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SWARNAKUMARI DEVI (1855–1932)


Swarnakumari Devi was a writer in Bengali. She was the tenth child of Devendranath Tagore and sister of Rabindranath Tagore. Educated at home under the guidance of her father, brothers, a European lady teacher and a few well-chosen scholars, she was exposed to both Indian and western literature. In 1867 she married Janakinath Ghosal, a district magistrate and a leader of the Indian National Congress. She remained with her father while her husband went to England, and began her writing career at thirteen.

She wrote novels, essays, songs, poems, plays and ballads. Her first novel in Bengali, Dipnirvan, (‘The Dying of the Light’), was acknowledged as a masterpiece, but her best work is probably the novel Kahake? of 1898, which she translated herself as The Unfinished Song. She was the first woman author of Bengal to be the recipient of the Jagattarini Gold Medal from Calcutta University. She set up Sakhi Samiti, an organization to promote the free exchange of thought among women, and helped women and orphans. She was president of the Ladies’ Theosophical Society from 1882 to 1886, and also of the Bidhaba Shilpa Ashram, which worked for the welfare of widows. In 1888, at the inauguration of the Bethune School for Girls, the Sakhi Samiti organized an exhibition, where Rabindranath first staged his drama Mayar Khela, written at her suggestion. Swarnakumari attended the sixth session of the Indian National Congress as a delegate and was keenly interested in national industries.

In 1929 she was elected general president of the Bengali Literary Conference in Kolkata. She was the editor for more than 30 years of the Bengali monthly Bharati, which did much to popularise and interpret science to Bengali women who did not normally have access to scientific texts. Her literary style mixed homely colloquial words with chaste Bengali and Sanskrit, creating a unique idiom. Her literary works include Chinnamukul, Huglir Imambari, Birodha, Snehalata, an operatic dance drama Basanta Utsav, Debakautuk Nivedita, poems like Gatha and Kavita o Gan.
 
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