Madurai had a significant role in shaping the freedom movement as it was here Mahatma Gandhi gave up his traditional everyday outfit and went on to symbolize the everyday south Indian peasant of those times.
Gandhiji then during the rest of his life went around India and even attended the Round Table Conferences in England with this attire which had made the former premier of United Kingdom Winston Churchill comment on him as a half-naked fakir.
To mark the event, veteran Congress leader Kumari Anandan who is also the international convenor of a programme called “In Search of Gandhi’s Footsteps” along with its Madurai convenor, M.Chidambara Bharathi on Saturday as part of the programme went again in search of the places Gandhi had visited when he came to Madurai and paid respects.
The occasion was the 90 anniversary which marks Gandhi giving up his traditional attire on September 22, 1921. Already Mr. Kumari Anandan has visited South Africa, England and the United States of America and went to the landmarks where Mahatma had gone and paid respects to the father of the nation.
Gandhi had visited Madurai five times during his remarkable political career, March, 26, 1919, September, 21 to 24, 1921, September, 25 to 30, 1927, January, 25 to January, 27, 1934 and from February 2 to 4, 1946 and during this time he had gone to 16 places which holds historical significance.
During his first visit to Madurai, Gandhi had stayed at barrister George Joseph’s house near Albert Victor Bridge, and it was during his second visit to Madurai on September 22, 1921 after coming into terms with the everyday lives of the peasantry in Madurai he gave up his traditional attire.
It was at a meeting here, he found that most of the audience was bare-bodied and wore what was an apology for a dhoti and a cloth wrapped around the head. Gandhi later came to know that it was acute poverty that was the reason behind such attire.
It was said that Gandhi had spent a sleepless night at a Gujarati businessman’s house at West Masi Street (which now houses Khadi Kraft) worrying over such poverty that could leave a person scantily attired he turned up the next day without a shirt and wearing the garb with which he soon became identified. The reasons Gandhi gave was to symbolically identify himself with the struggling masses even in the matter of dress but was also a message to the Colonizers regarding their role in the impoverishment of India.
The convenors first went to Race Course ground and paid respects there, it was here in the year 1946 Gandhi had addressed a huge gathering of 6 lakh people said, Mr.Chidambara Bharathi. Then they went to Meenakshi College and shared the history with the college students on Gandhi’s visit. Then they went to the place where congress leader K. Thulasi Ram gave a reception to Gandhi which was then the Madurai Municipal Office and now has been turned into Corporation vehicle maintenance workshop.
The convenors then visited George Joseph’s house, Madura Coats Labour High School where Gandhi had addressed among the mill hands, then to Setupati High School, followed by the place where once Chandra Talkies stood and it was here Gandhi addressed a huge gathering of women during a fund raising programme.
When the team visited Khadi Kraft, they were received by Tamil Nationalist Movement leader, Pazha Nedumaran and Paranthaman.
The team later went to Madura College grounds, Victoria Edward Hall. Railway Station, Teppakulam Sourashtra Club, NMR Subburaman Bungalow, Gandhi Pottal, Tamukkam Grounds before finally culminating at Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Gandhi after knowing that Dalits and Nadars were not allowed inside the temple had refused to visit during his earlier visits and only after Temple Entry was successfully done by A.Vaidyanatha Iyer and others, he visited the temple in 1946.