Tag Archive | Tagore’s letters

Madhurilata Tagore and her father Part 2


  Rathindranath(boy on left), Madhurilata(seated), Meera and Renuka


The groom’s family agreed to lower their demand for a dowry to Rupees ten thousand from the ir previous demand for Rupees twenty thousand.

23rd March 1901 – we find the financially stretched desperate poet writing to Priyanath Sen;

“It is difficult to say anything about Bela’s dowry. I will try to come up with the sum of ten thousand rupees. That will be in cash and in instalments. This arrangement will not suit me but I will have to agree to it if the need arises. There is very little cash and my father will never agree to the proposal of taking out a loan; thus I cannot raise the topic of a large dowry at this point in time. My father usually blesses the newly married couples with about four to five thousand rupees the day after the wedding has been held. No one has ever needed to remind him about this. I cannot broach the demand for twenty thousand rupees with him at all.”

The desperation of a father pushed the poet to write to Sen again on 24th March;

“I have written to you explicitly clarifying my position regarding the dowry. I feel it is futile to make any efforts where I know they will come to naught. I am not prepared to take on this task at the expense of angering my father and displeasing my family members.”

It is clear that he had to discuss the dowry demands in great detail. Letters of this time speak of talks with the groom’s brothers and the reduction of the sum to half the original amount stated.

But the situation came to an impasse over when the money would be handed over to the groom’s family. At this point Rabindranath Tagore himself decided to appeal to the prospective groom’s sense of fairness and wrote to him in secret. This letter was dated 24th April, 1901. A fuller understanding of the anguish the poet had to bear as a result of these negotiations is easily gained by reading the letter.


Shilaidaha, Kumarkhali, EBSR


Your late father was a close friend of our family. He held me in the kind of affection one feels for a brother and thus I feel I have the right to address you in this familiar manner.

Priyanath Sen has presented you with a proposal to marry my daughter; I have seen your letters regarding the matter and discussions have been held with your brothers.                             

I was keen about the proposed alliance for various reasons and would count myself as fortunate if this marriage was to take place. But I feel that I must discuss the issue with you instead of sitting back in silence, since if this marriage should take place by the grace of God, the relationship between us will be continuous and our mutual happiness and fortune or lack thereof will be celebrated together.

My father gifts all the new members of our family with a dowry on the day after the wedding. I do not wish to repeat the amount of dowry that has been decided upon after discussions. But I must raise a point with you that is related to this gift. I hope you will accept this with generosity.

According to the custom of our family, the son-in-laws must adopt the Brahmo faith a day or two before the marriage. When your brother Avinash suggested at Priyanath Sen’s house that the dowry should be given to you on the day you convert to the Brahmo religion, I had agreed to the suggestion without giving It any further thought. When I told my father about this that night, he expressed great astonishment and said, ‘The couple will be given the dowry as a gift and blessing, but why is the dowry being demanded before the wedding has taken place? Do they not trust me?’

I could not give him a suitable answer and it was immediately apparent to me that the demand showed disrespect and insulted my father.

I am coming to you with this information without going through the usual channels. This is because I feel that it is not your intention to cause us the shame and anguish we have felt. If we are to establish any future relationship it cannot begin on a foundation of suspicion and disrespect. That would only cause hurt and insult further down the line. I will make my final decision only after hearing from you.

If any of your relations are irritated because I wrote to you directly about all this then I hope you will think over the situation and not misunderstand me.

Irrespective of whether my wishes are fulfilled regarding the marriage, I hope you accept my most sincere blessings.


Sri Rabindranath Thakur                                                                  11th Baishakh, 1308


Madhurilata Tagore and her father Part 1

Rabindranath Tagore’s eldest daughter Madhurilata was born on the 25th of October 1886, in Jorasanko. Tagore was twenty six years old while her mother Mrinalini was thirteen.

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The young parents with Bela                                                     Tagore with Mrinalini



His niece Indira Devi described Madhurilata whose nickname was Bela as a wax doll, a ‘momer putul’, writing, ‘Among Ravikaka’s children Bela alone has inherited his complexion.

His sister-in-law Jnanadanandini, Satyendranath Tagore’s wife took them to her own residence in Park Street so that mother and baby could be given the latest in care.

Tagore described his daughter with much tenderness. He helped to bathe her himself while in the Park Street house. Later on while they were in Darjeeling, he wrote about waking her up for her night feeds of warmed up milk. ‘She would seize upon children of her own age with cries of delight.’

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Tagore with Bela and Rathi                                                Tagore with Bela



He published ‘Kori o Kamal’ when she was about a month old.

Tagore wrote to his friend Srishchandra Majumdar, ‘My daughter has been given a name the day before yesterday. Her name is Madhurilata.’ There was some fanfare at the Rice ceremony on 25th July 1887, which cost about Rs 371 at the time. He wrote for her the following song:


ওহে    নবীন অতিথি, তুমি   নূতন কি তুমি চিরন্তন।

যুগে যুগে কোথা তুমি ছিলে সঙ্গোপন॥

যতনে কত-কী আনি   বেঁধেছিনু গৃহখানি,

হেথা কে তোমারে বলো করেছিল নিমন্ত্রণ॥

কত আশা ভালোবাসা গভীর হৃদয়তলে

ঢেকে রেখেছিনু বুকে কত হাসি-অশ্রুজলে।

একটি না কহি বাণী   তুমি এলে মহারানী,

কেমনে গোপনে মনে করিলে হে পদার্পণ॥


Youthful guest of mine, are you new or are you eternal?

Where were you hidden through the ages?

I have gathered much with care to make this a home

Tell me who was the one who invited you here?

In the deepest recesses of my heart with much hope and love

I shelter you with tears and laughter.

You came without a word, Queen of mine,

How did you enter my heart without me knowing?

(Translation, mine)


A portrait in pastels was commissioned by the artist J. Archer for the sum of Rs 400 which was slightly more than 400,000 rupees at today’s value.

Much later, Tagore would write to his wife from onboard a ship headed for Aden on his way to England of an astonishing experience he had had; ‘On Sunday night I felt just as though my soul had left my body and gone to Jorasanko. You were lying on one side of a large bed and Beli and Rathi(Khoka) lay beside you. I kissed them both and came back.

It is worth remembering here that the poem ‘Jetey nahi dibo’, ‘I will not let you go’, which has been described as the shortest epic poem in Indian literature was full of reminiscences of the six year old Bela. He observed that she would be a very affectionate and unassuming girl when she grew older.


I will not let you go

‘I look at the clock, and then turn to

Look at her, saying softly,

‘And now I leave.’ Suddenly she turns

Head inclined as the end of her sari hides

The tears that threaten bad luck.

Outside by the door pensive in thought

My daughter aged four. By now

On any other day she would have been bathed

She falls asleep as soon as she is fed.

Today her mother has not given her a thought

She has been my shadow, silent and constant.

She was watching wordless and unblinking

The preparations for departure. Who knows

What she thought as she sat quietly at the door.

When I said, “Now I go, Little Mother’

She said sad eyed, dully, ‘I will not let you go.’

She stayed where she was, seated,

She did not hold my arm, nor bar the door,

She just stated the rights of love and said,

‘I will not let you go.’ But still that time came

To an end and, still alas

You had to let go.

Oh unknowing child of mine

Who are you? Where from have you

Gathered the power to say such words,

With such spirit –

‘I will not let you go.’ In all the worlds

Who will you hold back with your tiny arms

What pride, as you protest from your seat

By the door, your tired little frame

All your strength in that heart beating with love.

From that pain, with much fear and shame

The stating of a wish is all that one can do

‘I do not feel like letting go.’ Who can say?.

‘I will not let you go.’ Hearing this from your lips

Proud declaration of love, Life

Draws me away with an amused smile.

You just look on, defeated eyes brimming

Sitting at the door like a picture,

I came away wiping my tears.’

(Translation, mine)


The letter of 28th February 1897 indicates that Tagore was not in Calcutta at the time. Madhurilata wrote, ‘When will you come to Kolkata? Miss Lincoln does not tutor us now, she says that the doctor has told her she is very weak and must not teach anymore.’

We see a delightful image of sisterly affection from a letter of 29th May, 1899. Bela writes,

You have told me that I must feed Rathi and help him put on weight. I fed him kheer and the pureed Bombai mangoes today. But he does not listen to me, not even as an older sister. He must be made to call me Big sister from now. I will try hard to do all the things you have written about. I will believe in God. Believe me Father  I will try very hard to be good. I will not be able to be as clever and good as Didiya but I will try as much as I can.’

In May 1900, Tagore heard about the marriage of a friend’s daughter and wrote to Srishchandra M, ‘Mainu is Bela’s age. She is growing up too.’

Priyanath Sen brought news of a good prospective groom. Tagore had met Sen shortly after Sandhyasangeet was published and held him in high regard. Priyanath was a scholar who was described as a ‘sailor of the seven seas’ because of his knowledge of Bengali, English, French and Italian. He lived at 8 Mathur Sen Garden Lane.



Priyanath Sen


The groom was Sarat Kumar Chakravarti. The family was not unfamiliar to Tagore as the groom’s father was the poet Biharilal Chakravarti. Sarat was the third son of the family. He was sixteen years older than Bela. He was a great scholar. After being schooled at Hindu School, he came first in both English and Philosophy at Presidency College for which he received the Ishan scholarship, the Hemantakumar medal and the Keshabchandra Sen medal. He was first in his MA class in 1895 and after gaining a B.L the following year, began practicing as a lawyer in Mujaffarpore in Bihar.

Initially Priyanath spoke to Sarat’s mother Kadambari Devi and his eldest brother Avinash Chakravarti. In July 1900, Tagore wrote to Sen, ‘Now do all you can to take the negotiations towards fruition. He was prepared to go to Kolkata if it was required.

Another letter gives us a look at the financial situation the poet found himself in.

I have debts of Rs 5000 after building my house. There are some other small debts as well. Would it be possible to find a buyer who would pay Rs 6000 for my books and the copyrights to the poetry written so far?’

Reminder after reminder followed. Priyanath Sen indicated that he was not having any luck with the eldest brother Avinash.

Yesterday he was meant to see me again, but he did not do so…’

Tagore was understandably impatient as is evident from letter after letter addressed to Priyanath.

In August: ‘I am urging myself to be patient.’

And again: ‘Any hope of Sarat (marrying Bela) seems to be clouded with despair just like the sunshine of the season.’

17th August, 1900: ‘Do you still harbor hopes about Sarat? I have given up on that quarter for quite some time now .’

On the 19th of August, Priyanath Sen wrote:

I have not forsaken our hopes for Sarat completely. He dearly wishes that this marriage takes place. He will take part only when he receives his mother’s consent. He does not wish to secure his own happiness at the expense of that of his mother. Let us see what happens.

There is an undated letter where Tagore expressed his doubts about Sarat being able to convince his own mother to agree to the marriage since he himself had never seen Bela.

The following year talks resumed between Tagore and the groom’s elder brothers, Avinash and Rishibor.




To be continued: