Mausiji – an inspiration to generations of women
A woman is a life giver, a nurturer and a transformer from time immemorial. Lakshmibai Kelkar, fondly called Vandaniya Mausiji, was one such outstanding example. She founded the Rashtra Sevika Samiti with the intent of glorifying Sanatan Dharma and uniting women in an effort to build a national spirit as well as to spread the fundamental and eternal hindu value system; a lady far ahead of her times in perspective. I shall humbly try to do justice to her memory.
Born in the Mahal district of Nagpur in 1905 to Bhaskar Rao Datey, a government servant and Yashodabai, a home-maker, Mausiji was known as Kamal in her childhood. At a time when nationalism was deemed treason, her mother would get newspapers like Kesari by Lokmanya Tilak and arrange for a combined reading for women. Mausiji was greatly inspired by this and her upbringing further inculcated in her a deep sense of nationalism, organizational capability, fearlessness and a dauntless spirit.
A non-conformist according to the times, she was a beautiful and virtuous person inside and out. Disillusioned with the dowry system, she married a well-known advocate, Purushottam Rao of the Kelkar family of Wardha, a widower with two young daughters. She showered them with affection and was the love of her marital home. However, her in-laws, though westernized, put more restrictions on women folk than she was used to in her parental home. But true to her nature, she found loopholes and used her interactions with the other women of the house to encourage them to steer away from frivolous activities. Using her leadership skills she encouraged them towards patriotism and intellectual activities.
She was blessed with children over the years and kept a wonderful balance between her home and her passion for her motherland. By then Gandhiji had set up an ashram in Wardha and consequently political activity grew in the area. Mausiji motivated her sister-in-laws to join her in the freedom struggle. Unfortunately, her husband passed on due to tuberculosis and her elder daughter met with the same fate. She braved the grief and took her family, home and finances in control.
Mausiji laid the foundation for girls’ school where there was none, encouraged education and physical activity for them. Meanwhile her sons joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh where they were taught physical and mental discipline, art of warfare etc. Mausiji observed positive change in them in all aspects. She sought an audience with Dr. Hedgewar and put forth her idea of starting a similar organization for women. Quoting Swami Vivekanand, she tried to convince him of the vitality of women empowerment. Impressed by her philosophy and strength of character, he pledged to support her in an endeavor to set up an ideologically parallel Rashtra Sevika Samiti, autonomous of the men’s sangha.
Foreign bondage had left Indians under-confident of their culture and traditions, so Mausiji started a door-to- door awareness program as a strategy to rekindle the lost glory of Bharat. Encouraged to step out and involve themselves in national service, hundreds enrolled themselves as sevika’s and the Rashtra Sevika Samiti was formally inaugurated on Vijaydashmi day. Shakhas were held to induct new sevika’s and inspire them intellectually as well as equip them with physical strength. Mausiji became a role model, confidante and guide to thousands.
With huge support from her family, she was able to do justice to her duties towards her home as well as the samiti. Once the shakhas were set up, she went on to set up nursery schools as well as small scale industries. Mausiji bravely travelled to Sindh and Karachi and aided many Hindus for safe passage back to India during partition. Gandhiji’s passing saw a ban on the Sangh and Samiti so they lay low for a while. Though in the guise of the wedding ceremony of her son, Mausiji continued to hold inspirational meetings for the sevika’s.
When the bans were lifted, Mausiji realized that the enthusiasm among the sevika’s had waned and had to be rejuvenated. She travelled to various states, addressed people and held discourses in a new direction; based on the Ramayana and its principles of able administration, duty and sacrifice. Women particularly, were encouraged towards courage strength and purity as well as an unfailing sense of duty to family, society and nation.
Mausiji tailor-made fitness programs for women in consultation with health practitioners and doctors. Inspiring stories were compiled and recited at prayer meetings. An organization for physical and mental development of women called Streesjeevan Vikas Parishad was established where eminent personalities addressed the sevika’s. Mausiji began a Marathi publication Sevika, which is published in various languages today as Rashtra Sevika. She also founded Grihini Vidyalaya with vocational courses and training programs to develop natural talent; and Bharatiya Shrividya Niketan to reorganize women’s education based on Indian traditions and culture. She encouraged and inspired many towards the arts through Bhajan Mandals and exhibitions and constructed temples like the Devi Ahalya Mandir at Nagpur and the Ashtabhuja Temple at Wardha. Mausiji began the worship of Goddess Shakti with eight arms depicting the power of women in the form of the Lotus, Bhagvad Gita, Bhagwa Dhwaj, Agni Kund, Bell, Sword and Beads.
Despite her multifaceted duties, she was the epitome of cleanliness, time-management and aesthetics. Averse to sycophancy, empathetic to all and like a mother to her sevika’s, Mausiji had a keen intellect and a photographic memory. With the passage of time she planned various rural and tribal rehabilitation activities.
She passed on after two severe heart attacks on the 27th November of 1978 and the Shree Shakti Peeth where her body was housed en-route to the Ambazari Ghat is now her memorial. Her birth and death anniversaries are celebrated on a grand scale by the Samiti worldwide.
Mausiji life was a saga of strength of character, moral fiber, far-sightedness and mental fortitude in a male- dominated societal set up. Her aim was the establishment of ‘Vasudaivaka Kutumbakam’. She built her dream on the premise that an enlightened woman builds the fiber of society which ensures the grandeur of a nation.
A truly inspiring story that led me to join this vast, all-embracing organization. Am humbled and truly blessed to have stumbled upon this path and been accepted as a part of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti family.
Bharat Mata Ki Jai