Paramahansa YoganandaMahatma Gandhi Swami ChidanandaJ. Krishnamurti
The Mother of PondicherrySwami RamdasSwami SivanandaDaya Mata
Sitaramdas Omkarnath Mahesh Yogi Swami Gangeshwarananda
Sri Mohanananda BrahmachariSwami ChinmayanandaDilip Kumar Roy

Raihana Tyabji (1901-1975)

Raihana was born into the prominent Tyabji clan that was at the forefront of Bombay’s Sulaimani Bohra community in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her father, Abbas Tyabji (1853–1936), was an Indian freedom fighter from Gujarat, and an associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

She was a singer, author, and Muslim saint who was a dedicated devotee of Mahatma Gandhi. As a young person, Tyabji narrowly avoided an arranged marriage through arduous prayer to God, which she claims resulted in her development of a miraculous case of vitiligo, thus deterring her suitor.

After her eventful childhood, Tyabji renounced her generous family inheritance and devoted her life to spirituality and service to Gandhi. She wrote of him
“If there is anybody about whom I can say is my ideal of a human being, it is Bapu…His never-failing tenderness, never-failing respect for human personality, no matter who it was, from the lowest Harijan. In fact I never saw in Bapu any difference between high and low.”

Despite her upbringing in a strict Muslim family, Tyabji was also an ardent follower of the God Krishna and would famously sing devotional songs to Krishna for audiences of thousands of people without the aid of a microphone. Tyabji also wrote her famous book “The Heart of a Gopi” about the early life of Krishna. She suddenly felt’, in her own words, ‘a tremendous, an irresistible urge to write’. She sat down at her desk ‘with sheets of foolscap and poised pen’ and, over the next three days, poured out the story of Sharmila, a gopi, or milkmaid, enraptured by Krishna in his guise as the cowherd at Vrindavan. At the time, she understood this narrative to be, as she called it, a ‘Fragment of a Gopi’s Diary’. But, in time, she recognized that what had been revealed to her—for she understood herself to be ‘possessed’ at the time of writing—was the very ‘soul’, the inner self, of the gopi and, through that, an understanding of Lord Krishna himself. Hence, when her tale was eventually published in 1936,she gave it the evocative title, The Heart of a Gopi.

The story goes that one afternoon at the Delhi ashram when people were sleeping after the noon meal, Sri Ma  came walking through the main hall where some of the women who travelled with her were sleeping. One of them had a copy of The Heart of a Gopi by her head. Ma stopped and asked: “What is the book?” When she was told the title, Ma said: “I can see tiny figures dancing the Maharasa on the cover.” (Note there are a couple of slightly differing versions of this story.)


From Ananda Varta Vol 9 No 1:

“On March 3rd 1961 Mataji played Holi in the morning and again in the afternoon, when she suddenly appeared in the hall in the company of Srimati Raihana Tyabji, the famous Mohammedan lady saint, who is the author of the book “The Heart of a Gopi.” Everyone present agreed that they had never before seen Mataji play Holi quite like this. It was a unique experience which has left its traces.

Raihana Tyabji was in close contact with Gandhiji for several years. Even now she resides in Rajghat, New Delhi with Kaka Kalelkar and his family. … A few days before Holi she had come to pay a visit to Mataji, which was greatly enjoyed by everyone present. When Mataji requested her to sing, she on the spot composed a new song to Krishna. At her invitation Mataji attended a meeting at Rajghat held in memory of Srimati Kasturba, Mahatma Gandhi’s wife. A number of Mohammedans and Europeans or Americans were present at the meeting and Mataji delighted everyone by singing kirtan. At the end Raihanaji embraced Mataji with such vigour as if she never again wanted to part from Mataji.