Since his ﬁrst visit to Madras in 1896, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi kept coming back to various cities and towns in what is today Tamil Nadu. As per The Hindu archives, Gandhi made at least 12 visits to the region till 1946, and some of these trips turned out to be signiﬁcant milestones in the march to freedom. It was here that he adopted the attire he came to be identiﬁed with – the loincloth – and where he was prevented from entering a temple in Kanniyakumari district.
Madras(1896, 1915, 1919, 1925, 1933, 1937, 1946)
Gandhi first set foot in Madras in October 1896to attend a public meeting on grievances of Indian settlers in South Africa. The Hindu then published a report titled ‘Message of thanks from M.K. Gandhi’ on October 28, 1896, on him thanking citizens for supporting the cause.
In April 1915, students and leaders were surprised to learn that Gandhi and Kasturba travelled in the third class compartment of a train. It was reported that students unyoked the horses and volunteered to drag his carriage to George Town.
On March 18, 1919, he addressed what was reported as a ‘A monster meeting’ on Marina Beach. He unveiled a portrait of The Hindu’s late editor S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar at the office on Mount Road on March 22, 1925.
Having established the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha in 1918, he spoke at the convocations in 1933 and 1937. In January 1946, the special train in which he was travelling was halted at Ambattur to help him alight. He even spoke a few words in Tamil.
(K. Lakshmi and S. Poorvaja)
Salem (1920, 1923, 1934)
The Salem sub-post office at Hasthampatti is functioning in a colonial-era building where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visit to the city in 1934. A Mahatma Gandhi philately museum functions at the place. An easychair, utensils and sandals used by him during his visit are preserved here. Also on display are records of his speech on February 14, 1934: “In one sentence I will say that all castes must have equal rights. When we feel that we are all God’s creatures, there can be no untouchability in our midst.” J. Barnabass, of the Salem Historical Society, said Gandhi, on a visit to Salem in 1920, inaugurated a public water tank near Shevapet and, in 1923, Kasturba Gandhi inaugurated a bridge across Thirumanimutharu.
Madurai (1919, 1921, 1927, 1934, 1946)
During Gandhi’s second visit to the city, he stayed on 251A West Masi Street. It was here that Gandhi resolved to abandon his exuberant Gujarati attire and chose the attire that would go on to define him – the loincloth – on September 22, 1921. The place where Gandhi made his first public appearance in this attireis now known as Gandhi Pottal. The Gandhi Memorial Museum, the first in the country, was inaugurated by then PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959. Housed in the summer palace of Rani Mangammal, it has 14 original belongings of Gandhi, including the blood-stained loincloth worn by him when he was assassinated.
Coimbatore (1921, 1927, 1934)
“Gandhi was not a mass leader when he visited Coimbatore in 1921,” historian C.R. Elangovan said, adding that there was a “major transformation” in his stature during later visits. In 1927, he visited Tiruppur, which was part of erstwhile Coimbatore district, as part of his tour to promote khadi. His public meetings were held in Coronation Park, now known as V.O.C. Park Grounds. During his visits, he used to stay in the houses of R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, who became independent India's first Finance Minister, and T. S. Avinashilingam Chettiar, who once served as Education Minister of Madras Presidency.
Tiruchi (1919, 1920, 1927, 1934)
Aplaque, located right opposite the clock tower at the historic Gandhi Market, which was laid in memory of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit in 1927, and a peepal tree in the National College High School campus (now Shrimati Indira Gandhi College), planted during a subsequent visit, at the invitation of the then Principal of National College Saranathan, stand testimony to the freedom fighter’s visits to Tiruchi. P. Rengasamy, 93, of Thottiam, says: “I was a seven-year-old child when I saw Mahatma Gandhi for the first time in Srirangam, where he addressed a mammoth public meeting, calling upon the people to strengthen the freedom movement to unseat the British.” T.S.S. Rajan, a Congress leader, and Rathinavel Thevar, a former chairman of the Tiruchi Municipality, had close associations with the father of the nation. During his visits, Gandhi preferred to stay in the bungalow of Dr. Rajan near the Central Bus Stand.
After launching his ‘Harijan Tour’ in Kanniyakumari in January 1934, Gandhi visited Devakottai in Sivaganga district as part of his tour to address public meetings in support of uplift of Dalits, and ended up brokering peace between Nattars (Kallars) and Dalits, who were at loggerheads. Learning that Nattars held sway over Dalits and denied them temple entry, especially during the car festival of Sri Swarnamurtheeswarar temple, he held talks with them and urged them to “do justice to the Harijans and treat them kindly as brothers”. After visiting Amaravathiputhur and Karaikudi, he visited Devakottai on January 27, 1934 and addressed a public meeting. The next day, he laid the foundation for a school for Harijans in Ramnagar, 3 km from Devakottai.
(D.J. Walter Scott)
Gandhi visited the CMC Vellore Medical School in 1928, responding to an invitation from Ida Sophia Scudder, its founder. He was on his mission to propagatekhadi and for boycotting foreign clothes. As per Dorothy Clarke Wilson’s book Dr. Ida - Passing On The Torch Of Life, the meeting was arranged in one of the newly-completed wards of the hospital with more than 400 people in attendance. Wilson records Gandhi as a frail little man squatting cross-legged on a table top, wearing nothing but hiskhadi loincloth and a sacred thread. “Pursue a high standard of morals,” he urged the nurses and medical students. "Do not strut around like big dorai sanis. Remember at all times your high calling to service.”