Tracing the lives of those who struggled to give us freedom would be a source of inspiration for many.
A. Vaidyanatha Iyer
A. Vaidyanatha Iyer was a moving spirit as far as Madurai is concerned. Native of Vishnam Pettai village in Thanjavur district, Vaidyanatha Iyer was born to Arunachalam Iyer and Lakshmi Ammal. Subsequently, Iyer moved to Madurai. He was married to Akilandam. He met C. R. Das when he visited Madurai and the meeting proved to be a turning point in his life. On the advice of C. R. Das, Iyer began to take interest in the national movement; He took part in the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha and in the subsequent movements and led the anti-drink campaign and foreign cloth boycott. Vaithiyanatha Iyer took keen interest in adult education programme, village handicraft development and Dalit empowerment. He led a group of Dalits into the Meenakshi Amman Temple on July 8, 1939. His wife Akilandam was arrested twice. His son V. Sankaran was in Alipore jail for six months; his brother Subramanian was incarcerated; his clerk Chinnakrishnan was arrested and his servant Gopal was also not spared. Thus Vaidyanatha Iyer’s family sacrificed a lot for the liberation of the country.
Madurai should be proud of Balakrishna Chettiar. So much enamoured by the concept of freedom; he called himself as Vandemataram Chettiar. Balakriahna Chettiar was working in a jewellery shop located on South Avanimoola Street when I visited the shop about 20 years back it was indeed a pathetic sight to see the freedom fighter sitting in the steps and requesting the passers by to buy gold and silver items from the shop for which he was working. Due to ripe age and fragile health he found it very difficult to even stand. After the closure of the shop, Vandemataram Chettiar took me to his house located in a small lane. I was introduced to his ailing wife and his son who was selling fruits in a cart. The very surrounding revealed their abject poverty. Vandemataram Chettiar took part in the Vedaranyam Satyagraha in 1930 and also in the 50th anniversary of the Satyagraha organised in 1980. He showed a memento that was given to him at that time. Perhaps, it was the only precious thing that was left with him.
Peer Mohammad was popularly known as Cumbum Pavalar. Born in 1888, Peer Mohammad was posted as Sub-Inspector of Police in Andipatti The Non-Cooperation Movement launched by Gandhiji in 1920 inspired Peer Mohammad. As a result, he resigned the police job. Inspired by the Gandhian ideals, he published a work entitled Gandhi Maaligai. The foreword to the book was written by Periyar E.V.R. This work of Peer Mohammad highlighted the importance and greatness of Gandhian principles. The Gandhi Maaligai contained songs on Hindu-Muslim unity and the Congress movement. Further, there were songs on Hakim Ajmal Khan, Pandit Motilal Nehru, C. R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari, Periyar E.V.R and Mattaparai Venkatramaier. Peer Mohammad’s songs on nationalists became very popular. His another work, Paa Manchari, contained songs on nationalists. He also established a reading room near the Cumbum Municipal Office.
Padmasini Ammal was another noteworthy frontline leader of the national movement As a result of the impact of the Non-Cooperation Movement, Padmasini established the Tilak Ashram in Madurai and conducted classes for adults in the evenings. She also undertook door-to-door campaign highlighting the value of khaddar.
Padmanini Ammal’s was a life of sacrifice. She underwent sufferings due to turbulent political condition. She was in the family way when Swami Sivam organised the Cauvery yatra. Padmasini took part in the yatra and propagated the value of khaddar. She addressed a meeting in Paparapatti (where Subramania Siva was buried). During the course of the yatra she delivered a female baby. Due to the strenuous nature of the trip the baby passed away a couple of days after its birth. Padmasini Ammal attended the Belgaum session of the India National Congress held in December 1924. She established the ‘Sisters Association’ (Sakotharigal Sangam).
Padmasini taught women charka weaving and worked for the eradication of untouchability When the Congress volunteers organised the Neil Statue Satyagraha in Madras in 1927, Madurai also sent its share of volunteers. Even though the idea to remove the Neill Statue was suggested by Mandayam Tirumalachari, a radical nationalist, the pioneers of this campaign were from Madurai district. R. Srinivasavaradan, his wife Padmasini Ammal and Chaidambara Bharathi played a prominent role in the satyagraha.. Thirumalaiswami Naidu, Ragupthi Rao and Venugopal Naidu from Madurai took part in it. When the volunteers were left without any means, Padmasini Ammal sold her jewels and paid for the travel expenses of the Congress volunteers.
When the Civil Disobedience Movement was launched, she spoke in support of the movement in the meeting held at Jhansi Rani Park. When she was arrested, she went on fast in the jail. She was then three months pregnant. As a result of the stress; she had a miscarriage. In 1934, she assigned 10 acres of land in Munnampattu village for the Bharathi Ashram. In 1935, she started a school for the depressed classes in Manamadurai. She passed away on January 19, 1936.
R. Chidambara Bharathi
Chidambara Bharathi was born on June 5, 1905. He lived in the Pillaimar Street at Araplayam. He met Gandhiji when he visited Madurai in September 1921.Impressed by Gandhian ideals, Chaidambara Bharathi took part in the toddy shop picketing programme. He addressed a gathering at Peraiyur despite strong opposition from the local zamindar. He also served as the secretary of the Madurai Desabhakthi Samajam. In 1923, a team of Congress volunteers from Madurai visited Karur. Namakkal poet Ramalingam Pillai composed a song in commemoration of the visit. When George Joseph organised the Simon Boycott programme in front of the Tirumalai Nayak Mahal, Chaidambara Bharathi took part in it. He was arrested for making a speech which the government considered as seditious and sentenced him to one year imprisonment in 1929. Chidambara Bharathi took part in the temple entry movement organised by A. Vadyanatha Iyer. He is remembered even today for a daring deed. He went to Pondicherry which was under the French rule then and obtained a copy of V. D. Savarkar’s book ‘1857: The First War of Independence.’ The book was translated by T. V. Soundarammal into Tamil. P. Varadarajulau Naidu collected Rs 1200 and with that fund ‘Erimala,’ in 240 pages, was printed. In the independent India, Chidambara Bharathi was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly as a candidate of the Congress party from Manamadurai constituency in 1957. All through, he led a simple and austere life. He received the Tamira Patra, the highest honour given to a freedom fighter in India. Chidambaram Bharathi passed away on April 30, 1987, at his Arapalayam residence.
Thalayari Gurunathan was living in a small temple in a place called D.M. Court. The temple was founded by him. A huge portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose adorned the walls of his room located within the temple premises. He was arrested and sentenced in the famous Madurai Acid Throwing Case. Thalaiyari Gurunanathan was arrested along with a few others for throwing acid on the face of Vishwanathan Nair, (Also called as Thee Chatti Govindan), a police official, when he was coming out of the Meenakshi Amman Temple.
K. P. Janaki Ammal
K. P. Jannaki Ammal joined the Congress, then moved over to the Congress Socialist Party and ended as a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) I met her in the Communist Party office located on the Mandayam Asari Street, a small lane off Town Hall Road. The Communist Party had provided her a small room and she was leading a contented life. Even though her daughter and son in-law lived in Tirunagar, she preferred to live alone in the party office.
Janaki Ammal was born in 1917 in Madurai. She joined as a Member of the Palaniappa Pillai Boys Company when she was 12 years old and received Rs.25 per month as salary. She acted with S. S. Viswanathadas. Janaki Ammal married Gurusamy who was playing harmonium in the drama troupe. She joined the Congress Party as a member in 1936 and subsequently joined the Congress Socialist Party. When the Congress men of Madurai refrained from giving a reception to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose when he visited Madurai, Jananaki Ammal took part in the reception. She met P. Jeevanandam and P. Ramamurthy at Batlagundu. Inspired by the Communist philosophy, she joined the Communist Party in 1940. She was arrested for taking part in the anti- war propaganda work under the Defence of India Rules. She was elected as the president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and also represented the Madurai South constituency in the Assembly. She passed away on March 1, 1992.
George Joseph was attracted by B. G. Tilak’s call for Swaraj. Further, Gandhian ideals also made him a staunch nationalist. P. Varadarajulu Naidu was arrested for making a speech in the Victoria Edward Hall. C. Rajagopalachari appeared for Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph assisted him in the case. He also led the Rowlett Satyagraha in Madurai. When Gandhiji launched the Non-Cooperation Movement, George Joseph relinquished his lucrative legal practice and joined the movement.
He was the first one to establish a trade union in Madurai. He led the workers’ strike against the management of the Harvey Mills. In 1921, on the invitation of Pandit Motilal Nehru, George Joseph went to Allahabad and took up the editorship of the Independent. He was also associated with the Vaikkom Satyagraha of 1925. He led the Congress volunteers of Madurai in the Simon Go Back Protest Movement. George Joseph fought against the legislative measures passed against the Piramalai Kallars. Hence, he was affectionately called as Roosapoo Raaa by the Priramalai Kallars. He passed away in 1938.
(The author is former Senior Professor and Head, Department of Modern History, School of Historical Studies, Madurai Kamaraj University)