Baishey Shravana literally means the twenty-second day of the Bengali calendar month of Shravana. It is the date on which Rabindranath Tagore breathed his last. Ever since, it has become a day of mourning in Bengal. But for Sen, the date had become a reminder of the unforgettable sight he had witnessed at Nimtala Ghat when thousands of uncaring mourners had crushed under their feet the body of a dead child. The scene had haunted Sen for years. Even today he can recollect the grief stricken face of the shocked father. He had often wondered what actually happened–did the father ever locate the body of his child? Did he wait through the night hoping to cremate his son? Sen had no answer to his silent queries, and that had made him restive. He could not understand why we all had become so insensitive to somebody’s personal tragedy in the face of an event of national importance. Baishey Shravana in Sen’s film merely happens to be the wedding day of an ill-fated couple, the man too old, the wife too young, both struggling to adjust with each other in their own way. Abject poverty in the face of a famine, and a desperate attempt to cling to their lost glory lead to the wife’s suicide on their wedding anniversary. In their life and death, Tagore was of no relevance!
The film released on 13 May 1960, exactly a year before the birth centenary celebrations of Tagore, when the entire country was gearing up for the big event. Most people who came to see the film expected that it would be related to his death, or that it would be based on some gems of his creation. To their shock, they saw a film based on poverty, famine, death, destruction, and a total erosion of human values. Nothing could have been more un-Tagorean and even the venerable members of the Censor Board in Calcutta felt uneasy about it. They requested Sen to change the title to 21st or 23rd of Shravana as a mark of respect to Tagore. But Sen stood his ground insisting that Tagore’s death could not be the only event of consequence on that date.
–Dipankar Mukhopadhyay, MRINAL SEN: 60 Years In Search Of Cinema