1550 – 1600
Chandrabati stands out as one of the most extraordinary female figures of 15th century Bengal. She was the daughter of a renowned and loved Hindu Brahmin bard, Bansidas. Her father taught her to read and write as well as the rules of poetics, which she mastered at a young age. Raised to view herself as an equal in all things to men, Chandrabati was vocal and bold.
An important turning point in her life and career was the marriage of her first and only sweetheart, Joychandra to another girl. The lasting impression of the heartbreak led her to seek refuge in solitude and to focus on strongly feminist writing. As a dramatic testament to her intention she asked her father to build her a temple where she could spend her life praying and writing.
Chandrabati’s most formidable literary achievement was her interpretation of the classic epic poem Ramayana from the female protagonists point of view. In her version, the central character is Princess Sita, who is positioned not as a victim (as in the original work) but as a strong and determined woman who resists the violence of the men around her, and stands out as an example of wisdom in the ensuing madness.
Her many contributions to Bengali literature include Sundari Malua and Dasyu Kenaram, works that stand out as strong feminist narratives. Chandrabati gave voice and agency to all who suffered under the strictly regimented and conservative patriarchy. Her story teaches us the power of storytelling and philosophy in changing society from the inside out.