Indira Devi Chaudhurani (1873 – 1960) by Christine Kupfer

Indira Devi, daughter of Satyendranath Tagore and niece of Rabindranath Tagore, was a singer, writer, translator and activist. Indira Devi, popularly known as Bibidi, was born to Satyendranath Tagore and Jnanandanandinidevi on 29 December 1873 at Bijapur in South India, where her father worked at the time.

Indira Devi Chaudhurani
Indira Devi Chaudhurani

In 1877 she went to England with her family. Rabindranath joined them a year later and grew very close to Indira Devi and her brother Surendranath. Indira Devi married Pramatha Chaudhuri in 1899.

She was very musical and played the piano, violin, and sitar. She was trained in both Indian Classical and Western music from an early age. First, she studied at Auckland House in Simla and Loretta House in Calcutta; later she was one of the first women to do the BA examination of Calcutta University in 1892.

Her diploma in music is from the Trinity College of Music. Indira Devi composed brahmasangit, published journals and books on music, and, most importantly, notated around two hundred songs that Rabindranath had composed.

Indira Devi won several awards: the Bhuvanmohini gold medal by Calcutta University in 1944, the Deshikottam by Visva-Bharati University in 1957 and the first Rabindra Award by the Rabindra Bharati Samiti in 1959. She was actively involved in women’s emancipation that included educational and welfare societies and widow’s homes.

Furthermore, she began translating from an early age. She published Bengali translations of Ruskin and of various French books, and published English translations of a number of Rabindranath’s poems, stories, and essays. Later on, she authored many papers on music, literature and women’s situation in India.

In 1941, Indira Devi began to work at Sangit Bhavana in Santiniketan at her uncle’s university. She was later also temporarily appointed as Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati. Rabindranath and Indira Devi wrote many letters full of intellectual and poetic musings to each other, which were published in Chhinnapatravali.

Among Indira Devi’s writings are Rabindra Smriti (5 vols, 1959), Rabindra Sangeete Tribeni Sangam (1954), Shruti Smriti, and many edited volumes, for example Narir Ukti (1920), Banglar Stri-Achar (1956), Smriti Katha, Puratani (1957) and Gitapanchashati. Indira Devi died on 12 August 1960.

 

Bibliographical Notes

  • Tagore, Rabindranath. Glimpses of Bengal. Selected from the Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, 1885 to 1895. Calcutta: Macmillan, 1960.
  • Tagore, Rabindranath. Chhinna-patra, 1916.
  • Chaudhurani, Indira Devi. Uncle Rabindranath. In Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1961: A Centenary Volume. New Delhi, 1961, p. 3-11.
  • Chaudhurani, Indira Devi. “Jivan Katha” (written between 1953-55), in Sardadiya Ekkshan, 1399 B.S. (1992).