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Jyotirao Govindrao Phule
Born (1827-04-11)11 April 1827
Katgun, Satara, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
Died 28 November 1890(1890-11-28) (aged 63)
Pune, British India (present-day Maharashtra,India)
Other names Mahatma Phule/Jyotiba Phule/ Jotiba Phule / Jotirao Phule
Religion Satyashodhak Samaj
Spouse(s) Savitribai Phule
Era 19th century philosophy
Main interests
Ethics, religion, humanism

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule[a] (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890) was an Indian activist, thinker, social reformer and writer from Maharashtra.

Phule's work was grounded in the colonial belief that India was in dire need of reform in every aspect of national, social and family life, and that the west was both the model to emulate and the harbinger of the required improvement. His work extended to many fields including eradication of untouchability and the caste system, women's emancipation and the reform of Hindu family life. In September 1873, Phule, along with his followers, formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) to attain equal rights for peasants and people from lower castes. Phule is regarded as an important figure of the Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra.

He and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women's education in India. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes as well as the masses. After educating his wife, he opened the first school for girls in India in August 1848.

Early life[edit]

A statue of Jyotiba Phule

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was born into a poor and virtually illiterate family that belonged to the Mali caste of gardeners and vegetable farmers. The original surname of the family had been Gorhay, and they hailed from Katgun, a village in Khatav taluka of Satara District (now in Maharashtra state). Phule's grandfather, Shetiba Gorhay, had settled in Pune and prospered after starting a business selling flowers, garlands and flower arrangements for religious and social events like weddings. The family owned some farmland as well as a shop in the city. Since Phule's father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the Peshwas, whose patronage they enjoyed, the family came to be known as 'Phule' (flower-man).[1]

Phule's father, Govindrao, carried on the family business along with his brothers. His mother, Chimnabai, died when he was only nine months old, and he had one elder brother. The Mali community did not set much store by education, and after attending primary school to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, Phule was withdrawn from school. He joined the menfolk of his family at work, both in the shop and the farm. The family had a neighbor who had belonged to the same caste of vegetable peasants, but had converted to Christianity, and thereby gained both influence and wealth However, a Christian neighbor with local influence at school and church recognized his intelligence and persuaded Phule's father to allow Phule to attend the local Scottish Mission's High School, which he completed in 1847. As per custom, he was married young, at the age of 13, to a girl of his own community, chosen by his father.

The turning point in his life was in 1848, when he attended the wedding of a friend, who was a Brahmin. Phule participated in the customary marriage procession, but was later rebuked and insulted by his friend's parents for doing that. They asked him whether he should not have had the sense to keep away from that ceremony. Had he forgotten his place, they asked, because they had treated him as an equal for many years? Phule was suddenly facing the divide created by the caste system. Influenced by Thomas Paine's book Rights of Man (1791), Phule developed a keen sense of social justice. He realized that "lower castes" and women were at a disadvantage in Indian society, and also that education of these sections was vital to their emancipation.[citation needed]

Social activism[edit]

Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which people had been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting them. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socioeconomic transformation. This was his strategy for ending exploitation of human beings. Mere advice, education and alternative ways of living are not enough, unless the economic framework of exploitation comes to an end. His most famous poem reads: “Lack of education lead to lack of wisdom, / Which leads to lack of morals, / Which leads to lack of progress, / Which leads to lack of money, / Which leads to the oppression of the lower classes, / See what state of the society one lack of education can cause!”,[2] [3]

To this end, Jyotirao and his wife, Savitribai Phule, started the first school for girls in India in 1848, for which he was forced to leave his parental home. He championed widow remarriage and started a home for upper caste widows in 1854, as well as a home for new-born infants to prevent female infanticide. Phule tried to eliminate the stigma of social untouchability surrounding the lower castes by opening his house and the use of his water-well to the members of the lower castes.

Views on religion and caste[edit]

The Indian society at Jyotiba's time was deeply enmeshed in caste politics.[citation needed] His akhandas were based on the abhangs of Indian saint Tukaram[4] (a Moray Shudra.) He did not like caste-based discrimination. He saw using Rama as a symbol of oppression stemming from the Aryan conquest.[5]

Phule's critique of the caste system began with his attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of upper caste Hindus.[citation needed] He considered them to be idle fantasies and palpably absurd legends[citation needed] as well as a form of false consciousness.[6]

He is credited with introducing the Marathi word dalit (broken, crushed) as a descriptor for those people who were outside the traditional varna system. The terminology was later popularised in the 1970s by the Dalit Panthers.[7]

Satyashodhak Samaj[edit]

On 24 September 1873, Phule formed Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of the seekers of truth), with which he was the first president and treasurer, to focus on rights of depressed classes. He opposed idolatry and denounced the caste system. Satyashodhak Samaj campaigned for the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for priests. Savitribai became the head of the women's section which included ninety female members[citation needed]. She worked as a school teacher for girls. After Phule's death in 1890 his followers continued the Samaj campaign in the remote parts of Maharashtra.[citation needed]. Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur lent moral support to Satyashodhak Samaj. In its new incarnation, it continued the efforts to remove what it considered to be superstition.[citation needed].


Apart from his role as a social activist, Phule was a businessman too. In 1882 memorial, he styled himself as Merchant, cultivator and Municipal Contractor.[8]

For period of time, he worked as a contractor for the government and supplied building materials required for the construction of the first masonry dam in India at Khadakwasla[9] near Pune in the 1870s.[citation needed] One of Phule's businesses, established in 1863, was to supply metal-casting equipment.[10]

Phule was appointed Commissioner ( Municipal Council Member) to the then Poona municipality in 1876 and served in this unelected position until 1882.[11]


According to Keer,[12] Phule was bestowed with the title of Mahatma on 11 May 1888 by another social reformer from Bombay, Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar.

Phule has been commemorated numerous times in Maharashtra as well as other parts of India. Universities (such as in Jaipur), museums (Pune), vegetable markets (Pune, Mumbai) have been named after him.

Published works[edit]

Among Phule's notable published works are:[13]

  • Tritiya Ratna, 1855
  • Brahmananche Kasab,1869
  • Powada : Chatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosle Yancha, [English: Life Of Shivaji, In Poetical Metre],June 1869
  • Powada: Vidyakhatyatil Brahman Pantoji, June 1869
  • Manav Mahammand (Muhammad) (Abhang)
  • Gulamgiri, 1873
  • Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator's Whipcord), July 1881
  • Satsar Ank 1, June 1885
  • Satsar Ank 2, October 1885
  • Ishara, October 1885
  • Gramjoshya sambhandi jahir kabhar, (1886)
  • Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi, 1887
  • Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Poostak, April 1889
  • Sarvajanic Satya Dharmapustak, 1891
  • Akhandadi Kavyarachana
  • Asprashyanchi Kaifiyat


An early biography of Phule was the Marathi-language Mahatma Jotirao Phule, yanche charitra (P. S. Patil, Chikali: 1927).[14] Two others are Mahatma Phule. Caritra Va Kriya (Mahatma Phule. Life and Work) (A. K. Ghorpade, Poona: 1953), which is also in Marathi, and Mahatma Jyotibha Phule: Father of Our Social Revolution (Dhananjay Keer, Bombay: 1974). Unpublished material relating to him is held by the Bombay State Committee on the History of the Freedom Movement.[15]

There are many structures and places commemorating Phule. These include:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ There are numerous variant spellings of Phule's name. These include Jotirao, Jotibha, and Phooley.


  1. ^ P.G. Patil, Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Vol. II, published by Education department, Govt. of Maharashtra
  2. ^ http://drambedkarbooks.com/2012/04/11/11-april-1827-birth-anniversary-of-the-mahatma-jyotirao-phule/
  3. ^ http://drambedkarbooks.com/2015/01/10/10th-january-in-dalit-history-plight-of-the-peasants-speech-by-mahatma-jyotiba-phule/
  4. ^ Culture and the Making of Identity in Contemporary India By Kamala Ganesh, Usha Thakkar
  5. ^ Sharad Pawar, the Making of a Modern Maratha By P. K. Ravindranath
  6. ^ Figueira (2002), p. 149
  7. ^ Nisar, M.; Kandasamy, Meena (2007). Ayyankali — Dalit Leader of Organic Protest. Other Books. p. 8. ISBN 978-8-19038-876-4. 
  8. ^ Keer (1974), p. 172
  9. ^ Chrimes, Mike (December 2009). "Ahead of the game – masonry dam design in the British colonies 1800–1900, part 2: 1872–1900". Dams and Reservoirs 19 (4): 171–183. doi:10.1680/dare.2009.19.4.171. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  10. ^ O'Hanlon, Rosalind (1985). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in nineteenth century Western Maharashtra. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 135. ISBN 0521 266157. 
  11. ^ Keer (1974), p. 143
  12. ^ Keer (1974), p. 247
  13. ^ Mahatma Phule
  14. ^ O'Hanlon (1992), p. 107
  15. ^ Sarkar (1975), pp. 32-33, 40
  16. ^ "Life As Message". Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 24. 16 June 2012. 


Further reading[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jyotirao_Phule — Please support Wikipedia.
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