ma·​hat·​ma mə-ˈhät-mə How to pronounce mahatma (audio) -ˈhat- How to pronounce mahatma (audio)
: a person to be revered for high-mindedness, wisdom, and selflessness
: a person of great prestige in a field of endeavor

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Mahatma is an adaptation of the Sanskrit word mahātman, which literally meant "great-souled." As a general, uncapitalized English noun, "mahatma" can refer to any great person; in India, it is used as a title of love and respect. When capitalized, however, it usually refers to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the great leader who helped guide India to independence in 1947. Renowned for his policy of nonviolent protest, he was widely known as "Mahatma Gandhi" or "the Mahatma." The title was reportedly conferred on him by poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1915, but spiritual leader and author Paramahansa Yogananda claimed that Gandhi didn’t embrace it himself. According to Yogananda, Gandhi never referred to himself as "Mahatma," but rather "made some humble, and witty, protests about the title."

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web But a statue of Mohandas Gandhi in a Delhi park seemed girded for the struggle ahead: Antipollution campaigners had fitted the mahatma with a respirator mask. Brook Larmer, New York Times, 23 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mahatma.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Sanskrit mahātman, from mahātman great-souled, from mahat + ātman soul — more at atman

First Known Use

circa 1895, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of mahatma was circa 1895


Cite this Entry

“Mahatma.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


ma·​hat·​ma mə-ˈhät-mə How to pronounce mahatma (audio) -ˈhat- How to pronounce mahatma (audio)
: a person respected for being noble, wise, and unselfish
used as a title of honor especially by Hindus

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