daughter of a remarkable scientist-philosopher
father, Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, and the gentle
poetess-mother, Barada Sundari Devi, Sarojini,
who called herself a poetess-singer,
was born in Hyderabad, on 13 February, 1879. A
pioneer in Education, her father was also a linguist,
a crusader and an original thinker. He took his
degree of Doctor of Science, Edinburgh, in 1877,
and established the Nizams Collage in Hyderabad
in 1878, pioneering English and womens education.
Brahmin by birth, the Chattopadhyaya house of
parents and eight children became a court attracting
intellectuals, poets, philosophers, alchemists
and revolutionaries. The example of a devoted
wife presiding with grace and skill over a huge
family and kitchen which turned no one hungry
away, and a father of immortal inspiration
and learning, prompted Sarojini to exclaim: I
was brought up in a home of Indians, not Hindus
or Brahmins, because my beloved father said, Be
not limited even to Indians, but let it be your
pride that you are a citizen of the world-ready
to lay down your life for the welfare of all India.
Learning more at home than in school, Sarojini
matured very early, wrote poems instead of learning
Algebra, and passed her Matriculation at the age
of 12, coming out first in the Madras Presidency.
For three years in Hyderabad there were no further
studies. Then her academic life in England in
1895 led to a serious breakdown in health which
was to affect her all her life. The rigours of
academic life first at the Kings College,
London, then Girton College, Cambridge, partly
accounted for the breakdown, but also at the age
of 15 she had met Dr. Govindarajulu Naidu and
fell deeply in love.
Though she did not complete her academic career,
the English experience brought her first great
literary friendships with Edmund Gosse, who turned
her poetry from imitative English lyrics to the
melodious Indian poems she published in 1905,
1912 and 1917, and Arthur Symons, a famous literary
critic and a faithful friend, who gave her counsel
and guidance in the mastery of English phrase
and rhythm that turned her into a major poet.
But after 1917 politics claimed her and she wrote
no more poetry.
On return to India, she married Dr. Naidu, a non-Brahmin,
by the Brahmo Marriage Act (1872) in Madras in
1898. Four children were born to them: Jayasurya
in 1899, Padmaja (later Governor of West Bengal)
in 1900, Randhira in 1902 and Lilamani (who was
in the Foreign Service) in 1903. Their house in
Hyderabad was the renowned Golden Threshold.
During the years from 1903 to 1917 Sarojini Naidu
was to meet all the key personalities of her life:
Gokhale, Tagore, Jinnah, Annie Besant, C. P. Ramaswami
Aiyer, Gandhi and Nehru. From 1906 began the formative
years of her life and eventually she reached a
cross-road where her woman-nature and mother-nature
were faced with both a spiritual and a revolutionary
choice. In 1919 she emerged as a political leader
in her own right.
The first event was the dramatic meeting with
Gokhale in 1906 after the Indian National Gongress
meeting in Calcutta. His response to her fiery
speech brought into her life the impact of a visionary
who saw in her oratory and brilliance the leader
of the future. At his call, she began her career
of service to the Motherland, though poetry, her
family and children still occupied a dominant
place. In 1907 she took a prominent part in a
Calcutta meeting against the partition of Bengal.
In 1908 she laid the foundation of her great contribution
to the womens movement at a conference on
Widow-Marriage in Madras. In Hyderabad she was
awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind Gold Medal for her outstanding
work during the plague epidemic and accepted Gokhales
leadership at the All India Depressed Classes
Conference in Calcutta. For reasons of ill-health
Sarojini Naidu went to England. This was the beginning
of her work abroad that was to bring her great
acclaim as a poet, an unusual diplomat and a statesman.
Gokhale was a sick man, but continued his work
in South Africa. Her meeting with Mohammed Ali
Jinnah fired her imagination with his work for
the youth and the London Indian Students
Association founded by him. She was to become
his ardent admirer and champion as Jinnah was
at that time young, ardent and a patriotic Indian.
Gokhale was dying on his return from South Africa.
At his instance Sarojini, herself sick, met Gandhiji
for the first time. He was working for the Ambulance
Crops and Satyagraha movement in South Africa.
Gokhales death in 1915 at the same time
as her fathers and her moving tribute to
him emphasised her vision of Hindu-Muslim unity,
the strongest ideal of her life, for which she
worked ceaselessly and died in grief that it was
Sarojini returned to India. On 22 March 1913 she
addressed a huge gathering of Muslims at the historic
session of the New Muslim League at Luknow, the
keynote of which was unity. She proposed the Resolution
on Self-Government and paid high tributes Jinnah.
At a meeting of the Muslim League in December
1916, she gave a fiery speech on the Arms Act.
From 1915 to 1918, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant
and G. P. Ramaswami Aiyer lectured all over India
on welfare of youth, dignity of labour, womens
emancipation and nationalism. The Home Rule League
was started by Tilak. Sarojini met Jawaharlal
Nehru for the first time at the Congress session
in Lucknow in 1916, when she gave a stirring speech
supporting the Resolution on Self-Government for
India. She then took up the cause of the indigo
workers in Champaran. Annie Besant was elected
the first womanPresident of the Congress.
Sarojiniwas elected President in 1925.
From 1917 to 1919, Sarojini was involved in
the most dynamic phase of public life of her
career, campaigned for the Montagu-Chelmsford
Reforms, the Khilafat issue, the Rowlatt of
Black Bills, the Sabarmati Pact
and the Satyagraha Pledge and was Gandhijis
most faithful lieutenant when he launched the
Civil Disobedience Movement on 6 April 1919.
With great courage she quelled the riots, sold
proscribed literature and addressed frenzied
meetings on Jallianwala Bagh and martial law
in Amritsar. Sarojini returned the Kaiser-I-Hind
medal to the Government, led a deputation to
Montagu, Secretary of State for India, and fought
for the rights of women. She sailed for England
in 1919 as a member of the all-India Home Rule
Deputation and led a powerful agitation in England
From 1920 Sarojini made her home in Bombay.
President of the Bombay Provincial Congress
Committee, she toured the countryside, moved
resolution after resolution in inspired speeches
at the AICC meetings in Bombay, Gaya and C.
P., opposed council entry in Calcutta, protested
against the severity of the anti-Mopalah measures
in Calicut. During the Bardoli compaign she
sent a stirring message on the unity of India
when Gandhiji suspended the C. D. movement after
the Chauri Chaura incident.
With the great trial of Gandhiji in 1922, Sarojini
gave up her luxurious silks in favour of Khadi.
At the Coronado Congress she spoke on the Resolution
on the Bengal Pact and exhorted Hindus on Hindu-Muslim
Unity, defined Swaraj and moved the resolution
From 1922 to 1926 Sarojini espoused the cause
of Indians in South Africa and was given a heros
welcome on two historic visits. In 1928 she
sailed for the U. S. and had a triumphant tour
as Gandhijis representative. In 1929 she
presided over the East Africa Indian Congress
in Mombassa, crossed swords with General Smuts
and gave lectures all over South East Africa.
On return to India, Irwin proposed the first
Round Table Conference. Sarojini with Motilal
Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhiji and Patel met Irwin,
Viceroy of India, to discuss the demand for
full Dominion Status. At the next Congress session
began the revolutionary phase of the nationalist
movement, with withdrawal from legislatures,
the demand for complete independence and non-payment
of taxes. From 26 January 1930 to 1947 extended
the last period of the freedom struggle.
The Salt Satyagraha in which Sarojini took a
leading part, her personal triumph at the Round
Table Conference in London and her arrest on
way to Delhi to be the acting President of the
Congress and her vigorous campaign for the full
participation of women and youth in the public
life are outstanding achievements of this era.
During this period too, Sarojini was the great
She organised a National Week in 1940, virtually
ran the whole Congress campaign at this stage,
took an active part in the Cripps Mission
to India and was jailed in 1942 on the Quit
India Resolution of the AICC in Bombay. In the
Aga Khan Palace, Sarojini cared for and cheered
the inmates with her indomitable courage and
humanity, during the period of Gandhijis
fast and the deaths of Kasturba and Mahadev
With Independence came honours, but also Partition.
Her dreams of Hindu-Muslim unity were shattered.
The last blow was the assassination of Gandhjii,
her Master and Leader, on 30 January 1948.
As the first woman Governor of the largest State
of the Union she brought beauty, grace and dignity
to public life. Her last great gesture was her
inspiring presidentship of the Asian Relations
Conference in 1947.
On 2 March 1949 she died in office at Lucknow
at the age of seventy. Sarojini Naidu was a
woman of extraordinary character: womanly, loving,
human and wise. She had a sense of fun and exceptional
homely wit that gave her a unique place as a
peacemaker and inspirer in the highest Councils
of her country. Not only was she loved by all
classes of people, but respected too. At home
in a palace or a hut, a citizen of the world
in its truest sense, her rich humanity was an
everlasting bridge between all peoples. She
was not religious in the accepted sense, for
she believed that the Divine was in all things.
Islam meant as much to her-its culture and virtues-as
did the rituals of her Brahmin heritage which
As a girl she was short and slim, with luminous
great eyes. She loved rich colours, silks and
jewels, caressed flowers and children, never
forgot a name or a birthday and, whether in
jail or not, sent gay and loving greetings to
her hosts of friends; a great connoisseur of
good food, she cooked delectable dishes on makeshift
stoves. Wherever she was-in jail, the highest
Councils of State, or in a room caring for a
sick child, or a hotel or a ship-Sarojini brought
vitality to everything.
An inspired orator, she had suffered because
her great wisdom was often lost sight of in
the powerful emotional impact of her oratory.
Left to her life; with others, a tower of strength
and a meeting-place for laughter and comradeship.
Above all shone the radiant force of her courage,
which acted as a catalyst and inspiration to
all who knew her. On her death Jawaharlal Nehru
said: Here was a person of great brilliance-vital
and vivid. Here was a person with so many gifts,
but above all some gifts which made her unique.
She infused artistry and poetry into our national
struggle. In fact, Sarojini Naidu was
always a woman, supremely womanly and always