Google is celebrating the 115th birth anniversary of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, known as aesthetic queen and doyenne of handicrafts movement in India, with a doodle. Born on April 3, 1903 in Mangalore, she was the fourth and youngest daughter of Ananthaya Dhareshwar, then District Collector of Mangalor. Since her childhood, Chattopadhyay was a quick learner, exceptionally talented student and full of determination to achieve her goals. Her father being a government officers had befriended many prominent freedom fighters and intellectuals such as Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and women leaders like Ramabai Ranade, and Annie Besant, this made young Chattopadhyay an early enthusiast of the swadeshi nationalist movement.
When she was seven year old, her father passed away without leaving a will and as per the property laws of the times, the entire property went to her step brother and thereafter her struggle started. Later on she wrote in her book that “women had no rights”. At the age of fourteen she married, but was widowed two years later.
While studying at Queen Mary’s College, Chennai she came in contact with well-known poet-playwright-actor Harindranath Chattopadhyay. Due to their shared interest in arts, at the age of 20, they married. Shortly after the marriage, she went to London. There she earned diploma in Sociology from the Bedford College, University of London (now known as Royal Holloway).
But after becoming aware about Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, she returned to India and joined Seva Dal, a Gandhian organisation set up to promote social upliftment. After three year in 1926, she met the founder of All India Women’s Conference Margaret Cousins who inspired her to run for a Legislative seat which she lost by 55 votes but became the first woman to run for a Legislative seat in India.
But above all, her mesmerising contribution came in the form of aesthetic. She was the force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, handlooms, and theatre and upliftment of the socio-economic standard of Indian women by pioneering the co-operative movement. She played defining role in the establishment of National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Central Cottage Industries Emporium, the Crafts Council of India and India International Centre (IIC).
And, that is why today most of us relate her as someone who revived the Indian handicrafts, became the country’s best-known expert on carpets, puppets, and its thousands of craft traditions, and nurtured the greater majority of the country’s national institutions charged with the promotion of dance, drama, art, theatre, music, and puppetry.
She also acted in two silent films – ‘Mricchakatika'(Vasantsena) in 1931 based on the famous play by Shudraka, also starring Yenakshi Rama Rao, and directed by pioneering Kannada director, Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani. In her second stint in films she acted in a 1943 Hindi film, Tansen, also starring K. L. Saigal and Khursheed, followed by Shankar Parvati in 1943, and Dhanna Bhagat in 1945.
Chattopadhyay was a prolific writer, and her 20 odd books furnish unimpeachable evidence of the wide array of her intellectual and political interests, and a global outlook which shunned alike a narrow nationalism and a superficial cosmopolitanism. She extensively travelled and wrote books on various issues and countries.
In 1955, government conferred Padma Bhushan and later the Padma Vibhushan in 1987. In 1966, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award. She was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, Ratna Sadsya in 1974. UNESCO honoured her with an award in 1977 for her contribution towards the promotion of handicrafts. On October 29, 1988 at the age of 85, she passed away.