Today is 144th birth anniversary of Sarojini Naidu: The Nightingale of India-Puri
Jaswant Singh Puri / February 13,2023
Sarojini Naidu is known as the ‘Nightingale of India’. Mahatma Gandhi ascribed this sobriquet to her on account of her excellent and musical verses. She exhibited a marked flair for literature at an early age. Edmund Gosse and Arthur Symons inspired her to be more Indian in poetry compositions.
Sarojini Naidu was born in Hyderabad on 13th February, 1879. Her birth anniversary is celebrated as “National Women’s Day” in India. Her father Aghorenath Chattopadhaya founded the Nizam College of Hyderabad who was a scientist and an educationist. Sarojini was the eldest among the eight siblings. Her mother Varada Sundari was a poetess who used to compose poetry in Bengali language.
Sarojini Naidu was a very talented student who was proficient in other languages like Urdu, Bangla, Telugu and Persian. She completed her matriculation at the age of 12 years. She stood first in Madras Presidency College and then went to England for her higher studies. She studied in King’s College in London and Girton College in Cambridge. She was married to Dr. Govindrajulu Naidu in 1898. They had four children. Her poetry of this period reflected her mood of ecstasy. Her collections of literary works include ‘Feather of the Dawn’, ‘Golden Threshold’, ‘Bird of Time’, ‘The Song of India’ and ‘The Broken Wing’. Her play ‘Maher Muneer’ written in Persian impressed the then Nawab of Hyderabad. Naidu’s poetry includes both children poems and other poems composed on serious themes like patriotism and tragedy. During the course of those years, she met Gopal Krishna Gokhale, M.A. Jinnah, Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. She was highly influenced by them.
During the Freedom Movement, Gopal Krishna Gokhale advised her to join the movement and she took the plunge in it. Before entering national politics, Sarojini Naidu had worked with Mahatama Gandhi as a volunteer in South Africa. She strongly protested against the racist government of South Africa.
Sarojini Naidu’s inclination towards politics started increasing and joined Congress. In the year 1925, she had the privilege of becoming the First Woman President of Congress. During the annual session of the Indian National Congress held in Kanpur, she waved its flag. She also led the annual session of the East African Indian Congress in 1929 which was held in South Africa. As a Congress President, she gave a clarion call to the Indian people to uplift themselves socially, economically, industrially and intellectually. In recognition of her social services, she was awarded ‘Kaiser-e-Hind’ medal. But she returned the award in protest against Jallianwala Bagh massacre. She also took over the charge of the Civil Disobedience Movement during the Salt Satyagraha. She led the salt campaigns at Dharsana in 1930. She met Muthulakshmi Reddy in 1904 and Mahatma Gandhi in 1914. Reddy helped her to establish “Indian Women’s Association” whose aim was to protect Indian women. Later that year, Naidu accompanied her colleague Annie Besant who was the President of Home Rule League and Women’s Indian Association to advocate universal suffrage in front of the Joint Select Committee in London. She also participated enthusiastically in the Non-cooperation Movement and went to jail. She appeared in the lead role in ‘Dandi March’ of Mahatma Gandhi and she was imprisoned for this movement. During the ‘Salt Satyagraha’, she said to the British Police Officers, “Do not touch me, I am the ‘Agni’ of India.”
Sarojini Naidu was put behind bars for almost two years during the Quit India Movement with Gandhi in 1942. She participated in the Round Table Conference in 1931 in England. She became the Chairperson of the Asian Relations Conference in 1947. She was appointed the First Lady Governor of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand). But she met her end due to cardiac arrest on 2nd March, 1949 in Lucknow.
Sarojini Naidu was well regarded as a poet who was considered the ‘Indian Yeats’. Her speeches were first collected and published in January, 1918 as ‘The Speeches and Writings of Sarojini Naidu’. She is known as “One of India’s Feminist Luminaries”. Her birthday, 13th February is celebrated as “National Women’s Day” to recognise powerful voices of women in Indian history. Her life is no less than an inspiration. Her journey from writing at an earlier age to joining Independence Movement is an example of unparalleled contribution. She was honoured with a Google Doodle award on her 135th Birth Anniversary. Her relationship with Gandhi blossomed into an ideal Master and Disciple and both were endowed with immense wit and wisdom. She in her letters addressed Gandhi as “O Apostle of Peace” and “Salutations to the Mystic Spinner”. Gandhi addressed Sarojini Naidu as ‘Dear Bulbul’ and ‘Dear Sweet Singer’. Throughout her life, she wanted to be treated as his daughter. Infact, she was much more than a born poetess and leader. She was so many things rolled into one: patriot, poetess, politician, ideal house-wife, eloquent orator, inspirer of masses, singer of melodious songs and upholder of reasons.
Note: This article is dedicated to Smt. Alka Puri, wife of Dr. Ajit Singh Puri and mother of Jaswant Singh Puri.
(The views expressed are personal)