Great Souls

We use this expression, because Mahatma means Great Soul. (Maha = great, tma = soul.)

And believe or not, this gracing title was awarded to him not by any official organization as it would be done in Europe, but by the nation as a whole. Probably his followers started calling him Mahatma, or someone used this word writing about him, I do not know. He was soon called more often simply Mahatma, than Gandhi.

Similar way as –ji is added to names, which letters are also difficult to explain: they express love to the person. Gandhiji, Gandhi, the beloved.

If you follow how he is treated in India, you may be witness to the birth of a new god. He is more often than not painted with glory above his head, in postures similar to those of Buddha. And it is not disgusting with him, he deserves it.

He is definitely the greatest of all Indians and definitely one of the greatest souls of the world. We suggest you to read more about him, going through

Before continuing with other great individuals of India, let me look back to the roots of non-violence in India. The best again is to advise you to read two sites: in which you may get acquainted with the basics of Mahatma’s famous concept of non-violence or satyagraha and also with the fundamental ethical virtue of Hindus, Buddhists and especially Jains, the principle of ahimsa, the ancient basic theory of non-violence. /nonviol/basicsat.html is a short, simplified summary of the theory of satyagraha , good for those who do not want to go into deep details (the title of the site is “Basic Concepts of Satyagraha”).

The influence of ahimsa was so deep that it became the guiding principle of one of the kings of India. The Buddhist emperor (Buddhism was the “state religion” at that time) Asoka or Ashoka in the 3rd century BC took the oath not to use force and in his inscriptions stressed the sanctity of animal life. One is inclined not to believe it was true: an emperor in the 3rd century BC!

Three of the religions India has given the world have as their basic teaching non-violence. We shall touch this question below. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism never were trying to convert others, especially not by using force. Even the invaders were often greatly influenced by this concept. One of the greatest of the Great Moguls, Akbar was most probably the first emperor in the world who was trying to bring closer the different peoples of his empire, to unite the religions of his country, inviting even Christian preachers from abroad. No doubt he did so under the influence of the theory of non-violence.

It is almost impossible to make a selection of great figures of modern India even at this early stage of building this site. We shall try to choose a few, knowing that we shall have to add many at a later stage.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the second behind Mahatma during the whole period of struggle for independence and he was the first to be at the steering wheel of a fantastically rich, unbelievably diverse, vast country, which at the moment of gaining independence was torn into pieces, impoverished, bathing in blood. I was told the other day that he was not considered any more a great figure of modern India, because he had made too many mistakes during his tenure as prime minister (one only may guess that the main reason is his close ties with the Soviet Union). For me he remains forever a tall figure: he was able to stabilise the internal situation, start stable industrial development and gave the country international recognition. In spite of his “dependence” on the soviets he was brave enough to raise his voice, the voice of the leader of newly born independent nations against the crushing down of the Hungarian revolt of 56 by the soviets. Read about him in . I remind you here as well of his wonderful speech:

Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi is the compulsory next great politician of India. I could follow her “rule” from short distance: I spent my first tenure in India during her first tenure as prime minister. She was really great. Quiet, humble, aristocrat in every movement, wise.

I saw her first in 1972 when she inaugurated the II. Asian International Fair in New Delhi, where I occupied the post of director of the Hungarian pavilion. She delivered a nice speech in English, then – asking for pardon from the foreign audience – she said a few sentences in Hindi, thanking the builders of the fair, mentioning the labourers as well. It was a surprising act in a country, where the caste system still had deep roots in the whole society, in a country where to be a labourer meant to be at the edge of nowhere, one step from non-existence.

Later, when she was ousted sometime in 1977, I was shocked. This was a no vote and I was unable to understand it. She was not without mistakes, was working hard to make a politician, a successful politician of her son, Rajiv, but she was far the best on the arena of Indian politics.

When I told my Indian acquaintances that she would come back, they were smiling in non-belief. One of them recalled later that I was the only foreigner known to him who strongly believed in the political future of Indira Gandhi.

She won the next election and seemed again ruling the country with firm hands, making even worse mistakes forcing her son to be involved in political life, to be her heir. But again, her cruel death, her assassination by her own bodyguards was a shock. India lost Indira, a lady who sacrificed her whole life in the interests of the country, each and every citizen of India.

Great people are bound to die violent death? And mostly from the hands of those who are getting the most from their victims.

I am unable to suggest you really good site about her, I found some, but none of them is exhausting. A short one: . I shall try to add one later.

Indira Gandhi for me was a wonder in at least two ways: she was a woman and divorced. Women were far from having equal with gents rights in India. Divorce at that time was something unheard. And still, she was not only elected to be the first among men, but appreciated even by orthodox Hindus as excellent leader of the country. Wonder, definitely unexplainable wonder, proving that nothing is impossible in our world, proving the flexibility of Indian thinking.

Politics are politics, mostly dirty. Politicians may be – rarely as in India – outstanding personalities. But the real columns of the society are thinkers, poets and writers, human beings of thoughts, letters, words, beautiful ideas, leading societies ahead.

I would name two of India’s plenty of such columns.

One of them is the greatest of Indian literature, thinking, Rabindranath Tagore, son of Bengal, where I have spent three years of my life. (His name is often written Rabindra-Nath, Nath being a kind of title of nobility, as –sy in Hungarian, von in German, Aj- in Armenian, and Tagore is pronounced Tagor’.) We do not suggest you to read volumes about him, we just quote below two short writings of him. One of them was written when he planted a tree in Balatonfüred in Hungary, where he underwent treatment in the famous (at that time) heart-hospital. I like this verse and the bust of him as well, that you can see here. The custom of planting trees on important occasions or visits in Balatonfüred is originated from his visit, I believe.

I hope I am not wrong in saying that Bengalis are poets in general. I have mentioned that Indians have special talents in programming. They are talented speakers as well. When I arrived to India, I was used to speeches, boring ones, read from bunches of papers. Most of Indian speakers deliver long lectures by heart. Bengali speakers do it in a fantastic way: even if you do not understand the language, you understand that the speech is read almost as a verse, it has melody and rhyme. No wonder that the greatest poet of India was Bengali. You can find a good summery about him in .

The other column of Indian thinking is Dr (who has added this two very foreign letters to his name?) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. I have read only two of his works: his “Eastern Religions and Western Thought” and Radhakrishnan Reader (mainly his work) and I am sure he was not only one of the greatest philosophers of India, but also of the whole world and he has done more for bringing closer East and West than hundreds of politicians. If you want to get an insight into the Indian brain, read about him. We suggest you some interesting sites:

I would like to mention a few names carrying the for-title Ustad, awarded also by the nation as a whole to musicians. They too do more for bringing people together than politicians, but we shall mention them later, talking about Indian music.

I am told names of living persons should not be mentioned without their permission. I request Mr Jyoti Basu, the most important personality in the labour movement of India, the communist leader to let me say a few words about him. He must be over 80 now and I know he is still the chief minister of the elected leftist government of West Bengal. I am brave enough to say a few praising word about him in the rightist world of present Hungary not only because he was considered the father of the miserably poor working class of India, but because his role of leader and negotiator was appreciated by the capitalists of India as well. I heard very rich people saying when a strike (more rude usually than any in the Western semi-globe) broke out: if we are lucky enough Jotyji (!) will take the case into his hands. Physician by education he devoted his life – working day and night – to the cause of helping those who were indeed downtrodden, the poor of India. There are hundreds of millions of them.

He and his charming wife extended the unbelievable honour to bid farewell to us accepting our invitation to dine with us on the last evening we spent in India. The honour was extended to Hungary.

And finally I would mention a Hungarian name among the great souls of India: Körösi-Csoma Sándor (Alexander Korosi-Csoma, or whatever way his name is distorted). I may do so because I have seen in Calcutta the room in which he had spent years studying Indian scriptures, working on the first Tibetan-English dictionary and I heard experts talking about him as about a saint of India. They described a man who used to work from early morning till late in the night in a room of a few sqm, sitting on his heels, consuming tea and a few morsels a day, at candle-light. He went that far from Hungary to find the origins of Hungarians and was so touched by the Indian way of thinking that he – one of a very-very few – became Buddhist monk and spent most of his life in studying Indian philosophy, religions, languages. A saint of sciences, indeed. He is buried in Darjeeling, but his room in Calcutta is treated as a museum of an Indian thinker.


The very day I thought I had completed my “Great Souls” I got an excellent advice from a good friend to go through and advise our visitors the site which draws a very good picture of Indira Gandhi. I was also told to check the list of “100 people who shaped India in the 20th century” and I did so. I was very happy to see three names, not to talk about whom would have been grave mistake.

The three names are:

Amrita Sher-Gil, the name-giver of our site. I have read about her, have seen her paintings in a museum in New Delhi and considered her to be the most important painter of modern India. But I would not have expected to see her among the most important 100 Indians of the last century. It is fantastic!! It made me more than happy, I am proud: she was half-Hungarian. And we almost forgot about her in the difficult work of building our site.

It is also nice to read the name of Ervin Baktay in connection with her. We shall also mention this name in our chapter “Architecture”.

I do not have to say more: read the article about her and see her face on our main page.

Mother Teresa, the saint of Calcutta. I have never met her, but her efforts, preter-human efforts to help the miserable poor people, curing even the worst maladies, leprosy patients, assisting people not having relatives to die in human circumstances touched me, I appreciated her efforts very much. She was one of those who never will be forgotten.

And the third name is Tata. Not of J.R.D. alone, who is the selected representative of the family and whom I never met (except probably on receptions), just knew he was the No1 at Tata’s. I knew personally his younger (adopted) brother, Naval Tata. He and his lovely wife Simone were my most important contacts at the huge conglomerate. We shall meet them in another chapter of my India. I shall try to translate a much shorter version of my three volumes on India in Hungarian (on this site) and I shall definitely not forget about the empire of Tata’s. I mention here and now just one interesting fact: there is a small town in Hungary with the same name: Tata. Naval Tata was taken there without warning and when he saw the road-sign of the town he thought he was victim of a joke. Strange, isn’t it? As strange as to have county Bihar in Hungary and state Bihar in India.