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The First Indian to Join the I.C.S. (Satyendranath Tagore Biography)

The First Indian to Join the I.C.S. (Satyendranath Tagore Biography)

Satyendranath Tagore hailed from the famous Tagore family of Calcutta (which has now been renamed as Kolkata). The Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore was his uncle. Satyendranath Tagore was Debendranath Tagore’s second son. Debendranath Tagore was Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother.

Satyendranath Tagore became first Indian who cracked I.C.S. or Indian Civil Service examination. In this article or short biography (as we prefer to call it), we will look at the life and career of Satyendranath Tagore. But before we start with the same, let us take a tabular look at the highlights of his life.

Date of BirthJune 1, 1842
Place of BirthCalcutta (now Kolkata), India
NationalityIndian
Father’s NameDebendranath Tagore
Famous Person in FamilyRabindranath Tagore (Nobel Laureate)
Date of DeathJanuary 9, 1923
Place of DeathCalcutta, India
Important AchievementBecame first Indian to crack Indian Civil Service
Associated WithBrahmo Samaj
Name of WifeJnanadanandini Devi
Other Important Connections●        Mary Carpenter

●        Michael Madhusudan Dutta

●        Monomohun Ghose

Okay, now that we have a quick snapshot of his life, let us take a more detailed look into the same. Ready?

Early Life and Education of Satyendranath Tagore

Satyendranath Tagore was born in Calcutta’s Tagore family’s Jorasanko branch. His father was Debendranath Tagore, who in turn was Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother. Since childhood, Satyendranath received Sanskrit as well as English education at his home. He was a bright student and studied in the famous Hindu School of Calcutta.

In 1857, the first entrance exam for University of Calcutta was held and Satyendranath was among the first students’ batch to appear for that exam. Because of his educational excellence, he managed to pass the entrance exam with first division. This opened up doors for Presidency College for him.

Two years after he joined Presidency College, he was married to Jnanadanandini Devi. It was pretty customary to get married early and Satyendranath was no exception. That very same year (i.e. 1859) he travelled to Ceylon (which has now been renamed as Sri Lanka) with his father Debendranath Tagore and another person named Keshub Chandra Sen.

Satyendranath Into Indian Civil Service

Satyendranath Tagore became the first Indian person to crack Indian Civil Service.

You have a question here, don’t you? Yes, Indian Civil Service were meant only for British people. Only Brits were allowed to take up covenanted posts. However, things started to change over time. Here is a quick tabular presentation of the changes that took place in early 19th century:

1832Sadar amin and munsif posts created and Indians allowed
1833Deputy collector and deputy magistrate posts created and Indians allowed
1853An act was passed which allowed covenanted civilians to be recruited through competitive exams
1861ICS Act passed which formally established what became known as Indian Civil Service

Though Indians were later allowed to participate in Indian Civil Service competitive examinations, it was required that Indians should travel to England and there, they need to compete directly against Brits. This was one hell of a daunting task.

Satyendranath was not sure about himself but his friend Monomohun Ghose gave him the necessary support and encouragement. The end result was that Satyendranath eventually sailed for England. He went to England in year 1862 and then prepared for the competitive examinations. He was a brilliant student and managed to crack Indian Civil Service in June 1863. Once he was selected, he had to stay there for another year to complete probationary training. Once the training was completed, he returned back to India in year 1864.

After returning to India, Satyendranath was initially posted at Bombay Presidency. Back then Bombay Presidency included western parts of Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra (in today’s demographic context).

However, he was posted in Bombay Presidency for a period of only 4 months. After that he was sent to Ahmedabad, which was his active posting. From there, he kept on travelling to different parts of India and in the process, he learned several languages. He stayed in service for a total of 30 years and eventually retired from ICS in 1897. He was Judge of Satara, Maharashtra when he retired.

During his extensive travel across India, many of his family members went to visit him and stayed with him for sometime. Even Rabindranath Tagore visited him and stayed.

During his service years, Satyendranath Tagore actively participated in Brahmo Samaj activities in whichever region he was posted.

Satyendranath Tagore’s Role in Women’s Emancipation

The plight of Indian women was not good back in those days. It is not that the conditions are really good today but back in those days, situation was worse. Women had to follow purdah system, they were married before they could reach puberty, they did not have any property rights, they were illiterate. When their husbands died, they have to die according to sati traditions. It was barbaric and cruel. Sati was eventually abolished in 1829 and Satyendranath never had to witness that cruel tradition.

However, what he witnessed was the purdah system. When he went to England, he saw the freedom of British women and realized that India too needs a radical change. As the saying goes – charity begins at home, Satyendranath wanted to take his wife Jnanadanandini Devi to England. However, it was opposed by Debendranath Tagore.

So, instead of taking her to England, Satyendranath took her to Bombay and made her dress up like British women. Gradually she became liberal. Later Satyendranath returned to Calcutta along with his wife whose dressing had completely changed. This created a lot of sensation.

When they were in Calcutta, they were invited to Government House (Raj Bhavan) party. Satyendranath went there with his wife who dressed up like British women. She was the only Bengali woman in the party. A relative of Satyendranath Tagore whose name was Prasanna Coomar Tagore was also at the party. Prasanna Coomar Tagore belonged to Tagore family’s Pathuriaghata Branch. Upon seeing Satyendranath Tagore’s wife in such attire, he left the party feeling ashamed and angry.

This however didn’t change Satyendranath’s views and eventually he made his sisters give up the purdah system as he look at the system as a reflection of Muslim traditions. Undoubtedly, Satyendranath played a key role in abolishment of purdah system in Indian, specifically Hindu society.

Interestingly Satyendranath Tagore’s wife, Jnanadanandini Devi also made a major contribution. The way Indian women wear sari today was actually invented by her. She was also the one who brought in the notion of using undergarments (for women). She introduced the system of celebrating birthdays of children in the family and also brought in the tradition of giving gifts to kids on their birthdays.

Retirement and Life After That

After Satyendranath retired from ICS, he lived at Park Street and then moved to Ballygunj. His Ballygunj residence became a meeting place for very important figures of Bengal at that time which included names like Behari Lal Gupta, Krishna Govind Gupta, Satyendraprasanna Sinha, Taraknath Palit, Umesh Banerjee, Monomohun Ghose etc. They gathered and discussed over various topics which include Bengali character and Bengali language, chivalry, poetry elements and more. All that was discussed was noted but never released outside the house.

His two children – one son and one daughter went on to become popular figures as well. His son was Surendranath Tagore who was a learned scholar and had excellent command over English. He translated some of Rabindranath Tagore’s work in English language. He even translated portions of Mahabharata in Bengali, producing a condensed version of the epic.

Satyendranath Tagore’s daughter was Indira Devi Choudhurani. She was a French Scholar. She also became Viswa Bharati University’s vice chancellor. She was also an authority figure when it came to music. More specifically, she had authority over Rabindrasangeet.

Death of Satyendranath Tagore

Satyendranath Tagore eventually died in year 1923 before turning 81 years of age. He died in Calcutta.

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