Date: 02/10/2013

Sexual torment of a saint: A new book reveals Gandhi tortured himself with the young women who worshipped him, and often shared his bed

By Glenys Roberts
UPDATED: 00:09, 10 April 2010

The image of Mahatma Gandhi in his homespun loincloth - peering through his round wire glasses and leaning on two sari-clad women - is as fresh today as it was the day he was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1948.

To the world he was the spiritual leader of India's independence movement, a pioneer of non-violent resistance and father of the Indian nation.

He inspired civil rights movements everywhere - as well as today's most charismatic political leaders, including Mandela and Obama.

Driven by desire? Gandhi with the two young women he used as his 'walking sticks'
Driven by desire? Gandhi with the two young women he used as his 'walking sticks'

Gandhi: Naked Ambition claims that Gandhi, a London trained lawyer-turned-guru, was a ruthless cult leader who enslaved his followers with such bizarre sexual demands that it became difficult for many people to take him seriously, even during his own lifetime.

The book's author, Jad Adams, even goes so far as to suggest that the Draconian practices instituted by this iconic figure in the ashrams he founded prompted the perverted 20th-century cults of Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana, and David Koresh in Waco, Texas - both of whom used their mesmeric sexual appeal to reduce their followers to almost slavish subjugation.

Though apparently frail and undernourished, like many ambitious men Gandhi was highly sexed - and wrote quite openly about the fact.

But it was the peculiar nature of the rigorous exercises he instigated to try to contain his huge appetites that many people considered so unacceptable.

Gandhi always said his obsession with sex started when he was married off at the age of 13 to a girl just one year older.

The son of a prime minister in the state of Porbandar, as a child Gandhi's extreme fastidiousness was the only indication there was anything unusual about him.

An indifferent pupil - small, frail and afraid of ghosts, snakes and the dark - he despised his father for giving in to his own carnal urges and became determined to control his own.

From the outset, he claimed that he never wanted to get married - he was taken out of school for a year to prepare for the event, and thought it a total waste of money.

The new revelations are made in Jad Adams's book
The new revelations are made in Jad Adams's book

But mainly he was concerned that he and his bride Kasturba, the daughter of the local mayor, were far too young - even though teenage marriage was by no means unusual.

For the rest of his life, Gandhi remained angry with his father for marrying him off while he was a child. In fact, he said that on his wedding night, he and Kasturba (affectionately called Ba) were far too shy to face each other.

Yet, having been told the facts of life by his brother's wife, the couple seem to have had no trouble consummating their relationship.

Thereafter, Gandhi never tired of complaining that they had such an active sex life that there was no time for what he would have much preferred to do - which was to educate the illiterate Kasturba.

'I am sure that, had my love for her been absolutely untainted by lust, she would be a learned lady today,' he said.

But it was what happened on the night his father died that marked him forever.

Gandhi, then 16, left the sick old man's bedside in order to rush home to make love to Kasturba and thereafter, he could never forgive himself for having been in the grip of lust when his father breathed his last.

To make matters worse, his wife was pregnant at the time - and the child did not survive - leaving Gandhi tortured by guilt.

By the time he went to London to study law in 1888, Gandhi had sworn a puritanical oath to touch neither wine nor meat, as well as women.

But in London his crankiness only increased.

He soon fell under the influence of the Vegetarian Society and its wealthy president, Arnold Hills, who not only believed in a diet of raw vegetables and pulses, but also preached abstinence from sex even within marriage, except for the purpose of procreation.

Gandhi returned to India in 1891 as soon as he had been called to the Bar.

And despite his determination to stay away from the wife he hadn't seen for three years, he was soon back in bed with her - and within a year their second son was born.

But it was when Gandhi went to Africa in 1893 - where he fought for the rights of Indian residents - that he really started to hone his philosophy.

When Kasturba joined him in his newly-founded ashram three years later, she was horrified at the harshness of the lifestyle he had adopted. Gandhi's asceticism dictated that she could have no servants and must empty her own chamber pot.

He had learned to do his own laundry, cut his own hair - and even studied a childbirth manual so he could deliver their subsequent sons himself.

Gandhi had become obsessed with chastity, as well as how to control his potent urges - and his experiments in self-restraint were quite extraordinary.

At his ashram, men and women were housed separately, yet he encouraged the young to bathe and sleep together.

'I sent the boys reputed to be mischievous and the innocent young girls to bathe at the same time,' he boasted, explaining carefully to them they were not to succumb to temptation. If ever they strayed, the vigilant Gandhi himself was present to adjudicate.

At bedtime, everyone slept together on the verandah with their beds just 3ft apart - and Gandhi in the middle. When nature got the better of them, he punished the girls by cutting off their long hair.

When one of his own sons strayed with someone else's wife, Gandhi imposed a seven-day fast on him, saying: 'If he dies in the process it will not be a matter for regret'.

By 1906, Gandhi had taken the Hindu vow of brahmacharya - chastity. At the age of 36, he was determined to be celibate.

Mahatma Gandhi took a vow of celibacy at the age of 36
Mahatma Gandhi took a vow of celibacy at the age of 36

'It is the duty of every thoughtful Indian not to marry,' he said. 'In case he is helpless in regard to marriage, he should abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife.'

When he finally returned to India in 1915, the rules at his new ashram were even more stringent. Gandhi no longer felt sex was permissible on any level - even for procreation.

His advice to husbands and wives was not to sleep in the same room - and, if they felt an urge, to take a cold bath.

But while he insisted on other people sticking to his Draconian rules, Gandhi didn't always observe them himself.

Despite his frail appearance he was an attractive man, according to one woman who lost her heart to him.

'I caught a glimpse of him in the midst of silks and brocades, frills and sparkling jewels. He was dressed in a coarse khaki (handspun) dhoti and looked like a small-time tailor who had wandered in by mistake . . . He became my father, my mother, my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my daughter, my son, my teacher, my guru.'

Women of all sorts flung themselves at him, and some became important to him. In middle life, he fell for Saraladevi Choudhurani, a Bengali nationalist activist, and his attraction to her was such that he even confessed that he was toying with breaking his own rules.

Saraladevi provided the intellectual companionship his wife never could - and he wrote to a friend calling her 'my spiritual wife'.

Esther Faering
Gandhi wrote many affectionate letters to Danish missionary Esther Faering

The couple were so close that whenever she visited the ashram terrible jealousies were aroused. The other women criticised the time he spent alone with her and how she was allowed off the most distasteful chores.

In the end, it was Gandhi who ended the relationship - but there were other women, including the Danish missionary Esther Faering to whom he wrote many affectionate letters and the English admiral's daughter Madeleine Slade, who took the name of Mirabehn, and waited on him hand and foot.

Although he proclaimed his abstinence, he still managed to be extremely intimate with many of his women.

Despite the diet of fruit and nuts that he believed reduced his sexual urges, he was habitually constipated and would spend hours in the bathroom, feeling no shame in encouraging them to come and visit him during his sessions on the commode.

Afterwards, they would massage him with mustard oil and lime juice while he lay naked before them.

By 1936, Gandhi was already so venerable that everyone called him Bapu - Father. By then it had become his habit to take walks leaning on two girls, usually a pair named Abha and Sushila, whom he referred to as his walking sticks.

His first question to them each morning was always: 'Have you had a good bowel movement this morning, sisters?'

The teenage Abha was married to his great-nephew. Gandhi admitted that it was very dangerous sleeping close to her without wanting sex - but also conceded that it was a 'very worthwhile experiment'.

As for Sushila, he had known her since she was six when she had sat on his lap and he had asked her mother to gift the girl to him.

After taking a medical degree, Sushila returned to the ashram - and became his personal physician. Gandhi often slept in the same bed as her, but Sushila admitted that 'there was nothing special about sleeping next to Bapu . . . I used to sleep with him just as I would with my mother'.

She elaborated: 'He might say: "My back aches, put some pressure on it." So I might put some pressure on it or lie down on his back and he might just go to sleep.' She confirmed that this was not part of the chastity experiment, but more of a natural cure.

Despite the way it looked to other people, none of this seemed like self-indulgence to Gandhi, who followed each of his obsessions with the same religious ardour: He never spoke on Mondays, which were designated silent days.

And he clung to his limited diet, too, even though it was taking a terrible toll on his physique and all his teeth were falling out. If he fell

ill, he pushed himself to fast more - and insisted that his children and wife do the same, even when they were so weak they seemed on the point of death. In many ways it's astonishing that they all survived.

Gandhi (far left) also developed a relationship with Madeleine Slade (right)
Gandhi (far left) also developed a relationship with Madeleine Slade (right)

Disgusted by his innate lust, Gandhi would try to distance himself from the women - but he was soon sleeping next to them again - and, what's more, blaming his surrender on them. 'I could not bear the tears of Sushila,' he said.

In September 1938, to counter their criticism, he wrote a circular letter to all the girls explaining the innocent procedure that he implemented when he took a bath with Sushila.

'While she is bathing, I keep my eyes tightly shut,' he maintained. 'I do not know the manner of her bathing, whether she bathes naked or with her underwear on. I can tell from the sound that she uses soap. I have seen no part of her body that everyone here will not have seen.'

Incredibly, the long-suffering Kasturba seems to have taken all this in good part, though relations with his sons became more and more strained.

Gandhi had long had an indifference to his children because they were the product of his despised sex life - and when they, in turn, became sexual beings themselves, he was revulsed.

Understandably, they did not respond well - and his alcoholic eldest son went so far as to use brothels openly in order to humiliate his father.

When Kasturba died in Gandhi's arms in 1944, following more than 60 years of married life, the old man was moved to even more extreme experiments of his form of chastity - which became a source of great concern to those who were looking to him for political guidance.

'I deliberately want to become a eunuch mentally,' he explained to them - as he started sharing his bed with his friends' wives.

At this point it seems that he might have resumed some of the more perverse sexual experiments he had tried with Kasturba, in which he deliberately put himself into increasingly arousing situations to prove mind over matter.

Whenever anyone criticised him, he would defend himself saying that to give up his habits now would be to admit that his whole life had been a failure.

As he reiterated again and again, there was no difficulty in an impotent man staying away from women - the trick was for one with powerful sexual urges to resist them.

To make things even more tempting - and his self-control therefore that much more of a triumph - he took a much younger woman to his bed, spurning the faithful Sushila who was utterly distraught to find herself banished from his side.

The new girl was Manu Gandhi, his great niece, who had been cared for by Kasturba when she lost her own mother.

Gandhi wrote to Manu, saying his ambition for her was that she should remain a virgin till the end of her life.

'We may both be killed by the Muslims at any time and must put our purity to the ultimate test so we know we should be offering the purest of sacrifices and so we should now both start sleeping naked.'

He was sleeping with her in the nude - and the rather more reluctant Abha (who insisted on keeping her clothes on) - till the end. In fact, the devoted pair were walking either side of him when the assassin's bullet - fired by a Hindu - finally shot him dead.

Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams is published by Quercus at 20. To order a copy for 18 (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

Dave Winstanley, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, 3 years ago

Here we go again: yet MORE disgusting, gutless, posthumous character assassination.

Jimmy, Edinburgh, UK, 3 years ago

Lecherous old git!

Michael, Belfast, 3 years ago

This is old news. However, I can't help thinking that if "Bapu" Gandhi pulled these stunts in modern day Britain he'd find himself on a sex offenders register smartly.

Ted, Wrexham.UK, 3 years ago

I know just how you must have felt Mahatma. I have young women throwing themselves at me whenever I step out. It's a terrible burden, but one must try and carry on.

goldie206, korat thailand, 3 years ago

A great follower of Gandhi's "ahimsa" or non violence I still am not convinced by his sexual ideas and chastity for gaining spirituality. Also I have no support for any so called religions that curtail the natural urges of the human species. We have been given an urge by the immortal power (DNA) to continue its survival. DNA is the magic element that never dies but passes though millions of channels (bodies) and the urge to have sex is programmed in the DNA strand and is most powerful. Just as the natural instinct to stay alive (self preservation)so we can reproduce even more DNA. Many religions have painted sex as an evil thing but in fact it is a loving and multiplying force for the universal expansion of the cosmos. The more this urge is repressed the more psycolological damage is done leading as we have seen to the scandles of the Catholic church and other religions around the world.

Shanti Tanna, Menston West Yorkshire, 3 years ago

If my understanding is correct, Gandhi's sleeping next to naked young women was a part of his 'Experiments with Truth' experiment. I do not believe that at any stage Gandhi had a desire to have sex or make love to these young ladies. He merely wanted to prove to the world and to himself that he can control his libido and I also believe that he never had actual sex with any of these young women during his experiment. Personally I do not believe that any such experiments serves any useful purpose either for him or for any other person except for satisfying ones own ego that one can control one's libido. I think many people can and do control their libido if they wish to do so and are consicious of it. I believe Gandhi was somewhat naive in so many of his 'experiments with Truth'. I am sure many people and Jad Adams in particular, has misunderstood the purpose of Gandhi's experiment, perhaps unwittingly in all cases. I think they should be forgiven for that.

sandy, outer space - thank God!, 3 years ago

After reading these excerpts, Gandhi seems to have been more of a pervert than a saint

Karthik Navayan, Hyderabad, India, 3 years ago

This is good effort, you have excavated the reality of Gandhi, he was the real enemy of Indian untouchable communities as he opposed reserving constituencies for the untouchables, Still some people trying to keep him as father of this nation actually he is the father of political cheaters and corrupted officials Thanks for this book Karthik