[muh-haht-muh, -hat-]
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noun (sometimes initial capital letter)
  1. a Brahman sage.
  2. (especially in India) a person who is held in the highest esteem for wisdom and saintliness.
  3. (in Theosophy) a great sage who has renounced further spiritual development in order to aid those who are less advanced.

Origin of mahatma

1850–55; < Sanskrit mahātmā, nominative singular of mahātman high-souled, magnanimous, equivalent to mahā- great + ātman atman
Related formsma·hat·ma·ism, noun


[gahn-dee, gan-]
  1. In·di·ra [in-deer-uh] /ɪnˈdɪər ə/, 1917–84, Indian political leader: prime minister 1966–77 and 1980–84 (daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru).
  2. Mo·han·das Kar·am·chand [moh-huh n-dahs kuhr-uh m-chuhnd] /ˌmoʊ hənˈdɑs ˌkʌr əmˈtʃʌnd/, Mahatma, 1869–1948, Hindu religious leader, nationalist, and social reformer.
  3. Ra·jiv [rah-jeev] /rɑˈdʒiv/, 1944–91, Indian political leader: prime minister 1984–89 (son of Indira). Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for mahatma


noun (sometimes capital)
  1. Hinduism a Brahman sage
  2. theosophy an adept or sage
Derived Formsmahatmaism, noun

Word Origin for mahatma

C19: from Sanskrit mahātman, from mahā great + ātman soul


  1. Indira (Priyadarshini) (ɪnˈdɪərə, ˈɪndərə), daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. 1917–84, Indian stateswoman; prime minister of India (1966–77; 1980–84); assassinated
  2. Mohandas Karamchand (ˌməʊhənˈdʌs ˌkʌrəmˈtʃʌnd), known as Mahatma Gandhi. 1869–1948, Indian political and spiritual leader and social reformer. He played a major part in India's struggle for home rule and was frequently imprisoned by the British for organizing acts of civil disobedience. He advocated passive resistance and hunger strikes as means of achieving reform, campaigned for the untouchables, and attempted to unite Muslims and Hindus. He was assassinated by a Hindu extremist
  3. Rajiv (ræˈdʒiːv), son of Indira Gandhi. 1944–91, Indian statesman; prime minister of India (1984–89); assassinated
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for mahatma

1884, literally "great-souled," from Sanskrit mahatman, from maha "great," from PIE root *meg- "great" (see magnate) + atman, "soul, principle of life," properly "breath" (see atman). In esoteric Buddhism, "a person of supernatural powers." In common use, as a title, a mark of love and respect. Said to have been applied to Gandhi (1869-1948) in 1915 by poet Rabrindranath Tagore.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper