Sarojini Naidu: Biography, Literary Journey, Political Activism & Legacies

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Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu, famously known as the Nightingale of India or Bharat Kokila, is a monumental figure in Indian history. With equal prowess in the worlds of activism and art, Naidu was a fierce freedom fighter and a celebrated poet of early 20th-century India. In recognition of Naidu’s instrumental role in advocating for women’s rights, her birth anniversary on the 13 February every year is celebrated as National Women’s Day in India.

As India celebrates the 145th birth anniversary of Sarojini Naidu on 13th February 2024, this article of NEXT IAS presents a detailed biography of Sarojini Naidu, including her literary journey, political activism, notable contributions and legacies.

Date of Birth13 February 1879
Place of BirthHyderabad
EducationThe University of Madras, King’s College (London), Girton College (Cambridge)
AssociationsIndian National Congress, Women’s Indian Association
MovementsIndian National Movement, Women’s Movement
Poetry and Other PublicationsThe Golden Threshold, The Feather of the Dawn, The Bird of Time, The Broken Wing, The Sceptred Flute, In the Bazaars of Hyderabad, etc
Death2 March 1949
NicknamesThe Nightingale of India, Bharat Kokila, Bulbul-e-Hind,
Prominent Achievements– First Indian woman to serve as the President of the INC; Overall, the second woman to become the President of the INC.
– First woman to become the governor of an Indian state (Uttar Pradesh)

Sarojini Naidu was born on February 13, 1879, in Hyderabad, into a distinguished Bengali Hindu family. Naidu inherited progressive thoughts from her father, Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, who was a progressive thinker and a proponent of education. Her mother Barada Sundari Devi Chattopadhyay was a Bengali poetess, who instilled in her an exceptional aptitude for languages and poetry. It was this blend of scholarly pursuit and poetic talent that sowed the seed for her future endeavors as a nationalist and a poet.

The progressive environment of her family encouraged her education since her childhood. Sarojini Naidu passed the matriculation examination from the University of Madras, achieving the first rank, which was an extraordinary accomplishment at the time, especially for a young girl.

Having completed her early education in India, she set on a path to further her studies abroad, a rare opportunity for Indian women at the time. Her journey of studies abroad included education at King’s College (London), followed by that at Girton College (Cambridge).

Her education in England further enriched her understanding of literature and honed her skills as a writer. Moreover, it was during this period that Sarojini Naidu was exposed to the ideas of liberty, democracy, and nationalism. Her interactions with the British and Indian intellectuals in England awakened her political consciousness and she became more acutely aware of the political situation in India and the growing freedom movement. It was this diverse experience in England that laid the groundwork for her future involvement in the literary world as well as India’s struggle for independence.

Sarojini Naidu’s evolution as a poet was a journey marked by early talent, literary exploration, and a deepening engagement with the socio-political issues of her time. She displayed an exceptional talent for writing from a very young age. By the age of 13, she had produced a significant body of literary work, which was compiled as her first collection of poems.

Growing up in a multilingual family, Naidu’s early poetry was infused with the rich cultural and linguistic heritage of India. Her education in England gave her exposure to Western literary traditions and the works of prominent poets. This expanded her literary horizons and influenced her thematic and stylistic choices. The result was that her literary works emerged as a perfect fusion of Indian themes with English verse.

Sarojini Naidu’s literary legacy is marked by a collection of works that beautifully capture the essence of Indian culture, landscapes, and the spirit of its freedom struggle. Her initial works showcased an emotional depth, along with a vivid portrayal of Indian landscapes and life. Her involvement in the national movement influenced her writing, and her poetry began to reflect a stronger sense of nationalism and a subtle critique of colonial rule. Over time, her poetry also began to address social and political issues more directly, particularly those concerning women’s rights and women empowerment.

The major literary works of Sarojini Naidu include the following:

  • The Golden Threshold: This was Sarojini Naidu’s first collection of poems. This was published in 1905 and is named after her family home in Hyderabad.
  • The Bird of Time: Published in 1912, this collection features patriotic pieces that reflect Naidu’s deep love for her country.
  • The Broken Wing: This collection is known for including one of the most famous poems of Naidu “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad”.
  • The Sceptred Flute: Songs of India: This anthology of Naidu’s poems was published after her death and includes verses that artfully weave the essence of Indian tradition with the English language.
  • The Feather of The Dawn: Published in 1961, this was edited by her daughter Padmaja Naidu. This collection comprises previously unpublished poems by Sarojini Naidu.

Apart from the above-listed one, her literary works include many other notable poems. Celebrated for their lyrical beauty and patriotic fervor her poems remain a testament to her enduring legacy as “The Nightingale of India.”

During her time, the nationalistic fervor and growing demand for freedom from British rule were sweeping across India. All these deeply influenced Naidu and she ventured into the Indian freedom movement. Along with making her poetry a powerful medium of propagating nationalism, she took active participation in several movements organized during her time.

Some of the notable involvement and contributions of Sarojini Naidu in the Freedom Struggle are listed below:

  • Influence of Gopal Krishna Gokhale: Gopal Krishna Gokhale played a crucial role in drawing Sarojini Naidu closer to the freedom movement. Inspired by his ideals and dedication, Naidu decided to dedicate her life to the cause of India’s independence.
  • Anti-Partition Movement: She formally joined the Indian national movement during the anti-partition of Bengal in 1905.
  • Meeting with Mahatma Gandhi: Her encounter with Mahatma Gandhi further enhanced her engagement in India’s Freedom Struggle. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and civil disobedience deeply resonated with her, and she became one of his closest associates and supporters.
  • Participation in Non-Cooperation Movement: Naidu took an active part in the Non-Cooperation Movement launched in 1920.
    • She was arrested several times during the Non-Cooperation Movement.
  • Role in the Indian National Congress: In recognition of her role in the Indian independence movement, Naidu was appointed as the President of the Indian National Congress in Kanpur Session 1925.
    • She was the first Indian woman and overall the second woman (after Annie Besant) to serve as the President of the Indian National Congress.
    • Her presidency marked a significant milestone in recognizing the role of women in the Indian independence movement.
  • Participation in Civil Disobedience and Salt Satyagraha: Naidu played a pivotal role in the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Salt Satyagraha of 1930. She led the Dharasana Satyagraha after Gandhi’s arrest, showcasing her courage to face colonial repression.
  • Second Round Table Conference: Naidu accompanied Gandhi to London for the second Round Table Conference held in 1931.
  • Participation in Quit India Movement: Sarojini Naidu registered her participation in Quit India Movement launched in 1942 as well.
  • Advocacy for Women’s Rights: Naidu is known for championing the cause of women’s rights in India. She saw the national movement as an opportunity for women to showcase their strength and hence advocated for women’s active participation in the freedom struggle.
  • Advocacy Abroad: Naidu traveled to different countries to mobilize international support for India’s freedom struggle.
    • She also represented India at various international forums, where she advocated for the Indian independence movement and women’s rights.

Sarojini Naidu’s advocacy for women’s rights was an essential part of her larger vision for India. Her commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation was rooted in her belief in equality and justice, reflecting her broader vision for an independent and progressive India. Naidu’s multifaceted efforts in advocating for women’s rights can be seen under the following heads:

By achieving a high level of education and actively engaging in political and social causes, Naidu herself emerged as an inspirational figure for Indian women. Her success in the public sphere became a beacon of hope for women across India and inspired them to fight for their emancipation.

Understanding the pivotal role of education in empowering women, Naidu advocated for greater access to education for girls. She believed that educated women were crucial not only to India’s struggle for independence but also to the nation’s progress.

As a prominent leader in the Indian National Congress, Naidu used her position to encourage women’s participation in the freedom struggle. Her appointment as the president of the Congress in 1925 itself broke the prevailing gender biases and inspired many women to join the movement.

Naidu assisted Annie Besant in establishing the Women’s India Association in 1917. Here, she advocated for women’s suffrage and better conditions for women in India.

Naidu pushed for legislative reforms to improve the status of women in India. She supported laws that aimed at abolishing child marriage and enhancing women’s rights in marriage, including property rights.

Through her speeches and writings, Naidu addressed the issues faced by women, including the need for political rights, and social equality. She used her eloquence and persuasive power to emphasize the importance of women’s roles in shaping modern India.

Sarojini Naidu represented India at international women’s conferences, raising awareness about the condition of Indian women and garnering support for their cause. Her international engagement helped link the struggle for women’s rights in India with global feminist movements. Thus, in a sense, she highlighted the universal quest for gender equality.

The period from India’s independence in August 1947 until the death of Sarojini Naidu on March 2, 1949, was very short. However, Naidu played some crucial roles even during this brief period.

One of Sarojini Naidu’s most notable contributions to post-independence India was her appointment as the Governor of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), a position she held until her death.

  • It is to be noted that Naidu is Governor of any state to be appointed as the Governor of any state. This historic appointment not only broke gender barriers but also set a precedent for women’s participation in high-level administrative roles in independent India.

The events that unfolded after the partition of India in 1947 led to widespread communal violence and displacement. In her capacity as a leader and public figure, Naidu used her eloquence to promote peace and reconciliation among communities.

Even after independence, Naidu continued to promote the cause of women’s rights and empowerment. She emphasized that the progress of the newly independent India depended on the progress of its women.

Naidu remained a symbol of national pride and cultural heritage in post-independence India. Through her writings and public life, Naidu continued to inspire a sense of unity and purpose among Indians during the critical years of nation-building.

Through her myriad contributions, Sarojini Naidu has left a lasting impact on the nation’s cultural and political landscape. In contemporary India, her legacy is commemorated through various memorials, institutions, and events. Some of the prominent symbols of her legacy in present India can be seen as follows:

Recognising the crucial role played by Naidu in advocating for women’s rights in India, the Government of India has declared her birth anniversary on 13 February every year as National Women’s Day. It serves as a reminder of the role women have played in shaping India’s history and as an inspiration for ongoing efforts toward gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Several educational institutions have been named after Sarojini Naidu to honor her contributions to education and literature. These include the Sarojini Naidu College for Women in Kolkata, Sarojini Naidu Medical College in Agra, and Sarojini Naidu Government Girls Post Graduate (Autonomous) College, Bhopal.

Naidu’s work as a poet is celebrated in literary circles. Literary festivals, poetry readings, and academic conferences often feature sessions dedicated to her work.

Public memorials and statues of Sarojini Naidu have been erected in various parts of India, serving as physical reminders of her contributions to the nation.

In recognition of Naidu’s role in women empowerment, the Government of India has instituted several awards in her name. These awards recognise women who have made significant contributions in various fields such as arts, culture, and social service.

Sarojini Naidu’s life and work have been the subject of various cultural productions, including films, plays, and books. For example, the Film Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has produced some films based on the biography of Sarojini Naidu.

with an ongoing struggle for gender equality and women empowerment, Sarojini Naidu’s life and work continue to hold significance in the present time.

Sarojini Naidu’s contributions to India’s struggle for independence and her role in the early years of post-independence India remain immortalized in Indian history. Naidu’s life and work continue to inspire generations of Indians, particularly women, to contribute to the welfare and progress of their country.

Where was Sarojini Naidu Born?

Sarojini Naidu was born in Hyderabad, which is currently in the state of Telangana, India. She was born on February 13, 1879, into a Bengali Hindu family.

Why Sarojini Naidu is Called the Nightingale of India?

Sarojini Naidu is called the “Nightingale of India” because of her enchanting poetic talent. Her ability to weave words with grace and her lyrical prowess earned her this title.

When is National Women’s Day?

National Women’s Day in India is celebrated on February 13th each year to honor the birth anniversary of Sarojini Naidu.

Why do we Celebrate National Women’s Day?

National Women’s Day is celebrated to honor and recognize the significant contributions of women to society, culture, economy, and politics. It serves as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, raise awareness about issues affecting them, and advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.

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