Satyendranath Tagore in 1867
|Died||9 January 1923 (aged 80)|
|Occupation||Civil servant, social reformer|
Satyendranath Tagore (/ /; Bengali: সত্যেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর; [ʃɔtɛndronatʰ ʈʰakur]) (1 June 1842 – 9 January 1923) was the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service. He was an author, song composer, and linguist, and made a significant contribution towards the emancipation of women in Indian society during the British Raj. He was the second eldest brother of Rabindranath Tagore, the only Indian to get a Nobel Prize in Literature.
The second son of Debendranath Tagore, elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore and grandson of Dwarkanath Tagore of the Jorasanko branch of the Tagore family of Calcutta (now Kolkata), he learnt Sanskrit and English at home. A student of Hindu School, he was part of the first batch of students to appear for the entrance examinations of the University of Calcutta in 1857. He was placed in the first division and was admitted to Presidency College.
The East India Company had administered its holdings through "covenanted servants". Aspirants had to be nominated by a director of the Company, sign a "covenant of indenture" employment contract, and furnish a bond backed by two guarantors. For a long time, applicants also had to be British, but in the mid-nineteenth century some posts were opened to Indians, and a competitive examination was introduced for recruits. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, administration passed to the Indian Civil Service (ICS), established in 1861. The ICS continued the system of competitive examination.
It was a daunting task to go to England and compete with the British for a position. However, his friend Monomohun Ghose offered encouragement and support, and both of them set sail for England in 1862 to prepare for and compete in the civil service examinations.
Satyendranath was selected for the Indian Civil Service in June, 1863. He completed his probationary training and returned to India in November 1864. Monomohun Ghose did not succeed in the examination for the ICS but was called to the bar. Satyendranath was posted to Bombay presidency, which then covered western parts of present-day Maharashtra, Gujarat and Sindh. After initial posting of four months in Bombay (now Mumbai), he had his first active posting at Ahmedabad.
With postings at numerous towns, he travelled across the country. Owing to his long stay away from home, his family members visited him and stayed with him for long periods. Amongst his regular visitors were his younger brothers Jyotirindranath and Rabindranath, and his sister Swarnakumari Devi.
His posting outside Bengal helped him to learn several Indian languages. He translated Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Geetarahasya and Tukaram’s Abhang poems into Bengali. Rabindranath Tagore had also translated some poems of Tukaram. Satyendranath took an active interest in the activities of the Brahmo Samaj wherever he was posted, e.g. Ahmedabad and Hyderabad.
While in the Maharashtra region he had close contacts with many of the leading reformers and Prarthana Samaj figures — Mahadev Govind Ranade, Kashinath Trimbak Telang, Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar.
Ram Mohan Roy found women of Bengal ‘uneducated and illiterate, deprived of property rights, married before puberty, imprisoned in purdah, and murdered at widowhood by a barbaric custom of immolation known as sati.’ By the time Satyendranath was born sati had been banned (in 1829), and the process of reformation had set in.
The position of women in his society troubled him from a young age. He used to think that the purdah system in his family was ‘not that of our own nation but a copy of Muslim practices’. His visit to England where he witnessed more freedom for women helped him understand the relatively poor position of women in Indian society.
After his marriage, he found in Jnanadanandini Devi an ideal partner to fulfill his thinking. When he was thrilled to witness the progress of women in the advanced society in England, he wanted to take her to England to witness the same, but his father, Debendranath Tagore, stood in the way.
Back in India, Satyendranath took Jnanadanandini Devi to Bombay, where she tried to live in the manner and style of the wives of the English officers of the ICS. When the couple returned to the ancestral home at Jorasanko for a holiday, they created a sensation in Calcutta society. They were invited to a party in the Government House (now Raj Bhavan). Breaking all traditional rules, Jnanadanandini Devi accompanied her husband to the party. There she was – "a lone Bengali woman in the midst of hundreds of English women." Prasanna Coomar Tagore of the Pathuriaghata branch of the Tagore family, who was present in the party, could not bear the sight of a wife of a family member in such an open place and left immediately "in shame and anger".
In 1877, he sent Jnanadanandini Devi, accompanied by an English couple, to England. She went with three children, a daring task in those days. They initially stayed with the family of Prasanna Coomar Tagore's son Gnanendramohan Tagore, who had converted to Christianity and was the first Indian to qualify for the English bar. Later they shifted to Brighton and lived on their own there.
Subsequently, Satyendranath accompanied Rabindranath in what was the latter's first visit to England. All of them returned to India in 1880. It was not only with his wife, but also his sisters that he took the lead to change things. His sister Soudamini Devi wrote, ‘The mocking we faced when we went out in the carriages is difficult to believe now."
Thus were laid the foundations of freeing the upper and middle class women from the purdah. It was a major achievement of Satyendranath Tagore.
Jnanadanandini Devi too contributed in her own ways. As she had to go out in society, she developed a style of wearing the sari, which is broadly followed by Indian women today. She also introduced the use of proper undergarments.
Jnanadanandini Devi took special interest in children's matters and started the system of observing birthdays of children in the family, giving them gifts and celebrating the occasion. She started and edited a magazine named Balak for children in 1885. It was possibly the first magazine for children in the Bengali language. The magazine motivated Rabindranath to write for children. Many of the pieces included in his book Sishu were first published in Balak. The magazine was wound up after a year and merged with the family magazine Bharati.
The Tagore family were strong Indian patriots. In an age when it was de rigueur to imitate Western dress habits and to speak the English language in Indian high society, the Tagores kept Indian dress and chose to cultivate Bengali. While admiring the positive qualities he considered British society to possess, Satyendranath himself took the view it was necessary to reform and cultivate the Indian society which already existed.
He was one of the people associated with the Hindu Mela, whose purpose was to awaken this sense of patriotism in the lives of ordinary Indians. When the first session was held in April 1867, he was away in western India. However, he was present in Calcutta for the second session in 1868. He composed the song mile sabe Bharat santan, ektan gaho gaan (unite, India's children, sing in unison) for the occasion, which was hailed as the first national anthem of India. He wrote a number of other such patriotic songs.
Satyendranath had deep regard for his father Debendranath and the religion he had taken so much pain to develop. At a considerably young age, he and Monomohun Ghose accompanied Keshub Chunder Sen on his campaign to win over the younger generation at Krishnanagar College.
In England, even when he was busy with other work, he found time to preach the ideals of Brahmo Samaj. Later, when he was posted in Ahmedabad, he sent a report about Brahmo Samaj to Max Müller. It was included in Müller's biography, written by his wife.
On retirement, he lived for some time in Park Street and then in Ballygunj in Calcutta. His house was a meeting place for his friends and relatives. Amongst those from outside the family who visited him regularly were Taraknath Palit, Monomohun Ghose, Satyendraprasanna Sinha, Umesh Bannerjee, Krishna Govinda Gupta, and Behari Lal Gupta, all people of considerable standing in Kolkata's society then.
His house on Park Street was the centre of a literary majlis (gathering). Some of the subjects discussed were "The Bengali language and the Bengali character", "The elements of poetry", "Chivalry", and "Love in women and in men". Deliberations among the participants were recorded in a book which was not to be published and not to be circulated outside the family.
Sushila O Birsingha (play, 1867), Bombay Chitra (1888), Nabaratnamala, Strisvadhinata, Bauddhadharma (1901), Amar Balyakatha O Bombay Prabas (1915), Bharatvarsiya Ingrej (1908), Raja Rammohan Roy.
Both his children, Surendranath Tagore (1872–1940) and Indira Devi Choudhurani (1873–1960), were well-known figures. They had the experience of English life as children. Surendranath had great command over English and had translated Rabindranath's Four Chapters into that language. He had produced a condensed version of the main portion of Mahabharata in Bengali. In his time, he had links with militant revolutionary organisations fighting for Indian independence from the British, which were considered terrorists by the British establishment. Indira was a great French scholar and was an authority on music, particularly Rabindrasangeet. She was vice-chancellor of Viswa Bharati University. She was married to Pramatha Chowdhury, the noted Bengali author. Supriyo Tagore, the longest serving principal of Santiniketan Patha Bhavan, is one of his great-grandsons and Ishita Das, a principal of the Calcutta Patha Bhavan, is one of his great-granddaughters.
Assumption of sovereignty by the British Raj after the mutiny was followed by great administrative changes. For a long time only British officers were appointed to all covenanted post. In 1824 the posts of ... were created and made open to Indians ... The Act of 1853 had already introduced the practice of recruitment of covenanted civilians through a competitive examination, the Indian Civil Service continued the system. The ICS Act of 1861 established the Indian Civil Service which took over the supervisory role in the administration.