“May your weapons be strong to drive away the attackers, may your arms be powerful enough to check the foes, let your army be glorious, not the evil-doer.” – Hindu – Rig Veda 1-39:2


“If the members of an assembly are conversant with morality, nothing improper should be permitted by them to happen. Where, in the presence of the virtuous members of an assembly, righteousness is sought to be overpowered by unrighteousness, and truth by the untruth, it is those members themselves that are vanquished and slain. When righteousness, pierced by unrighteousness, seeks the protection of an assembly, if the arrow is not extracted, it is the members themselves that are pierced by that arrow. Indeed, in that case, righteousness slays the members of that assembly, like a river eating away the roots of the trees on its bank.’ – Lord Krishna’s words as a Peace Ambassador [ Mahabharata – Udyogaparva Book 05 Chapter 095]


సారపు ధర్మమున్ విమలసత్యముఁబాపముచేతబొంకుచేఁ




“Connivance or putting up with status quo is no ahimsa, there is no thought or discrimination in it” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute, and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law – to the strength of the spirit.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

The much misunderstood concept of Ahimsa in Hinduism

By Madhava Turumella

email: madhava@madhava.net


Many people equate Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa as pacifism.  But I think they have misunderstood Mahatma.  His version of Ahimsa is not just pacifism but rather based on deep rooted understanding towards Hindu scriptures. In this essay I will try to convey that Mahatma Gandhi approved violence at certain places.


Ahimsa in the broad context means “Nonviolence”… Buddhists, Jains and Hindus all three dharmic religions which originated from India have the concept Ahimsa.  All these three religions give great importance to Ahimsa.  However Hindu concept of Ahimsa is quite different from Jain or Buddhist concepts of Ahimsa.

For Hindus Ahimsa is conditional.  We condone violence based on certain conditions.  This is the reason why all Hindu Gods and Goddesses bear weapons.  Our Hindu Holybook Bhagwad Gita is taught in the middle of a huge battlefield.  Our itihasas both Ramayana and Mahabharata were stories of great battles.  It was just violence used to stop great harm from happening to the humanity.


Gandhiji’s concept of ahimsa should not be confused with Ahimsa of Jains! Ahimsa of Jains is pacifism. But Gandhiji’s ahimsa is based on Hindu scriptures Ramayana and Bhagwad Gita..

Mahatma Gandhi considered himself to be a Sanatani Hindu: “I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and all that goes by the name of Hindu scripture, and therefore in avataras and rebirth; I believe in the varnashrama dharma in a sense, in my opinion strictly Vedic but not in its presently popular crude sense; I believe in the protection of cow … I do not disbelieve in murti puja.” -Mahatma Gandhi 1


So we know from the above statement that Mahatma considered himself as a “Sanatani Hindu”.  We also know that Mahatma is very influenced by the story of Lord Rama.  He dreamed that independent India to be a Ramarajya.


Gandhi Approved Killing of Rabid Dogs [approval of violence]:

In a true life incidence, during 1926, A mill owner in Ahmedabad, Ambalal Sarabai, a Gandhain was worried about the menace caused by rabid dogs.  Stray dogs are roaming aggressively and biting the passer-by causing great misery.  Therefore Ambalal wanted to get the dogs killed. But he was also worried on what would Bapu think of the action of killing the dogs. He was worried that perhaps killing may be against Bapu’s principles of ahimsa! So he sent a telegram to Bapu “Dogs gone mad please advise what I must do”.  Mahatma Gandhi sent back a reply “Shoot them to kill”.

News Correspondents those days had a field day with this news. It was sensational news the apostle of peace and non-violence Mahatma Gandhi approved killing of stray dogs was quite a sensational story. Also naturally a huge controversy arose.  Many Jain followers of Gandhi were upset.   Many sent protest letters to Gandhi.

Gandhiji wrote about this in his magazine “Young India”, that one of the Jain followers was extremely upset by this act of killing of rabid dogs.

“He claimed to be a Jain. I have made a fair study of Jainism. But the Jains have no monopoly of ahimsa. It is not the exclusive peculiarity of any religion. Every religion is based on ahimsa, its application is different in different religions.” (2) wrote Bapu.

So the above lines prove that Bapuji did not subscribe to Jain way of Ahimsa. The Ahimsa which Mahatmaji was referring to was completely based on Hindu view of Ahimsa.

Bapuji further wrote “Connivance or putting up with status quo is no ahimsa, there is no thought or discrimination in it. Dogs will be killed whenever they are a menace to society. I regard this as unavoidable in the life of a householder. To wait until they get rabid is not to be merciful to them….. Humanity is a noble attribute of the soul. It is not exhausted with saving a few dogs or a few fish; such saving may even be sinful. If I have a swarm of ants in my house, the man who proceeds to feed them will be guilty of a sin…. The Mahajan may feel itself safe and believe that it has saved their lives by dumping dogs near my field but it will have committed the greater sin of putting my life in danger.” (2)


Further in another article Bapuji clearly stated that he wanted his son to use violence to protect him if necessary.  “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him  that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence….. “(3)

Then what is Bapuji’s real view on Ahimsa?  Loosely translated in English as Non-violence?

“Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute, and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law – to the strength of the spirit.” (3)

The above lines are perfectly in synchronization with Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal Lord Sriram.

In Ramayana there is an incidence where Lord Ram had to kill Vali the monkey king. Lord Ram shoots Vali from hiding behind a tree. There was very interesting discussion that took place between Lord Ram and Vali. Basically Lord Ram says that there are two laws, one is civil law and the other is animal law.
tvam raajaa bharata bhava svayam naraaNaam |

vanyaanaam aham api raaja raaNmR^igaaNaam ||

Valmiki Ramayana Ayodhya Kanda II, 1-674-17

Lord Rama said ‘Bharata, you become the king of humans (Civil Law), and I shall be the king of forest-beings…(Animal Law)”

Under Civil law if a human gets cheated by another human the victim can go to court and seek justice. Justice will be served.

But in Animal law such a thing as justice to the victim is not possible!  Only a king with what-ever means and using brute-force if necessary can uphold the animal law.

In jungle the Deer gets hunted down by the Tiger. The Deer can only run away as fast as it can. It can’t go to court to complain. Only a warrior who took pity on the Deer can take up an arrow and shoot the hunting Tiger down. But that is injustice because hunting and eating Deer is Tiger’s birth right! Therefore Tigers or wild animals should never be reasoned with. It can be hunted down in anyway using any means possible – therefore the act of killing Vali while hiding behind the tree is perfectly justified. But Vali argues back saying he is not an animal but a monkey king and as such should be treated as a human.



वागुराभिःचपाशैःचकूटैःचविविधैःनराः|| ४-१८-३७


Lord Rama said “I have neither angst nor ire in this matter of my eliminating you, or, your reviling me, oh, best monkey, but listen to the other point I wish to make clear. People will be capturing several animals, either covertly or overtly, with snares, springes and even with numerous contrivances. [Valmiki Ramayana 4-18-37, 38a]

Wise-men say that Humans are in their nature animals ‘pashubhi naranamam’ but it is the intellect which separates a human from an animal. A human who lost his intellect is equal to animal.   By abducting his own brother’s wife – Vali has committed a grave sin, more over Vali dethroned his own brother and occupied his kingdom. These vile acts of Vali can be justified only among animal law because animals can behave whichever way they want. The acts of Vali such as ‘abducting brother’s wife etc’ are acts of animals. Vali essentially became an animal. Therefore Lord Rama argues that Vali deserved to die as per animal law. That is the reason Lord Rama killed Vali the way a king would kill any wild animal – using brute and cunning force if necessary.  Thus the act of shooting down Vali by hiding behind a tree was perfectly justified…”

प्रधावितान्वावित्रस्तान्विस्रब्धान्अतिविष्ठितान्|| ४-१८-३८


विध्यन्तिविमुखाम्चअपिनचदोषोअत्रविद्यते|| ४-१८-३९

“Meat eating people will undeniably kill animals, either they are speedily sprinting or standing steadily, fully dismayed or undismayed, vigilant or unvigilant, and even if they are facing away, in that there is no sacrilege. [Valmiki Ramayana 4-18-38b, 39]



अयुध्यन्प्रतियुध्यन्वायस्मात्शाखामृगोहिअसि|| ४-१८-४०

“In this world even the kingly sages well-versed in virtue will go on hunting, and hunting is no face to face game, as such, oh, vanara, therefore I felled you in combat with my arrow because you are a tree-branch animal, whether you are not combating with me or combating against me. [Valmiki Ramayana 4-18-40]

I hope the above explanation gives you a glimpse in to what Hindus consider as Ahimsa. It means Hindus may acting to be violent for self-defence purpose  “The day anyone behaves like animal he would be swiftly dealt like how Lord Rama dealt with Vali under animal law.”

In my humble opinion, Bapuji knew this Ramayana scripture very well. That is why he approved violence against rabid Dogs, but he believed British are human with values.  Bapu believed that British can be reasoned with.  Therefore he adapted ahimsa method against them. There are other reasons as well why Bapu used ahimsa as a tool. But this Bapu’s Ahimsa is clearly a Hindu tool, it should not be mistaken for pacifism.

Bapuji believed humans are capable of having this kind of social law. Bapuji wrote: “And then under Swaraj you and I shall have a disciplined intelligent educated police force that would keep order within and fight raiders from without, if by that time I or someone else does not show a better way of dealing with either.” –

For your kind information Ahimsa word used in Gita at the following places. Bapu followed it by its spirit to bring freedom to India.

buddhir jnanam asammohah ksama satyam damah samah sukham duhkham bhavo ’bhavo bhayam cabhayam eva ca ahimsa samata tustis tapo danam yaso ’yasah bhavanti bhava bhutanam matta eva prithag-vidhah Gita 10.4-5

amanitvam adambhitvam ahimsa ksantir arjavam acaryopasanam shaucam sthairyam atma-vinigrahah Gita 13.8

ahimsa satyam akrodhas tyagah shantir apaisunam daya bhutesv aloluptvam mardavam hrir acapalam Gita 16.2

deva-dvija-guru-prajna- pujanam shaucam arjavam brahmacaryam ahimsa ca sariram tapa ucyate Gita 17.4


  1. Young India: June 10, 1921
  2. Young India 1926
  3. Selected Writings of MAHATMA GANDHI – Selected and introduced by RONALD DUNCAN – Published by Faber and Faber Limited, 24 Russell Squary, London