By: Rusiraj Pattanayak
Father of the nation Gandhiji in Odisha ! Mahatma Gandhi had set foot in Odisha for the first time on 23rd March 1921 which also was the day of Dola Purnima. Gandhiji addressed the first meeting of the day at Kadam-e-Rasool, Cuttack where topics such as Khilafat Movement and Hindu-Muslim unity were discussed.
In the afternoon, he addressed a meeting of women at Binod Bihari, Cuttack 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, Gandhiji addressed a mammoth public meeting on the riverbed of the Kathjodi, in the city of Cuttack. Addressing the crowd, he said the reward for cooperation with the British during World War I was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Accompanied by Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das, he then left for Brahmapur on March 29.
His second visit was brief. On the request of Utkal Gaurav Madhusudan Das, Gandhiji 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 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, Gandhiji 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 un-touchability. 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 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 Dasai 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 Delanga in Puri district. On 20th January 1946, Gandhi passed through Odisha on his way from Calcutta to Madras. He made brief addresses at Cuttack and Brahmapur. 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.