Swarnakumari Devi: A Forgotten Name In Bengali Poetry and Literature's image
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Swarnakumari Devi: A Forgotten Name In Bengali Poetry and Literature

Kavishala LabsKavishala Labs July 2, 2020
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Devi, Swarna Kumari (1855-1932) poet, playwright, lyricist, journalist, social worker, was born into the illustrious Tagore family of Jorasanko, being Debendranath's 10th child and sister of rabindranath tagore. She was educated at home according to the custom of the day and was married at the age of 12 to Janakiram Ghosal, a deputy magistrate. Her husband belonged to the progressive part of bhadralok society in Calcutta and encouraged his wife to discard purda and pursue writing and social work. Swarna Kumari had exhibited literary talent from an early age and was very much a part of the cultured milieu and literary activities at Jorasanko.'

SK Devi achieved fame as writer and editor of the well-known literary monthly bharati for 30 years. Her novel Dipnirban (1870) was widely acclaimed. Her other works include Chhinna Mukul (A Picked Bud), Snehalata or Palita (adopted girl) 1892-3, and perhaps her best work Kahake, 1898. The book was translated into English as The Unfinished Song. Swarna Kumari published in 1879 what might well be the first opera written in Bengal, Basanta Utsav.

Swarna Kumari often used forms that her more famous younger brother Rabindranath later picked up. In all she wrote 25 books in Bangla.

Active in the sphere of social reform and nationalist politics, Swarna Kumari helped form the Xakhi Samiti, an organisation to help widows and destitute women. In 1889 and 1890 along with Pandita Ramabai, Ramabai Ranade and kadambini ganguly she took part in the annual sessions of the indian national congress. She was one of the first two members elected from Bengal to represent that state at the session. In 1927 the university of calcutta awarded her the Jagattarini gold medal and in' 1929 she became the president of the Vangiya Sahitya Sammelan.

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Sakhi Samiti (Society of Friends) was started by Swarnakumari in 1896. With her were associated other members of the Tagore family. The objective of the society was to assist helpless orphans and widows. The following report was published in Bharati and Balak in 1898:

"The first aim of the Samiti is to help helpless orphans and widows. This will be done in two ways. In those cases where such widows and orphans have no near relations or if those relations have not the means of maintaining them the Sakhi Samiti will take their full responsibility. In other cases the Samiti will give them help as far as possible. In the case of those women whose full responsibility the Samiti will take they will educate them and through them spread women’s education. After they have finished their education they will take up the work of zenana (female) education. The Samiti will give them remuneration for their work. In this way two objectives will be accomplished. Hindu widows will be able to earn through service to others according to sanction of Hindu religion."

As the subscriptions from members were not sufficient to run the organisation, an annual exhibition was held in Bethune College to raise funds. Apart from saris from Dhaka and Santipur and handicrafts from Krishnanagar and Birbhum, there used to be a large collection of handicrafts from outside Bengal – Kashmir