Maharishi Dhondu Keshav Karve not only gave a new lease of life to innumerable widows, but also started a revolution for women’s education and upliftement in the whole of Maharashtra.
Maharishi Karve was born on 18 April 1858 in a small village, Sheravali, of Konkan district. He had special interest in education, but getting an education was difficult in those days.
At the age of 15, he was married to 9-year-old Radhabai. At the age of 23, he passed his matric from Mumbai. Four years later, he graduated from Elphinston College. Unlike other young people of his age, he did not want to serve the British Government, so he decided to take up teaching as a profession. Around this time, he was devastated by the news of his wife’s death in the village. At the same time, Gopal Krishna Gokhale invited him to join Ferguson College in Poona, as a professor of mathematics. He soon became the most admired teacher of his college.
Leading a single life soon made him feel the need for a companion. When the talk of a second marriage came up, he expressed the desire to marry a widow. The British Government had then officially declared remarriage of widows as legal. However, society did not permit the remarriage of widows. Ramabai, a prominent reformist, had started a centre called Sharda Sadan to educate widows. It was here that the younger sister of one of Karve’s friends, Narhari Pant, was seeking education. The young widow was Godavari. She was married at the age of eight and three months later she had become a child widow. On 13 March 1893 Karve married Godavari at the residence of Dr. Ambedkar Bhandarkar, a famous scholar. The bride was given a new name – Anandibai.
The marriage was solemnised, but society did not accept it and boycotted him. He rallied the thinkers of Poona to garner support and went from village to village to campaign for the cause of widows. In 1896, at a village named Hingne, he started a home for young orphan girls in a hut. Land was allocated for the home and funds poured in. Now a permanent home stands in place of the hut.
When Maharishi Karve came across a Japanese journal, he realised that there were universities meant for women. So he decided to start a similar university in India. He left Ferguson College and totally dedicated himself to the setting up of such a university. Sir Vithaldas Thackersay, a famous industrialist, donated Rs. 15 lakhs for the university in memory of his mother.
This donation helped speed up the project. In 1920, the university, Maharishi Karve Stree Shikshan Sanstha, was formally inaugurated. Karve also went to foreign countries to garner funds for the university. His wife Anandibai stood steadfast bu his side.
After Independence, the university was recognised by the government. In 1958, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna. He died on 9 November 1962, at the grand old age of 105 years.
(Famous Indians of the 20th Century, Vishwamitra Sharma, Pg. 114)