Patriots > Cultural Inspiration and Nationalism > Chaudhurani, Saraladevi
Chaudhurani, Saraladevi (1872-1954)

Saraladevi Chaudhurani was a typical member of the Tagore family of Jorasanko, Calcutta, the then acknowledged social and cultural leaders of Young Bengal. She was also an eminent feminist after the Victorian pattern, ardent, passionate, headstrong.

Her mother was the well-known writer and editor Swarnakumari Devi, daughter of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and granddaughter of the famous Prince Dwarkanath Tagore. Her father was Janakinath Ghosal, said to be one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. Rabindranath was her mother’s younger brother.

She was born in the old Tagore house at Jorasanko on 9 September 1872 and spent there some of the most impressionable years of her childhood, when her father was in England. Her natural talents for music, literature and arts, as well as her passionate patriotism were nurtured by her Tagore relatives.

All the great names of the day converged in Jorasanko. The great writer Bankimachandra Chatterjee and the immortal educationist Pandit Iswarchandra Vidyasagar were callers at her father’s house. The Tagores were patrons of music and drama and had their own private theatre. They also encouraged national industry and participated in the Swadeshi movement. Saraladevi Chaudhurrai was nurtured on these ideals. At school she met the poetess Kamini Ray (Sen) and the social worker Lady Abala Bose, both unmarried at the time and senior to her.

Like all Tagore-children Saraladevi was first taught by a private tutor at home. Later she was admitted into the Bethune School, and after passing her Entrance examination, continued her studies in the Bethune College. She took her B.A. degree with Honours in English in 1890. She later studied French and Persian and prepared herself for the M.A. examination in Sanskrit, although she did not sit for it.

Unlike other girls of the day, she was not married off to a suitable bridegroom until much later. She continued her musical training with zeal and soon became well-known as a fine and original singer. She sang Bankimchandra’s song, Bandemataram, from the platform of the Indian National Congress. She once changed Sapta-Koti to Tringsa-Koti to give the song an all-India basis.

She composed many patriotic songs, later included in her book ‘Satagan’, literally ‘a hundred songs’. Among these songs ‘Hindusthan’ and ‘Namo Bharata Janani’ are unique in their beauty and passion.

Saraladevi was a born teacher and even at this early stage taught music to may young girls. She shortly took the bold step of going to Mysore as a teacher in the Maharani School. She also acted as the Maharani’s secretary for a short time.

She married Rambhaj Datta Chaudhuri, a Punjabi Brahmin, living at Lahore. This was probably in 1905. Rambhaj was interested in the Arya Samaj movement and was lawyer by profession. He was an ardent patriot and editor of an Urdu paper called Hindusthan. This drew

down the displeasure of the British Government and Rambhaj had to suffer harassment and was later arrested. Saraladevi then took over the editorship and even published English versions of the paper. Her excellent management drew the praise of Englishmen like Ramsay Macdonald.

Saraladevi had only one son, Dipak, Rambhaj died in 1923, but she continued her work as a patriot and an educationist. She worked for women’s education in the villages around Lahore and had larger plans for the education of purdah women, which she revealed during the Congress session at Allahabad in 1910. This led to the foundation of the Bharat-Stri-Mahamandal, with branches in many Indian cities and villages. In 1930 she opened the Bharat-Stri-Shiksha-Sadan, a school for girls, in Calcutta.

Saraladevi retired from educational work in 1935 and took up spiritualism. In her early days she had been much influenced by the Theosophical Society, probably encouraged by her mother, Swarnakumari. Later she had been attracted by the great Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda’s teachings. In the end she accepted as her Guru Bijoy Krishna Dev Sharma.

Saraladevi’s whole life was one of hard work, often on pioneering lines. Her ardent patriotism was somewhat militant in her youthful days. She had a constructive mind and yearned to inspire courage in her young countrymen. She believed in the influence of ceremonial demonstrations. The Tagores of Jorasanko had always been liberal in social and religious matters. Saraladevi imbibed this spirit from them. The ceremonies she instituted were more patriotic than orthodox.

She believed in physical culture and instituted the ‘Virashtami Utsava’ with exhibition of physical feats. During the 1903 Congress, she proposed a display of Indian games. She tried to popularise ‘Udayadiya Utsava’ accompanied by physical feats.

In 1904 she opened a Swadeshi shop called Lakshmir Bhandar. She collected and sent Swadeshi goods to the Bombay Congress and was awarded a gold medal for her endeavours.

She had been born in the lap of luxury and had every opportunity in imbibe national and Western culture. She was never in favour of Western education and was easily converted to Gandhiji’s ideals. In her mature years she gave up her militant patriotism and turned to non-violence, non-cooperation and Khadi movement. She came into close contact with the great personalities of the social and political world of the day-Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak, Gokhale and Mahatma Gandhi.

She also had the good fortune to have an active and intellectual mother, from whom she received practical instruction in literary work and even edited the journal called Bharati with the help of her elder sister, Hiranmoyee Devi, for a short while. These inherited qualities, along with her own native sound common sense, helped her to carve out a career for herself.

Author : Lala Majumdar