Mataji Maharani Tapaswini, initially called Gangabai, was a Brahmin
woman hailing from the Deccan
region of British India. She was well versed in Sanskrit language
and the sacred scriptures, related to the Hindu religion. Ganbgabai wanted to propagate a pattern of female education compatible with the Hindu religious and ethical laws. With this intent she came to Kolkata
. Unlike some other reformers of the time, Gangabai believed that Hindu society could be regenerated from within.
With this aim of women`s education, she set up the Mahakali Pathshala (Great Mother Kali School) of Bengal. It was founded in Kolkata in 1893 and this school and its many branches has often been said to mirror a "genuine Indian attempt" at developing female education. This school received no financial assistance from foreigners and employed no foreign teachers. Founders of the institution accepted the "school" model for female education, but opposed co-education and the use of one syllabus for both sexes. Their aim was to educate girls on strictly national lines in the hope that they might regenerate Hindu society. This was a project consistent with those of nationalist revivalists, who did not automatically oppose reform in the name of resisting colonial knowledge. Despite their differences with the liberal reformers, they too believed in the relationship between progress and female education and looked to a future where Indian women would play a larger role in the affairs of the country.
Her notion of an ideal education for women was translated into a syllabus which included knowledge of sacred literature and history; an understanding of the myths and legends that spoke of the duties of the daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, and mother; and practical skills such as cooking and sewing. This syllabus was praised by Hindu gentlemen of the middle-class who believed that much of the female education which existed at the time demoralized and denationalized young Hindu women. Cooking lessons were especially popular in light of the prevalent belief that educated girls avoided the kitchen. Financial support for this institution grew rapidly and within ten years there were twenty-three branches with 450 students. As the school expanded it published its own Bengali and Sanskrit textbooks. Gangabai turned more and more to supervision while the actual administration of the school was left in the hands of an illustrious board of trustees presided over by the Maharaja of Darbhanga, Bengal`s largest landlord.
The Mahakali Pathshala rose to prominence due to the significance it attached to religious studies, homemaking prowess and the Purdah system. Although the original curriculum included very little formal reading and writing, it gradually changed. In 1948, the Mahakali Pathshala achieved the status of affiliation to the educational authority of the University of Calcutta
. The existence and popularity of this school in the early years of the twentieth century was an indicator of the fact that the conservative elements were finally making room for the concept of female education which was fast gaining ground.