It is well known that Mahatma Gandhi had a certain special corner for Odisha (then Orissa) and its citizens, for he always wanted to serve and uplift the state in every possible way. Poverty and famine of the state had deeply moved him, back then. His eight visits to Odisha as described below not only renewed the structure of this state but also meaningfully transformed Gandhiji. Let’s take a look!
1921: First visit more like a wake-up call for people of Odisha
His first visit to the state was enough to stimulate people’s zeal towards the cause of national movement. And hence, after a long hiatus, people of Odisha responded to the strong call of Indian National Congress because of the enthusiastic Gandhian ideas. He along with his wife Kasturba arrived in Cuttack on March 23, 1921. His first public meeting in the state at Qadam-e-Rasool, Cuttack was held where topics of Khilafat Movement & Hindu-Muslim unity were brought to light. Towards the afternoon, another meeting in Binod Bihari was conducted, where Gandhi addressed women and asked them to donate ornaments towards the cause of freedom struggle. Again in the evening, an extensive gathering was seen at Kathajodi riverbed where a mammoth crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the Mahatma!
Gandhi left for Bhadrak on March 25 where he spent a day for propagating Congress views. He even held a public meeting at Gandhi Padia, situated on the banks of Salandi River, Bhadrak. From here, he went to Satyabadi and visited the ideal school of Gopabandhu Das, soon after which Gandhi left for Puri. On March 27, a public meeting & women’s gathering were observed in Lord Jagannath’s abode. It was here in Puri that Gandhi also objected the use of foreign cloth in the main temple and requested authorities for its withdrawal. Gandhi’s final halt of 1921 was made in Berhampur on March 29, where he was accompanied by Gopabandhu Das. At Barracks Ground (now Berhampur Stadium) a whole crowd had assembled to hear Gandhi’s uplifting words! The impact of his maiden visit to Odisha was tremendous and a Non Cooperation Movement was seen getting encouraged!
1925: His scan of problems at Utkal Tannery
A brief visit to the state was made by Gandhi on August 19, 1925 at the request of Madhusudan Das. While he was in Cuttack during this time, Gandhi looked into the problems faced in Utkal Tannery which was founded by Das after spending a fortune. But sadly, this Swadeshi factory couldn’t get saved in the end, even after Gandhi’s discussion of the matter with businessmen of Calcutta (now Kolkata) and other prolonged efforts!
1927: Encouragement of Khadi use in the state
His fortnight long tour which started from December 4, 1927 was mainly planned by Gandhi for propagation of Khadi but during this trip, he also stopped at the flood ravaged area of Basudevpur tehsil of Bhadrak district and sympathised at the plight of people there. It was during this time in Odisha that Gandhi paid a visit to several Khadi production centres of All-India Spinners’ Association. During this third visit, Gandhi even spoke highly in favour of temple entry for the untouchables. But unfortunately, the entire expedition got hectic for him due to which his health was adversely affected. He took rest at Madhusudan Das’s place and on recovering Gandhi left Cuttack on December 21, for taking part in All India Congress session, Madras (now Chennai)
1928: One day stop in the state!
On December 22, 1928 Mahatma Gandhi with wife Kasturba and others arrived in Jharsuguda. He had halted here while on the way to attend the AICC session at Calcutta (now Kolkata). Soon after addressing a meeting, he moved on to visit Sambalpur. A public meeting was held on the bank of River Mahanadi where he listened to stories and reports about Sambalpur’s woes!
1934: His fifth plus sixth visit to Odisha for the very noted Harijan Padayatra
The high point of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Odisha was during May 1934 when he stopped twice in the state to launch a padayatra (foot march) for uplifting Harijan and abolishing untouchability. On May 5, 1934 Gandhi reached Jharsuguda and then went to Sambalpur. Huge mass gatherings and fund collections for Harijan welfare were noticed in both these places. Again on May 6, 1934 a meeting got conducted at Bhandaripokhari in Bhadrak district. By now, an unprecedented enthusiasm for this great cause had already spread like wild fire in different parts of the state.
After unveiling a statue of Late Gopabandhu Das in Puri on May 8, 19234 Gandhi along with his followers undertook this sacred padayatra from the symbolic soil of Puri. This celebrated march began along the Puri-Cuttack road by covering several districts and villages on the way. Then on May 16 Gandhiji went to Patna to attend the AICC meeting. He returned to Odisha on May 21 & resumed the padyatra in second phase from Bairi railway station, Jajpur that lasted till June 7, when he reached Bhadrak. This is the most remarkable time for Odisha as Gandhi’s main mission had been initiated from here. What followed were a series of programmes by many Congress leaders of the state to elevate the rural regions!
1938: For a week-long conference at Puri
Gandhi for the seventh time visited Odisha on March 25, 1938 and was accompanied by his wife as well as many leaders of that time, including Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and others. The occasion was to attend the fourth annual conference of Gandhi Seva Sangha and the Utkal Khadi and Village Industry exhibition at Beraboi near Delang in Puri district. During this period Mahatma Gandhi and his followers stayed at Beraboi and discussed on varied subjects including the country’s economic development, upliftment of poor people, political freedom, promotion of khadi, besides many more. Here Gandhi also inaugurated an agro and village enterprise exhibition!
1946: While passing through Odisha!
Mahatma Gandhi’s last visit to the state was while heading to Madras (now Chennai) from Guwahti by train on July 20, 1946. He met his supporters during the stoppages at railway stations in Balasore, Bhadrak, Cuttack and Berhampur.
While there are so many places that Mahatma Gandhi had toured in Odisha, it’s downhearted to mention that some of these spots are now almost in a crumbing condition. We can only hope that in the upcoming times some of these historic sites are put in their proper order!