Masters of the mystic arts (February, 1881)

Masters of the mystic arts (February, 1881)
This is a photograph of Rabindranath Tagore and his niece Indira Devi in the opera Valmiki-Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki). Rabindranath wrote the libretto and also performed in it as Valmiki. Indira Devi played Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. The opera is based on the legend of Ratnakara the Thug, who later became Sage Valmiki and composed Ramayana.

The show was first performed at the Jorasanko Thakur Bari on February 26, 1881. Many eminent literary personalities of contemporary Bengal, like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Gooroodas Banerjee and Haraprasad Shastri attended the opening.

Much is known about the works of Rabindranath Tagore but little is spoken of his close relationship with his brilliant niece Indira, popularly known as Bibidi. She was born to Satyendranath Tagore and Jnanandanandini Devi on December 29, 1873 in Bijapur where her father worked at the time. In 1877 she went to England with her family. Rabindranath joined them a year later and grew very close to Indira and her brother Surendranath.

Indira married Pramatha Chaudhuri in 1899. She was very musical and played the piano, violin and sitar. She was trained in both Indian classical and Western music from a very early age. First, she studied at Auckland House in Simla and later, at Loretta House in Calcutta. She was one of the first women to do take the BA examination of Calcutta University in 1892. Her diploma in music was from the Trinity College of Music. Indira published journals and books on music and notated around two hundred songs that Rabindranath had composed.

Indira Devi won several awards - the Bhuvanmohini gold medal by Calcutta University in 1944, the Deshikottam by Visva-Bharati University in 1957 and the first Rabindra Award by the Rabindra Bharati Samiti in 1959.

She was also involved in various welfare societies.

She published Bengali translations of Ruskin and of various French books, and published English translations of a number of Rabindranath's poems, stories, and essays. Later on, she authored many papers on music, literature and women's situation in India.

In 1941, Indira Devi began to work at Sangit Bhavana in Santiniketan at her uncle's university. She was later also temporarily appointed as vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati University founded by Tagore.

Rabindranath and Indira Devi wrote many letters full of intellectual and poetic musings to each other, which were published in Chhinnapatravali.

Among Indira Devi's writings are Rabindra Smriti (1959), Rabindra Sangeete Tribeni Sangam (1954), Shruti Smriti, and many edited volumes, for example Narir Ukti (1920), Banglar Stri-Achar (1956), Smriti Katha, Puratani (1957) and Gitapanchashati.

Indira Devi died on August 12, 1960.