Rabindranath Tagore’s portrayal of the Empowered Women

Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel laurate for ‘Gitanjali’ has always been a progressive thinker and he has proven his bold thoughts in his writings which were far ahead of the time. In each of his novels, he had portrayed the upliftment of women characters, he had introduced the dignity and solidarity of women empowerment. Being an admirer of Tagore’s work from very childhood days, I have started reading his novels and the valuable worthy thoughts of juxtaposition had made my thinking much more mature. Tagore has definitely created tremendously beautiful characters of each women in the backdrop of the conservative Indian society back then. Rabindranath Tagore is always known for his interest in modernism in the way to fabricate such emancipated women characters throughout his notable creations. It’s very hard to nominate few strong progressive women from his novels as each and every characters hold charm of their own, they are strongly progressive in their own way of feminism. Here are few from my pick in the vastness of liberal literary world he had introduced decades and decades ago.


Binodini from ‘Chokher Bali'(1903):

Binodini’s character from ‘Chokher Bali’, despite its shades of grey couldn’t accpet the rules society had developed for widowed women back then. She was smart, quite educated and wanted to deserve much better than just an inauspicious widow. Every backdrop of the societal depiction through the story of ‘Chokher Bali’ has given us a strong character like Binodini. The novel expresses the forbidden emotions unleashed when a beautiful young widow enters in the harmonious world of a newly married couple. A path-breaking novel of Rabindranath Tagore portrays a fresh web of relationship centered upon Mahendra, his bride Asha and the seductive Binodini who is a divergent and conflicting character throughout the stroyflow. The strength of Tagore’s writing affirm the inhumanity of preventing women from accessing the same educational upbringing as men. Here Binodini, convent educated widow who was seeking of freedom, couldn’t easily endure society’s negligence at all. Tagore presents the complexity and fragility of human relationship through a ride of life. So, when it comes to find a progressive woman character from Tagore’s work, Binodini from ‘Chokher Bali’ is surely the one.

Charulata from ‘Nastanirh'(1901):

Tagore’s another masterpiece of work remains classified with his creation of ‘Nastanirh’. Here he has soulfully introduced the strong and progressive character of Charulata, a wife who remains secluded within the walls of her house and finds solace in her brother-in-law. ‘Nastanirh’ was the finest example of what society does to a woman’s potential by choosing to relegate her to confines of her home and while she developed a pure friendship with Amal, her brother-in-law, society explicitly or maybe traditionally couldn’t accept the very intimate and tender relationship between the duo. The connotation between Amal and Charu initially started around their shared passion for poetry, Charu’s boldness and physical aspect has dominantly added extra charms to her progressive character-self.

Analyzing the charisma between the two, Rabi Thakur says, “Bhupati probably had the traditional conviction that a man did not have to earn his hold over his wife. A wife was like a polestar, self-luminous, a light that no wind could blowout, that needed to fuel to burn brighter. When the world outside the home began to betray him, it never even occurred to Bhupati to find out whether cracks had developed within the home as well..” (Tagore, Nastanirh)

Bimala from ‘Ghare Baire'(1916):

In the political backdrop, Rabindranath Tagore had introduced his one more novel Ghare Baire which conveyed both progressive and political views back then in the pre-Gandhi era. Here Bimala lives under the shadow of her rich aristocrat husband Nikhilesh. Despite being an educated and free-spirited woman, she used to follow the basic traditional mainstream of a wife. But instead of being defined just as a wife, a mother or a daughter, Bimala tried to challenge the conventions of society. With the arrival of her husband’s friend Sandip, who had personal aspiration towards political views throughout the country, Bimala started finding a new hope of ray for fulfilling her freedom and desire to her emancipation, she was attracted to Sandip from the very beginning. Without maintaining social norms, she fell for Sandip, she wished to chase the concepts of feminity,honour and her individual self. Tagore’s most famous political novel has highlights of the triad relationship, the creative endeavor has portrayed two aspects throughout the storyline. At the backdrop of Swadesi movement and on the other hand the complexity of relationships, the central female protagonist Bimala Chowdhury successfully portrayed an evolving woman representing Bengal’s womanhood. Bimala was initially hesitant to cross the boundaries between the inner courtyard and the other part of the household, but gradually she gains confidence and crosses the path, that’s what the novel Ghare Baire is all about.

Giribala/Monoroma from ‘Manbhanjan'(1895):

With the series of progressive characters Tagore had introduced in his creations, Manbhanjan depicts another strong role of a housewife Giribala, who is overflowing with exuberance of youth that seems spilling over in spray all around her, in the rhythm of her every steps and through her voice and glances. The basic plot of the story evolves around the triad relationship of Gopinath Seal, the son of a zamindar in Kolkata during British Raj, Giribala, his wife and Labanga, an actress from the theatre. Tagore’s storyline is a timeless destiny of woman’s emancipation and a bold move of fate and providence. In the mean time, through the backdrop of Manbhanjan, the storyteller explores the fragility of relationships in between a simple bond of purity. Gopinath Seal who rolls in wine and woman all day long, never turned to his wife Giribala, he rather frequently visited theatre, being bewitched by the lusty beauty of Labanga.But his loving wife mourns for her husband’s apathy, so she visits the theatre and thought of leaving the home forever. There is a hint of revenge and a happening comeuppance in the plot, while leaving home, Giribala turned to the theatre group who was in search of a new actress as Labanga settled with Gopinath long ago. In the world of uncertainty, Giribala stepped forward for a new journey to find herself in the lost world, where she became the face of Gondhorbo theatre, Monoroma and enhanced her liberation against the norms of society.

Labanya from ‘Shesher Kabita'(1929):

Few characters from Tagore’s work always enchanted me for years and years, but for me, Labanya from Shesher Kabita will always remain his most complex and relevant character. Tagore has created extraordinary women characters inspired by many people he met during his lifetime. Shesher Kabita is still celebrated novel even after nine decades from its first release. Labanya is a woman who is independent, lives for her own choice and portrays love for her Amit who belongs from one of the richest aristrocrat family in Kolkata back then. Rabindranath Tagore had described exposition of love and a woman’s right to choose even in a consensual relationship.Set in the plot of Shillong in the monsoons, Shesher Kabita evolves around the same interest of poetries among the duo, where Labanya and Amit, Oxford eduacted barrister spellbound with her sharpness, quiet erudition and her independent streak. She is a character of different shades of imagination and elevation throughout the flow. With Labanya and Shesher Kabita, Tagore celebrates a bittersweet story of open-ended climax where both of them moved on to marry partners they had left behind in the past. Labanya never tried to be selfish but she was liberated and she found a contrary to celebrate a new journey by leaving Amit, who already was in his forced lifestyle. The story ends with a letter from Labanya called ‘Shesher Kabita’ which had a deep moment with darkest thoughts of a mankind, their unconditional story started with a nostalgic poetic scenario and ended with a saddening note of ultimate goodbye which helped the duo to begin a new voyage once again.

ফিরিবার পথ নাহি;
দূর হতে যদি দেখ চাহি
পারিবে না চিনিতে আমায়।
হে বন্ধু, বিদায়।

Through the magnificent works of Tagore, what will be remembered forever is his continuous contribution to change the restrictions of society back then. He had created notable ideologies to create a world “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”.

চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির,
জ্ঞান যেথা মুক্ত, যেথা গৃহের প্রাচীর|

Yes, the progressive and sensible realization Tagore depicted through his novels in object of woman’s liberation has made him modern and etheral with his wide range of creations for decades.





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