RSS Feed

Gandhiji’s visit to Calicut - 1920

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

We talked about the salt fields and the salt march at Calicut in a previous post and the research naturally led to Gandhiji and his visits to Kerala and particularly Calicut. He came twice to the Malabar headquarters in those days, at first in 1920 in connection with the Khilafat movement. Let’s take a look at those days.
First a few words about the Khilafat movement. Following the defeat of Turkey in WWI, the british decided to abolish the office of the Kahlifa or the highest religious institution for Muslims in 1918, and break up the Ottoman empire by 1920. The Caliphate as you may know, is an Islamic system of governance in which Islamic law is used for state rule. The Muslims of SE Asia joined hands in the protest against this, and India was foremost in the campaign. With Gandhiji’s exhortation, the Hindus slowly joined hands with the Muslims in this regard and presented a combined face against the British. The non-cooperation campaign was initially quite successful as protests, strikes and various acts of civil disobedience spread across India. Hindus and Muslims joined up to offer peaceful resistance. To spread the word, Gandhiji and Shaukat Ali decided to travel around India.
Gandhi and Shaukat Ali traveling from Trichy, arrived at Calicut on the 18th August 1920. They arrived around 2.30 p.m. and alighted at the Kozhikode railway station and were garlanded by Khan Bahadur Mootha Koya Thangal. Their host was Shyamji Sunderdas (Crocin sole selling agent) at the Gujarati Street in Calicut, and this was where Gandhi stayed during this and later visits. The meeting for the public was organized at the Vellayil beach and lawyer VV Rama Ayer (father of VR Krisha Iyer) presented the welcome address on behalf of the taluk board. Popular accounts point out that some 20,000 people turned up at the Kozhikode beach that evening at 630PM to hear Gandhiji talk. K. Madhavan Nair translated and at the end of the speech, KP Raman Unni Menon handed over a check of Rs.2,500/- as a contribution to the Khilafat fund. Later, his Gujarati host entertained the members of his party and others with a sumptuous dinner.
Peeking into “the Source material for a history of the freedom movement in India” Volume 3, Part 1,pages 318-319, we find the following report

Generally speaking there is little sympathy with the non-co-operation movement at Calicut, and were it not for a few fanatical Mappilla youths headed by P. Moideen Kutty and brief-less vakils led by K. Madhavan Nayar, Gopala Menon and P. Achutan, no notice would be taken of it.
In the afternoon there was a private conference at Gandhi's residence. Nearly all the vakils and a few Mahommadans attended. Gandhi advised the vakils to suspend their practice and withdraw the children from Government aided schools; but apparently he failed to convince his audience, most of whom thought his scheme unworkable. At the evening meeting Rs. 2,500 was presented to Shaukat Ali; but he was disappointed and expected more. The Seths (Bombay Merchants) were responsible for the reception; the local leading Mahommadans took very little interest in the visit. The money was chiefly collected on Gandhi's behalf, more as a personal matter than anything else. The result of the visit generally may be regarded as a failure.
PGHS - Photo provided by Premnath Murkoth
Extract from speeches delivered by Gandhi and Shaukat Ali at Calicut on the 18th August.
Subject — Non-co-operation. Audience- ten to fifteen thousand.
Mr. Gandhi said, "I am here to declare for the tenth time before this great audience that in the Khilafat matter the British Government have wounded the Moslem sentiment as they have never done before, and I say without fear of contradiction that if the Mussalmans of India had not exercised exemplary self-restraint and if they had not accepted the gospel of non-co-operation preached to them, and if they had not accepted the spirit of that gospel, there would have been blood-shed in India by this time
A more complete text of the speech can be found in Appendix 2 of Moplah Rebellion 1921 by C Gopalan Nair. He explains that following this visit, Khilafat committees were formed in Malabar and the swaraj idea began to take root. We also see the following text in the speech.
If the Mussalmans of India offer non-cooperation to Government in order to secure justice on the Khilafat, it is the duty of every Hindu to co-operate with their Moslem brethren. I consider the eternal friendship between Hindus and Mussalmans as infinitely more important than the British connection. I therefore venture to suggest that if they like to live with unity with Mussalmans, it is now that they have got the best opportunity and that such an opportunity would not come for a century.
Continuing with the source material documents we now see something different.
Gandhi and Shaukat Ali passed through North Malabar District enroute to Mangalore on the 19th August and returned on the 20th August. Train stopped at most stations. On the 19th there was great enthusiasm at Tellicherry and Cannanore and to a lesser degree at Badagara and Tallparamba Road. A large crowd had assembled at the first two places; some people were evidently full of zeal, but the majority were curious sight-seers. Of course there were garlands, flowers, etc., flung about, and at both places the usual speeches by Gandhi at Tellichery and Shaukat Ali at Cannanore were received with cheers. The crowds were good humored and rather enjoyed the squash at the railway stations. The people were curious to see what the leaders were like, and treated them as a huge joke—at least this was the conclusion drawn from their faces, demeanor and conversation. The interpreter did what he could to exaggerate every sentence uttered. Every caste and tribe in Malabar was represented at the stations on the journey to Mangalore.
On the return hardly anybody came to see Gandhi at the many stations stopped at. A more unsatisfactory tour so far as North Malabar District is concerned from their point of view could hardly be described. The Khilafat agitators have failed miserably to carry the public with them along the road to non-co-operation, and Gandhi has broken or will break the spirit of these very agitators by his unswerving devotion to the full spirit of the idea. He cannot carry these people along the straight way he had laid down for their guidance. He may be a semi lunatic, but these people are not.
At Cannanore they got Rs. 500 and Shaukat Ali said it was not enough. A rumor went round in Tellichery that the Government has forbidden the Mahommadens of Baghadad to perform "Mowlood" i.e. to sing poems regarding the Prophet's life. This worries the Mappilah, and that is about all.
As Gopalan Nair explains the aftermath - In the beginning it was not a very serious affair, the Moplah felt it an honor to be called upon to take part in meetings presided over by the Saintly Mahatma, by the Great Moulana, by barristers, High Court Vakils and other prominent men; he did not well understand the lengthy speeches delivered at meetings; but he felt himself elevated: he, grew in importance, as a Khilafat member; his Musaliar was the secretary; his Thangal graced the position of chairman of the Khilifat Committee; he rose higher and higher until he found himself a prominent member of the Hindu-Moslem Brotherhood; working for the attainment of Swaraj, for the salvation of the Khilafat; and of his own country, in which, under the British regime, the Indians were treated as 'coolis' and 'slaves’………

The movement collapsed by late 1922 when Turkey gained a more favorable diplomatic position and moved toward secularism, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. By 1924 Turkey simply abolished the roles of Sultan and Caliph. In India, the alliance between the Congress and the Khialaft leaders petered out as each felt the other had cross purposes, and due to the lack of support from the core groups viz Muslim league and the Hindu mahasabha. Critics of the Khilafat started to see its alliance with the Congress as a marriage of convenience and various proponents of the Khilafat saw it as the spark that led to the non-cooperation movement in India and as a major milestone in improving Hindu-Muslim relations, while advocates of Pakistan and Muslim separatism saw it as a major step towards establishing the separate Muslim state.

So we can see that while initially the Khilafat movement in Malabar was taken up enthusiastically, it petered off and culminated in the 1921 revolts. I had covered those aspects in some detail in previous posts.

In total Gandhiji visited Kerala 5 times, and always considered the state a true experimental ground. In fact the atrocities of the 1921 revolt so depressed him that he decided to visit Calicut again, but he was stopped by the British at Waltair station and eventually he went to Madurai. The white worn by the people of Malabar and their simplicity was in his mind. That was when (Sept 1921) he decided to discard his clothes and wear only the loin cloth which became his trademark.See the following article

This Malabar visit in 1920 and another in 1925 to Travancore did make a huge impact on Gandhiji, for he was as always a keen observer of the common man and his ways. Gandhiji later wrote about this latter visit thus…..

And as I travelled, I seemed to go from one end of a beautifully laid out garden to the other. Travancore is not a country containing a few towns and many villages. It looks like one vast city containing a population of over 400,000 males and females almost equally divided and distributed in small farms studded with pleasant looking cottages. There was, therefore, here none of the ugliness of so many Indian villages in which human beings and cattle live together in an overcrowded state in spite of the open air and open space surrounding them. How the Malabaris are able to live thus in isolated cottages and to feel, as they evidently do, safe from the robber and the beast I do not know. Those of whom I inquired about the cause could not say anything beyond corroborating my inference that both men and women must be brave.

Following a meeting with the Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore, he wrote

Instead of my being ushered into the presence of an over-decorated woman, sporting costly diamond pendants and necklaces, I found myself in the presence of a modest young woman who relied not upon jewels or gaudy dress for beauty but on her own naturally well-formed features and exactness of manners. Her room was as plainly furnished as she was plainly dressed. Her severe simplicity became the object of my envy. She seemed to me an object lesson for many a prince and many a millionaire whose loud ornamentation, ugly looking diamonds, rings and studs and still more loud and almost vulgar furniture offend the taste and present a terrible and sad contrast between them and the masses from whom they derive their wealth. I had the honour too of waiting on the young Maharaja and the junior Maharani.

I found the same simplicity pervading the palace. His Highness was dressed in a spotlessly white dhoti worn in the form of a lungi, and vest reaching just below the waist. I do not think he had even a finger-ring for an ornament. The junior Maharani was as simply dressed as the senior Maharani the Regent. It was with difficulty that I could see on her person a thin delicate mangala mala. Both the ladies had on their persons spotlessly white cotton hand-woven saris and half-sleeved jackets of similar stuff without any lace or embroidery.

I must own that I have fallen in love with the women of Malabar. Barring Assam I have not seen the women of India so simply yet elegantly dressed as the women of Malabar. But let the Assamese sisters know that the women of Malabar are, if possible, simpler still. They do not require even borders to their saris. The length needed is under four yards, a sharp contrast to the Tamil sisters on the east coast who need nearly ten yards heavily coloured saris. The Malabari women reminded me of Sita as she must have been dressed when she hallowed with her beautiful bare feet the fields and forests of India along the route she traversed. To me their white dress has meant the emblem of purity within. I was told that in spite of the utmost freedom they enjoyed, the women of Malabar were exceptionally chaste. The eyes of the most educated and advanced girls I met betokened the same modesty and gentleness with which God has perhaps endowed the women of India in an exceptional degree. Neither their freedom nor their education seemed to have robbed them of this inimitable grace of theirs. The men of Malabar in general are also just as simple in their taste as the women. But, sad to say, their so-called high education has affected the men for the worse and many have added to the simple articles of their original dress and in so doing have purchased discomfort in the bargain. For, in the melting climate of this country the fewest white garments are the proper thing. In making unnatural unbecoming additions they violate the laws of both art and health.
His second visit to Kerala was in 1925 to lend support to the Vaikkom satyagraha and he passed through Calicut in 1927. His next visit to Calicut was in 1934 and his final visit in 1937. When you read accounts of this visit, you will find the calculated congress planning in the official records and the more passionate aspects from the public in their own accounts. The 'Beach Road' was renamed Gandhi Road from Evan's Road after Mahatma Gandhi's visit in January 1934

Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India: Mahatma Gandhi. pt. 1. 1915-1922
Moplah Rebellion 1921 by C Gopalan Nair

Wishing you all a happy new year 


  1. Premnath.T.Murkoth

    I think Gandhiji stayed with the Gujarati doctor's house in Present Gandhi road which was earlier known as Evans Road.This building was bought by the Apostalic Carmel Sisters and the Providence School is housed there.The photo of

    the building is attached.He had also visited the "Sanmargi dharshani" reading room and library opposite.Even today the chair Gandhiji sat is preserved there.

  1. Maddy

    thanks premnath..
    hopefully others can contribute more tidbits like this...