Rajashree Birla is an Indian philanthropist. She was married to Aditya Birla (scion of the Birla family of business magnates). After her husband’s death in 1995, Rajashree began working in CSR and charity sectors, developing a large philanthropic organization funded by her family. In 2011, the Government of India honoured her with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award, for her services to society.
Rajashree was born in 1948 in Madurai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in a family which hailed originally from Rajasthan in north-western India. Her father, Radhakishen Fomra, held a dealership agency for Burmah Shell. Her mother, Parvati Devi Fomra, was a home-maker. The family were Marwari Vaishyas and belonged to the Maheshwari sub-caste. Rajashree and her sisters studied at St. Joseph’s convent school in Madurai, Following the usual Indian custom, Rajshree’s marriage was arranged by her parents into a family belonging to their specific Maheshwari sub-caste.
The nuptials were celebrated in three stages, as per the Marwari tradition. The first stage, being the engagement, was performed when Rajashree was around 10 years old. Her fiancé was Aditya Vikram Birla, scion of the Birla family and grandson of the legendary business magnate Ghanshyam Das Birla. The second stage comprised the initial ceremony of marriage (essentially an irrevocable engagement), which was performed when Rajashree was 14, and the final ceremonies (gauna and vidaai) was performed in 1965, when she was 17 years old. At this point, she departed her parents’ house in Madurai and moved into her in-law’s house in Kolkata. By this time, she had completed her matriculation and was studying at Fatima College in Madurai. With the encouragement from her husband and his parents, she enrolled at Loreto College, Kolkata and took a degree in Arts from the University of Calcutta. In June 1967, Rajashree became a mother with the birth of a son, Kumar Mangalam Birla. This was followed in June 1976 by a daughter, Vasavadatta. With the full support of her family, Rajashree completed her education (albeit with a break for the birth of Kumar Mangalam) and took a degree in Arts from Kolkata university.
For the next three decades, she devoted herself to caring for her family and raising her two children, viewing this as her primary responsibility. Only after they had grown up and settled down did she devote her energy to public or social welfare. Throughout her life, Rajashree has maintained an understated, unostentatious lifestyle and a middle-class sense of morality and family responsibility, bringing up her children also with the same values. She has in interviews attributed this quality to the influence of Mahatma Gandhi upon her family (Ghanshyam Das Birla was a close associate of the Mahatma) and the teachings of the Bhagwat Gita. She has stated that her favourite axiom at all time, good and bad alike, is the phrase “This too will pass,” a quotation from the Bhagwat Gita. Rajashree Birla sits on the boards of her family businesses in India and abroad and heads the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, the charity arm of the Aditya Birla Group, which looks after the corporate social responsibilities of the conglomerate. She lives in South Mumbai with her son, Kumar Mangalam Birla and his family.