The assembly of Gandhi's home state of Gujarat on March 20, 2011, voted unanimously to ban Great Soul because of the controversy. Lelyveld has stated that the gay interpretation of his work is a mistake. "The book does not say that Gandhi was bisexual or homosexual. It says that he was celibate and deeply attached to Kallenbach. This is not news."[4]

Written by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Joseph Lelyveld, "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India" claims that the founder of modern India had a sexual relationship with Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jewish bodybuilder and also made disparaging remarks about black Africans during his early years in South Africa.[5]

One criticism is Lelyveld’s use of documentary evidence and informed opinion to point to the relationship that Gandhi had developed with a Prussian architect whom the Indian playfully boasted as “having received physical training at the hands of [Eugen] Sandow [the father of modern bodybuilding]”. Lelyveld’s inquiry includes quotes from a letter sent by Gandhi to Kallenbach from London in 1909: “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the bedroom. The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed… [The purpose of which] is to show to you and me how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.”.[6] Later, the Indian government bought several personal letters.[7]

He also quotes cultural historian Tridip Suhrud who says Gandhi and Kallenbach “were a couple”.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Book Raises Question: Was Gandhi Gay?
  2. ^ a b c Appreciating Gandhi Through His Human Side
  3. ^ Among the Hagiographers
  4. ^ India state bans book hinting Gandhi had gay lover
  5. ^ " > Latest news on India,Cricket,Bollywood,Business - from India's leading online news channel". 2013-03-03. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  6. ^ "Controversial book on Gandhi banned in his native state". 2011-03-30. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  7. ^

External links

  • Review of Lelyveld's Gandhi biography by Christopher Hitchens, July 2011 in The Atlantic
  • How outrage gripped Gandhi’s recalcitrant nation by Thomas Weber, July 2011 from
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