Notee Binodini, The 19th-Century Actor From Bengali Theatre

Binodini Dasi, also known as Notee Binodini, was a Bengali theatre actor and thespian from 19th-century India who started acting at the age of 12.

Binodini Dasi, also known as Notee Binodini, was a Bengali theatre actor and thespian from 19th-century India who started acting at the age of 12.

I was very young, merely six or seven years old, when Notee Binodini took over me. When reading about her, I could see her dancing in front of me. How she adopted me is still a mystery to me.

At that time, I could not realize what was happening to me. Even I had no time to wonder about what was the feeling called, what was the experience called.

But I did not feel the same that I used to feel when reading other books. When I started reading her story, slowly, I was transcended to a different world where I could feel Binodini everywhere around me.

Who was this mystery woman called Notee Binodini?

I could feel a chunk of pain frozen inside my chest, trying to come out from my throat, but it never did. Only my silent tears made my escape from that pain.

I did not cry.

Sometimes, teardrops can’t express all your pain. There is a pain that doesn’t know how to shower in tears. I could feel that silent pain in my heart. The pain found its room in the furthest corner of my heart and stayed there.

I was so young to understand the words written on the paper. But I could feel every word.

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I could.

From that day till date, I never talked about her publicly. Meanwhile, I have watched some television serials and videos on her, and thanks to them, I could visualize her more. But the image engraved in my heart when I read about her first is still far beyond reach, as she prefers to be veiled.

Why did I never talk about Notee Binodini?

I never talked about her because I was afraid. I was afraid that if I dare to talk about her, if I talk more or less than it is needed, what would be then? If I talk more, she would be disappointed for she doesn’t want me to exaggerate her beauty, her grace, her talent.

On the other hand, if I talk less, what would be the case if I skip talking about something important? Or I leave talking about a vital part of her life?

This is why I am afraid, no matter what I talk about her, I might leave something untold.

Then a few days ago, when the world was celebrating International Women’s Day, I was celebrating the women who shaped me into what I have become today. Apart from my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, my female teachers, and my female friends, there are many women about whom I have only read in books. But they have contributed to my upbringing and growth equally.

Notee Binodini is one of them.

Binodini Dasi was an actor

Binodini Dasi, an actor and thespian of Bengal, started acting at an early age when she was twelve years old. She was born into prostitution and was trained to be a courtesan and later turned actor and became one of the first South Asian actors to write her autobiography!

It is said that her acting career stayed long for the era, and she continued her career as an actor till the age of twenty-three, until her sudden announcement to retire; which is still a mystery and topic of debate among scholars!

Although, she started her career as a courtesan in training because of her birth, she entered the world of acting at the age of twelve when she got an opportunity in Calcutta’s National Theatre, to play her first serious role in 1874.

After joining the world of theatre, Binodini became a renowned name in this field as she started learning acting under the tutelage of Girish Chandra Ghosh. Her career spanned over a dozen years and in that era of acting span, she enacted more than eighty roles.

She played the roles of the women from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Among the various roles, Sita, Draupadi, Radha, and Kaikeyi were some popular mythological roles that were essayed by her. There were some other roles equally popular, like Pramila, Ayesha, Motibibi, and Kapalkundala, to name a few.

Not only she loved acting, she was an excellent poet

Years later, when I came across her autobiography Amar Katha, I learned that she was one of the first South Asian actors in the theatre who dared to write her autobiography. She had an interest in writing poetry, and her flair for writing was much appreciated at that time. She wrote poetry and several stories in a seamless writing style.

Binodini received the blessings of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsadev, the revered Hindu guru of nineteenth-century Bengal when she performed the role of Mahaprabhu Sri Chaitanya in Chaitanyaleela in front of him. This encounter was a crucial part of her life as it turned into a life-changing event for her.

Her performance as woman from the epics broke every taboo and convention!

Binodini’s excellence in acting skills was admired by some prominent personalities like Swami Vivekananda and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. Her versatile talent for acting made her a common name in every Bengali household.

In this piece, I wanted to disclose my relationship with her more than write about her life. This is why I preferred refraining from sharing any historical notes or quoting important years here.

I wanted to write a few words of reverence for the woman whom I saw with my inner eyes.

Image source: Wikipedia, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Swarnali Nath

Swarnali is an Author, Blogger, Wellbeing Researcher, and Singer. She blogs at 'The Blissful Storyteller'. She runs The Peace Stories initiative where she shares stories of healing, recovery, personal winning, and self-discovery. An avid read more...

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