The Life And Works Of Sarojini Naidu. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran

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It is impossible to tell whether Sarojini Naidu was a poet or a politician. She left her footprints in both fields and her achievements in poetry and politics make it impossible for us to select either one as her favourite field. From studying in England as a teenager to dying while at work in the UP Governor’s office in India as Governor, her life was one of the most vibrant tales of Indian women, stretching through nations and touching peoples in Asia, Europe, Africa and America.

Sarojini Naidu’s father was a scientist, and mother a multi language poet.

Sarojini Naidu’s father Dr. Aghoranath Chattopadhyaya was a scientist, philosopher, educator and politician who founded the Nizam College in Hyderabad and was the first member of the Indian National Congress in Hyderabad. He was a Doctor of Science from Edinburgh University. A progressive-minded Bengali Brahmin, he had close connections with the Nizam of Hyderabad, and was respected by the Nizam too. These connections but did not prevent his removal from the college for participating in the Indian Independence Movement against the British. This Nawab of Hyderabad, whom we know as the Nizam, was the famous miser and one of the richest men in India who imported Rolls Royces in dozens for idling in his garage and used billion-dollar diamonds as paperweights in his castle. Sarojini Naidu's mother Barada Sundari Devi was a well known poetess in Bengali who wrote in many other languages also. Sarojini Devi was the eldest of their eight children.

Her house in Hyderabad was a zoo where all kinds of human beings visited, lived, flocked to.

Their house in Hyderabad was, as her brother once described, a zoo where all kinds of human beings from scholars to illiterates, from scientists to religious street speakers, from kings to beggars, visited, lived or flocked to. The parents talked to each other in Bengali, to children in English, to servants in Telugu, to visitors in English or Urdu-dominated Hindustani. The father Aghoranath spoke English, French, German, Hebrew, Russian and Sanskrit fluently. He spent a lot of time in his life to extract gold from base metals which was a fashionable and standard pursuit among scientists and alchemists then which made him a scholar in chemistry anyway. We can guess what the children living in this house would grow up into later.

Sarojini Naidu’s brothers and sisters were poets, revolutionaries and diplomats.

One of Sarojini Devi’s brothers, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, was a poet, playwright, and actor. Another brother, Birendranath Chattopadhyaya, was a revolutionary who turned communist and went to Moscow to seek Russian support for Indian independence. He was one of the brains behind the Berlin Committee and was killed by Joseph Stalin’s Russian troops in 1937. Even though the communists and the congress party men in India had parted ways and remained great enemies after the Quilaffat Movement in India, Sarojini Naidu remained a sympathizer and supporter of communists till the end of her days. Sarojini Devi’s one sister, Sunalini Devi, was a dancer and actress. Another sister Suhasini Chattopadhyaya was a communist leader and a freedom fighter. The other sister Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya was a famous national activist in Calcutta. Chattopadhyaya is a clan name among Bengali Brahmins. Earlier they were called Chatterjis. (See Special Note on ‘Communist Betrayal After The Khilaffat Movement).

To King’s College, London with a King’s scholarship from Telungana.

Her father wanted her to be a scientist like him but she wanted to be a poet. She learned well and mastered Bengali, Telugu, Urdu, English and Persian- a combination of languages unheard of among children then. When she was eleven years old, while wrestling with a difficult algebraic problem, she decided to wrestle with creating a long English poem instead. The result was a wonderful 1300 lines-long poem in the likeness of Walter Scott’s The Lady Of the Lake. She never wrote a poem like this again. She topped in the Matriculation Examination of Madras University and rose to national fame at the age of twelve. The next literary creation was the play Maher Muneer in Persian. Nizam and her father were impressed. The Nizam College gave her a scholarship to study at the King’s College, London and then at Girton College, Cambridge in England which was an achievement for a sixteen year-old girl- an act uncommon among the orthodox Hindus of those times.

Birth of an English poetess with themes of Indian life and events.

Tennyson, Shelley and Elizabeth Browning were the inspirations for Sarojini Naidu’s poetry, and naturally, she acquired the traits of a Victorian poet in writing. Fine imagery, rich lyrical and musical content and use of varying rhymes and meters were the characteristics of her poetry then. Though her themes were follow-ups of those of her inspirations initially, she later changed and switched to Indian themes. A born reader and writer noted for poetry during college years, the littérateurs she met in England prompted her to adopt Indian themes which they thought would be mountains and rivers and temples for her naturally, but Sarojini Devi startled them all by wisely adopting contemporary Indian life and events as her themes.

Given the sobriquet the Nightingale of India.

Intoxicated by new political connections and imbibed with new literary ideas, she returned to India in 1898 without waiting for graduation. While in England she had met an Indian doctor, Dr. Govindarajulu Naidu of Hyderabad, and after returning to India after studies she was married to him at the age of 19. He was a non-Brahmin and inter-caste marriages were considered a taboo in India then. Her father and family stood with her and thus Sarojini Devi became Sarojini Naidu, adopting her husband’s surname. As we know, her parents and family had already moved from Calcutta and settled in Hyderabad far earlier and as it was, there was no cultural difference felt between then. By the time she became 25, her collections The Golden Threshold 1905, The Bird Of Time 1912 and The Broken Wing 1912 had come out and attracted large audience in England and India, and she had become famous as an English poetess. The liquidity of her diction and the rich musical content and lyrical beauty of her poems gained her the sobriquet The Nightingale of India, or Bharat Kokila in Hindi.

Books written by Sarojini Naidu and her rapport with Muslims.

The first collection of her poems The Golden Threshold published in England in 1905 thrilled the English-speaking world and it soon had several reprints and editions. Then came The Bird of Time in 1912, again published from London which also was held by the world in high esteem. The Broken Wing arrived in 1917. Born as a Hindu in the Muslim Nizam-ruled Hyderabad, Sarojini Naidu knew well the ways of life of Muslims and had acquired fine rapport with the Muslim community there. In Indian National Congress, she functioned as one of the bridges between the Hindu and Muslim factions. In 1916 she authored and published a biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah subtitled The Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity, as a tribute to this leading figure in the independence struggle of India who later favoured India’s partition and became the father of the Pakistan nation, like Gandhi became India’s. The Feast of Youth came out in 1918. The Wizard Mask and A Treasury of Poems were collections of poems and The Magic Tree and The Gift of India were selected works which followed. The Sceptred Flute was published in 1943 posthumously and The Feather of Dawn edited by her daughter Padmaja Naidu in 1961. The Golden Threshold, The Bird Of Time and The Broken Wing are the original collections of Sarojini Naidu’s poems. The Sceptred Flute and The Feather Of Dawn are collections of the same poems from the original three.

English poetry pages for the first time filled with eastern magic.

Arthur Symons described Sarojini Naidu’s poetry as Un-English and Oriental for their eastern magic, created through creating an atmosphere of sitar, tabala, flute, anklet bells, bangles, girls’ laughter, nightingales’ cooing and bazaar voices, which were all appearing for the first time in English poetry pages and becoming a new language unto itself within the English language. We can say that her love of poetry shattered her attempts for higher education, and her love of politics shattered her love of poetry. The three phases of Sarojini Naidu’s poetry are first, the themes of the home, its surroundings and nature, second, fellow human beings and fellow-creations and third, the entirety and vision of the world. The volume of the poetry she wrote was not much, like John Keats’ or Thomas Gray’s, but their beauty gained her equal fame as Keats’ or Gray’s. Perhaps the scantiness of her poetry makes her poems more endeared.

Gandhi and India’s Independence Struggle consumed poets and writers in hundreds.

At one time, Sarojini Naidu walked the life of a joyous child, bathed in romantic thoughts and creating fine lyrical poems to the fullness of her heart but Gandhi arrested and stopped her and showed to her how the people of India suffered under the British rule. Not one poem flowed from her golden quill since then. For thirty years after publishing her third book The Broken Wing in 1917, she wrote nothing but immersed herself deep in speeches, meetings, marches, travels, and jails. Had she not walked the path of politics, she would have become one of the greatest poets in the English language. But she happily became the Traveling Music for the Indian Independence Movement and Gandhi and India’s Independence Struggle thus cost the English-speaking world one fine poet more. Rabindranath Tagore was another, who luckily escaped from getting involved in most of Gandhi’s political tantrums like Boycott of Foreign Clothes. One will wonder how many fine poets and authors Indian Independence Struggle and Gandhi consumed. Rajaram Mohan Roy, Kashi Prasad Ghosh, Aravinda Ghosh, Manomohan Ghosh, Michael Madhusoodan Dutt, Toru Dutt and Ramesh Chandra Dutt were fine writers whose literary careers ended when they came in contact with Gandhi in this massive freedom movement.

The political life of Sarojini Naidu as leader of the Indian Independence Movement.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale urged Sarojini Naidu to use her literary and oratory skills to free the people of her country. Gandhi directed her to travel throughout India and influence people through speeches. Pundit Madan Mohan Malavya led her to spit-fire politics and active freedom fight. The division of her beloved Bengal into two by the British in 1905 made her jump into the forefront of people’s resistance. 1915-18 saw her traveling through cities and villages in India, delivering captivating and beautiful speeches. She was one of the founders of the Women's India Association, working alongside Annie Besant. In 1919 she was standing at the forefront of Champaran Indigo Workers’ Revolt against suppression and oppression. With the introduction of the infamous Rowlatt Act of 1919, Gandhi found his best follower in her for his Non-Cooperation Movement. She was delegated as the Home Rule League's Ambassador to England in 1919 and as the Ambassador to the East African Indian Congress in 1924. She also became the symbol of support for the freedom of people fighting in South Africa. (See Special Notes on Champaran Revolt and Rowlatt Satyagraha).

A one-woman force unstoppable in world capitals.

In 1925 Sarojini Naidu became the President of the Indian National Congress- the first Indian woman to hold this position. The same year she chaired the Kanpur Congress Summit. In 1928 the American people saw her delivering non-violence messages from Gandhi, in 1930 she was seen taking the leadership of non-violence movement following the arrest of Gandhi, and in 1932 participating in the Round Table Conference in London. Her brilliant speeches refuting the allegations against India raised by Katharine Mayo in her book Mother India captivated the American people. Gandhi sent her as his envoy to South Africa to help the Indians there against the oppressive rule of the South African government. This respectable one-woman force was becoming unstoppable in world capitals.

Imprisoned five times in British jails during India’s Freedom Struggle.

In 1942 the world saw her in jail with Gandhi for nearly two years for leading the Quit India Movement which turned all Indians and almost the whole world against the British and limited British rule in India to just five years more. After her release from jail in 1944, she presided over the Steering Committee at the Asian Relations Conference. She was imprisoned five times during India’s freedom struggle. Her husband Dr. Govindarajulu Naidu must have been a great soul indeed to have endured all these sufferings along with her.

A star among a sky of luminaries.

A rich man’s daughter, a rich man’s wife, and rich through writing, Sarojini Naidu did not but find it difficult to mingle with people from all strata of life. She made friends everywhere and was quick-witted and bold in her opinions. She did not fear to call names if needed. She even called Gandhi a Micki Mouse and Subhas Chandra Bose, a Glaxo Baby. In turn, some called her not by the name the Nightingale of India but the Naughty Girl of India. But she had no enemies. She was a very witty creature also. ‘The Indians spend millions to keep Gandhi poor’ was one of her famous jokes.

Among the most eloquent speakers in India then were Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Jawaharlal Nehru, all in the Congress Party, and among these luminaries the speeches of Sarojini Naidu were specially noted. (Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the first President of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan the next President and Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of India. Dr. Rajendra Prasad authored Satyagraha at Champaran, Prison Autography, Since Independence and At The Feet Of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Radhakrishnan authored quite a number of world famous philosophy books including Towards a New World, Our Heritage, Recovery Of Faith and Religion, Science and Culture. Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous books were The Discovery Of India, Glimpses Of World History and Letters From A Father To His Daughter). It must be noted that the Presidents and Prime Ministers of India were famous writers, once. Some of Sarojini Naidu’s speeches made their way into history. It was a time of great speakers, litterateurs, lawyers and scholars in the political scene of India. Dadabai Navaroji, Gopalakrishna Gokhale and Balagangadhara Thilakan were scholars. Desabandhu Chitharanjan Das and Aravinda Ghosh were poets. Madanmohan Malavya, Surendranath Banerji, Anandamohan Bose, Annie Besant and Sarojini Naidu were eloquent speakers. Gandhi himself was a fine writer and speaker. (The quality of leaders in the political scene of India gradually declined and by the 1990s they were mostly a bunch of egotist position-seekers- under-qualified and allegation-shadowed, none of them writers, thinkers or statesmen).

After the Dandi March, Gandhi, the Half Naked Fakir of India and Lord Irwin, Viceroy of the British Empire where the Sun never set, are meeting in 1931. Tension mounts and the turmoil of the political struggles just past are clouding their minds. Suddenly Gandhi took out a book and began reading from it. Lord Irwin’s face lightened and became deliquescent and there was soon the melting of the snow. It was a book written by Sarojini Naidu. Gandhi was testing the sensitivity and beauty of poetry against political stiffness. They began discussing the beauty of those lines and from then onwards the switch to political discussion became easy and light.

Passing away while in office as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh.

On attaining independence, Bengal leader Dr. B. C. Roy was proposed to be the Governor of Uttar Pradesh but he declined, and so Sarojini Naidu was compelled to take up this position. She was the first woman to be made a governor in India. She was born on 13 February 1879 in Hyderabad and died on 2 March 1949 while working in her office in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh at the age of 70. She had two sons and two daughters- Jayasurya, Padmaja, Ranadheeran and Leelamani. Jayasurya became a physician and parliament member, Padmaja the Governor of Bengal and Leelamani worked in India’s Foreign Service. Sarojini Naidu’s birthday, 13 February, is observed as the National Women’s Day in India. Don’t mistake it with the World Women’s Day or the International Women’s Day on 8 March.



Indigo is a natural blue-dying agent cultivated by farmers in India which once had a high demand before artificial bluing agents were introduced. Farmers in Champaran in Bihar were forced by landlords to cultivate this commercial crop in their leased lands, paying high levies and taxes. Champaran farmers revolted and Gandhi and his followers assisted by introducing non-violent Satyagraha in 1917 for which he was arrested as usual but the court forced to release him following massive farmers’ protests. The Champaran Indigo Farmers’ Revolt was a success and their problems were somewhat solved through discussion.


During the First World war, in the guise of preventing terrorist activities, as recommended by a committee headed by the British judge Sir Sidney Rowlatt, the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi enacted the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919 or the Rowlatt Act under the Defense of India Act of 1915, which enabled the British government to indefinitely incarcerate any Indian up to two years without trial and judicial review. Two Black Bills subsequently introduced gave police enormous powers to search and arrest any person without a warrant and imprison him indefinitely. Press and people were brought under an iron British police yoke to prevent Indian uprisings and prevent people from participating in political activities. The enactment of this undemocratic act and its merciless enforcement is a lesson in history proving how uncivilized and barbarian was the British behavior in colonies like India, Africa and America. Gandhi immediately started a Rowlatt Satyagraha against this inhumanity and soon riots started in Punjab and other states and the British army moved in. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 in Amritsar in which 2000 unarmed people were shot dead and thrown into a deep well was the result which exposed the uncivilized and brutal tyranny of British citizens serving in foreign lands under the British Crown. Non violence becoming impossible in the face of subsequent British atrocities, Gandhi suspended his Satyagraha. The tyranny of Britain exposed and the Crown’s face blackened in world’s view, the Rowlatt Act, the subsequent Press Act and twenty two other similar legislations were repealed in 1922. It was a victory for Indian revolutionaries that this act could never be fully implemented in spite of Britain’s might.


Why communists and congress nationalists parted ways after the Khilaffat Movement is still a question of debate. The communists of India still try in many ways to explain their cowardice and betrayal during the freedom struggle of India which explanations even their members do not take seriously. The world Muslims considered the Ottoman Empire which was once held together by the Khilafat or the Caliphate of Turkey as their spiritual leadership. In the First World War, Britain and allies defeated Turkey and redrew the borders of countries and the borders of Islam also thereby, at least the Indian Muslims believed so. Educated Indian Muslims united under Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and joined forces with Indian Nationals and sought restoration of the Caliphate which the victors of the WWI declined. The Indian Muslims retaliated by fighting against Britain for the freedom of India, giving new energy to Hindu-Muslim unity. They provided additional man power for Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement against the British, and Gandhi in return provided moral support for the Khilafat movement. Turkey abolished the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922 anyway and the Caliphate in 1924. The combined Khilafat- Non-Cooperation Movement of 1919-24 was thus a failure. In 1917 a new soviet state had born and the allegiance of the Indian communists naturally turned to this new state of Russia. In the beginning they had collaborated with the Muslims in the Khilafat Movement as it was considered as an anti-colonial movement against Britain, but later, to stay in step with new international developments and relations and to keep in observance of the new Communist International’s directives, turned against the Khilafat Movement and began supporting Britain. By 1942 in the middle of the World War Second, the communists of India had become openly supporting Britain and allegedly spying against Indian nationals for the British.

In the post-independence years also the Indian communists were ill-famed for standing against India and the Indian people. They always looked to Europe for guidance and never learned to adapt communism to Indian conditions. They were neither bold enough to lead armed revolutions against governments as they did in China, Russia and Cuba, nor imaginative and resourceful enough to lead people in the non-violent path against government as leaders like Gandhi did. Of the more than two dozen states in India they have roots only in the two states of West Bengal in the far West and Kerala in the far South. In West Bengal they were wiped out after a continuous thirty years’ rule; in Kerala they come to power in alternative elections for five years. Wherever there is a rich man, they are in cahoots with him, betraying the poor workers under him, but still living at the expense of the contributions from these poor workers- a shameless life indeed, unworthy of the title of communists. Unlike the communists of Russia, China and Cuba, they have never fought a war for liberating their land; they just learned to live like parasites exploiting the peasants and workers joined in their party, in the name of trade unionism, in a land already liberated by others. They once supported Hitler as ordered by Stalin, supported Stalin when Hitler attacked Russia, and supported Britain and betrayed Indian nationals as Russia wanted them to support Britain after the Second World War when the victors were dividing the world and annexing countries as it happens after any great war. Their General Secretary Mr. Joshi’s letters which later came to light revealed that they offered unconditional support to Britain against Indian freedom fighters and were receiving money from the British government. They made secret pact with Muhammadali Jinna and supported the formation of Pakistan as a separate nation. The famous peasants’ agitation called Telengana Struggle which they once led was withdrawn when Stalin ordered this armed people’s movement to be stopped. And when China attacked India in 1962, they were in full support of China! But one thing must be said about the Indian communists: had they been not there on the Indian political scene, workers in the trade union sector would have had lesser, in fact no, bargaining power. And the land reforms they brought about in Kerala ensured at least a few cents of land for the landless and the homeless.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of Indian Weavers.


Indian Weavers was written by Sarojini Naidu in the 1920s. Besides being a great poetess, she was one of the leading figures of the Indian Independence Movement. This article therefore is also a lookout into what happened to the weavers of India after independence. Indian weavers who were once favorites in king’s homes to poor man’s huts are now pushed to extinction by governments, politicians, large cloth mills and arrogant bureaucrats. Suppose Sarojini Naidu returns, and finds this?

Bloom Books Channel’s video of Coromandel Fishers.


The sea has been an attraction for man since his first appearance on this planet. Primitive forms of life originated first in the primeval soup of ancient oceans billions of years ago, migrated to land, and became bird, beast, reptiles and man. If we close both our ear openings with our fingers, we can still hear those reverberations of ocean waves crashing. Oceans have served not only as the ancient home to man but provided him with a multitude of marine products for his sustenance also.

Links to Sarojini Naidu’s works by the author.

1. The Life And Works Of Sarojini Naidu: Article
Article: June 2017

2. Indian Weavers: Poem
Article: Sahyadri Books Trivandrum
Video: May 2015

3. Coromandel Fishers: Poem
Article: Sahyadri Books Trivandrum
Video: May 2015

First Published: 15 June 2017
Last Edited…..:

Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Picture Credits:

01. Sarojini Naidu the student in 1912 By Unknown.
02. Life And Works Of S N Article Ad By Sahyadri Archives.
03. Sarojini Naidu in youth By German Federal Archives.
04. Sarojini Naidu in 1946 By Karthik Nadar.
05. Sarojini Naidu’s home Golden Threshold in Hyderabad By Unknown.
06. With Charlie Chaplin, Gandhi and his wife in London 1931 By LIFE.
07. With Gandhi in Salt March 1930 By Agence de Presse Meurisse.
08. Sarojini Naidu with Gandhi and other women in 1940 By Unknown.
09. With K S Krishnan and Nehru at Indian Science Congress 1949 By Unknown.
10. People of Champaran in 1906 By Unknown.
11. Gandhi's Satyagraha Appeal in Young India 1919 By Unknown.
12. Jallianwala Bagh Sign at Memorial Site By Mike Lynch.
13. Indian Weavers Video Title By Bloom Books Channel.
14. Coromandel Fishers Video Title By Bloom Books Channel.
15. Author Profile of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Meet the author: About the author and accessing his other literary works.

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'. Edits and owns Bloom Books Channel. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Father British Council-trained English Teacher and mother university-educated. Matriculation with High First Class, Pre Degree studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship, discontinued Diploma Studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

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