Gandhiji's Early Years


Do you ever wonder where the Father of our Nation studied or how he fared in science and mathematics? We bring you excerpts from the book, 'Mahatma Gandhi as Student' by J M Upadhaya

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born at Porbandar on October 2, 1869. His schooling probably began in the year 1876 in Porbandar which was then ruled by an Indian prince. It was a rather isolated town, almost untouched by Western influence.



The peninsula of Kattyawar (or Kathiawar, now known as Saurashtra) was then a conglomeration of princely states. Porbandar with a population of about 15,000 was the capital of the state. Porbandar had three private primary schools and one government primary school, known as the Porbandar Taluka School. Records indicate that the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi could not be traced in any of the relevant records such as the annual examination result files and correspondence files of any of the schools as of December 12, 1954. Records of the three private schools  Adhyaru School, Laxman Bava School and Khoja School were checked to ascertain this.

It is thus believed that the boy Mohania, as the family affectionately called Mohandas, attended a private school run by Shri Virji Kamdar, popularly known as Lulia master because he was lame. According to Mahatmaji's cousin Shri Maneklala Amritlal Gandhi, almost all the boys in the Gandhi family attended Lulia master's school, possibly because it was within easy reach of Karamchand Gandhi's house (now known as Keerti Mandir). In those days, primary education was not compulsory and only some 20% of the boys of school-going age used to attend primary schools.

Besides his schooling in the infant class, Mohandas seems to have been coached privately by Shri Anandji Tulsi Adhyaru who was a tutor to the princess of Porbandar. Adhyaru was perhaps the person from whom Mohan and his elder brother Karsandas learnt the 'Ram-Raksha', at the insistence of their cousin Shri Amritlal Tulsidas.

Most of Mohandas' religious education happened at home. The family was cultured; there were books in the house, dealing chiefly with religion and mythology. Mohandas' mother Putlibai was deeply religious; the outstanding impression she left on his mind was that of saintliness. His father was truthful, generous and incorruptible.



Towards the end of 1876, Mohandas was admitted into the Branch School at Rajkot. The school is now known as Pratap Kunvarba School, or Shala No 5. In the absence of any records, one can only assume that Mohandas went to this Branch School for two years, 1877 and 1878, and studied through standards I and II in Gujarati there. From here he was transferred to the Main (City) Taluka School, Rajkot, where he was admitted to Gujarati standard III on January 21, 1879.

The Taluka School, Rajkot was established in 1837 and is one of the oldest primary schools of the region. Mohandas attended this school from January 21, 1879 to October 2, 1880 during which period he studied Gujarati standards III and IV.

His class teacher in standard III was Shri Kalidas Naranji and in standard IV Shri Chattrabhuj Bapuji. The headmaster of the school was Shri Maneklal Nagardas Shah.



In the annual examination of standard III held on November 3, 1879, the result sheet showed that Mohandas had failed (in standard II) at the Branch School. Evidently he had not passed under all the heads at the annual examination, but had been promoted to standard III. This failure may have been due to his serious illness. It reveals that his attendance during the year 1879 was only 110 days out of a total of 238. Making allowance for the fact that Mohandas was admitted late by about two months, his absence for about 70 days cannot be easily accounted for. But as there is no evidence that Mohandas was ill during 1879 it would appear that Mohandas was not quite serious about attending school, possibly influenced by his two elder brothers (Laxmidas and Karsandas) and also by some of his classmates.

The number of pupils taking the annual examination of standard II (divisions A and B combined) was 67. Out of these, 48 passed in all the four heads. Among them, Mohandas in order of merit stood 47th in divisions A and B combined. Thus he was very near the bottom in standard III. There is, however, a distinct improvement in the performance at the annual examination of standard IV in which, out of a total of 54 pupils (of divisions A and B combined), 32 passed in all the heads and Mohandas stood 21st.

From the marks it is clear that he was not (like Dadabhai Naoroji) quick at multiplication tables or mental arithmetic. But he was strong in grammar, a sub-topic under the second head (Gujarati), he was also below the mark in history and geography.

Thus during the five-year period at primary schools, Mohandas was on the whole a mediocre student. Though not very regular in his attendance, Mohandas, as reported by his elder sister Raliatben, was punctual. Rather than being late he would eat the food of the previous day if breakfast was not ready. It may also be noted that he preferred walking to school than going by carriage.

During the period of his primary schooling, Mohandas was timid. Books and lessons were his sole companions. After school, he used to run home as he could not bear to talk to anybody.



Under the rules of the Bombay Education Department, pupils after passing vernacular standard IV were admitted to Anglo-Vernacular standard I of a high school if they got through a public test known as the entrance examination, for which the syllabus and minimum for passing were laid down by the department. The teaching of English commenced from Anglo-Vernacular standard I.

It is noteworthy to know that out of the 38 boys who took this examination and joined standard I of the Kattyawar High School in November 1880, only two, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jayashankar Dayashankar Buch, passed the successive annual examinations of standard I to VI, and finally the Bombay Matriculation in 1887 at the first attempt.

Mohandas' performance at the first terminal examination of standard I was discouraging. He passed in only arithmetic and Gujarati. As for history and geography he was one of the three pupils who secured no marks at all in geography. His weakness in this subject continued right from primary (Gujarati) standard III. Mohandas was one of the six pupils (in standard I) who secured no marks at all in English dictation. The terminal examination placed Mohandas almost at the bottom of the class.

The result of the terminal examination in 1883 afforded ample proof that, in his second year in standard II, Mohandas grew quite serious in studies. He scored 64% in Gujarati and stood second among the pupils of all three divisions of standard II. His total percentage of 66.5 and his 8th rank in class (standard II) at this examination are a great advance on his performance at the terminal examination a year earlier in the same standard.



Mohandas was by nature 'above lying and deception'. At the time of the annual inspection of the school by Mr Giles, the educational inspector, Mohandas declined to copy from his neighbour's slate the correct spelling of the word 'kettle' even though his class-teacher prompted him to do so.

A few years later Gandhiji saw two plays, 'Shravana Pitribhakti' and 'Harishchandra'. These left a deep impression on his mind. The devotion of Shravana to his aged parents was a model in itself. Harishchandra suffered great misery for the sake of truth. Gandhiji began to consider if he could not also live like them. When he joined high school in his thirteenth year, he fell into evil company. But he soon realised his folly and returned to the right path.



Among the classmates of Mohandas, Jayashankar Dayashankar Buch, Virji Manordas Gandhi, Amritlal Vardhaman Modi, Tribhuvan Purushottam Bhatt, Ratilal Ghelabhai Mehta and Sheikh Mehtab have found mention in this book.



Mohandas' creditable performance at the terminal examination of standard IV, which he was allowed to take simultaneously with the terminal examination of standard III, qualified him to be placed in standard IV as a regular student in the second term of the year 1884. But unfortunately this 'leap promotion' proved to be a doubtful privilege. No sooner did he start his regular studies in standard IV than he found himself completely at sea. The main handicap was English which was the medium of instruction from standard IV onwards. Geometry, a new subject, was taught through this unfamiliar medium. For a while, Mohandas was unnerved and thought of going back to standard III but the fear of bringing double discredit on himself and on the teacher who had recommended his 'leap promotion' kept him working hard.



Gandhiji had no high opinion of his own ability. He would get astonished whenever he won prizes and scholarships, as he sometimes did in his high school career. He won some prizes after he passed out of standard II. In standard V he obtained a scholarship of Rs 4-2-8 a month and in standard VI one of Rs 10 a month. For these awards he thanked good luck more than his merit...

At the annual examination of standard V, Mohandas earned a junior scholarship of Rs 4-2-8 a month for his proficiency in mathematics... 

Mohandas then had a false notion that gymnastics had nothing to do with education. He had a keen desire to serve his ailing father. But compulsory gymnastics came directly in the way of this service. So he requested Shri Gimi to exempt him from gymnastics so that he might be free to serve his father. But Shri Gimi would not hear of it. Furthermore, he fined Mohandas for staying away from the gymnasium one Saturday.

Mohandas ultimately succeeded in getting the fine remitted and also obtained exemption from future attendance, on the strength of his father's note to the headmaster saying that he wanted Mohandas at home after school.

Though Mohandas had an aversion for physical exercise at school he was a staunch supporter of cricket. There is testimony of Shri Rarilal Ghelabhai Mehta, a school-mate of Mohandas at the Kattyawar High School, Rajkot, to the effect that Mohandas was not only an enthusiast but also wielded the willow skilfully.

Mohandas does not seem to have participated in school plays, debates and sports. He hardly made any conscious effort, during this period, to cultivate other accomplishments which fitted one for polite society and the westernised mode of life. He evinced little interest in gardening or even newspaper reading. It was only after going to England that he cultivated an interest in newspapers.

Thus Mohandas' 12 years of schooling did little to develop or draw out his faculties. Mohandas disliked gymnastics and extra reading. His shyness and the consequent lack of healthy companionship aggravated this distaste and prevented him from taking part in extra-curricular activities.


Mohandas having studied in standard VII from December 1886, was permitted, along with 15 classmates, to appear at the matriculation examination of 1887.

The matriculation examination was then held only once a year, commencing on the third Monday in November. Candidates were examined in languages, mathematics and general knowledge. Mohandas appeared at the Ahmedabad centre, which was nearer to Kathiawar than any of the four other centres where the examination was held. That was his first journey from Rajkot to Ahmedabad and that too without a companion. Of the 3,067 candidates enrolled for the examination, Mohandas Gandhi secured a rank of 404. He secured the 5th rank among the 10 successful candidates sent from Kathiawar High School, Rajkot.



It is not clear whether it was Mohandas himself who was eager to pursue his studies at college after passing the matriculation examination in December 1887, or whether it was the desire of his elder brother that he should do so. In any case, Mohandas joined the Samaldas College in Bhavnagar in January, 1888.