Gandhi’s interest in theosophy dates from an early phase in his career, his student days in London. He landed in England on 29 September 1888 and already within the first year of his stay heard Annie Besant’s lecture on ‘Why I became a Theosophist’. London had many silver-tongued orators at the turn of the century and Annie Besant was certainly one of them. It was in this speech that she made the remark that ‘she would be quite satisfied to have the epitaph written on her tomb that she lived for truth and she died for truth’,1 a remark which echoed much that the young Gandhi had already thought out for himself, or at least so he claims in retrospect in his autobiography. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91) was in London at the time and Gandhi was introduced to her through his friends the Keightleys and it was they who encouraged him to read her works.2 Gandhi’s interests were very catholic and he was not only intrigued by the Hindu and Buddhist elements in Blavatsky’s writings but stimulated to read the original texts first-hand, although in English translation. The theosophical influence waned as he came in contact with Christian friends in South Africa and, even more significantly, drew on his own Hindu heritage. But he was at an impressionable age when he came in touch with theosophy and a reading of Blavatsky’s works gives the impression that he may have been more influenced by her than he realised.3
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