Satyendranath Tagore (1842–1923); brother of Rabindranath by Christine Kupfer

Satyendranath Tagore was a scholar and the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service. He was a writer, composer, and a linguist and contributed significantly to Indian women’s emancipation.

Sitting - Jyotirindranath Tagore. Standing - from right - Kadambari, wife of Jyotirindranath, Satyendranath Tagore, Jnanadanandini, wife of Satyendranath.  Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Sitting – Jyotirindranath Tagore.
Standing – from right – Kadambari, wife of Jyotirindranath, Satyendranath Tagore, Jnanadanandini, wife of Satyendranath.
Image credit: Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Satyendranath, born at Jorosanko in 1842, studied at first at home and later at Presidency College. During this time, he became involved in the Brahmo Samaj. He preached the ideals of the Brahmo Samaj throughout his life and made them known in England, most importantly to German-born philologist and orientalist Max Müller.

After being married to his wife Jnadanandini Devi in 1859, Satyendranath went to London in 1862. In England, he competed with the British for a position with the Indian Civil Service. After his probationary training he returned to India as the very first Indian officer in November 1864. He started in Bombay and then began his career as civil servant as assistant magistrate and collector in Ahmedabad. Later, he worked in western India.

For his job, Satyendranath travelled a lot across the country. This gave him the opportunity to learn several Indian languages. He made use of his polyglotism, when he translated Tukaram’s and Bal Gangadhar’s works into Bengali. While living away from Bengal, many family members came to visit Satyendranath and his wife for longer periods, particularly his siblings Jyotirindranath, Rabindranath and Swarnakumari Devi.

Satyendranath was involved in founding the Hindu Mela at Belgachia, Calcutta, in 1876 and wrote patriotic songs for it. He was active in the Adi Brahmo Samaj and became its president and acharya (religious guide) in 1907, along with his elder brother Dwijendranath Tagore. Satyendranath was the author of various Bengali and English books; he also translated works from Sanskrit into Bengali.

Satyendranath played an important role for women’s emancipation in India. He wanted to take his wife Jnanadanandini Devi to England, yet his father Debendranath did not allow this. Later on, in Bombay, he helped his wife to try and live in the manner of the other (English) officers’ wives. When they returned to Jorosanko in Calcutta for a holiday, she accompanied her husband to a party at the Government House.

It was unheard of before that a Bengali wife would show herself in an open place. He also took out his sisters out in carriages which resulted in mockery, yet were also the first steps for Bengali upper and middle class women to be freed from the purdah (i.e., Hindu and Muslim custom of screening women from men or strangers).

The most extreme step was when, in 1877, Satyendranath sent Jnanadanandini and their children to England, where they first lived with distance family relations and later moved to Brighton to live on their own. Rabindranath visited them there, and then returned together with them to India.

When Satyendranath retired, he moved back to Calcutta. His house was a meeting place not only for relatives and friends but also for the most important people in Calcutta. It was also the centre of a literary majlis (gathering).

 

Bibliographical Notes

  • Bandopadhyay, Hiranmay. Thakurbarir Katha, pp. 98–104, Sishu Sahitya Sansad (Bengali).
  • Banerjee, Hironmoy & Biplab K. Majumdar 1995. The Tagores of Jorasanko. New Dehli, Gyan Publ. House.

 

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