Often introduced as Rabindranath’s niece, Sarala deserves attention in herown right. Her mother, Swarnakumari
Devi, was the first woman delegate to a Congress session (1899). Swarnakumarialso edited the Bengali monthly,
Bharati; Sarala also was its editor for awhile.In 1902, the year which saw the birthof Anushilan Samiti, Bengal’s earliest
revolutionary group, Sarala set up agymnasium at 26 Ballyganj CircularRoad in South Calcutta. The movement
was preceded by the formation ofgymnasiums and other centres of
physical training (lathi and dagger play) at several places. These centreslater developed into secret revolutionary groups.
Sarala’s centre must have attractedwide attention because Jatin Banerjee, Aurobindo’s emissary from Baroda, met
her on his arrival in Calcutta. Aurobindo,then settled in Baroda, had sent Banerjee with the object of forming asecret group in Bengal.
In 1902 Sarala Devi also introduced Birastami, a ritualistic initiation ceremony with religious overtones, and
started Pratapaditya Utsav in 1903 onthe lines of Shivaji Utsav introduced
by B. G. Tilak in Maharastra. She also played an instrumental role in the formation of Suhrid Samiti in 1900. This was a new revolutionary organisation based at Mymensingh (now in Bangladesh).
Sarala, however, differed with Jatin Banerjee and other organisers over the question of dacoity as a fundraising means and kept away from Anushilan Samiti.1 This is probably the reason why
intelligence reports on secret societies during this period make little mention of her role. One list of clubs and samitis connected with the Swadeshi movement (1905-11) includes Sarala Devi’s “Fencing Club”, obviously a reference to her Ballyganj gymnasium. Sarala’s association with the movement actually ended with her marriage in 1905 to Rambhaj Dutta, a Punjabi Arya Samajist. After marriage Sarala left
Bengal; however, she continued with her social activities and set up Bharat Stri Maha Mandal around 1910-11 to spread education among women. One reason for Sarala’s interest in revolutionary politics is revealed in a quote from her memoir Jivaner Jharapata. What pained her most was the “cowardice- the blot on Bengal’s forehead”. Hers was an attempt to “wipe it off” (p. 136). Sarala during this time
wrote a hard-hitting article Bilati Ghusi Banam Deshi Kil (Foreign Blows vs Native Fists, Bharati/ Asar 13lOb, June- July 1903). In the article she gave an account of various cases of Indians’