Mahātmā is Sanskrit for "Great Soul". Mahātmā is similar in usage to the modern English term saint and can be translated to "ascended master"; this epithet is applied to prominent people from the Indian subcontinent like Basaveshwara, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Lalon Shah and Jyotirao Phule. It has been used for a class of Jain scholars. According to some authors Rabindranath Tagore is said to have used on March 6, 1915, this title for Gandhi; some claim that he was called Mahatma by the residents of Gurukul Kangadi in April 1915, he in turn called the founder Munshiram a Mahatma. However, a document honoring him with the title "Mahatma" on Jan 21, 1915, in Jetpur, Gujarat, by Nautamlal Bhagvanji Mehta is preserved at the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi, India; this document remains the earliest record of the title "Mahatma" being bestowed upon Gandhi. The use of the term Mahatma in Jainism to denote a class of lay priests, has been noted since the 17th century. A Mahatma is someone; the word, used in a technical sense, was popularized in theosophical literature in the late 19th century, when Madame Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, claimed that her teachers were adepts who reside in Asia.
According to the Theosophical teachings, the Mahatmas are not disembodied beings, but evolved people involved in overseeing the spiritual growth of individuals and the development of civilizations. Blavatsky was the first person in modern times to claim contact with these Adepts the "Masters" Koot Hoomi and Morya. Alvin Boyd Kuhn wrote about mahātmās: The Masters whom Theosophy presents to us are high-ranking students in life's school of experience, they are members of our own evolutionary group, not visitants from the celestial spheres. They are supermen only in that they have attained knowledge of the laws of life and mastery over its forces with which we are still struggling. In September and October 1880, Blavatsky visited A. P. Sinnett at Simla in northern India. Sinnett wrote The Occult Esoteric Buddhism. There has been a great deal of controversy concerning the existence of adepts. Blavatsky's critics have doubted the existence of her Masters. See, for example, W. E. Coleman's "exposes".
After Blavatsky's death in 1891, numerous individuals have claimed to be in contact with her Adept Teachers. These individuals have stated that they are new "messengers" of the Masters and they have conveyed various esoteric teachings. Various New Age and religious organizations refer to them as Ascended Masters, although their character and teachings are in several respects different from those described by Theosophical writers; some individuals believe that Mahatma Maitreya will make contact with all Humanity in January 2017. The Divine Light Mission was a Sant Mat-based movement begun in India in the 1930s by Hans Ji Maharaj and formally incorporated in 1960; the DLM had as many as 2,000 Mahatmas, all from India or Tibet, who taught the DLM's secret meditation techniques called "Knowledge". The Mahatmas, called "realised souls", or "apostles" served as local leaders. After Hans Ji's death in 1966 his youngest son, Prem Rawat, succeeded him; the young guru appointed some new Mahatmas, including one from the United States.
In one incident, a prominent Indian Mahatma nearly beat a man to death in Detroit for throwing a pie at the guru. In the early 1980s, Prem Rawat replaced the Divine Light Mission organization with the Elan Vital and replaced the Mahatmas with initiators; the initiators did not have the revered status of the Mahatmas, they were drawn from Western followers. In the 2000s, the initiators were replaced by a video. W. C. Fields used the pseudonym Mahatma Kane Jeeves when writing the script for The Bank Dick, in a play on both the word "Mahatma" and a phrase an aristocrat might use when addressing a servant, before leaving the house: "My hat, my cane, Jeeves". Among the Jains the term Mahatma is used for class for scholars; the Mewad Ramayana described as "one of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world" has been digitally reunited after being split between organisations in the UK and India for over 150 years, by the British Library and CSMVS Museum in Mumbai. The colophon states that the text, commissioned by Acarya Jasvant for the library of Maharana Jagat Singh I of Mewar, was written by the Mahatma Hirananda, was finished on Friday 25 November 1650.
Mahatma Hirananda being a Jain scribe, incorporated traditional Jain scribal elements into the manuscript. The famous Dabestan-e Mazaheb attributed to one Mohsin Fani, written around 1655 CE. is a text written in the Mughal period that describes various religions and philosophies the author encountered. Its Section 11 is dedicated to Jainism, it states: "Similar to the durvishes of both classes is a third sect, called Mahá-átma. They accumulate money, cook their meal in their houses, drink cold water, take to them a wife." The term Mahatma was thus used for priest/scholars. The present Persian edition of the text by Rezazadeh Malik attributes it to the son and successor of Azar Kayvan,'Kay Khosrow Esfandiyar'. K. Paul Johnson in his books speculates that the "Masters" that Blavatsky wrote about an
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