Chandrabati

1550 – 1600
‘I have no father, no mother / I was found at the tip of a plough / I don’t know who my parents are / Or who my brother is / Like moss in a stream, I float from shore to shore’

Considered as the first female poet writing in the Bengali language, Chandrabati stands out as one of the most extraordinary female figures of 15th century Bengal. She was the daughter of the renowned Brahmin bard, Bansidas, who raised her as an equal to men in society,  teaching her to read, write, and master the the rules of literature and poetry.

A significant turning point in her life was when her first and only love, Joychandra, married another woman. The heartbreak led her to take refuge in religion and literature. At a time when women weren’t considered to have the ability or authority to write religious books, Chandrabati wrote many significant works of religious literature. Some of her contributions to Bengali literature include Sundari Malua and Dasyu Kenaram, which are prominent feminist narratives. Chandrabati’s most formidable literary achievement was her interpretation of the classic epic poem Ramayana, which she wrote from the female protagonists’ point of view. Her version positioning Sita as a central figure rather than a victim, provides a critical view of Rama and masculine heroism.

Chandrabati gave voice and agency to those who suffered under conservative patriarchy and her life and work demonstrates the power of storytelling in challenging societal norms.