Gandhi made five trips to Kerala – in 1921 to garner support for the Khilafat movement, in 1925 for the Vaikom Satyagraha, in 1927 for protesting against untouchability, then in 1934 for raising funds for the downtrodden when a little girl Kaumudi donated all her ornaments to him and in 1937 for celebrating the temple entry proclamation.
Gandhi found Kerala’s intellectuals and ordinary folk receptive and yearning for a free and fair society. A large number of people in the state were greatly influenced by his political and moral philosophy. A Christian youth named Titus Thevarthundiyil accompanied Gandhi during the historic Dandi March in 1930. It is a cinematic coincidence that when Titus followed the footsteps of Gandhi in Dandi, another freedom fighter from Kerala, K Kelappan Nair, popularly called Kelappan, led the Kerala Dandi march from Calicut to Payyannur in Malabar following the decision of KPCC to break the salt laws.
People decorated the roads with Tricolour flags and festoons and offered food and refreshment to the satyagrahis. Caparisoned elephants greeted them as a mark of respect.
There was the heart touching episode of a blind beggar at Tellicherry putting a quarter of an ‘Anna’ coin in the Satyagraha Committee’s hundi box saying, “This, to Kelappan Nair’s fund for giving salt to the poor”.
Gandhi sent a message from Navasari on April 16, 1930 stating, “Glad to learn Kelappan Nair with a band of law breakers has started out. Keep me informed of the activities there”. It is significant to note that Aikyam, a Muslim periodical in Malayalam, exhorted its readers to enter the field of battle for the country.
On the day of its arrival in Payyannur on April 21, ladies led by Gracy Aaron showered the satyagrahis with flowers and rice. Kelappan, in a two-hour speech, enthused the people with the ideals of non-violence and Satyagraha. After his address, there was burning of foreign clothes at the place. Kelappan, in all solemnity, scraped out some salt and thereby became the first salt satyagrahi in Kerala.
The Badagara session of KPCC in May 1931 resolved to launch anti- untouchability campaign as one of the programmes of the Congress. They chose Guruvayoor as the centre of the agitation and demanded the temple therein be opened for all castes. In this case too, the Satyagraha was started under the leadership of Kelappan.
The orthodox ruler of the state, Zamorin, was adamant and feared the wrath of the higher caste Hindus and closed the temple. The temple was later reopened. When Gandhi was fasting unto death in September, 1932 at Poona in protest against Ramsay McDonald Award, Kelappan started his fast unto death at the temple gate on September 21, 1932. Gandhi wrote a letter to Kelappan: “…Fasting...must not take place on public road. It must be in a house or a hut. There can be no public exhibition of you, whilst you are under fast” and pursuant to that, Kelappan withdrew from the fast. Following a referendum, the matter of temple entry in Guruvayoor was settled in favour of the progressive sections of the society.
During his visit to Kerala related to the Vaikom Satyagraha, Gandhi was invited to visit UC (Union Christian) College in Aluva on March 18, 1925. Perhaps responding to the spirit of the politically conscious and ecologically rich campus (often referred to as the Santiniketan of Kerala), he planted a mango tree (which remains a matter of great pride for the college till today) and wrote in the visitor’s diary “Delighted with the ideal situation”.