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Dhondo Keshav Karve

Dhondo Keshav Karve
Born (1858-04-18)18 April 1858
Murud, Dapoli, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra
Died 9 November 1962(1962-11-09) (aged 104)
Pune, India

Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve (18 April 1858 – 9 November 1962), popularly known as Maharishi Karve, was a social reformer in India in the field of women's welfare. In honour of Karve, Queen's Road in Mumbai (Bombay) was renamed to Maharishi Karve Road

Karve continued the pioneering work of Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule in promoting women's education. The Government of India awarded him its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1958, the year of his 100th birthday.

The appellation Maharshi, which the Indian public often assigned to Karve, means ”a great sage”. He was also sometimes affectionately called "Annā Karve"; in the Marāthi-speaking community to which Karve belonged, the appellation "Annā" is often used to address either one's father or an elder brother.


  • Early life 1
  • First marriage 2
  • Second marriage 3
  • Career as a college professor 4
  • Inspirations 5
  • Social work 6
  • Autobiographical works 7
  • Depictions in popular culture 8
  • Awards and honors 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve was born on 18 April 1858 at Sherawali, Khed Tālukā of Ratnāgiri district in Mahārāshtra. He was a native of Murud in the Konkan region. He was born in a lower middle-class Chitpāvan Brahmin family. His father Keshav Bāpunnā Karve was the Manager of the Estate of Barge of Koregoan in Ratnagiri district on a meagre salary. He had his primary education at Murud, first in a Shenvi school and in a Government school. In his autobiography, he wrote of his struggle to appear at a public service examination, walking 110 miles in torrential rain and difficult terrain to the nearest city of Sātārā, and his shattering disappointment at not being allowed to appear for the examination because "he looked too young".

Karve studied at Elphinstone College in Bombay (Mumbai) to receive a bachelor's degree in mathematics.[1]

First marriage

Karve's parents arranged his marriage when he was 14 to an 8-year-old girl named Radhabhai.

Radhabhai died in 1891 during childbirth at age 27, leaving behind a young son named Raghunath Karve. Raghunath became a visionary social reformer who was one of the first Indians to work in the field of birth control.

Second marriage

Reformatory thoughts concerning the then prevalent harsh social mores against womankind, (because of the British imposition of their laws which abolished women's traditional inheritance, made women take up their husbands' or fathers' names, etc.) stated above, were already stirring up the mind of Karve by the time Radhabai died. Implementing his own reformatory thoughts with extraordinary courage, two years later he chose as his second wife a widow—a 23-year-old widow named Godubāi—rather than an unmarried girl whom he could have easily arranged to secure as his new wife according to the prevalent social mores. Godubai, had been widowed at age 8 within three months of her marriage even before she knew, as she would say later, what it was to be a wife. Before marrying Karve, Godubai had started studying in her early twenties at Pandita Ramabai’s pioneering Shāradā Sadan as its first widow student, and had also displayed equal courage, like Karve, in defying social mores against remarriages by widows.[2][3]

Career as a college professor

During 1891–1914, Karve taught mathematics at Fergusson College in Pune, Maharashtra.[4]


The work of Pandita Ramabai inspired Karve to dedicate his life to the cause of female education, and the work of Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar inspired him to work for uplifting the status of widows. Writings of Herbert Spencer had also highly influenced him.

Social work

When Karve had started his shelter and school for women, including widows, in 1896, he had to start it in the remote village of Hingane outside the city of Pune because the dominant orthodox Brahmin community in the city had ostracized him for his reformatory activities. (Karve himself belonged to the Brahmin community.) With his meager resources, for many years Karve would walk several miles from Hingane to the city of Pune to teach mathematics at Fergusson College and also collect in his spare time paltry donations from a few progressive donors, even as some others from the orthodox community would openly hurl insulting epithets at him when he went around to spread the word of his emancipatory work and collect donations.

Karve's 20-year-old widowed sister-in-law, Parvatibai Athavale, was the first to join his school. After finishing her education, she joined him as the first woman superintendent of the Hindu Widows' Home Association.

After reading information about Japan Women's University in Tokyo, Japan, Karve felt inspired[3] to establish in 1916 in Pune the first university for women in India, with five students.

During 1917–1918, Karve established the Training College for Primary School Teachers, and another school for girls, Kanyā Shālā.

In 1920, an industrialist and philanthropist from Mumbai, Vithaldas Thackersey, donated Karve's university 1.5 million Indian rupees—a substantial sum in those days—and the university was then renamed Shreemati Nāthibāi Dāmodar Thāckersey (SNDT) Indian Women’s University.

In March 1929, Karve left for a tour of England. He attended the Primary Teachers' Conference at Malvern, and spoke on "Education of Women in India" at a meeting of the East India Association at Caxton Hall, London. From 25 July to 4 August 1929, he attended an educational conference in Geneva, and spoke on "The Indian Experiment in Higher Education for Women." From 8 to 21 August, he attended in Elsinor the international meeting of educators under the auspices of the New Education Fellowship.

During a subsequent tour of America, Karve lectured at various forums on women's education and social reforms in India. He also visited the Women's University in Tokyo. He returned to India in April 1930.

In December 1930, Karve left for a fifteen-month tour of Africa to spread information about his work for women in India. He visited Mombasa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Portuguese East Africa, and South Africa, England, America, Switzerland.

In 1931, the SNDT university established its first college in Mumbai, and moved its headquarters to Mumbai five years later.

In 1936, Karve started the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society with the goal of opening primary schools in villages which had no schools run by the District Local Boards. He also encouraged maintenance of reading habits of adults in villages. In 1944, he founded the Samatā Sangh (Association for the Promotion of Human Equality).

In 1949, the Government of India recognized SNDT University as a statutory university.

Besides dedicating his life to the emancipation of women in India, Karve stood for the abolition of the caste system and the curse of untouchability in Hindu society.

Karve had four sons: Raghunath, Shankar, Dinkar, and Bhāskar. All of them rose to eminence in their own fields of work. Raghunath Karve was a professor of mathematics and a pioneer in sex education and birth control in India. Dinkar was a professor of chemistry and later on Principal of Fergusson college and an eminent educationist; Dinkar's wife, Irawati Karve, was an anthropologist, an eminent author and a leading sociologist of India. Bhaskar and his wife Kāveri worked in Hingane Stree Shikshan Samstha in various leading capacities. His second son, Shankar Karve spent most of his professional life as an eminent doctor in the city of Mombasa, in the then British colony of Kenya. On his 80th birthday, the Kenyan government issued a postage stamp in his honour.

Raghunath published a health magazine, especially promoting sex education and birth control. Dinkar wrote a book titled "The New Brahmans: Five Maharashtrian Families" in which he profiled his father along with other Brahmin reformers, and coauthored a book titled A History of Education in India and Pakistan (1964). Irawati wrote a sociological book in Marathi and a compilation of her essays.[5]

In 1958, Government of India issued stamps commemorating the birth centenary of Dhondo Keshav Karve.[6] After India's independence, it was the first time a "living person" was on the issued stamps.

Autobiographical works

Karve wrote two autobiographical works: Ātmawrutta (1928) in Marathi, and Looking Back (1936) in English. He ended the latter with the words: Here I end the story of my life. I hope this simple story will serve some useful purpose.

Depictions in popular culture

The Marathi play "Himalayachi Saavli" (The Shadow of the Himalayas) by Vasant Kanetkar, published in 1972, is loosely based on the life of Karve. The character of Nanasaheb Bhanu is a composite character based on Karve and other Marathi social reformers of the late 19th and early 20th century. The play itself depicts the tension between Bhanu/Karve's public life as a social reformer and his family life due to the social backlash and economic hardships his children and wife had to endure.

The film "DhayasaParva" by Amol Palekar, based on the life of Karve's son Raghunath, also depicts the Karve family, and their social reformation projects.[7]

Awards and honors


External links

  • MKSSS Education Trust
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