Lakshmibai was born in the Nagpur district of Maharashtra on Ashadh , Shukla Paksha, Dashmi, 1962, Vikram Samvat as per Hindu Panchang which corresponds to July month of 1905 in Gregorian calendar. She was named Kamal meaning lotus. Her parents were Bhaskar Rao Datey, a Government servant and Yashodabai a homemaker. In those days of British rule, purchasing and reading newspapers like ‘Kesari’ edited by Lokmanya Tilak was looked upon as an act of treason if one was a government servant but her mother would purchase the paper and call all the ladies for a combined reading. Thus Lakshmibai’s deep love for the motherland, organising capacity, fearlessness and dauntless spirit came to her from her parents. As a child, the songs, traditions and stories of Hindu legends left an indelible mark on her young mind and she loved going to the temple. She was brave and forthright even at a young age. She exhibited leadership qualities by steering the games away from petty disputes instructing her friends to play fairly without prejudgment. Listening to her mother reading ‘Kesari’ with the other girls and women every day, the spirit of patriotism and resentment against British rule slowly began to grow in Kamal.
Cow Protection Campaign and Plague Control in early years
When there was a campaign to save cows from being slaughtered young Kamal accompanied the temple priest and ‘Dai’ (nanny) in this holy crusade. This campaign taught her the power of speech, the value of humility and the ability
to endure insults and negativity when one was serving a good cause. At the outbreak of plague she helped her parents and Dai in administering service to the sick and needy, irrespective of caste and creed. Her father was very helpful and even performed the last rites of plague victims whom others had refused to touch. All these experiences taught her the values of endurance and patience.
She was married to a well-known advocate Purushottam Rao of the famous Kelkar family of Wardha. As per the custom her name was changed to Lakshmi after marriage. She continued to participate in social work.
Wardha- The Centre of activity
After the sad demise of Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi left Sabarmati and selected Wardha as his ashram. Sevagram in Wardha began buzzing with political activity as freedom fighters from all over the country visited it. Lakshmibai’s patriotic feelings were kindled and she motivated her sisters in law to join the freedom struggle. They even donated their jewelry for this noble cause. Unfortunately, her husband contracted tuberculosis which was a dreaded and incurable disease those days and in spite of all efforts and prayers he passed away leaving her a widow at the age of twenty-seven. Her elder daughter too died of the disease.
Beginning of Active and Formal Socio-Political Life
Lakshmibai ji realised that there was no school for girls in Wardha to admit her daughter so she took the first step in laying the foundation of a girl’s school which was named Kesarimal Kanya Vidyalaya. This milestone work of
her paved the way for women’s literacy in Wardha. She searched for caring and dedicated teachers and provided them accommodation in her own home treating them like members of her family. She encouraged the girls to learn cycling and swimming. She participated in the spinning programmes at Sevagram, Prabhat Pheris, evening prayer meetings and question-answer sessions. The school started by her is still functional.
She noticed the plight of women in various walks of life and started looking for solutions for them. Meanwhile her sons joined the RSS where they were taught physical and mental discipline, art of warfare etc. Observing the change and discipline in them, Lakshmibai decided that a similar institution for women was the solution to their problems. She decided to meet Dr. KB Hedgewar, the founder of RSS. Dr Hedgewar was impressed with her quiet strength and philosophy. With examples of great leaders like Swami Vivekanand, she sought to convince him about the need for empowering women. Dr Hedgewar asked her if she was willing to take responsibility of leading the women and hence with advice, inspiration and necessary guidelines of Dr Hedgewar Rashtra Sevika Samiti was formed.
Seeding of Confidence and Providing the Platforms
Lakshmibai ji realized that the first step towards the betterment of women was to inspire women about the glorious past of India and pride for nationalistic values as the women exhibited a lack of confidence under foreign bondage and felt their values and ideals were inferior to Western ideologies. She went door to door with her dedicated workers urging them to step out and involve themselves in national service. On Vijayadashmi day, the Rashtra
Sevika Samiti was formally inaugurated. Inspired by her enthusiasm, women began to enroll themselves with new found courage and confidence. All the Sevikas began referring to her as ‘Vandaneeya Mausiji’ and she became a role model, confidante and guide for millions of Sevikas. They began to strengthen themselves with physical and outdoor exercises. She opened new centres or Shakhas in different places and held camps to inspire and induct new arrivals.
Deep sense of duty
She was a woman with unique balance of family and social values. Many times there used to be unavoidable need for her presence at home especially during illness of her children while keeping her social works going on. She had extra-ordinary skills to manage the home and social life without affecting each other. Initially, she used to inspire the women first and setting up the training camps. Once the camps were successfully set up, she laid the groundwork for the second stage which was proposals for setting up nursery schools and small scale industries. Unfortunately the partition of India took place and she had to divert her attention to more pressing matters. She bravely even travelled upto Sindh to give the Hindus there moral, spiritual and physical support. At Karachi she saw firsthand the communal hatred and violence there. She exhorted the Sevikas there to be united and calm and saw to their safe boarding and lodging at Bombay.
It is said that during this period she got a dream in which a holy sage gave her the Ramayan urging her to work for peace and harmony. She woke up with a
sense of elation and decided to give the Samithi a new direction with discourses of Ramayan. Hearing her passionate and heartfelt discourses people became her great admirer. She travelled to a number of states on this mission. She was a powerful orator and held the audiences spellbound. She narrated only upto the coronation of Lord Ram as she wished to emphasize his qualities as an able administrator and ruler whose ideals of duty and sacrifice could be emulated by the masses in their day to day life. Her discourses ended with the coronation ceremony. She exhorted women to emulate Sita and with courage, strength, purity and fearlessness realise their duty to the family, society and nation. Her books and discourses gave direction and purpose to millions of people.
Mausiji consulted various health practitioners and doctors and redesigned the fitness programme to suit the needs of women. Yogasanas, Suryanamaskar were included and inspiring stories of great women in history were compiled and recited during the prayer meetings. For expert guidance and training of the physical and mental development of women she invited several eminent personalities and doctors to address the Sevikas. She began the publication of a journal ‘Sevika’ in Marathi which is now published in many languages as ‘Rashtra Sevika’. She established Grihini Vidyalaya with vocational courses, training programmes and short term courses to develop the natural talents of women and Bharatiya Shrividya Niketan to reorganise women’s education on the basis of India’s glorious culture. She began the custom of the worship of Goddess Shakti with eight arms each holding lotus, Bhagavad Geeta, Saffron flag, Agni Kund, bell, sword and beads respectively representing women
power and installed the idols in various Kendras. She formed Bhajan Mandals to encourage the musical and devotional talents of the women and inspired them to compose the achievements of great women like Rani Lakshmibai and Jijamata in poetic form. She held exhibitions on inspiring subjects like Shivaji’s struggle, Swami Vivekananda’s clarion call and invited artists to contribute to social renaissance and upliftment of the masses through their paintings. She celebrated centenaries of great women leaders and began the tradition of honouring the Motherland by rendering Vande Mataram at every meeting. She constructed the Devi Ahalya Mandir at Nagpur, the Ashtabhuja temple at Wardha and many other temples.
In spite of her extensive and varied responsibilities, Mausiji was a model of cleanliness and never neglected her household. She was devout and always took care of the aesthetic appeal of flower decorations during poojas. She went on pilgrimages and paid great attention to the value of time as she had numerous tasks to perform. She never allowed people to place her on a pedestal and dedicated all their praise to the Samithi thus discouraging sycophancy. She had a razor sharp memory and could remember a person even if only introduced once. Her ability to give importance and care and concern to each and every individual endeared her to all the Sevikas. She was like a mother to all of them and they looked upon themselves as fortunate to be her children.
Illness and subsequent death
As time passed by, rural and tribal rehabilitation and a number of other activities were planned to be included by Mausiji. She continued to give discourses and inspire the Sevikas until August 1978 when she had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the ICU. She began improving and thousands of followers from all the states of India began streaming into the hospital at Nagpur. Inspite of being unable to comprehend the language of the Sevikas who came from many states the bond of love between them was enough to be expressed without words. However, soon she suffered another attack and though showing signs of improvement ultimately succumbed on Kartik (Margshirsh) Krishna Paksha Dwadashi 2035 Vikram Samvat (27th November 1978). On the way to the Ambazari ghat, her body was kept for a while in Shree Shakti Peeth which has now been turned into her memorial.
The life story of Vandaneeya Mausiji is an inspiring saga of a courageous woman who with great moral courage and mental fortitude battled against all odds and finally emerged victorious. Her forward vision, courage and confidence in a male dominated society resulted in the start of a mighty organisation for the rehabilitation of women which awoke the patriotic feelings and the dormant feminine power in the hearts of the traditional Indian women. She struggled to establish the supremacy of the Hindu ideology of ‘Vasudaivaka Kutumbakam’ meaning ‘the world is one family’. She dedicated her life to the service and care of the motherland. She insisted that women nurture the motherhood instinct in order to serve all members of society. According to her, service accompanied by a spirit of duty, love and sacrifice was the true hallmark of a great nation. She tried to instill pride in the glory of the ancient Hindu culture in the hearts of every woman and will be revered by all Indian women for generations to come.