The literal translation of Mahatma, the name which the people of India gave to Gandhiji, is "the Great Soul", maha, great; atma, soul. The word goes back to the Upanishads, where it is used in speaking of the Supreme Being, and, through communion of Knowledge and Love, of those who become One with Him:
"He is the One Luminous, Creator of All, Mahatma Always in the heart of the people enshrined, Revealed through Love, Intuition, and Though, Whoever knows Him, Immortal becomes..."
The Poet Rabindranath Tagore, on a visit to the Ashram, quoted the above stanza, referring to the Apostle.
The name Mahatma has been given to Gandhiji by common consent, perhaps in the general sense of "Saint". There can be no doubt that in some of its connotations, that of selflessness (with a higher sense than of mere unselfishness) it can be properly applied to him.