Portrait Highlight - Sarojini Naidu - Indian political activist and poet

Updated: Mar 18


Sarojini Naidu (née Chattopadhyay 13th February 1879 – 2nd March 1949) Indian political activist and poet. A proponent of civil rights, women's emancipation, and anti-imperialistic ideas, she was an important figure in India's struggle for independence from colonial rule.


Naidu was born in Hyderabad to Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, a Bengali Brahmin who was the principal of the Nizam's College in Hyderabad, and Barada Sundari Devi Chattopadhyay. Her father, who had a doctorate of Science from Edinburgh University, had settled in Hyderabad where he administered Hyderabad college, which later became Nizam College. Her mother was a poet and used to write poetry in Bengali. Naidu was educated in Chennai, London and Cambridge.


Sarojini met her husband, Paidipati Govindarajulu Naidu - a physician - when she was 19, and after finishing her studies, she married him. As Sarojini was from Bengal and Paidipati Naidu from Andhra Pradesh, this was an inter-regional marriage of East and South India, with two different cultures. The couple had five children. Their daughter Padmaja also joined the independence movement and was part of the Quit India Movement. She was appointed the Governor of the State of Uttar Pradesh soon after Indian independence.


Following her time in England where she worked as a suffragist, she was drawn to the Indian National Congress movement for India's independence from British rule and joined the Indian independence movement in the wake of partition of Bengal in 1905. She soon met other such leaders as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and was inspired to work towards attaining freedom from the colonial regime and social reform.


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. Naidu again went to London in 1919 as a part of the All India Home Rule League as a part of her continued efforts to advocate for freedom from the British rule.


Upon her return to India in 1920, she joined Gandhi's Satyagraha Movement and became one of the major figures in both the Civil Disobedience Movement and Quit India Movement. She faced repeated arrests by the British authorities during this time and even spent over 21 months in jail. In 1925 Naidu presided over the Annual Session of the Indian National Congress at Cawnpore (now Kanpur). 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 Provences (present-day Uttar Pradesh), making her India's first woman governor. She remained in office until her death in March 1949.


Naidu's work as a poet earned her the sobriquet 'Nightingale of India' from Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore called her 'Bharat Kokila'. Sarojini began writing at the age of 12. Her play, Maher Muneer, written in Persian, impressed the Nizam of Kingdom of Hyderabad. Her first collection of poems, named The Golden Threshold was published in 1905. A further collection entitled The Bird of Time was published in 1912 and included the poem In the Bazaars of Hyderabad which was well received by critics, who variously noted Naidu's visceral use of rich sensory images in her writing.


Nay, do not grieve tho' life be full of sadness,

Dawn will not veil her spleandor for your grief,

Nor spring deny their bright, appointed beauty

To lotus blossom and ashoka leaf.


Nay, do not pine, tho' life be dark with trouble,

Time will not pause or tarry on his way;

To-day that seems so long, so strange, so bitter,

Will soon be some forgotten yesterday.


Nay, do not weep; new hopes, new dreams, new faces,

The unspent joy of all the unborn years,

Will prove your heart a traitor to its sorrow,

And make your eyes unfaithful to their tears.


- The Bird of Time: Songs of Life, Death & the Spring (1916)


Works:

- The Golden Threshold (1905), published in the United Kingdom

- The Bird of Time: Songs of Life, Death & the Spring (1912), published in London

- The Broken Wing: Songs of Love, Death and the Spring (1917), including "The Gift of India" (first read in public in 1915)

- Muhammad Jinnah: An Ambassador of Unity (1919)

- The Sceptred Flute: Songs of India, (1943) Allahabad: Kitabistan, posthumously published

- The Feather of the Dawn (1961), posthumously published, edited by her daughter, Padmaja Naidu

- The Indian Weavers (1971)




Sarojini Naidu, pen portrait on paper August 2020


Available as

- an art print (A6 - A3)

- pin badge

- earrings


She can also be found on items in the

Votes For Women range