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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.