Dhondo Keshav Karve Biography

Dhondo Keshav Karve, also known as Maharshi, was a renowned Indian social reformer and educator. He dedicated his life to advocating for women’s education and the remarriage of Hindu widows. Recognizing the marginalized position of Indian women in society, he founded the Widow Marriage Association in 1893 and personally set an example by marrying a widow himself. To further support widows, he established the Hindu Widows Home in Pune, providing them with education and self-sufficiency. Karve’s commitment to women’s literacy led to the establishment of the Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, the first women’s university in India. Throughout his life, he also championed causes such as village primary education, and the eradication of the caste system and untouchability. In recognition of his remarkable contributions, he was honored with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, on his centenary birthday.

Quick Facts

  • Indian Celebrities Born In April
  • Educators
  • Social Reformers
  • Died on: November 9, 1962
  • Awards: Bharat Ratna

Childhood & Early Life

Dhondo Keshav Karve was born on 18 April 1858, at Sheravali, Maharashtra in a lower middle-class Brahmin family. His father’s name was Keshav Bapunna Karve. He studied at Elphinstone College, Mumbai (then known as Bombay) and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.


From 1891–1914, Dhondo Keshav Karve taught mathematics at Fergusson College, Pune in Maharashtra. The work of statesmen like Pandita Ramabai, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar inspired him to campaign for the cause of women upliftment. In 1893, he founded ‘Widhawa-Wiwahottejak Mandali’ which encouraged widow remarriage and also took care of their needy children. In 1895, the institution was renamed to ‘Widhawa-Wiwaha-Pratibandh-Niwarak Mandali’ (Society to Remove Obstacles to Marriages of Widows). In 1896, he established the Hindu Widows’ Home Association—a shelter and school for widows in the remote village of Hingane, outside the city of Pune, Maharashtra. He had limited resources and struggled to support his social reformatory efforts. For many years, he faced criticism from the conformists. In 1907, he established ‘Mahila Vidyalaya’ (School for Women). In 1908, he started ‘Nishkam Karma Math’ (Social Service Society) to train workers for the widows’ home and the Mahila Vidyalaya. Inspired by the Women’s University in Tokyo, Japan he established the first university for women in India in 1916. During 1917–1918, he established the Training College for Primary School Teachers and another school for girls called ‘Kanya Shala’. In 1920, Vithaldas Thackersey, a philanthropic industrialist donated 1.5 million Indian rupees to the women’s university. In March 1929, he visited England and attended the Primary Teachers’ Conference at Malvern.

Major Works

Dhondo Keshav Karve championed the cause of women’s education and widow remarriage in the early 20th century India. He also campaigned against the widespread caste system and untouchability practice in the Hindu society. He wrote two autobiographical books, ‘Atmawrutta’ (1928) in Marathi and ‘Looking Back’ (1936) in English.

Awards & Achievements

In 1955, he was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan—the second highest civilian award of India— by the Government of India. In 1958, he was awarded with the Bharat Ratna—the highest civilian award of India—by the Government of India. In 1958, the Government of India issued stamps marking his birth centenary.

Personal Life & Legacy

In the early 20th century, child marriages were prevalent in the Indian society. Karve was married off when he was only fourteen years old to an eight year old girl called Radhabai. Unfortunately, his wife died during childbirth in 1891. Two years after his first wife’s death, Dhondo Keshav Karve remarried a 23 year old widow called Godubai. He had four sons, Raghunath, Shankar, Dinakar, and Bhaskar. Dhondo Keshav Karve died on 9 November 1962, in Pune, India, at the age of 104.


Queen’s Road in Mumbai has been renamed to Maharshi Karve Road in his honour.

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