top of page

Has Bharat always been a non-violent civilization ?

Niranjan Bhombe

Raghav Parashar

2 May 2023

"Introduction to Modern Bharatiya Ahimsa"

During the Nehru-Gandhi era of the Indian struggle for Independence, ‘ahimsa’ was a widely spread principle. According to the Gandhian philosophy, ‘it means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbour uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who consider your enemies.1 This idea of absolute non-violence even towards the invaders and exploiters further became the modern Indian version of ahimsa.


Wind to the Fire

At the same time as rise of Gandhi, the pre-existent wing of extremism found its leaders in activists like Netaji Bose and Swatantryaveer Savarkar. While Gandhi preached ‘[In non-violence] the bravery consists in dying, not in killing.’2, Bose roared the appeal of ‘Tum mujhe khoon do, mai tumhe azadi dunga!’ (give me blood and I will give you freedom). The difference between the extremist method of fighting for freedom and Gandhi’s method of asking for it created a rift among freedom strugglers in an era that required all Indians to walk hand in hand on the path of self-governance. Being new and already controversial, this method spread like a wildfire in the Indian populace and Gandhi became the face of Indian struggle for independence. Gandhi had ties with British officials due to his agency to them; leading a soft and humble opposition, he did not trouble the Raj much. Combined with his popularity, British off-the-screen support, and later Congress government, every other aspect of ahimsa, Except that of Gandhi, was wiped out of Indian minds. A new narrative was set that India got its freedom through non-violent means by the sole strength of Gandhi’s charisma. The leftist idea of ahimsa was fed into new generations by the education system which led the populace to forget the true aspect of ahimsa.


Understanding the Origin of Ahimsa

‘The Chāndogya Upanishad, dated to the 8th or 7th century BCE, one of the oldest Upanishads, has the earliest evidence for the Vedic era use of the word Ahimsa in the sense familiar in Hinduism (a code of conduct).’3 Further evolved, the principle of ahimsa in Hinduism implies:

  • Any kind of harm performed comes under the category of himsa; be it physical, mental, or emotional.

  • No meaningless harm shall be met on any life form.

  • Any kind of himsa should be met with resistance.

Thus, the original philosophy of Ahimsa allows violence if it is an act of protecting or liberating. For further insight into this matter, we can have a look at the example of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Dharmaraj Yudhishtira and Maryada-prushottam prabhu Ram are allowed to fight and lead wars for the protection of their rights. Thus, it is clear that ahimsa originated as a quality of kindness with strength and not as a principle that promotes exploitation.


The True Ahimsa

‘By nature, none of us wants to cause any hurt to other people. But if others do us harm we want to retaliate in anger. Suppose one of our children sets fire to our house in all innocence. We do not punish it but try to extinguish the fire and thereafter take care to see that the child is kept away from fire and other dangerous objects. We must learn to think that all those who cause us pain are like this child. If a person tries to hurt us, we must lovingly prevent him from doing so. We must not bear any ill will against him nor think of retaliating. This is true ahimsa.’ And this does not ask to endure any exploitation. Kindness at heart is necessary and so is humbleness, but not at the cost of being subdued.


Buddhist Principle of Ahimsa

The first connection of Buddhism with ahimsa is found to be between 600-300BCE. ‘The Buddhist emphasis on ahimsa involved a critique of Brahmanical animal sacrifices. Monks and nuns were not to kill animals. They were not to drink water in which small creatures lived. However, the emphasis on ahimsa did not necessarily entail vegetarianism and monks were not forbidden from eating meat. This is because the emphasis was on the factor of intention. Monks had to accept whatever was given to them on their begging rounds.’5 This confirms the absence of Buddhist backing for Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa.


Jain Principle of Ahimsa

‘Ahimsa is central to Jainism’ and Jains are the fiercest followers of this principle. ‘[According to Jainism] injuring living beings is seen as detrimental from two points of view—it causes the victim to suffer and it harms the person who causes the injury. It is not only actions but the emotions and intentions behind actions that count. As injuring others draws on negative emotions and passions, it is detrimental to the achievement of salvation. Strict vegetarianism is thus the most important dietary rule for Jainas.’7 So, the Jain principle of ahimsa is the strictest and prohibits any kind of harm met to anyone under any condition. However, there are some exceptions where some Jainism practitioners have participated in battles without leaving the fold.

Did Gandhi Follow the Jain Principle of Ahimsa?

There are pieces of evidence in public domain of Gandhi defending, supporting, and justifying the killing of dogs and monkeys. He also once defended the killing of a maimed cow as an act of mercy. These actions of Gandhi lies in total disagreement with the Jain principle of ahimsa.


History of Bharat and Ahimsa

The Rigveda, also the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit text9 from between 1500-1200 BCE10, mentions a battle of ten kings as Dāśarājñá yuddhá11. Getting further, Puranas and Upanishads mention many stories that include acts of violence. Then we have the legends; Ramayana and Mahabharata, having a huge portion dedicated to battles and wars. Also in Rigveda, it is mentioned that ‘a queen who knows Dhanurveda and can take arms shall constantly be offered hospitality by gallants.12 This points out the quality of Bhartiya society of being always battle-ready for the good of humanity.



It is now clear that the Bhartiya civilization does not tend to have a dull and non-reactive approach toward predators. And what we took for ahimsa was not much appropriate. Kinetic solutions to social problems have always been a part of Bhartiya management. Adding to this, Bharat tends to be a self-cleansing society; whenever problems arise, this society, in the end, finds its own solutions. And unlike Greek or Egyptians, this continues to harbour manifestation. The more we into our past, the more we will be proud of it. Every aspect of kindness is present in the Bhartiya mechanism of life and still, it is not a weak one. “Mercy means little in the absence of power to punish.” And we have been a powerful civilization. Adding to the glory, we still always chose to be kind. Bharat has always been a potential yielding place. It has given birth to many great men; at least in their field. And as responsible citizens, it is our duty to be grateful to every such man and also to oversee the flaws committed by some. We have to bear in our hearts that all Indians belong to a family and we must stand together in the interests of this incomparable.



The Truth

As we see all around us, especially in the modern era of social media, there are always many miscommunications flowing freely in the atmosphere. Even bizarre is the fact that a part of them is created with intention. But with a lot of information available in the public domain, the technology also gives us the power to cross-check and see through them. And to make good use of it, we shall shoulder the responsibility of knowing the truth of our nation. It is also our duty to let the heroes of this land always remain in good memory of this civilization and to draw motivation from them. They must be given the respect due to them. Doing so in reference to this blog, there should be a question rising in all of our minds; Do we really owe our independence to ahimsa? I insist on letting this be a topic for another blog.



Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Dhanurveda: An Upveda, or sub-Veda of Yajurveda; Mainly focused on the art and technology of warfare.

Dharmaraj: King of Dharma or Duty. (Title given to Yudhishtira).

Himsa: Violence.

Maryada-Purushottam: loosely translated into ‘The perfect man.’



1.    Ponnu, R. Ahimsa: It’s Theory and Practice in Gandhism. (

2.    Gandhi, M. and Thomas Merton. 2012. Gandhi on Non-Violence. Page 42.

3.    Wikipedia. Ahimsa.

4.    Saraswati, C. 1995. Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life. Page 795.

5.    Singh, U. 2009. A History of Ancient and early medieval India. Page 306.

6.    Singh, U. 2009. A History of Ancient and early medieval India. Page 315.

7.    Singh, U. 2009. A History of Ancient and early medieval India. Page 315.

8.    Guha, R. 2018. Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World. Page 273.

9.    Wikipedia. Rigveda.

10.  British Library Rigveda.

11.  Rigveda. Mandal VII, Hymn 83, Verse 8.

12.  Rigveda. Mandal VI, Hymn 75, Verse 15.

For Further Grasp

1.     Hukumchand Sawla.

2.     Saraswati, C. 1995. Hindu Dharma. See Part 22 Chapter 2.

3.     Singh, U. 2009. A History of Ancient and early medieval India.

4.     Guha, R. 2018. Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World.

Gandhi, M. 1958. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.

bottom of page