Mahatma Gandhi made about seven trips to Odisha between 1921 and 1946.
Moved by extreme poverty here, he had said, “The picture of Odisha, which is dancing before my eyes, has convinced me that it will be Swaraj for them if we can provide food to them. The best way to do this is to propagate khadi. If this programme is carried out sincerely, khadi production in Utkal will increase and one day, this province may become the khadi store of India.”
On the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, we’ll revisit the places that Mahatma Gandhi toured in Odisha.
Gandhi, for the first time, visited Odisha in 1921. Accompanied by Kasturba, he arrived at Cuttack on Dola Purnima day on March 23. Gandhi addressed the first meeting of the day at Kadam-i-Rasool, where topics such as the Khilafat Movement and Hindu-Muslim unity were discussed.
In the afternoon, he addressed a meeting of women at Binod Bihari where he exhorted women to give up wearing ornaments and donate to the cause of freedom struggle. It was learnt that women donated jewellery weighing nearly sixty to seventy tolas and about a thousand rupees.
That evening, Gandhi addressed a mammoth public meeting on the riverbed of the Kathjodi. Addressing the crowd, he said the reward for cooperation with the British during World War I was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Accompanied by Gopabandhu, he then left for Berhampur on March 29.
His second visit was brief. At the request of Madhusudan Das, Gandhi came to Cuttack on August 19, 1925 and visited Utkal Tannery. His fortnight-long tour for the propagation of khadi started on December 4, 1927.
The whirlwind tour adversely affected his health and he took a rest at the place of Madhusudan Das. After he fully recovered, he left Cuttack on 21st December to attend the All India Congress session at Madras.
The next year, Gandhi visited Odisha again. On his way to attend the AICC session at Calcutta, he arrived at Jharsuguda on December 22, 1928. After addressing a meeting there he proceeded to Sambalpur.
In 1934, Gandhi began his celebrated padayatra with the mission of Harijan uplift and abolition of untouchability. He visited Odisha twice in this connection. First, on May 5, 1934, he addressed gatherings at Jharsuguda and Sambalpur. On May 8, he unveiled a statue of the late Pandit Gopabandhu Das at Puri before undertaking padayatra from Puri. Gandhi left for Patna a week later to attend the AICC session. On his return, he resumed his padayatra.
Gandhi again visited Odisha on March 25, 1938. He was accompanied by Kasturba, Durgaben, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Acharya Krupalini, Mahadev Desai and many other leaders.
The occasion was to attend the fourth annual conference of Gandhi Seva Sangha and the Utkal Khadi and Village Industry exhibition at Berboi near Delang in Puri district. On 20 January 1946, Gandhi passed through Odisha on his way from Calcutta to Madras. He made brief addresses at Cuttack and Berhampur. This turned out to be his last visit.
Probably, it was a great coincidence that Gandhi’s ashes were preserved in Odisha for a long time. It was almost a forgotten chapter in history that an urn containing some ashes was kept in the Puri Raj Bhavan premises from February 12 to June 27, 1948. From Puri, the ashes were brought to Cuttack and preserved in the Imperial Bank of India till finally these were handed over to his great-grandson Tushar Gandhi in 1997.