Women’s history has a facet we must celebrate. Women have been part of Indian stamps for decades. The First Stamp of Independent India was issued on 21 November 1947. The first Indian woman on postage was Mirabai, issued on October 1, 1952 and was for 2 annas. Since then hundreds of Indian women stamps were issued and they commemorated women from history to film actors. Here is a list of stamps issued with women on it and their significance.
The famous devotee of Krishna, Mirabai was the first Indian woman to be on a postal stamp in 1952. Her Bhajans, dedicated to Krishna and her love and devotion to him made her an icon. She was one of the key saints of Bhakti Movement. Her devotion to Krishna was a labour of love, which meant she gave up her royal privileges and paid little attention to duties as a queen.
Kalidasa’s Shankuntala (1960)
In Hinduism, Shakuntala is the wife of Dushyanta and the mother of Emperor Bharata. A stamp was launched in 1960 to celebrate her story. Her most famous story is told Kalidasa’s play Abhijñānaśākuntala.
Shakuntala was the first Indian drama to be translated into a Western language, by Sir William Jones in 1789. In the next 100 years, there were at least 46 translations in twelve European languages.
Annie Besant (1963)
Annie Besant was the second President of The Theosophical Society, one that was headquartered in Chennai. Most major cities in India have roads named after her. She was a women’s rights activist, a thinker, educationist and orator.Besant was a member of the National Secular Society, which preached ‘free thought’.
Kasturba Gandhi (1964)
A political activist during the freedom struggle, she was the wife of Mahatma Gandhi who was passionate about freedom movements across India. Documents on her suggest though she was always in the shadows of her husband, she was a leader who was empowered and used the time away from her husband to hone her leadership skills. For someone who wasn’t taught to read or write, she was capable and contributed to the Independence movement significantly.
She was an active presence in the Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience movements and despite her age, led the masses into a non-violent agitation against the colonial masters.
Sarojini Naidu (1964)
She a feminist, political activist, poet, and the first Indian woman president of the Indian National Congress. She was the daughter of Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya, a Bengali Brahmin who was the principal of Nizam’s College in Hyderabad. Her mother was herself a great poet and used to write poems in Bengali. Having a well-educated backdrop, Sarojini went to study early in 1895 at King’s college, London, and later at Girton College Cambridge.
Sister Nivedita (1968)
She was an Irish teacher, social activist, school founder, author of Kali and the disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She was a philanthropist who has contributed immensely in times of calamity like plague outbreak in Calcutta (1899) and East Bengal famine of 1966.
Kittur Rani Chennamma (1977)
Rani Chennamma was in someways the first female activist of Bharat. Long before the independence struggle began, she made her mark in fighting oppression. She stood all alone with a vibrant fiery eye against the British Empire. Rani Chennamma did not succeed in driving them away, but she did provoke many women to rise against the British rule. She was Chennamma Queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka.
Kamala Nehru, a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, and the wife of Jawaharlal Nehru, was amongst the first freedom fighters who raised their voices for women empowerment. She was born into a Kashmiri Pandit family, and married Nehru at the age of 17. She was homeschooled and couldn’t speak in English.
She gave birth to a girl child, Indira Priyadarshini, who later went on to become the Prime Minister of India.
A brave and gutsy social worker, Durgabai stood up for women’s rights from an early age. She was a child bride, married off at 8 to a wealthy zamindar (landlord). Although her parents married her off, she called it their only mistake and remained inspired by them. Her father was a social worker.
The next few years she was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his efforts. When Gandhi visited Kakinada to address a town hall gathering in 1921, the then 12 year old girl met him along with a group local Devadasi and Muslim women. After meeting him, not only her, but her entire family gave up all forms of Western wear and decided to wear only Khadi. She later decided to quit school as a protest against the English language taught there.
Durgabai left her husband at 15 and joined the independence movement in full earnest. She led the Salt Satyagraha movement in Madras after another freedom fighter T Prakasam was arrested by the British.
Indira Gandhi (1984)
She was an astute politician, stateswoman and the compass of the Indian National Congress. She is the second longest serving Prime Minister of India. Watch a video on her on our series Sepia Stories here
Begum Hazrat Mahal (1984)
She is among the forgotten independent women of India. Begum Hazrat Mahal rebelled against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Also known as Begum of Awadh, was the first wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. After her husband had been exiled to Calcutta, she took charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and seized control of Lucknow. Watch a video on her on our series Sepia Stories
Rukmini Devi (1987)
One of India’s renowned Bharatnatyam dancers, she was born in Madurai to a South Indian family. Her interest in dance was kindled by her meeting with a Russian ballerina. She is a receipt of Padma Bhushan, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar. In 1936, she led the setting up of the Kalakshetra in Chennai which has since produced many eminent dancers.
Her contribution goes beyond dance. She invite Maria Montessori to come up and set up teaching courses and that led to the Montessori style of education to begin in India.
Rani Durgawati (1988)
Rani Durgawati was a ruling Queen of Gondwana from 1550 until 1564. She was born in the family of Chandel king Keerat Rai. She was born at the fort of Kalinjar. Rani Durgawati’s achievements further enhanced the glory of her ancestral tradition of courage and patronage. She distinguished herself as a warrior and fought with unvarying success against Baz Bahadur, the Sultan of Malwa. She was valiant, beautiful and brave and also a great leader with administrative skills. Her self-respect forced her to fight till death rather than surrender herself to her enemy.
She chose to kill herself rather than surrendering before the Mughal army.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (1989)
As the first health minister of India, she was on the stamp in 1989. Known as freedom fighter and a social activist, is known for setting up the Tuberculosis Association of India, the Central Leprosy and Research Institute and several other health centres across the country.
Ahilyabai Holkar (1996)
Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar was the Holkar Queen of the Maratha Malwa kingdom. Rajmata Ahilyabai was born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. She moved the capital to Maheshwar south of Indore on the Narmada River.
After the death of her husband, she led to protect her kingdom. Her reign lasted for thirty years that was considered a golden period for governance.