Broken Ties

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R.Tagore Broken Ties

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

A confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Mohammedan, and British

File:Rabindranath Tagore.jpg
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 — 1941)
In 1861, Rabindranath Tagore was born into a wealthy and prominent Bengalien family that was open to different cultural and religous beliefs. Tagore descriped his own family as the product of "a confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Mohammedan, and British". In his young years, he was educated at home, but later sent to school in England. This and other experiences nourished his understanding of the 'clash of civilizations'. His interests focused on the synthesis of Western empiricism with Indian culture and his writings reflect influences from different parts of the world.
In 1913, Tagore received the Nobel Prize in Literature. More information about Rabindranath Tagore.

The Novel

By using the form of the novel to tell an Indian story, Tagore emphazises his interest in the connection of Eastern Mysticism and Western Empiricism. In Broken Ties the life of the narrator Srivalas represents an initial battle, but final synthesis of Western and Eastern cultural elements. During Britain's rule over India, Srivalas grew up as an atheist, appreciating the Western reality of materalism and empiricism. But in order to find emotional fullfillment he abandons his Western rationallity and decides follows a mystical guru.
Neither of the two extremes satisfy Srivalas' desires. Only through a woman, Damini, is he eventually able to combine both paths to reach fullfillment.

Breaking Ties

The name Broken Ties refers to a break in tradition, Indian and Western. For Satish, it simulates the necessity of breaking cultural habits in order to achieve fulfillment. Tagore criticizes both Eastern and Western cultural traditions and calls for a break in both ties.

Eastern Sprituallity


Hinduism is the religion practiced by Satish's family in the novel even though Satish and his uncle Jagarmohon are both atheists. The basic Spiritual Components of Hinduism include: Concepts and beliefs, deities (or gods), and festivals.

Concepts and Beliefs

  • Dharma: Vitally, this is another way of portraying the "Butterfly Effect" in that Hindus believe that all actions directly or indirectly affect others on individual, social, ethical and cosmic terms. However, the term is usually used to describe positive actions; a dharmic act is one that brings positive or constructive results.

  • Karma: Exactly what you think it is; all our actions good or bad over the course of our lifetime. According to Hinduism, one cannot attain eternal release and spiritual freedom (Moksha) until one has no good or bad deeds. One accomplishes this by balancing the two. In other words, you get what you give.
  • The Four Ashrams: These are four stages of a person's life built on the assumption that human beings should live to be 100 years old. The first 25 years are designed for learning, the next 25 years are for life as a householder, then for 25 years people dedicate themselves to self control and abstinence, and the final quarter-century is reserved for withdrawal from the world.

The Trinity of Gods

  • Brahma the creator: Said to be the creator of life, Brahma is often shown as a wise old bearded man standing on a lotus.
  • Vishnu the preserver: Every so often, Vishnu descends to earth to protect the true and virtuous and destroy evil. His behavior is based on the following cycle; When Vishnu is asleep on the multi-headed snake called Ananta, the universe is in a state of dissolution. When he wakes up, the universe evolves. The cycle is never ending.
  • Shiva the destroyer: The most feared and powerful of all the Gods, Shiva both creates and destroys through dance. As the lord of the dance, part of Kirtans in the novel is to appease Shiva.


  • Pongal: Pongal is a harvest festival in honor of the sun and the rain god. It starts on January 13 and goes on for three days, at the end of which participants worship cattle (cows and oxen).
  • Holi: Holi is the festival of colors in which people douse each other with colored water and powders. It takes place in the Spring and involves heavy consumption of a marijuana-based drink called bhang.

This is just basic information. For ALL Hindu beliefs, Gods, and festivals, click on this link. [1]

Treatment of Indian Women in early 1900s

Women in Hinduism


1. Female Infanticide

Female infanticide arose from the general Vedas attitude towards women. The large dowries prescribed by the Vedas meant that a girl was seen as a burden. The woman who gave birth to a daughter was ashamed, and much stigma attached to a lady who only gave birth to daughters. Hence infanticide arose as a convenient way of getting rid of the "burden."

2. Child-Marriage

Child marriage of daughters 5-6 years old was common due to the custom of dowry and to avoid scandals. Hindu Law books prescribe that the best partner for a man in one-third his age. Thus a man 18 year old should marry a girl 6 years old!

This was meant to prevent any scandals. Narada states that some of the defects to be avoided in brides are if they already had a relationship with another man or have their minds set on another, they should not be selected.


Burning of Women

1. Bride-Burning

This is often related to dowry, when the bride’s family cannot pay up to the amount demanded by the in-laws. Often the in-laws make demands in excess of those made at the time of marriage. When the deadline specified runs out, the bride is burned in often gruesome fashions. At least 5000 women die each year for not bringing in enough dowry. At least a dozen women die each day in `kitchen fires,’ which are often passed off as accidents, because their in-laws are not satisfied with their dowries. Only a few of the murderers are brought to justice.

| News:Dowry related attack

2. Wife-Burning

A Hindu-Aryan husband could at any time accuse his wife of infidelity. In case the wife protests her innocence, the council of village elders would then order an ordeal by fire. The accused wife would be required to pass through a blazing flame. Not just death, but any signs of burns would be taken as a sign of guilt and the wife would then have to undergo the penalty for infidelity. Adultery carries the death sentence in Aryan law, so either way she would have to pay with her life for her husband’s or elders’ mere suspicions.

3. Witch-Burning

The burning of witches during the Vedic Dark Ages of Indian History ( 1500 BC - 500 BC) and the later Puranic Dark Ages ( 100 AD-1000 AD) makes the European Medieval ecclesiastical witch-hunts pale in comparison.

Punishment of Women

1. Amputation of Ears and Noses

Aryan husbands cut off the ears and nose of their wives if they left the house without their prior permission.

2. Death Penalty

The death penalty was prescribed for Aryan women guilty of infidelity. The Manu Smrti, the most authoritative Indo-Aryan law-book, states
"When a woman, proud of her relations deceives her husband, then the king should ensure that she be torn apart by dogs in place much frequented by people"(Manu Smrti 8:371) "And the evil man should be burnt in a bed of red-hot iron"(Manu Smrti 8:371-2)

Restrictions on Women

1. No Property

Women and Sudras can, in the Aryan-Vaishnava system, have no property:
A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property; the wealth which they earn is (acquired) for him to whom they belong. A Brahmana may confidently seize the goods of (his) Sudra (slave); for, as that (slave) can have no property, his master may take his possessions. (Manu Smrti VIII.416-417)

2. Dress and Veiling

Aryan women had to wear a face-veil when going out. As usual, several observers, seeing Arab women veiled, assumed it must be due to Muslim "contamination."They are not aware that Muslim ladies who do this do it as an act of modesty, and are ignorant of Indian scriptures.

3. Dowry

The Vedas prescribe that a dowry be given by the bride’s family to the groom. The Rig Veda states that cows and gifts given by the father of the bride to the daughter accompanied the bride’s procession.

4. Staying Alone

It may be thought that only the absence of the husband could temporarily alleviate the condition of Aryan women. Alas, even then she was under constant suspicion. To prevent nightly intrigues, she cannot even sleep alone.

5. Going Out and Education

Women and Sudras were declared to be unfit for study of their own sacred texts
"And as women, Sudras and the inferior members of the twice-borne classes were unfitted for hearing the Veda, and were infatuated in desiring the blessings, arising from the ceremonies, the muni, with a vision to their felicity, in his kindness composed the narrative called the Mahabharata."(Brahma Purana I.4.25)

6. No Divorce

7. No Remarriage

Even if the wife ran away from the harsh husband, she could never get remarried as long as she is in the confines of Hindu tradition.
File:Sati 1.jpg
"Manner in which the Women in India Burn Themselves after the death of their Husband"(up) "Manner in which they Bury Themselves alive with the corpse of their Husband"(down) (1728)

Widows and Elderly Women

Sati (Widow-Burning)

The Aryans, upon their invasion of India 1500 B.C. introduced the horrific custom of Sati, i.e. the burning of a woman after the death of her husband. When performed singly it is referred to as Sati, when performed en masse by all the women and daughters of a town in anticipation of their widowhood (eg. when the men were to fight a battle against all odds), it is known as Jauhar. It is sanctioned by their most sacred texts, and was practiced from the fall of the Semito-Dravidian Indus Valley civilization to the modern age.

- Examples of Scriptural Sanction -

  • "Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as corrylium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned."
  • "If a woman’s husband dies, let her lead a life of chastity, or else mount his pyre"
  • "It is proper for a woman, after her husband’s death to burn herself in the fire with his copse; every woman who thus burns herself shall remain in paradise with her husband 35,000,000 years by destiny."
  • "The wife who commits herself to flames with her husband’s copse shall equal Arundathi and reside in Swarga (heaven)."
  • "Accompanying her husband, she shall reside so long in Swarga as the 35,000,000 of hairs on the human body.
  • "As the snake-catcher forcibly drags the serpent from his earth, so bearing her husband [from hell] with him she enjoys heavenly bliss."
  • "Dying with her husband, she sanctifies her maternal and paternal ancestors and the ancestors of him to whom she gave her virginity."
  • "Such a wife adorning her husband, in celestial felicity with him, greatest and most admired, shall enjoy the delights of heaven while fourteen Indras reign."
  • "Though a husband had killed a Brahman, broken the ties of gratitude, or murdered a friend she expiates the crime."

Women in Broken Ties

These laws or rules in the Hinduism for the women were extremely strict through out all the history. We could find this unfair treatment of women from our novel ‘Broken ties’.
First, Nonibala committed a suicide, even though she did not do anything wrong. She tries to hide from suspicious eyes. Everybody knew that it was rape from Purundar rather than infidelity, but society still made a pity look for her. Even Purandar and his father, Harimohan acted like what they did was the right thing to be done. She could not bear the social pressure after giving a birth to dead baby, and finally committed a suicide.
Second, Damini was a widow in the novel. The Hindu rules show how particularly more strict it was to widows. In the novel, Damini did not have any rights to have her own choice. After her husband died, she was given to the master. She tries to resist the tradition of the society, but after the struggle, she eventually gives up on Satish.


Midwives in India Relative to Other Countries

The Importance of Motherhood in India

Statistics about Childbearing Deaths in India

Sacredness of Motherhood

  • Motherhood embodies the purist form of womanhood, as even a man cannot fathom to touch such a mysteriously delicate process.
  • Becoming a mother meant risking one's life, especially since a majority of Indian people reside in rural areas
  • Recent data shows that mortality linked to childbirth is as high as 308 deaths per 100,00 women, as compared with 40 per 100,000 in Sri Lanka
  • According to "Mahabharta", "There is no mode of life superior to serving one's mother."
  • Motherhood symbolizes the spiritual transformation of a woman into a greater being and giving birth is dubbed as the first of the "Three Miricales" (See "The Importance of Motherhood in India.)


In Tagore’s story Broken Ties, a woman’s role in society hinges on relationships with others – be it her husband or her child, a woman is marked by whom she relates with. Women are referred to as "the widow of..." or "the mother of..." The first woman is not introduced until the fourth part of the first chapter. Nonibala is impregnated, and Jagamohan refers to her as “Mother” or “little Mother”.

  • When asked who the woman is Jagamohan refers to as mother, he replies by saying "'She who nourished life within her womb, and risks her life to give birth to children'" (994).
  • Jamagohan internalizes the idea that a mother is the most sacred being, and treats Nonibala with the utmost respect by offering her a place to live when she had nowhere else to turn to.
  • Jamagohan is one of the few character's who treats Noni with respect, as even the father of the child (Purandar) angrily kicks her
  • Noni alludes to her unhappiness by thinking "'O Earth, open and swallow me up!'"
  • Nonibala must come to feel useless and unimportant, as she fails to achieve the most important miricale. As a result, she takes her own life after giving birth to her stillborn. If her child had lived, perhaps Noni would have felt purpose to live.

Womenhood vs. Motherhood

Categories of women in the novel

Jagemohan calls to Nonibala mother although she is not his or his child's mother: "Come on, little Mother, why do you sit in the dust" (993)?
With the creation of a nation state and the divide of private/public life, the role of motherhood becomes more important. In the novel women in general are referred to as mothers, indication that this is their sole role. In modern life, Women's only purpose is to produce good citizens and are therefore excluded from the public sphere. Although Damini is not a mother herself, she does not have the means to take control over her own life. This is especially apparent when Satish wants her to leave, but she doesn't have anywhere to go.

Both Satish and Srivalas struggle with the categorization of women. Whereas Satish believes that women obstruct the spiritual development of men, Srivalas thinks that women are just part of life. But both have difficulties defining Damini's role in their lives. Damini does not fit into any of the categories as she is just a woman, a human being that breaks from cultural ties to be herself. Damini refutes the idealistic vs. materialistic conflict by saying:
"I am a woman," replied Damini. "The building up of the body with our own beody, with our life itself, is our dharma. It is woman's own creation. So when we women see the body suffer, our spirit refuses to be comforted (1025).
Damini combines both sprituell and material elements that break the ties to old categories. As women are neither just women nor just mothers but a junction between both that leads to new ways of looking at modernity.

Unity out of Hybridity

In his essay "Modern", Chandan Reddy historicizes the common meanings of modernity. He explains how initially modernity is defined as a sense of newness in relations to antiquity. But once that comparison shifts to transnational issues, the distinction between antiquity and progress makes other cultures seem 'backward'. As a result, while Western society thought it was sharing progress, it endorsed colonization.

The distinction between 'modern' and 'backwards' leads to a cultural clash in colonial India during the early 1900s. Rabindranath Tagore takes up that battle and presents it to us in different lights.

1) Satish as an outsider
At the beginning of the novel Satish is introduced as an atheist. As a response to his religious beliefs his schoolmates exclude him, because atheism as a Western trait was not acceptable in India at the time. When Srivalas first meets Satish, he writes: "I was surprised to find tht most of his fellow-students hated him, for no other fault that that he resembled himself more that he resembled others" (986). Satish represents the clash of two cultural elements produced by the repercussions of modernity.
2) Damini in her none-role
Damini, as a women in India, does not live up to her role. She doesn't have any rights as a women and is forced to stay with the Swami. After a while, Satish wants her to leave the group, but she replies that she has nowhere to go to. In addition, she is not able to make her own decisions, because the Indian tradition doesn't allow her to. Her response to Satish: "Am I a pawn in your game, that you devotees should play me, now this way now the other" (1014)? She opposes a threat to Satish and the Swami, because she doesn't conform to her role, but rather plays a non-role, a role that doesn't fit with the Swami's world view.
3) Worldly desires
One day Damini argues with the Master over books that she wants to read:
"When you have any need, " Damini flared up, "nothing is allowed to stand in your way. It is only I who am to have no needs!"
"You forget yourself, Damini. I am a sannyasin. I have no worldly desires."
"You forget that I am not a sannyasin. I have a desire to read these books. Will you kindly let me have them"(1016)?
Education through books is valued is Western Society, but Damini clashes with her Master, because his religion disapproves of books as a 'worldly desire'. Not only does that show Damini's Western traits, but also the disapproval from the other side.

Damini as the Middle Way

Albert Einstein and Tagore in conversation - a dialog between East and West opens up possibilities of a new modernity.

In Buddhism the 'Middle Way' calls for living in between extremes through moderation. Similarily, Chandan Reddy referes to hybridity through the connection and interconversion of the 'modern' and the 'backward'. In Broken Ties Damini represents the middle way between East and West, 'backward' and 'modern' or just 'one' or the 'other. Thinking about those terms makes us realize that they are just terms after all and easily change with a shift in our view. Whereas Damini reflects something 'other' in the novel, to us and a western sense she seems perfectly normal.

"Damini avoids the Master because she cannot bear him. She fights shy of Satish because for him her feelings are of opposite description. I am the only person, near at hand, with whom there is no question of either love or hate (1010). At the end she decides to go the middle way and marries Srivalas. But before her death, she leaves him with her last words: " I have not had enough of you. May you be mine again in our next birth" (1033). Surprisingly this shows her spirituallity afterwards. Therefore, Damini is neither one nor the other, but somewhere in between.


In his novel Broken Ties, Rabindranath Tagore beautifully criticizes the clash of two civilizations. It mirrors Reddy’s essay Modern in that both describes hybridity as the means to an end. Although Chandan does not further develop this idea, Tagore lets Damini die at the end of the story. At first glance, it seems devastating as if there is no chance for a synthesis between East and West. In a hybrid-way of looking at her last words, we realize continuation is possible.

Additional Resources

It was originally made into a movie in 1918

Poems and other stories by Rabindranath Tagore

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