Religion and Politics, Taboo for Women? The Life of Muthukulam Parvathy Amma

[A much-respected poet, scholar, teacher, translator, and social reformer of her time, Muthukulam Parvathy Amma’s (1904- 1977) work has not received the attention it richly deserves. Her life is perhaps the best illustration of what it meant to be an educated woman empowered by the access to the world outside the home and a role to play in the shaping of the modernised caste-communities of the twentieth century — both the strengths and the limitations. Born in an Ezhava family in Travancore, she grew up in the radiance of the Great Opening of society made possible by Sree Narayana Guru. She aspired to spiritual excellence, but was not able to take such a life; she apparently made up for this by leading a single life devoted to society. Also, the ways in which women who entered social life through social reform initiatives tried to enter modern politics but were rebuffed have not yet been traced much: instead, we are simply told that few women aspired to politics. Indeed, the earliest women’s magazine in Malayalam, the Keraleeya Suguna Bodhini, had already delineated what women needed to know: it announced that it would carry nothing on ‘religion and politics’. The consequences of these run deep in Malayali public life today.

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In the Movie: Muthukulam Parvati Amma

[Muthukulam Parvathy Amma was a well-known figure of Srinarayana-inspired reformism and a recognized poet and translator whose work and life have not been adequately appreciated even today. She was knows to have had spiritual inclinations and had even sought permission from the Guru to start an order of Srinarayaneeya sanyasinis, something that she could not fulfil. I have still not come across her speeches in print, though she was a prolific and much-admired public speaker. But reading her poetry, one finds extraordinary images and reflections : as a sample, I offer a translation of her poem from 1946, ‘Chalanachithrathil’ — in which she places life on cinema and cinema on life] Continue reading “In the Movie: Muthukulam Parvati Amma”