Was Mohandas Gandhi In Love With His Bodybuilder Friend?

The Wall Street Journal has published a review of Joseph Lelyveld's new book about Mohandas Gandhi titled, Great Soul. From the review:

G "Yet as Mr. Lelyveld makes abundantly clear, Gandhi's organ probably only rarely became aroused with his naked young ladies, because the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. 'Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,' he wrote to Kallenbach. 'The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.' For some reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were 'a constant reminder' of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might relate to the enemas Gandhi gave himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations."

"Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about 'how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.' Gandhi nicknamed himself 'Upper House' and Kallenbach 'Lower House,' and he made Lower House promise not to 'look lustfully upon any woman.' The two then pledged 'more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.'"

"They were parted when Gandhi returned to India in 1914, since the German national could not get permission to travel to India during wartime—though Gandhi never gave up the dream of having him back, writing him in 1933 that 'you are always before my mind's eye.' Later, on his ashram, where even married 'inmates' had to swear celibacy, Gandhi said: 'I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women."

In the above photograph, taken in 1913, Gandhi is to the left and Kallenbach to the right. Gandhi's secrerary, Sonia Schlesin, is in the center.


  1. TampaZeke says

    Another example of how gay heroes, and heroes that were gay, are hidden from history, even “gay” history. I’ve never heard it even hinted that Gandhi was gay. In fact I’ve never heard any mention of Gandhi’s sexual or romantic inclinations.

  2. John says

    Didn’t Gandhi infamously try to destroy India’s pre-colonial history of homosexuality in art, literature, etc.? I also thought – as a product of his time in homophobic colonized India, to be fair – he was more on the homophobic side…

  3. Dastius Krazitauc says

    cotton + wool + vaseline = enemas?

    I’m baffled.

    And why would enemas make Gandhi think of the German, if not for preparing for the “other, less generous explanation”?

  4. GE says

    People create worlds that are a reflection of their minds. If you want to believe Gandhi was gay, you will find evidence to support it. If you want to believe Gandhi was born a woman, or a secret cross-dresser, or any other claim, you will find evidence to support it. Having read much of Gandhi’s writings, it is obvious that he was Mahatma in mind, body and spirit. I have Indian heritage and know how much he is still loved in India by men and women of all walks of life, just as he gave love to all during his life. Whether or not he was gay is a moot point made by an American academic. Read about Gandhi’s life for yourself, talk to Indians, investigate his teachings, and then decide whether you think the love he felt for this man is any different to the love he felt for all humanity.

  5. Dastius Krazitauc says

    GE, can one be Mahatma and be gay? I know nothing about this topic, but it sounds like you think it unseemly to speculate that Gandhi was gay.

  6. Lexxvs says

    The only story that I’ve read about is that Ghandi along with Nehru were given to the task of moralizing India, destroying –for instance- innumerable statues and friezes depicting homosexual sex on temples and buildings all over India, testimony of many of them luckily survive in photograph taken before that worse than colonial campaign. If all of that were collateral victims of Gandhi’s discourse against bold sex –the same that could make him uneasy as he apparently disliked women-, I don’t know, but clearly the homosexual images were the mainly targeted, so much that many today’s Indians were left with the conviction that homosexuality was never part of their legacy or culture.
    If the referred accounts about his beloved German are true, there is no doubt that –even for the cozy standards of male to male affection of his culture- something else was being cooking there. Sadly as always, there is no worse enemy to the LGTB communities than the closeted self hating cases.

  7. ohplease says

    Talk about internalized homophobia, GE! Except you could stand to internalize yours a bit more. I don’t think being gay makes Gandhi one iota less a Mahatma then his being straight would have, had he been, which he clearly was not.

    As to your utterly absurd statement that you can find evidence for anything, why did you stop short of saying “Martian” or “Time Traveler”? Why pretend that words of gay love are somehow a figment of the imagination? Or worse, evidence of a base desire that’s not worthy of a Mahatma?

    Sorry you hate the gays and that it grates on you that Gandhi obviously was one. You could learn a lot from him if you’d only be open to it. One thing’s for sure: you’re no Mahatma.

  8. says

    gandhi’s sexual activities does not stop either with his German male body builder but he has slept with several naked teenage girls in the name of experiment?. They call him Mahatma or saint. Once the great Humanitarian and Father of Indian constitution and a Columbia Doctorate Dr.B.R.Ambedkar said, quote:” If a man with God’s name on his tongue and a sword under his armpit deserved the appellation … then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Mahatma. – Babasaheb Ambedkar”

    This man gandhi abused not just the young teenage girls, he was known for beating up his own wife, his sexual dealings with other woman was a cause of marital issue with his wife.

    These are all trivial things when considering what he said about India’s caste system, the dangerous social evil. He said there is a meaning, thee is a scientific meaning of caste system and we must preserve, let a shomaker keep doing that job, or a cleaner clean up the toilet but a temple preacher preach so on and so forth, he was the ultimate racist you would have never heard, he called the blacks much worst than animals. He also abused the outcasts in India, the outcasts were originally Buddhists who do not believe or follow the brahminic caste system, that lead to untouchability and human rights abuse, woman and childrens abuse. This guy gandhi took several past until to death in the name of various issues but he also took untouchability issue simply for name sake and did crocodile tears on discrimination, how is it possible for a man of his stature to say we need to keep caste system, but then he fights for eradication of untouchability..

    this man is an evil, people develop so much perception without knowing an iota of knowledge or having knowledge from movies like gandhi and some books that procrastinated to this liar and abuser of social system. Would there be a day, the world learn about the real gandhi?.

    You must also read “gandhi behind the divinity of mask” and gandhi under cross examination, the later book, the authors provide well investigated report about how gandhi and his S.African journey been concocted and glamorised, there was no incident of gandhi was thrown out of train from white’s compartment, as gandhi a black man travelling on whites compartment in a train during 1892 at a train station in Pietermaritzberg in Germany, that incident was conspiracy to create a personality that would later named as Saint of non violence and peace. Give me a break guys, for chirst sake, the Non violence and peace is Buddha’s teachings, this guy used as a shield to bring himself up in the world, as matter of fact he and his man were behind the killing of an American Citizen William Doherty, Gandhi hushed-up murder of US citizen.http://www.mohandasgandhitruth.com/?p=66
    I did not realize that 98% of this world and Indians are ignorant and utterly flawed in their knowledge about gandhi.

    Hope, they will realize when the information is available with proof.

  9. Rowan says

    Saint, and your extreme hate of Ghandi is equally as irratonal as ANY human putting another on a pedestal. Humans are flawed!

    My problem with people like you is that you are just as bad as the people you insult. I bet you as well are either super religious and beleive in Jesus being this messiah or if you’re an atheist you think Richard Dawkins I NEVER wrong.

    Please. All a load of tosh if you ask me.

    Americans are so extreme in their thinking and feelings. Even when you go to an academic institution, what you are taught is still so…rigid. I guess this all stems from this obsessive religious culture that exists within the fabric of the society.

    But really, this isn’t a shock. AT ALL. Even when I was doing my A levels as an 17 year old, we learnt in history and English about the blurring of the lines in sexuality, as well as that so much was written to create men as gods when they were deeply flawed.

    With these tools, when you go on to University, you then start your academic journey away that their are two sides to every story and only researching one will give you a fail because the point becomes moot.

    Furthermore sexuality is so fluid. Just because more English writers, poets etc came out, doesn’t mean we have more gay people here. It just meant within a creation class of men, same sex behavior was not thought as disgusting because that is just insane. Even between the lower class of men decades ago.

    I guess the one thing we have which has encouraged this has been that we have separated state and church. Our judicial and political system prides it’s self on rational thinking, hysterically.

    The conservatives may have tried and banned a load of gay behavior but any man with a brain understood this was seeps in hypocrisy and homophobia-not common sense.

  10. gwyneth cornrow says

    I totally knew it! Just look at the way he tied his robes! Or that obsession with spinning his own cotton. Hello?!?! I was so on to you, Miss Mahatma.

  11. Paul R says

    Rowan, you’re sounding pretty extreme and rigid there yourself, or at least painting with a broad brush. Americans and our academics are wildly diverse, and Saint doesn’t even sound like an American to me. His writing suggests that English isn’t his first language, anyway. (I’m not trying to be rude; I just edit people all day for whom English is a second language and a few for whom it’s their first, and this sounds like the former.)

  12. Who Knew??? says

    Important fashion icon? I thought that was Nehru.

    I just saw the movie, Gandhi, I know it took me a while to get to it and now I find out that it was a white wash? No mention of the gay stuff at all.

    I hope Oliver Stone gets a hold of this and does a remake.

  13. Vikram in Mumbai says

    The essential point to note about this WSJ review is that its written by Andrew Roberts, Churchill’s biographer and current ultimate champion, and few men could have been more opposed in every way than Churchill or Gandhi.

    Churchill loathed Gandhi from early on, refusing to meet him when Gandhi sought him out on his last visit to India. Gandhi for his part never said much against Churchill, though there was certainly much that could be said, not least about Churchill’s almost wilfull decision to cause the great Bengal famine, an episode that historians like Roberts elide.

    But I don’t want to get into the Gandhi-versus-Churchill battle that incluences people like Roberts. I haven’t read the book, though I’ve known it was in the works for some years, and I’d be really surprised if Lelyveld really sensationalised Gandhi’s relationship with Kallenbach, which was certainly an emotionally very close one. I’ve read the correspondence, and the short biography of Kallenbach that his niece put out after he died, and while I’m highly dubious about the boyfriend part, I think it could be argued that Kallenbach was Gandhi’s first disciple.

    But the idea of Gandhi being gay is not really credible since he was – as he himself – admitted strongly attracted to women. That he chose to deny this attraction and be celibate may seem odd to us, but it was piecemeal with notions about the power of celibacy that were both part of traditional Indian culture as well as the late Victorian culture Gandhi imbibed as a student in London. (Kallenbach could more plausibly be surmised to have been gay, since there never seems to have been any woman in his life).

    Among that late Victorian culture that Gandhi encountered there were certainly strains of homosexuality. Gandhi may have met Edward Carpenter, and he cited one of Carpenter’s critiques of Western culture as one of the key influences on him (this is all more reason why a conservative like Roberts would despise Gandhi). Its unlikely that Gandhi would have approved of same sex relations, but he didn’t much approve of opposite sex relations either – as I said, wierd to us maybe, but at least not evidence of homophobia!

    The interesting point for queer people though might be to consider how openly Gandhi spoke of himself being filled with feminine energy, and of his politics being opposed to the sort of virile macho politics embodied by Churchill. Perhaps this was his real sin for people like Churchill and Roberts – that his views challenged their simplistic, one-sided, male dominated views.

    Since its precisely such simplistic views that have oppressed queer people, it might be worth considering where our sympathies should lie – with the Churchills and Roberts of this world, or with the norm-challenging and truly alternate views of someone like Gandhi.

  14. Barry says

    Rowan and Saint need a lot of work on their English if they wish English readers to pay attention. As it is their stumbling around has made bloody mess of whatever their point was. Uffda.

  15. prashant says

    How this man called ‘Mahatma’ in India.
    When Indian society get known about this facts?? let the Indian history should worship the pure and real leaders of world not to such geys.

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