Google Doodles have helped us discover many Indians, famous in their particular field, who would have otherwise slipped under our radar.
It began with an idea to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artistes, pioneers and scientists who have helped shape history. Today, Google Doodle itself is a celebration. Over the past two decades, over 2,000 (and counting!) doodles on Google homepage across the world have paid tribute to the legends.
In the year 2017 alone, Google Doodles has paid homage to several Indians from varied fields—medical doctors, music pioneers, artistes, social leaders, cinema legends, among others.
Here, we list 10 lesser-known heroes from India chronicled and celebrated by Google Doodles.
October 7, 2017, marked the 103rd birth anniversary of Begum Akhtar, aka Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, one of India’s most iconic singers.
“Her rich voice was comforting, particularly during the years India underwent upheaval caused by Partition. With nearly 400 songs to her credit, Begum Akhtar’s legacy shines on in the musical traditions she loved over her lifetime.”
At a tender age of seven, young Begum Akhtar was captivated by the music of Chandra Bai, an artiste attached to a theatre troupe. Her mother recognised her daughter’s gift and passion for music and with the help of family members, she sent her daughter for vocal training. Begum Akhtar was trained under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great sarangi exponent from Patna, and later under Ata Mohammed Khan of Patiala.
Soon, her soulful and melancholic voice featured in Indian cinema. However, Begum Akhtar’s first love remained classical music, where she composed many of her own melodies and ghazals. Her career took a brief pause post her marriage, but in 1949, she returned to music and continued to share her gift with the world until her death in 1974.
This Indian-American, who spent his professional life in the US, was one of foremost astrophysicists of the 20th century. One of the first scientists to combine the study of physics with the study of astronomy, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was celebrated through a Google doodle on his 107th birthday.
Subrahmanyan was the first astrophysicist to win a Nobel Prize for his theory on the evolution of stars. By the age of 20, he had published a paper detailing his theory about star evolution.
The current research in space and modern astronomy draws heavily from his theory, ‘The Chandrasekhar Limit’.
“The limit explains that when a star’s mass is lighter than 1.4 times that of the sun, it eventually collapses into a denser stage called a ‘white dwarf’. When heavier than 1.4, a white dwarf can continue to collapse and condense, evolving into a black hole or a supernova explosion.”
He also served as a professor of physics at the Royal Society of London.
Nain Singh Rawat was the first man to survey Tibet. He determined the exact location and altitude of Lhasa, mapped the Tsangpo, and chronicled fabled sites such as the gold mines of Thok Jalung.
It is said that he disguised himself as a Tibetan monk and walked from Kumaon, his hometown, to places as far as Kathmandu, Lhasa, and Tawang. With a rosary in hand, he maintained a precise pace, covering one mile in 2,000 steps.
“He hid a compass in his prayer wheel and mercury in cowrie shells and even disguised travel records as prayers.”
November 1, 2017, marked the 87th birthday of Urdu author and literary critic Abdul Qavi Desnavi. Born in the village of Desna in Bihar, Abdul’s five-decade-old literary career comprised a vast body of Urdu works covering fiction, biographies, poetry, and anthologies.
“His most famous works include ‘Sat Tahriren,’ ‘Motala-E-Khotoot Ghalib,’ ‘Talash-E-Azad,’ and his magnum opus, the biographical ‘Hayat-e-Abul Kalam Azad,’ celebrating the life of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.”
He has also mentored India’s prominent Urdu poets and writers, including Javed Akhtar and Iqbal Masood.
Popularly known as Nritya Samragini, the ‘Empress of Dance’, the legendary Kathak Sitara Devi was honoured by Google Doodle on November 8, 2017.
Sitara Devi’s performance was synonymous with vibrant energy, effortless footwork, and unparalleled ability to bring a story to life. She performed at international venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, London and Carnegie Hall, and New York.
Her six-decade-long career witnessed several awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Shree.
Arguably India’s first feminist and prominent social activist, Anasuya Sarabhai was celebrated by Google on November 11, 2017, on her 132nd birthday.
Since adolescence, Anasuya, who studied at the London School of Economics in 1912, challenged social convention and patriarchy. In the UK, she was influenced by the Fabian Society (a more gradual and reformist form of socialism compared to Marxism), and also got involved in the Suffragette Movement (championing the right to vote for women). This prompted her to start the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association called the Majoor Mahajan Sangh in Ahmedabad, in association with Mahatma Gandhi.
She worked with disempowered women and fought for the cause of local mill workers who toiled on 36-hour work shifts.
Popularly known as ‘Motaben’, Gujarati for ‘elder sister’, she negotiated with mill owners (including her brother) for better working conditions.
India first female lawyer was celebrated on her 151st birthday through a doodle. Cornelia Sorabji attended Bombay University, excelling at her course work. Despite completing her law studies at Oxford University in 1892, Cornelia was not awarded a degree, for women were not awarded degrees by Oxford in those days.
Even when she returned to India Cornelia was barred from practising her profession due to her gender. However, she continued her struggle.
Eventually, she became the legal advisor to the government where she fought vehemently for the rights of purdahnashins, where she advocated for a veiled women to not only openly communicate with the other sex but also seek legal help.
In 1917, 16-year-old V. Shantaram was working at a local tin-shed cinema for Rs 5 per month. In a span of just four years he debuted on the same silver screen as an actor in silent film Surekha Haran.
This was the beginning of a six-decade-long journey in film-making, where Shantaram used art as an instrument for social change.
Three of his films— Amar Bhoopali (1951), Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955), and Do Aankhen Baara Haath (1957)— won him numerous national and international awards.
The first woman to practice medicine in colonial India, Rukhmabai Raut, was celebrated by a Google Doodle on her 153rd birthday.
Supported by the British director of Bombay’s Cama Hospital and advocates of suffrage activists, Rukhmabai left for the London School of Medicine for Women in 1889.
“As an activist, Raut fought to stamp out child marriage. Married at age 11 to a 19-year-old groom chosen by her mother, Raut refused to live with her husband, winding up at the centre of one of India’s most famous 19th-century court cases.”
She joined a hospital in Surat and served as chief medical officer for the next 35 years.
She was the conflicted murderess in Bandini, the orphan in Seema, the anguished untouchable in Sujata. These characters, still etched in memory, were portrayals by Nutan.
"She was a celebrated Indian film actress known for communicating complex emotions using only facial expressions and body language rather than dialogue. An icon of Indian cinema for over four decades, Nutan pioneered powerful women-centric films in an age when male actors dominated the silver screen."
With an award-winning legacy, including the Padma Shree in 1974, Nutan has won six Filmfare awards for her contribution to the arts and cinema.
All quotes have been taken from Google Doodle directory.