Strong feminist characters in Rabindranath Tagore’s work

International Women’s Day is around the corner. On 8th March, our WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, Instagram stories would be overflowing with forwards or GIFs. We all would discuss it. Time and again we would talk about the betterment of women, empowering them and related stuff, while everyone’s notion slowly crawls towards betterment. This year the campaign theme of International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter. An effort to build a gender – balanced world. A world that works better, driven by balance. A balance in every aspect of life, social – political – cultural.

Before we celebrate the day with much need enthusiasm and zeal, let’s dive into a few characters that Rabindranath Tagore sketched.

Tagore is one of the greatest authors and poets of all time. In Tagore’s short stories, women portrayed the struggles, sufferings and their inner strength. His female characters were strong, confident and free-spirited, who defied regressive social norms. They took courage to take their own decision, right or wrong, yet decision were their own and they stood by it. They left an indelible mark behind. All these women were way ahead of their time and an inspiration to all today. Each protagonist explores their identity beyond wifehood and motherhood.

Feminist women in Rabindranath Tagore stories and novel
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Feminist women characters in novels and stories of Rabindranath Tagore

Binodini in “Chokher Bali”

A young widow, Binodini, is left alone to survive after her old husband’s death soon after her marriage. She is well educated, knows the ways of the world and she is aware of her sexuality. Soon she enters a household raising storms. Mahendra who is married to a simpleton girl Ashalata ends up getting attracted to her intelligence and charm. Binodini is a strong personality, quite unconventional. Much later in the plot, she realized her true love in Mahendra’s friend Bihari.

When she parted ways from Mahendra she left a letter for Ashalata, encouraging her to educate her daughter and teach her ways of life. She is a dynamic, fierce and liberating woman.

Charulata in “Nastanirh”

Charulata is an intriguing character. She starts with a docile, homely personality who own beauty, money, and home. She is married to a much older man, who is busy and takes her passion lightly. Her dilemma begins when she starts to feel lonely. Her loneliness and passion for art bring her closer to her husband’s cousin brother, Amal. In the search of love and companionship, she fell for him.

It’s the end of the story, her marriage cracks up. When her husband pursues her to new beginnings, she retaliates. Charulata is perhaps one of the finest examples of how the world confines women’s potential at home, by tying her down with stereotypes, and by stripping off her ambitions.

Mrinmayee in “Samapti”

Mrinmayee the free-spirited village belle loves to climb trees and play with children. She declines to surrender as the domesticated wife. She questions the societal expectations of a bride and a newly wedded wife. When she attempted multiple escapes from marriage, her husband returns to the city leaving her behind in the village. Slowly, she acknowledges her feelings for her husband and seeks help from her mother-in-law. She professed her love and united with her husband.

Mrinal in “Streer Patra”

Mrinal was married to an upper- class zamindar family. Being constantly mocked for her countryside nature, she chooses to live under submission. Her mundane life changed quickly with the appearance of Bindu. Bindu is her sister-in-law’s young widowed cousin, who ran away from her torturing in-laws. When Mrinal befriends Bindu and started taking a stand for her, her family couldn’t accept it. They married off Bindu to a mentally challenged man. She ran away petrified but succumbs to societal pressure and returns. Mrinal attempts to rescue Bindu again, but her help reached late. Bindu took her life. Mrinal renounces marital life leaving behind a letter to her husband. In her letter, she penned her woes of patriarchal customs and the blind eye of her elite-educated husband.

Bimala in “Ghare Baire”

Bimala, a devoted traditional housewife, married to Nikhil, a wealthy liberal zamindar. Bound by expectations of married women, she forcefully respects people who even humiliate her. She had a kind of emptiness which consumed her every living moment. She sets out to explore love after the marriage of 9 years and make an identity of her own. Bimala is the face of Indian women who faced dichotomy in the name of the nationalist movement and modern civilized culture. She grew to independent thinking women who took decisions of her own and responsibilities of her actions.

Damini in “Chaturanga”

Damini is another young beautiful widow, who is clear about what she does and does not want. She is fearless to ask questions. She questions her dead husband’s right to give away the house, her jewels and even herself to Godman Leelananda Swami, without her permission. She questions Swami’s right to accept her custody without asking whether she agrees to be taken care of. She is not afraid to express her physical desire for another man who reciprocates it but is afraid to acknowledge it.

Kumudini in “Jogajog”

Raised in a serene village atmosphere, mid-20s Kumudini is inclined towards spirituality. When she is married off to wealthy city dweller Madhusudan, she is unable to accept his coarse egocentric nature. She voices out against marital rape when her husband forces on her.

Irrespective of time, these characters are still close to today’s women. They took pride in the identity of women, over the roles of mother, wife, sister, and daughter. They accepted challenges thrown at them, on feminity, honor, being widow, dowry system and societal restrictions.

Who was your favorite female lead in Tagore’s works?

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22 thoughts on “Strong feminist characters in Rabindranath Tagore’s work”

  1. I have not touched bengali literature..but there is so much to explore. Did you check out the names..all spell “Strong”. Loved this post. I love your blog 🙂

  2. Really enjoyed reading the blog and now I feel like rereading the ones I have read and read the ones I haven’t.

  3. I have seen all episodes of Rabindranath Tagore’s serial. And my fave episode is the one with Chokher Bali. Because I have personally know a story similar to that one. 🙂

  4. All the characters By Rabindranath Tagore were much ahead of time. It was great way to educate and liberate the society. I haven’t read a lot of his books but i do try to catch glimpses from various series

  5. I have only watched some.movies based on Tagore books. I truly believe he etched very fierce fiesty independent characters that stood for themselves …

  6. I have always been a fan of Tagore’s work, all of these characters are very close to my heart. Thanks for writing this.

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