Madhurilata (Bela), 1886-1918, daughter of Rabindranath by Christine Kupfer

On 25 October 1886, Rabindranath’s first child Madhurilata, called Bela, was born in Kolkata. Kripalani  says that she was beautiful and his “most dearly loved daughter.”[1] Tagore said about her: “my eldest daughter Bela… was exceptionally beautiful in body and mind.”[2]

Rabindranath Tagore and Mrinalini Devi with their first child Bela, 1886. Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India
Rabindranath Tagore and Mrinalini Devi with their first child Bela, 1886.
Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Madhurilata was married at the age of fifteen to advocate Saratchandra Chak of Mazaffarpur (son of the poet Biharilal Chakraborty, who inspired Tagore when he was young) on 15 June 1901.

According to the custom of the Tagore family, Saratchandra had to adopt Bahmo religion before he married Madhurilata. When Rabindranath brought his daughter to her husband’s place to leave her there, he received his first felicitation at the Mukherjee Seminary in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

Due to an argument within the family, Madhurilata’s husband cut off all connections with her father in 1913. The relationship between Bela and her father during this time has been portrayed in very different ways.

Rabindranath Tagore's son Rathindranath and daughters Madhurilata Devi (Bela), Mira Devi and Renuka Devi. Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Rabindranath Tagore’s son Rathindranath and daughters Madhurilata Devi (Bela), Mira Devi and Renuka Devi.
Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

In 1917, it became clear that Bela had tuberculosis. As can be learnt from his letters, Rabindranath visited her for a month in July 1917, spending time next to her bed and reading to her while her husband was at court. Madhurilata died on 16 May 1918.

Tagore wrote Palataka (partly published in English as Fugitive, 1918), Tales in Verses, in the year in which Bela died. Kripalani comments on these stories:

“The stories themselves are little, sad episodes from life told with a rare delicacy of feeling which while it never degenerates into sentimentalism bears witness to his great sympathy with human suffering. (…) they bear unmistakable traces of this personal sorrow – a sorrow which, because it was accepted with resignation and humility, has deepend his sympathy with all living things and added to his understanding of all sorrow.”[3]

 

Rabindranath Tagore with his newly wedded son and daughter-in-law, Rathindranath and Pratima Devi; on the right: daughters Bela (Madhurilata) and Mira. Calcutta, 1910. Image credit: Visva-Bharati University
Rabindranath Tagore with his newly wedded son and daughter-in-law, Rathindranath and Pratima Devi; on the right: daughters Bela (Madhurilata) and Mira. Calcutta, 1910.
Image credit: Visva-Bharati University

Bibliographical Notes

  1. Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography. New York: Grove Press, 1962, p. 298.

  2. Qtd in Das Gupta, Uma. My Life in My Words. New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2006, p. 126.

  3. Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography. New York: Grove Press, 1962, p. 313.