Ashadevi was born on 1901 at Lahore. Her father Phani Bhushan Adhikari and mother Sarjubala Devi were both educationists and devout, religious people who believed in the Bhakti cult. Her father was a professor in Delhi. She spent her childhood in Lahore and then later in Benares. There were good educational opportunities at Benares. But there was no Bengali medium school. Her mother taught her Bengali as well as music. She topped the list of successful candidates in matriculation. The newspaper reporters came running to get her photograph and details. But her father did not like publicity. He sent them back saying "It is the duty of every student to study. Higher marks should not be treated as a great achievement in life. Publicity is likely to make a student forget his or her duty." Her college education was also done at home.
A music teacher was employed for her. She read a great deal, especially Bengali literature. During her B.A. examination Ashadevi had trouble in one eye. The doctors suggested she must give rest to her eyes else she might be blind. She was in a dilemma. Finally her mother found the solution. She read the lessons to her daughter. She passed in the first division. Government offered her a scholarship to go for higher studies in England. She was just sixteen years of age and the parents did not like to send her so far. She passed M.A., also in the first division, in Benares and became a lecturer in Women's College at Benares.
Her family was close to Rabindranath Tagore and Shantiniketan was like their own home for them. They were given a house near Uttarayan where Tagore lived. Tagore had to go to Europe and he entrusted Asha Devi to take charge of the girls at Shantiniketan in his absence. So she joined the staff at Shantiniketan. Ashadevi had become very popular in Shantiniketan and everybody called her Didi. At Europe, Tagore met E.W. Aryanayakam (Asha Devi's future husband), who belonged to Ceylon. Tagore recognized his talents and invited him to come to Shantiniketan. He became Tagore's Private Secretary and also took part in all other activities at Shantiniketan. Tagore was responsible for Ashadevi and Aryanayakam's marriage. A boy and a girl were born to them
In the serene atmosphere of Shantiniketan, Ashadevi heard the call of Gandhiji. She understood that at Shantiniketan, there was no place for the children of the poor. So she and her husband left Shantiniketan and went to Wardha, where they first worked at Marwadi Vidyalaya and then joined Bapu and became the main pillars of Nai Taleem. In the methodology of Nai Talim, education does not become a burden for students and there is no need to mug up for examinations. In this scheme, the highly intelligent and the mentally retarded could all fit in.
After Bapu's death Ashadevi went to Faridabad and took care of the refugees at Faridabad. She started schools for children. Vinobaji's Bhoodan movement inspired her. Her husband had an intense longing intense to go back to his village in Ceylon. There he had a heart attack and passed away on June 20 1968. After his death, she stayed at Sevagram. Ashadevi lost sight of her one eye owing to optic atrophy. She was taken to Nagpur, where she was diagnosed as having lung cancer. She passed away in Nagpur on 30 June 1970.
(Last Updated on : 15-01-2009)
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