K R Kalyanaraman was born in 1907 at Kuttiam village, close to Walajapet, in Madras Presidency, to Ramanatha Iyer and Mangamma. Kalyanaraman was an ardent Gandhian. He led the Indian National Congress party in Tamil Nādu. He was a prolific writer and actively involved with the press. He worked relentlessly towards social reforms - the welfare of the untouchables and his campaign against the consumption of liquor are some of the noteworthy causes he is known for.
Kalyanaraman was a school teacher by profession. It is said that during his days as a student in the Teachers’ Training School, he was daring enough to hoist the Indian National Flag despite the act being prohibited by the British. He was arrested and later released with a warning for this audacious act. Ultimately Kalyanaraman’s love for his country prompted him to leave his job and dedicated himself totally to the freedom struggle. It was around this time the British imposed unfair laws and tried to curb the civil liberties of Indians. The hefty Salt Tax, the Ryotwari System (land revenues) and the Rowlatt Act were some of the measures enforced by the British regime. Mahatma Gandhi decided to oppose these unjust laws through non-violent means. The Civil Disobedience Movement launched by Gandhiji in 1930 swept across the whole country. Kalyanaraman took the lead in organizing it in Tamil Nādu. On several occasions Kalyanaraman was imprisoned and lodged in jails like the Vellore Central jail, Thanjavur jail, Bellary jail and the Alipore jail.
Despite being born in an orthodox family, Kalyanaraman endeavoured to abolish untouchability and he fought for the human rights of the Harijans. He believed that real freedom could be achieved only when the downtrodden people were given equal status in society. He started the Harijan Seva Sangh in 1932 in the North Arcot district to serve the Harijan community. He, being a teacher, through this organisation, provided free education to them. Mahatma Gandhi criticised the British government for its revenue extraction from the sale of alcohol, and he vehemently advocated the prohibition of liquor. Kalyanaraman also campaigned aggressively in various parts of Tamil Nādu to highlight the dangers of liquor consumption and he strived to convince people to eschew this depraved habit. He even distributed pamphlets and wrote the book ‘Madupanam Ozhiga’ in which he emphasized the problems associated with liquor consumption.
Kalyanaraman worked tirelessly for the poor. Post-independence, in 1956, in acknowledgement of all that he had done, he was awarded a gold medal by the Tamil Nadu government. In 1972, he received the prestigious Tamra Patra (a copper plate) from the Central government for his participation in the freedom struggle and his selfless service to the Harijan community.