Sarojini Naidu: Nightingale of India

Known as one of the most prominent figures in India’s struggle for freedom from British rule, Sarojini Naidu was a political activist and a poet. Her work as a poet earned the name of “Nightingale of India”.

She was born in a Bengali family in Hyderabad on February 13, 1879.

Her father, Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, with a doctorate of Science from Edinburgh University, settled in Hyderabad, where he administered Hyderabad college, which later became Nizam College in Hyderabad. Her mother, Barada Sundari Devi Chattopadhyay, was a poet and used to write poetry in Bengali. Her brother Virendranath Chattopadhyay was a revolutionary, and another brother Harindranath was a poet, a dramatist, and an actor.

Their family was well-regarded in Hyderabad, not only for leading the Nizam College of Hyderabad, but also as Hyderabad’s most famous artists in a time of British rule. Being an artist in the era of British rule in India was considered a risky career, yet with their progressive values, they pursued them anyway.

In 1895, H.E.H. the Nizam’s Charitable Trust founded by the 6th Nizam, Mahbub Ali Khan who gave her the chance to study in England, first at King’s College, London and later at Girton College, Cambridge.

Sarojini met Paidipati Govindarajulu Naidu, a physician, and at the age of 19, after finishing her studies, she married him. At that time, Inter-caste marriages were not as common as they are today, but both their families approved their marriage. In addition, at that time, inter-regional marriage was also uncommon and looked down upon. As Sarojini was from Bengal, while Paidipati Naidu was from Andhra Pradesh, this was an inter-regional marriage of East and South India, with two opposing cultures.

Sarojini Naidu was drawn towards Indian National Congress’ movement to liberate India from colonial rule. With this, she became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas of swaraj and also faced repeated arrests by the British authorities.

Between 1915 and 1918, Naidu travelled to different regions in India delivering lectures on social welfare, emancipation of women and nationalism. She also helped to establish the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917.

Later in 1917, Naidu also accompanied her colleague Annie Besant, who was the president of Home Rule League and Women’s Indian Association, to present the advocate universal suffrage in front of the Joint Select Committee in London, United Kingdom

In 1925, Sarojini Naidu was appointed as the President of the Indian National Congress. She was the first Indian woman and second woman overall (after Annie Besant) to do so. Naidu said in her address, “In the battle for liberty, fear is one unforgivable treachery and despair, the one unforgivable sin”

Following India’s independence from the British rule in 1947, Naidu was appointed as the governor of the United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), making her India’s first woman governor. She remained in office until her death in March 1949.

Naidu began writing at the age of twelve. Her play, Maher Muneer, written in Persian impressed the Nawab of Hyderabad.

In 1905, her first collection of poems, named The Golden Threshold was published. The volume bore an introduction by Arthur Symons. Her poems were admired by prominent Indian politicians like Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Naidu poem “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” was published as a part of The Bird of Time with her other poems in 1912. “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” was well received by critics, who variously noted Naidu’s visceral use of rich sensory images in her writing.

The Feather of The Dawn which contained poems written in 1927 by Naidu was edited and published posthumously in 1961 by her daughter Padmaja Naidu.

Naidu died of cardiac arrest on 2 March 1949 at the Government House in Lucknow. Naidu was said to have asked the nurse attending to her to sing to her at about 10:40 p.m. (IST) which put her to sleep.

Naidu was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal by the British government for her work during the plague epidemic in India, but she later returned it as a form of protest against the April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Asteroid 5647 Sarojininaidu, discovered by Eleanor Helin at Palomar Observatory in 1990, was named in her memory. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 27 August 2019 (M.P.C. 115893)


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