Tagore and Kadambari Devi

09 May

Rabindra nathRabindra Nath Tagore at young ageKadambari+Devi+small
Kadambari Devi

The mystery that surrounds Tagore’s relationship with his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi has attracted biographers as well as researchers over the years. I was too curious knowing that she committed suicide after the marriage of Tagore with Mrinalini Devi. Curiosity lead me to go through articles here and there and added those pieces together to understand their relationship and the circumstantial facts behind her suicide.

Kadambari Devi was wife of Jyotirindranath Tagore, the elder brother of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. She was married to Jyotirindranath Tagore, on 5 July 1868 at the age of 9 years. Then Rabindranath was 7 years old. They were almost of the similar age group. When Kadambari came to in-laws house, Rabi being similar in age, became her playmate and companion. Tagore’s Biographer Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay has written- “He had been her playmate and companion ever since her marriage.” They grew up to adolescent and then to their youth.

Jyotirindranath was a multi-talented personality having interests in theatre, paintings, translation and editing, music and also in business ventures. While staying in Ahmedabad (1867), with his elder brother Satyendranath Tagore, he learnt sitar and painting, picked up French and Marathi and he translated many books, mainly dramas, from different languages into Bengali. He also having some family businesses which were looked after by him. He ventured new business of shipping in Khulna (now in Bangladesh). There was stiff competition in the business and he incurred heavy loss due to competition and finally he opted out of that business in 1889. He served as secretary of the Adi Brahmo Samaj from 1869 to 1888.

Jyotirindranath was a open minded person. He supported the cause of education of women those days and he arranged for his wife Kadambari’s education. He not only arranged for her education, but also taught her horse-riding in the public grounds of Kolkata, defying the conservative society of those days. Later Tagore wrote in his childhood memory that Jyoti dada and Bouthan (sis-in law) used to take horse rides to Eden Garden through the Chitpur.

With this background of Jyotirindranath, it is understood that he hardly could spare any time for Kadambari. It is understood that she was a neglected and lonely lady.

At the age of 22 years, Tagore was suddenly and unexpectedly married (As per Biographer Mukhopadhyay, Tagore’s marriage at the end of 1883 had been “sudden and unexpected.”) to Bhabatarini Devi of 11 years age on 09 Dec 1883. She was renamed as Mrinalini by Tagore. After 4 months and 10 days of his marriage, on 19th April 1884, Kadambari committed suicide. The family might know the reason of suicide but it was suppressed and never made public.

Kadambari Devi’s death was profoundly felt by Tagore which  can be established through his own words. Much later, in 1917 Tagore said in a letter to Amiya Chakravarty : “Once, when I was about your age, I suffered a devastating sorrow, similar to yours now. A very close relative of mine committed suicide, and she had been my life’s total support, right from childhood onward. And so with her unexpected death it was as if the earth itself receded from beneath my feet, as though the skies above me all went dark. My universe turned empty, my zest for life departed.” Tagore was moved by the unexpected and sudden death of Kadambari Devi. He lost his companion, friend and what not because she was his total support for life as told in his above letter. There are number of poems that speak to or about the deceased Kadambari Devi. After 4 years of Kadambari’s death Tagore wrote a poem which is a well known Rabindrasangeet “Tobu Mone Rekho…”. This was written in her memory being in her place as if she is telling him –  ”Yet, do remember, if I move far from here, Yet, do remember. If the old love is smothered by a love’s new snare” and so on.

Marie Seton, in her book  “Portrait of a Director : Satyajit Ray” (1971) ,is all about Ray’s research on Tagore before his translation the “Nashtaneer” story into a film named “Charulata”. It was established that the story of “Nashtaneer” was written by Tagore keeping Kadambari in mind. It’s the story of Kadambari Devi, Her husband Jyotirindranath and himself. In this book Marie Seton at one place adds parenthetically that Bengal believed the sister-in-law “committed suicide following ‘Rabi’s marriage.”

Kadambari Devi never wanted Rabi to Marry and thats why she, once said, when she was told to search a bride for Rabi, that she did not get any bride for Rabi in Jessore (now in Bangladesh). But perhaps due to some unknown reason Tagore’s marriage was suddenly arranged by senior members of the family. Kadambari then secretly tried to stop it. Here we can understand her position, she did not want this marriage to happen but she was not in a position to oppose it openly or strongly which only indicate a doubtful relationship of her with Rabi. So she secretly tried to stop it but she could not. Finally Tagore was married to Bhabatarini Devi on 09 Dec 1883 and Kadambari committed suicide on 19th April 1884, after four months and 10 days of Tagore’s marriage.

After Tagore’s marriage, what was Kadambari’s feeling, her sufferings which led her to suicide, we don’t know. She has never scribbled anywhere. But analyzing the events it can be concluded that she did not approve the marriage because she by heart did not want her brother-in-law Rabi to marry Bhabatarini and she even tried to stop it. The way she ended her life after 4 months of the marriage, it was not the question of her wanting of the marriage, there was something more which we do not know but we have to take help of some imagination by joining pieces of events.  The marriage separated or distanced them from each other, there was no doubt in it. Rabi, the most dearer and nearer, her companion her playmate since childhood was no more with her and all of a sudden she lost all her un-written rights on Rabi which she gained over the years. All this she could not tolerate in her mind. All trouble because of Bhabatarini but nothing could be done to her.

Secondly, it is also said that she was a neglected (by husband) and lonely lady. She was also issueless. In this situation, there was nobody near her other than Rabi to be  her companion in her youth too. That Rabi too was no more her companion after his marriage. We know Tagore gave her a nickname “Hecate” the name of a Greek Goddess, linked to moon but also to witchcraft and magic. It shows that they were enjoying the teasing relationship which normally exists in this relation with sister-in-laws. This relation is a beautiful one which we can find it in Bengal and some other places of India. In this relation, there always be affection towards brother-in-law (husband’s younger brother). Society never minds with this type of relationship, and they are allowed to mix freely in the family. But at the same time it may turns to be dangerous too.  This relationship might evolve out of affection into love by crossing the fine line of the “affection”. This what happened to Charu in the film “Charulata” (Directed by : Satyajit Ray) which is the story of Tagore himself, his sister-in law Kadambari and her husband. So it can be concluded that love blossomed in them and they were having a play tonic love.  It was a natural thing to evolve love because she was lonely and starved for companionship. When Tagore got married to Bhabatarini Devi, she might felt deserted again and she lost her companion forever to a much younger woman. She might have thought of not to die by inches but to die forever because there was no solution in sight to her problem which led her to the extreme step.

 Read the Bengali version (বাংলায় পড়ুন)


Posted by on 09/05/2015 in Rabindranath Tagore


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36 responses to “Tagore and Kadambari Devi

  1. renxkyoko

    09/05/2015 at 5:53 AM

    That’s a tragic love story.

    • Anil C. Mandal

      11/05/2015 at 3:30 AM

      Very much, on the part of Kadambari ! In the conservative society, those days, there was no solution other than this. Thanks!

  2. Meera.

    03/09/2015 at 1:43 PM

    Nothing has changed to this day. When two individuals in a similar situation fall in love what else can they do? While suicide is not the answer, it’s a life full of anguish. Only the people in that situation know the pain and the agony. Ones dharma to their partner and children forbids them from doing anything untoward.

  3. Bhowmick

    03/02/2016 at 4:33 AM

    The accidental death of Urmi whom (the issueless) Kadambari brought up herself must also have added to her desolation …

  4. Bhowmick

    03/02/2016 at 4:35 AM

    The insect pictures you pin to the comments are funny, Anil

  5. Meera Rasadurai

    16/03/2016 at 4:07 PM

    Wow …..

  6. Andrej

    26/03/2016 at 3:01 PM

    Could somebody please tell me in which book of poems did Tagore write mostly about his love and sorrow for Kadambari?

    It is such a heart-breaknig life story. Such sublime love is possible only in India, Bengal, western world is too physically conditioned. Also the film Kadambari very beautifully presents that tragic love. It is not surprising that the director and the two main actors are Bengalis, especially Kadambari’s role is played so heart-touchingly. Bengal is definitely a land of deep and enlightened emotions – I have seen some other older films like Kamallata, Arogya NIketan, Alo Amar Alo, Shilpi, Saat Pake Bandha…they are all so rich in message of love. And the recent Devon ke Dev Mahadev – the main actor of Sati is also Bengali.

    • Anil

      26/03/2016 at 4:00 PM

      Tagore has never mentioned his sister-in law in his works but indirectly he has written that story which I have mentioned in the last paragraph. Satyajit Ray made a film of that story named “Charulata”. I appreciate your interest and knowledge about Bengal.
      Thanks for your kind visit and kind words.

      • Andrej

        26/03/2016 at 4:30 PM

        Thank you for your reply. I cannot tell you how much I am moved by this tragic love story. Bengal is definitely a land of incredibly deep emotions. Besides Tagore there were such passionate poets as Vidyapati, Chandidas, Jayadev, and also the saint Caitanya. Maybe I will have to be born in Bengal in my next life to be nearer…

        You write in your article:

        ……After 4 years of Kadambari’s death Tagore wrote a poem which is a well known Rabindrasangeet “Tobu Mone Rekho…”. This was written in her memory being in her place as if she is telling him – ”Yet, do remember, if I move far from here, Yet, do remember. If the old love is smothered by a love’s new snare” and so on……..

        Where could I get this poem in english? In which book is it published?

      • Anil

        27/03/2016 at 3:08 PM

        I do not know about the English version of this song. I can give you the translated one. Since you have seen many Bangla movies, I would like to know if you know Bengali!If you can understand Bengali, you can listen the song in you tube. Anyway let me give you the lyric, translated in English :

        Forget me not, forget me not despite if I venture at a distant place.
        Forget me not, despite if older passion is covered with the newer lattice of ardor.
        Being within proximity, I disguise myself as the shadow –
        Forget me not.
        If my eyes are soaked, If someday the game comes to the end in a dreamy night,
        Forget me not.
        If someday on an autumn morning my mission is concerned –
        Forget me not.
        If after recalling the corner of the eyes do not seem to be sopping –
        Forget me not.

        Listen the song in youtube channel :

        All the best ! Have a nice time!

  7. Andrej

    27/03/2016 at 3:23 PM

    Thank you so much!
    No, I don’t know Bengali, I bought all the films at INDUNA.COM, with English translations. If I was younger I would immediately fly to Shantiniketan to study and live there. Now I feel it is too late, perhaps in next life…

    Still please, could you tell me which book of poems of Rabindranath Tagore includes most of poems of love. Is it Gardener, Crescent moon…? I have his superbe Gitanjali, but now after I have read so much about the tragedy of love and friendship with Kadambari devi, I would like to have poems where there are most reminiscences of that love, although hidden.

    I tell you, almost nothing has made me so completely sad in this life as that tragic love story.

    • Subhankar Kundu

      05/03/2017 at 1:42 AM

      Hi Andrej, you know so much of Bengal tradition, culture and history..I am sharing another version of my favourite song “Tobu Mone Rekho” with the english translation…hope you will like it..Regards, Subhankar

    • Subhankar Kundu

      05/03/2017 at 1:43 AM

      • Andrej Segula Ilic

        05/03/2017 at 7:26 AM

        Oh, thank you. I also found it on Youtube. Whenever I hear and see it, it strucks my heart. I am sure that “Robi” and Kadambari met in the world beyond, and that he being an enlightened soul could save her from the great sorrow.

  8. Gayle Alstrom

    03/04/2016 at 1:37 AM

    Very interesting story. I’m an admirer of Tagore.

  9. ranu802

    03/04/2016 at 2:32 PM

    Thank you for this story. 🙂

    • Anil

      03/04/2016 at 3:16 PM

      You are most welcome!

    • Anil

      06/05/2016 at 8:58 PM

      Thank you so much for the link with my post.

  10. ranu802

    07/07/2016 at 8:42 PM

    Thank you for visiting and commenting. I read your post of Tagore and Kadambari Devi, It’s not surprising they loved each others company, they were almost the same age and perhaps had similar likes and dislikes. It was sad his sister-in-law committed suicide when Tagore got married.

    • Anil

      07/07/2016 at 8:53 PM

      Thanks for stopping by and reading the post!

  11. dr.geeta

    21/10/2016 at 4:03 PM

    true.i have read a lot about tagore and his relationship with kadambari devi and many English women later.TAGORE expirenced many deaths in his life his sis in law his children his wife…all these things made tagore that world knows. i have visited calcutta and shantiniketan. i started my schooling from calcutta la martin’s and years later married a Bengali.Iam doctorate in psychology and human relations have intrested and intrigued me alot

    • Anil

      21/10/2016 at 8:21 PM

      Thank you so much for your visit to my blog . Glad that you read the post and left with your valuable comments. Thanks again!

  12. Kripa

    08/12/2016 at 4:13 PM

    Wow shocking n yet informative, untouched info thanks a ton

    • Anil

      08/12/2016 at 4:31 PM

      Thanks for liking!

  13. anjan

    22/02/2017 at 5:09 PM

    Very sad ending of Kadambari. Her drastic action explains her deep affection for Rabi. His pain too can be felt in his writings.

    • Andrej Segula Ilic

      22/02/2017 at 5:50 PM

      Please see song 66 of Gitanjali!

  14. Disha Bhattacharjee

    28/03/2017 at 5:56 PM

    Nice touching end.But I can’t get it whether Tagore too felt for Kadam as deeply as she did.Amal was certainly obsessed with Charu,but perhaps didn’t return her feelings to the same extent.

    • Andrej Segula Ilic

      28/03/2017 at 6:08 PM

      I am sure he did, but not in the same way. He was an enlightened soul, but both were very pure, innocent, ennobled. I think it is difficult to compare the two loves, as which one is deeper. My hope is that Rabindranath met her in afterlife, and helped her in overcoming the sorrow.

      • Anil

        28/03/2017 at 8:16 PM

        Thanks Andrej for your lovely comments.. True that their loves can not be compared and said which one is deeper. Thanks for taking interest and joining the discussion.

    • Anil

      28/03/2017 at 8:07 PM

      Thanks Disha for your thoughtful comments.
      May be but that was between them. But love is such a feeling you cant hide it. That the elders of the house noticed and started searching for a suitable bride for Rabi. For Kadambari there were many reasons for her to be in a close relation with Ravi. She was childless, she adopted a child but died. Her hubby was having relation with another women. Kadambari was too lonely, depressed women and Ravi was only her playmate and she was his inspiration for his works. No wonder if love grew at that young age from such a sweet relation.

  15. Dhirendra Nath Sarkar

    18/04/2017 at 6:39 PM

    Life is stranger than fiction.

  16. Lankeswar shil

    15/11/2017 at 9:15 PM

    A man who lost his mother ….. In the early age than got a friend inspiration hope in the way of sister in law Kadambari Devi she also suicide…. College dropout…… Pain pain pain pain pain “Greatness from the pain”… From my. Childhood love his song…. Ami pagol Robigaan er ….. His is a Magician…… Of words…..

    • Anil

      15/11/2017 at 9:47 PM

      Absolutely right. His songs are like magic to act on the mind. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  17. shadesofsriya

    08/03/2018 at 11:51 PM

    A very well written..Tagore is an intriguing character..


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