Special Column
T.D.Tirumalai - The man who made students absorb the Gandhian ideals

By Rajesh Govindarajulu, SimpliCity

Oct 09, 2017

Gandhi was always fond of Tamils and Tamilnadu due to his experiences in South Africa. The Tamils of South Africa were among the earliest to participate in the struggles spearheaded by the Mahatma. Again it was in Madurai that the Father of the Nation decided to don the outfit that was to be his identity for eternity. Gandhi visited Tamilnadu several times between the years 1896 and 1946. Millions of patriotic Indians hailing from the Tamil speaking parts of the vast peninsula were impelled by aura and principles propounded by the great soul which made them ultimately adhere to the same for life. T.D.Tirumalai (1921 - 1993) of Srivilliputtur stands tall among such patriots who stood with the principles long after the attainment of freedom.

Born to Janakiammal and Tottadri Deivanayaga Iyengar, Tirumalai responded to the clarion call of Gandhi and jumped head long into the Quit India Movement by printing and distributing pamplets in support of the same. He worked against untouchability and supported Khadi quite early in life and later on as the Chairman of Srivilliputtur he proposed a good drinking water project for the people by going up to Chennai in order to influence the powers to be. The proposal saw the light of the day due to his efforts. He invited Vinobha Bhave to Srivilliputtur after enjoining himself with the Bhoodan movement. Subsequently he joined the Tamilnadu Gandhi Ninaivu Nidhi as its propagandist. Very quickly Tirumalai began the "Gandhi Study Circle" and ensured that a replica happened in each and every educational institution in Madurai. The medical college in the city of Meenakshi was quite close to the Gandhi Museum and thanks to the endearing qualities of Tirumalai the students began his friends. The students were taken in by his expositions cum programmes and began to absorb Gandhian thought quite well thereafter.


Tirumalai was quite a good samaritan all his life for he used to help the villagers get treated in hospitals by supporting them with food from home. He used to help village girls get admitted in colleges and let them stay at home until they secured a space in the hostel. At least 6 girls used to be put up with his parents, wife Seetha and his six kids - Rangarajan, Vipra Narayanan, Vijayalakshmi, Muralidharan, Subhashini and Maduravalli in their tiny dwelling which just consisted of a few rooms. In the year 1969 the nation celebrated the Centenary Year of Mahatma Gandhi and the "Gandhi Peace Centre" came into being. Tirumalai attached himself to this and initiated the programme "Taking Gandhi to School". He made students read the book "Gandhi" (written by him) based on "My Experiments with Truth" and write an exam year after year. Tirumalai worked hard to teach "Gandhi" by post too. Due to his interest in the works and ideals of Rasikamani T.K.Chidambaranatha Mudaliar, he ran a literary magazine for 12 years with the money raised often through the sale of his wife's silverware!

Ultimately T.D.Tirumalai moved to Chennai by the year 1973 and founded the "Gandhi Study Centre". It was through this initiative that the noble Tirumalai did a lot of good for years. Thousands and thousands of students all over Tamilnadu wrote the Gandhi exams thereafter due to efforts and interests of T.D.Tirumalai. The G.R.G.Matriculation Higher Secondary School at Coimbatore was among the schools which used to let its students write the exams conducted by this noble soul. Later on he founded "Malligai" a literary movement and conducted meetings regularly. The selfless T.D.Tirumalai spent all his time, energy and resources for the propagation of Gandhian thought and ideals in Tamilnadu.

The recent celebration of Gandhi Jayanthi through an exposition at the Sarojini Nataraj Auditorium at Kikani School by Lead India and Sri Krishna Sweets gave an opportunity for SimpliCity to interact with Vipra Narayanan and Subhashini, the children of T.D.Tirumalai. "Our father dedicated his all for Gandhian thought and he ensured that students absorbed and imbibed it. We are really happy that today Annamalai, Dr.Prema Annamalai, K.Mohan and S.Pandian along with numerous volunteers are taking it forward." 

Annamalai, the Director of the National Gandhi Museum at Delhi is glad to share further, "I met the great soul T.D.Tirumalai around 1984 and I joined him by 1987. His contribution and good will could be measured only when we requested people for help when the Centre was destroyed by the recent floods in Chennai. People from all over helped us with resources. In fact two school girls gave away the Christmas money received from their grand mother for the reconstruction of the centre. L&T Infotech is a donor too, thanks to its Corporate Social Responsibility kitty. The Centre never had a corpus and always survived on meagre sums that came due to the contributions of good supporters of Gandhian thought. Thankfully the ideals of Gandhi will forever stay in Tamilnadu due to the seeds sown by T.D.Tirumalai."

The likes of T.D.Tirumalai became a rarity post independence and Tamilnadu has been lucky to have been blessed with his noble contribution.

Share this article