Mahatma (Mə-HÄT-mə) is Sanskrit for "Great Soul" (महात्मा mahātmā: महा mahā (great) + आत्मं or आत्मन ātman [soul]). It is similar in usage to the modern Christian term saint. This epithet is commonly applied to prominent people like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Munshiram (later Swami Shraddhananda), Lalon Shah and Jyotirao Phule. According to some authors Rabindranath Tagore is said to have used on March 6, 1915, this title for Gandhi;. Some claim that he was term Mahatma by the residents of Gurukul Kangadi in April 1915, and he in turn termed the founder Munshiram a Mahatma (who later became Swami Shraddhananda). However a document honoring him on Jan 21, 1915, at Jetpur, Gujarat, termed him Mahatma is preserved. The use of the term Mahatma in Jainism to denote a class of lay priests, has been noted since the 17th century.
The word, used in a technical sense, was popularized in theosophical literature in the late 19th century, when Madame Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, claimed that her teachers were adepts (or Mahatmas) who reside in Asia.
According to the Theosophical teachings, the Mahatmas are not disembodied beings, but highly evolved people involved in overseeing the spiritual growth of individuals and the development of civilizations. Blavatsky was the first person in modern times to claim contact with these Adepts, especially the "Masters" Koot Hoomi and Morya.
In September and October 1880, Blavatsky visited A. P. Sinnett at Simla in northern India. The serious interest of Sinnett in the Theosophical teachings of Mme. Blavatsky and the work of the Theosophical Society prompted Mme. Blavatsky to establish a contact by correspondence between Sinnett and the two adepts who were sponsoring the society, Koot Hoomi and Morya.
From this correspondence Sinnett wrote The Occult World (1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (1883), both of which had an enormous influence in generating public interest in theosophy. The replies and explanations given by the Mahatmas to the questions by Sinnett are embodied in their letters from 1880 to 1885, published in London in 1923 as The Mahatma Letters to Sinnett. The Mahatmas also corresponded with a number of other persons during the early years of the Theosophical Society. Many of these letters have been published in two volumes titled Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, Series 1 and Series 2.
There has been a great deal of controversy concerning the existence of these particular adepts. Blavatsky's critics have doubted the existence of her Masters. See, for example, W.E. Coleman's "exposes". However, more than twenty five individuals testified to having seen and been in contact with these Mahatmas during Blavatsky's lifetime. In recent years, K. Paul Johnson has promoted his controversial theory about the Masters.
After Blavatsky's death in 1891, numerous individuals have claimed to be in contact with her Adept Teachers and have stated that they were new "messengers" of the Masters conveying various esoteric teachings. Currently various New Age, metaphysical, and religious organizations refer to them as Ascended Masters, although their character and teachings are in several respects different from those described by Theosophical writers.
Divine Light Mission
The Divine Light Mission (DLM) was a Sant Mat-based movement begun in India in the 1930s by Hans Ji Maharaj and formally incorporated in 1960. The DLM had as many as 2,000 Mahatmas, all from India or Tibet, who taught the DLM's secret meditation techniques called "Knowledge". The Mahatmas, called "realised souls", or "apostles", also served as local leaders. After Hans Ji's death in 1966 his youngest son, Prem Rawat (known then as Guru Maharaj Ji or Bagyogeshwar), succeeded him. The young guru appointed some new Mahatmas, including one from the United States. In one incident, a prominent Indian Mahatma nearly beat a man to death in Detroit for throwing a pie at the guru. In the early 1980s, Prem Rawat replaced the Divine Light Mission organization with the Elan Vital and replaced the Mahatmas with initiators. The initiators did not have the revered status of the Mahatmas, and they were drawn mostly from Western followers. In the 2000s, the initiators were replaced by a video in which Rawat teaches the techniques himself.
In popular culture
W.C. Fields used the pseudonym Mahatma Kane Jeeves when writing the script for The Bank Dick (1940), in a play on both the word "Mahatma" and a phrase an aristocrat might use when addressing a servant, before leaving the house: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves".
Mahatma Hirananda of Mewad
The Mewad Ramayana described as "one of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world" has been digitally reunited after being split between organisations in the UK and India for over 150 years, by the British Library and CSMVS Museum in Mumbai. The colophon states that the text, commissioned by Acarya Jasvant for the library of Maharana Jagat Singh I of Mewar, was written by the Mahatma Hirananda, was finished on Friday 25 November 1650. Mahatma Hirananda being a Jain scribe, incorporated traditional Jain scribal elements into the manuscript.
Jain Mahatmas in the Dabestan-e Mazaheb
The famous Dabestan-e Mazaheb often attributed to one Mohsin Fani, written around 1655 CE. is a text written in the Mughal period that describes various religions and philosophies the author encountered. Its Section 11 is dedicated to Jainism. It states: "Similar to the durvishes of both classes (Srivaras and Jatis) is a third sect, called Mahá-átma; they have the dress and appearance of Jatis; only they do not pluck their hair with tweezers, but cut it. They accumulate money, cook their meal in their houses, drink cold water, and take to them a wife." The term Mahatma was thus used for priest/scholars who were not celibate. The present Persian edition of the text by Rezazadeh Malik attributes it to the son and successor of Azar Kayvan, 'Kay Khosrow Esfandiyar'.
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- Dutta, Krishna and Andrew Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology, p. 2
- और इस तरह गांधी महात्मा बन गए, 01-Oct-2012
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- A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Mahatmas
- Madame Blavatsky & the Latter-Day Messengers of the Masters
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- Partridge, Christopher ed. New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities Oxford University Press, USA 2004.
- Price, Maeve (1979): The Divine Light Mission as a social organization. (1) Sociological Review, 27, Page 279-296
- Levine, Saul V. in Galanter, Marc (1989). Cults and New Religious Movements: A Report of the American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Pub., Inc. ISBN 0-89042-212-5.
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- In pictures: Stunning Ramayana manuscript goes digital, BBC, 21 March 2014
- The Mewar Ramayana at the British Library: How the complete digital version came to be
- Ramayana - Pages 21 and 22 (British Library Add. MSS 15296-15297 and IO San 3621)
- Ramayana - Pages 3 and 4
- The Dabistán: Or, School of Manners: The Religious Beliefs, Observances, Philosophic Opinions and Social Customs of the Nations of the East, Fani Muhsin, Translated by David Shea, Anthony Troyer, Publisher, M. Walter Dunne, 1901 p. 275-276
- Dutta, Krishna and Andrew Robinson. Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. Picador/Macmillan: London, 1997.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Mahātma.|