Mahatma Phule

Mahatma Phule

Jyotirao Govindrao Phule
Other names Mahatma 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)
Era 19th century philosophy
Main interests Ethics, religion, humanism

Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule () (11 April 1827 – 28 November 1890), also known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was great activist, thinker, social reformer, writer, philosopher, theologist, scholar, editor and revolutionary from Maharashtra, India in the nineteenth century. Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule were pioneers of women's education in India. His remarkable influence was apparent in fields like education, agriculture, caste system, women and widow upliftment and removal of untouchability. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes as well as the masses. He, after educating his wife, opened the first school for girls in India in August 1848. In September 1873, Jyotirao, along with his followers, formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) with the main objective of liberating the Bahujans, Shudras and Ati-Shudras and protecting them from exploitation and atrocities. For his fight to attain equal rights for peasants and the lower caste and his contributions to the field of education, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of the Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra. Dhananjay Keer, his biographer, notes him as "the father of Indian social revolution".[1]

Early life

Jotirao Govindrao Phule was born in Satara district of Maharastra in a family belonging to Mali (Fulmali). His father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor. Originally Jotirao's family, known as Gorhays, came from Katgun, a village in Taluka- Khatav, District- Satara.  His grandfather Shetiba Gorhay settled down in Pune. Since Jotirao's father and two uncles served as florists under the last of the Peshwas, they came to be known as 'Phules'. (Reference- P.G. Patil, Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Vol-II, published by Education department, Govt. of Maharashtra).  His mother died when he was 9 months old. After completing his primary education Jotirao had to leave school and help his father by working on the family's farm. He was married at the age of 12. His intelligence was recognised by a Muslim and a Christian neighbour, who persuaded his father to allow Jotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission's High School, which he completed in 1847. The turning point in Jotiba's life was in year 1848, when he was insulted by family members of his Brahmin friend, a bridegroom for his participation in the marriage procession, an auspicious occasion. Jotiba was suddenly facing the divide created by the caste system.[1] Influenced by Thomas Paine books Rights of Man (1791), Phule developed a keen sense of social justice. He argued that education of women and the "lower castes" was a vital priority in addressing social inequalities.

Satyashodhak Samaj

On 24 September 1873, Jotirao formed 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' (Society of Seekers of Truth) with himself as its first president and treasurer. The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the upper caste like Brahmans. Through this Satya Shodhak Samaj, Jotirao refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya system (the caste system). Satya Shodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders. He was an aboriginal of India and established Satyadharma and never renounced his faith. He was against those Brahmins who were using religion and blind faith of masses for their own monetary gains. But Jyotiba had many Brahmin personal friends and he even adopted a Brahmin boy as his heir. He made a will giving his large property after his death to this Brahmin boy.


When Phule established the Satya Shodhak Samaj, Savitribai became the head of the women's section which included ninety female members. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a school teacher for girls. Deenbandhu publication, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samaj's movement. After Jyotirao's death in 1890 his spirited followers went on spreading the movement to the remotest parts of Maharashtra. Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur moral support to Satya Shodhak Samaj. In its new incarnation party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously.Many times it degenerated in hate sprouting against Brahmins as a caste.

Jyotirao firmly believed that if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based. Knowing this well, Jyotirao attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called god's words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd.

He also led campaigns to remove the economic and social handicaps that breed blind faith among women, shudras and ati-shudras. Jyotirao subjected religious texts and religious behaviour to the tests of rationalism. He characterised this faith as outwardly religious but in essence politically motivated movements. He accused them of upholding the teachings of religion and refusing to rationally analyse religious teachings. He maintained that at the root of all calamities was the blind faith that religious books were created or inspired by god. Therefore, Phule wanted to abolish this blind faith in the first instance. All established religious and priestly classes find this blind faith useful for their purposes and they try their best to defend it. He questions " if there is only one God, who created the whole mankind, why did he write the Vedas only in Sanskrit language despite his anxiety for the welfare of the whole mankind? What about the welfare of those who do not understand this language?" Phule concludes that it is untenable to say that religious texts were God-created. To believe so is only ignorance and prejudice. All religions and their religious texts are man-made and they represent the selfish interest of the classes, which are trying to pursue and protect their selfish ends by constructing such books. Phule was the only sociologist and humanist in his time that could put forth such bold ideas. In his view, every religious book is a product of its time and the truths it contains have no permanent and universal validity. Again these texts can never be free from the prejudices and the selfishness of the authors of such books.

Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which man has been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting him. 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.

Religion and Caste

The Indian society at Jyotiba's time, was deeply enmeshed in caste politics. The debate is still current whether the Brahmins of India belonged were indigenous to the land or whether they migrated from somewhere else. Despite this it can be stated that the stratification of the society was based on caste. As such, Jyotirao Phule could be classified as indigenous to the land. His akhandas were based on the abhangs of Indian aboriginal saint Tukaram[2] (a Moray Shudra.)

He was a subscriber to Maharishi Vitthal Ramji Shinde's magazine, Dnyanodaya.[3] (Maharishi Shinde was a Harijan or "untouchable" and a member of the reformist Prarthana Samaj.)

He did not like the casteist of Tamil Nadu using Lord Rama as a symbol of oppression of Aryan conquest.[4]

Attack on the sanctity of Vedas

Jyotirao Phule's critique of the caste system began with his attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of forward-caste Hindus. He considered Vedas as 'idle fantasies' as 'palpably absurd legends'. He considered Vedas a 'form of false consciousness'.[5]

He believed that the true inhabitants of Bharat are the Astik.[6] He also believed that the Brahmins were outsiders to Hinduism. This was also the view spoken by Keshavarao Jehde.[7]

Merger into Congress party

After Jotiba's death in 1890, there was a period of lull, when the flame lit by Jotiba waned. The Satya Shodhak Samaj movement was totally a social movement and nothing to do with the politics, but the members of Satya Shodhak Samaj dissolved Satya Shodhak Samaj. Phule had a favourable opinion about the British Rule in India at least from the point of view of introducing modern notions of justice and equality in Indian society and taking India into the future. Phule admired the British because at that time Indian people except the Brahmins were far from education and were not getting any social benefits. In the British Government, the situation was better for them.

Social activism

He was assisted in his work by his wife, Savitribai Phule, and together they started the second school for girls in India in 1848, for which he was forced to leave his home. He initiated 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.

He formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) on 24 September 1873, a group whose main aim was to liberate the social Shudra and Untouchables castes from exploitation and oppression.

Phule was a member of the Pune municipality from 1876 to 1882.

Connection with women activists

Some of India's first modern feminists were closely associated with Phule, including his wife Savitribai Phule; Pandita Ramabai, a Brahmin woman. Panditia Ramabai who was leading advocate for the rights and welfare for the women in India; Tarabai Shinde, the non-Brahmin author of a fiery tract on gender inequality which was largely ignored at the time but has recently become well-known; and Muktabai, a fourteen-year-old pupil in Phule's school, whose essay on the social oppression of the Mang and Mahar castes is also now famous.

The celebration of "Shiv Jayanti"(Birth day of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj)for the first time in India has been attributed to him. He also discovered the "Samadhi" of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on Raigad Fort which had disappeared in creepers and climbers. He wrote "Shivajicha powada" an epic poem.

Title of 'Mahatma'

The great social reformer Jotirao Phule was bestowed with the unique title of 'Mahatma' on 11 May 1888 by another great social reformer from Mumbai, Rao Bahadur Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar. As the history goes, Jyotirao Phule had completed 60 years of his age and 40 years of social service fighting for the rights of the 'bahujans'. To mark this achievement, it was decided by the bahujans and satyashodhak leaders and workers to felicitate Jotirao Phule. Rao Bahadur Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar, Narayan Meghaji Lokhande were in the forefront for arranging this function. Rao Bahadur Vandekar and his fellow workers decided to bestow the title of 'Mahatma' on Jotirao Phule for his dedicated service in the cause of humanity. Hon. Sayajirao Maharaj of Baroda, who also was invited for this function, could not attend the function. He had sent a message that Jotirao Phule be bestowed with the title of ‘Hindustan's Booker T. Washington’. However, Rao Bahadur Vithalrao Vandekar explained the reasons for bestowing the title of 'Mahatma' on Jotirao Phule justifying it to be apt for the great work and sacrifice of Jotirao Phule for the downtrodden. On 11 May 1888, a function was arranged in the meeting hall of ‘Mumbai Deshastha Maratha Dnyati-Dharma Sanstha’ at Mandvi, Koliwada, Mumbai for felicitating Jotirao Phule. As the function began, Rao Bahadur Vithalrao Krishnaji Vandekar explained in detail about the work and sacrifice of Jotirao Phule and his struggle for the rights of the downtrodden bahujans. He then garlanded Jotirao Phule and declared that ‘we people present here, with swasphurti, are bestowing the title of Mahatma upon Jotirao Phule!’. Thus Jotirao Phule came to be known as Mahatma Jotirao Phule thereafter. Information of the above historic event has been given in detail in the Hindi book 'Yugpurush Mahatma Phule' published by the Government of Maharashtra on 11 May 1993 to mark the 105th anniversary of the above historic function. This book has been written by Murlidhar Jagtap and published by Mahatma Phule Charitra Sadhaney Prakashan Samiti, c/o Higher & Technical Education Dept., Government of Maharashtra, Mantralaya, Mumbai-400032. The then Hon. Chief Minister, Govt. of Maharashtra Shri Sharad Pawar & Co-ordinator, Mahatma Phule Charitra Sadhaney Prakashan Samiti, Govt. of Maharashtra Shri Hari Narke etc. have written foreword/introduction for this book. he had 40 years of social service


  • The full length statue inaugurated at the premises of Vidhan Bhavan (Assembly Building of Maharasthra State), by the auspicious hands of then the Chief Minister and other dignitaries.
  • The Crawford Market in Mumbai is officially named after him and is known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai.
  • Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth in Rahuri, Ahmednagar District, Maharastra.

The wholesale vegetable market in Nagpur, Maharashtra (India) is also named after him.Subharti College of Physiotherapy was formerly named after him Jyotirao Phule physiotherapy college. Noted playwright G.P. Deshpande’s biographical play Satyashodhak (The Truth Seeker)was first performed by Jan Natya Manch in 1992.[8]


Krantisurya Phule has many followers. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the first minister of law of Republic India and the architect of Indian Constitution was inspired by his noble work towards humanity. Noted freedom fighter and Gandhian Leader like Mukundrao Bhujbal Patil who is Ex. President of Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee was the one who tried to bring the work done by Jyotirao Phule, into a limelight. There are many followers of the work done by him, one among those is Hon. Minister of Maharashtra Chhagan Bhujbal founder of Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad, an organisation works for social upliftment of dalits and OBCs and M.S.Chandramohan,writer,he is very much inspired by the work done by Phule especially creating social education system. V.G.R Naragoni is an OBC leader in andhra pradesh got inspired by Phule and followed him and conduct deep research on Phule movements and wrote several books on Phule like "Bahujana Vudhyama Radha Saradhulu.Vijay Tilekar a social worker & follower of Jyotirao Phule Ex.President of Mahatma Phule CO-OP.Credit Society. Mumbai Mahrashtra.

Published works

His famous published works are[9]

  • 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 [full name in English: Slavery: In The Civilized British Government Under The Clock Of Brahmanism],1873. Literally meaning slavery, this book was inspired by the American civil war. He gave a message to the lower castes to take inspiration from America
  • 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

See also


External links

  • Mahatma Phule official website
  • Chair of Mahatma Jotirao Phule at University of Pune
  • About the Griefs of the Mahars and the Mangs, famous essay by Muktabai, a fourteen-year-old untouchable pupil of Phule's