Poetry and Democracy

Sarojini Naidu was a poet who was known as the Nightingale of India. She was born into an elite family as the oldest of eight children. Sarojini completed her university exam when she was 12. She attended college in England for advanced degrees.

Sarojini was an advocate for civil rights and women’s emancipation including the right to vote. She also fought for India’s independence from England. Sarojani used her creative ability to espouse her beliefs. She began writing when she was 12 years old. She was 26 years old when she had her first collection of poems published.

Sarojini’s most famous poem, In the Bazaars of Hyderabed, was written when she was in her early 30’s. You can read the poem here. The poem asks vendors at the bazaar about what they have to offer. Over 5 stanzas, she makes the point that Indian citizens do not have to look outside the country for their needs. This was part of her effort to establish Indian independence.

Sarojini was a compatriot of Mahatma Gandhi. She traveled widely to advocate for the causes she believed in. She was arrested frequently along with Gandhi and Nehru. In total she spent close to two years in jail.

She was also President of the Indian National Congress succeeding Mahatma Gandhi. Once India gained its independence, Sarojini was appointed as a Governor of one of the Indian provinces. She was the first woman in a high level executive position. She continued to serve as Governor until her death. Sarojini’s birthday, February 13th, is now recognized as Women’s Day in India.

Sarojini is another example of how an artist can bring the concept of democracy to people who have not experienced independence and personal freedom. Her poems gave Indian citizens the imagery of democracy and how to attain it.

What is particularly remarkable about Sarojini’s life was that she could have led a charmed existence. She chose instead to fight for the rights of all Indians. She used her poetic skills to convey the need for independence. Her art became a force for democracy.

Just imagine why creativity and activism are often linked together in one person? Just imagine how art can convey messages for democratic ideals that often are more effective than direct appeals? Just imagine how art can often leave us with perspective that affects how we understand the intangibles such as freedom and independence.

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“To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.”– Joseph Beuys (Artist, Teacher)

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