Dhondo Keshav Karve was a renowned Indian social reformer who devoted his life in the field of women’s welfare. Due to this, he earned the honorific ‘Maharishi’, meaning great saint, and came to be known as Maharishi Karve. He was also called affectionately as Anna Karve; Anna in Marathi means one’s father or an elder brother.
He also undertook the pioneering work in promoting widows’ education. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Vibhushan in 1955 for his pioneering contributions. Later he was honoured with the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna in 1958, the year of his 100th birthday.
Childhood & Early Life
Dhondo Keshav Karve was born on 18 April 1858, at Sheravali, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. He belonged to a lower middle-class Brahmin family and his father’s name was Keshav Bapunna Karve.
He studied at Elphinstone College, Pune; and received a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.
Beginning of Career as a College Professor
In 1891, Dhondo Keshav Karve began his career as a Professor in Mathematics at the Fergusson College at Pune. He continued this profession till 1914.
He was very much inspired by Pandita Ramabai, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and British educator Herbert Spencer, and wanted to work for the cause of women upliftment and empowerment.
In 1893, he founded ‘Widhawa-Wiwahottejak Mandali’ which promoted widow remarriage and also took care of their children. In 1895, the institution was renamed ‘Widhawa-Wiwaha-Pratibandh-Niwarak Mandali’ or Society for Removal of Restrictions on Re-marriages of Widows.
Opened First School in India for Widows
In 1896, he established the first school for widows. Hindu Widows’ Home Association was a shelter and a school for widows. His 20 year old widowed sister-in-law Parvatibai Athvale was the first student of the school.
The school was located in the remote village of Hingane, outside the city of Pune. The remote location was chosen because the orthodox Brahmin community in Pune had banished him for supporting widow remarriage and education. Moreover, he also had the courage at that time to marry a widow.
He had limited financial resources, so he walked from Hingane to Fergusson College to teach, for several years. Despite facing opposition and criticism, he collected small funds to run the school.
In 1907, he established a ‘Mahila Vidyalaya’, School for Women. In 1908, he started ‘Nishkam Karma Math’ for training inmates of the the widows’ home and the Mahila Vidyalaya.
First University for Women
In 1916, he established the first university for women in India, taking inspiration from the Women’s University in Tokyo, Japan. The university was started in Pune with five students.
In 1917, he established a Training College for Primary School Teachers and another school for girls called ‘Kanya Shala’.
In 1920, Vithaldas Thackersey, a philanthrophic industrialist donated Rs. 1.5 million to the women’s university. As a mark of gratitude, the university was renamed ‘Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (S.N.D.T.) Indian Women’s University’. Later in In 1931, the S.N.D.T. University opened its first college in Mumbai, and later shifted its head office to Mumbai. In 1949, the Government of India recognized S.N.D.T. University as a statutory university.
His Other Contributions
In March 1929, he visited England to attend the Primary Teachers’ Conference, and spoke on “Education of Women in India” in a meeting of East India Association at Caxton Hall, London.
In December 1930, he went for a yearlong tour to Africa. He shared the women’s education issues in Mombasa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and other countries.
In 1936, he started the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society to establish primary schools in villages.
In 1944, he founded the ‘Samata Sangh’ or the Association for the Promotion of Human Equality. He supported the abolition of caste system and untouchability in the Hindu society.
Karve was married when he was only fourteen years old to an eight year old girl called Radhabai. This customary child marriage was arranged by his parents. In 1891, his wife died during childbirth. His son named Raghunath Karve grew up to become a social reformer like his father and also became a professor of Mathematics.
In 1893, he married a widow Godubai, who widowed at the age of eight. The couple had three sons Shankar, Dinakar, and Bhaskar. Shankar became a doctor and settled in Kenya. Dinkar, professor of chemistry, later became the Principal of Fergusson College. Bhaskar worked at the Hingane ‘Stree Shikshan Samstha’.
Karve wrote two autobiographies; Ātmawrutta (1928) in Marathi, and Looking Back (1936) in English.
Maharishi Karve died on 9 November 1962, in Pune, his hometown; at the age of 104.
Awards and Recognitions
Maharishi Karve has been awarded Doctor of Letters (D. Litt.) from Banaras Hindu University in 1942, D.Litt. by Pune University in 1951, D.Litt. by S.N.D.T. University in 1954, and LL.D. by University of Mumbai in 1957.
In 1955, he was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of India; and on his birth centenary on 1958 he was awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India, by the Government of India.
In 1958, on his birth centenary, the Government of India issued commemorative stamps for the first time featuring a living person on the stamp.
His statues have adorned many prominent places and many roads have been named after him including the Queen’s Road in Mumbai, which was renamed Maharishi Karve Road.
His legacy of championing the cause of women’s education and widow remarriage in the early 20th century and his fight against the caste system and untouchability, lives on in the heart of every generation in India.