Mataji Maharani Tapaswini, initially called Gangabai, was a Brahmin woman hailing from the Deccan region of British India. She was born in 1835 in Vellore District of Tamil Nadu. She was well versed in Sanskrit language and the sacred scriptures, related to the Hindu religion. Gangabai wanted to propagate a pattern of female education compatible with the Hindu religious and ethical laws. With this intent, she came to Kolkata. Unlike some other reformers of that time, Gangabai believed that Hindu society could be regenerated from within.
Gangabai's Contribution towards the Society
For the sake of saving her motherland, Gangabai left her home and came to Jhansi where she became an intimate companion of Rani Laxmi Bai, who was a distant maternal aunt of hers. Being united with Rani Laxmi Bai, Gangabai bravely fought the rebellion of 1857. After Laxmi Bai's death, Gangabai came to Nepal, in the company of Nana Saheb, and she spent almost 30 years of her life in volatile for practicing the hardest sadhanas, which probably gave her the name of Tapaswini Mata. There she was preparing for her next mission in life, which was carried out in Kolkata.
Formation of Mahakali Pathshala
With the aim of women's education, she came to Kolkata in 1890 and set up the Mahakali Pathshala (Great Mother Kali School) of Bengal. It was founded in 1893 and this school and its many branches have often been said to mirror a "genuine Indian attempt" at developing female education. This school received no financial assistance from foreigners and employed no foreign teachers. Founders of the institution opposed the concept of co-education and the use of one syllabus for both sexes. Their aim was to educate girls on strictly national lines in the hope that they might regenerate the Hindu society. This was a project consistent with those of nationalist revivalists, who did not automatically oppose reformation in the name of resisting colonial knowledge. Despite their differences with the liberal reformers, they too believed in the relationship between progress and female education and looked to a future where Indian women would play a larger role in the affairs of the country. In May 1897, Swami Vivekananda came to visit the Mahakali Pathshala and appreciated Gangabai's effort to establish a new path for developing the women education.
Gangabai's Method of Educating Women
Gangabai's notion of an ideal education for women was translated into a syllabus which included knowledge of sacred literature and history; an understanding of the myths and legends that spoke about the duties of the daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, and mother; and practical skills such as cooking and sewing. This syllabus was praised by Hindu gentlemen of the middle-class who believed that much of the female education which existed at the time demoralized and denationalized young Hindu women. Cooking lessons were especially popular in the light of the prevalent belief that educated girls avoid the kitchen.
Expansion of Mahakali Pathshala
Financial support for this institution grew rapidly and within ten years there were 23 branches with 450 students. As the school expanded, it published its own Bengali and Sanskrit textbooks. Gangabai turned more and more to supervision while the actual administration of the school was left in the hands of an illustrious board of trustees presided over by the Maharaja of Darbhanga, Bengal's largest landlord.
Affiliation of Mahakali Pathshala The Mahakali Pathshala rose to prominence due to the significance it attached to religious studies, homemaking prowess and the Purdah system. In 1948, the Mahakali Pathshala achieved the status of affiliation to the educational authority of the University of Calcutta. The existence and popularity of this school in the early years of the twentieth century was an indicator of the fact that the conservative elements were finally making room for the concept of female education which was fast gaining ground.
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