Balamaniyamma , Feminist in a different manner

Balamani Amma, feminismo de una forma diferente.

The history of feminisms is different from place to place, culture to culture and time to time. There is always a misconception about culture. Sometimes, the so-called cultured groups turn out to be quite uncultured from some point of view. If we look at the recent historical development of America, which is always mentioned as new country, historians are accepting that in reality, the history and culture of America is as old as any other ancient civilization and the base of so many cultured tribes. These tribes that are often mentioned as Native Americans had a different way of life than the people who controlled them.  These native people had strong clans, which were controlled by women of the respective clans; they could manage to take care of the entire clan in a very social democratic way. The tribe used to work together on the fields and could get equal portion of food grains; even their slaves were free to enjoy their family life and other benefits of the society. But when America was discovered by Europeans, these tribes were considered as uncultured, and their way of life was not accepted. Unfortunately the ideology of the invaders was more conservative, and the women of the so called cultured Americans suffered a lot as they were treated as beautiful mum dolls, while at the same time the “uncultured” native women were taking care of the whole village with courage and intelligence, they had the power to control finance also. If we look at the history of America, we find that   in Native American Oklahoma society, the heritage of a society is associated with the mother. This was the time, when by European concepts, the women were called by their husbands’ last name. The pregnant mother in Native American society was called beloved woman, as she was doing the best work of the nature, women could talk their mind in Council meetings without any fear, whereas European women were not allowed to talk even in the family meetings.  Still the Native culture was taken as uncultured, and they were forced to learn less civilized culture. This happened to most of the ancient native cultures around the world. The result was that the meaning of freedom for woman has changed with time. The neo of pseudo cultured society converted womanhood into a show-piece.

That is when the feminist movement started in 19th century. The thoughts were quite different. Liberty was taken in a different sense and along with economic and social freedom, sexual freedom became more prominent. In later times, when women started working outside their homes, the sexual freedom constituted the main idea of feminism. When we see the human history, the loss of woman was not limited to just sexual freedom, but it also constituted her social status, harmony, economic freedom, and power to raise her voice. In reality, the sexual freedom follows all other freedoms. In modern literature, we find a very strange situation. In the name of gender equality and freedom, talking against the male gender became a part of women’s writing, and writing about sexual freedom became feminism. In Indian literature also we find a similar mentality among writers; and a few writers were so popular in such writings that their real creative power was left unnoticed.


But the “poet” is one such noun , where gender –suffix irrelevant, In case of Balamoiyamma we can say that she is the poet of India as her intellectual and emotional world has no regional or gender limitation.

A poet and story writer Kamala Das, who wrote poetry in English and stories in Malayalam, a native Indian language, became very popular for her overtly sexual writing. She was considered a strong feminist writer, mainly because of her open expression of sexuality, though she was a wonderful story teller, and her creativity was beyond imagination.

The other unfortunate stamp was pasted on her mother, who was a very strong poet of that time - Balamoniyamma, who talked about women’s freedom in a different way.

Balamoniyamma was a poet who was born in 1909 in an educated, cultured family in Kerala.  Like other women of her times, she studied at home, specially under the guidance of her uncle. In those days, Kerala society was matrilineal, but mother’s brother was regarded as the official head of the family. Balamoniyamma learned poetry from her uncle, who himself was a great poet. Still, Balamoniyamma developed a new style of presentation very soon. Her early poems of course had the impact of that period, and were written to glorify motherhood, the way male poets often used to do in Indian literature. Unfortunately, critics never read her poems beyond this early image as it is very comfortable for critics to put a stamp on female writers.

Now when we talk about Balamoniyamma, she lived a very different life compared to the ordinary women of Indian society. Even after marriage she never stopped writing, and was not very much involved in household related matters. She adopted a simple Gandhian dress code, which did not suit her husband’s high class society’s living style; she never wore any ornaments, and always wore white hand-woven dress. She was a pure vegetarian, in spite of her husband’s non-vegetarian food style, though she was not pseudo religious. Her daughters complained that she never behaved like a traditional mother petting them, or combing their hair, though she loved them in her own unique way.  

She never involved herself in light-hearted talk in the company of other women of her society or in social gatherings. She was more of an intellectual who preferred to keep away from such activities.

She read a lot, especially Indian mythology and wrote a number of poems related to those mythological stories, and converted their weak woman characters into powerful characters. In other words, she talked in the language of those women, who were depicted in a different light. For e.g., there is a story in the Mahabharata, in which Krishna won over his cruel uncle Kansa, the ruler of Mathura. When he was being felicitated by the people, a hunchbacked woman named Kubja, came to him. Krishna blessed her and removed her disfigurement, converting her into a beautiful woman. This story was written to glorify the power of Krishna, but Balamoniyamma changed this story. She rewrote a new story in which Kubja is a woman belonging to the lower social class, and therefore not treated as a proper human being. When she looks at Krishna, she falls in love with him. Krishna who lived till then in the village and was used to talking and playing with girls of all classes, looks at her with affection. This affectionate look gave courage to Kubja, and she got back her confidence as a woman, and this is the beauty of the woman.


I rubbed my ignorance on the stone of knowledge

I prepare a fragment lotion to apply

let me apply on your body,

You gave me power to stand straight

Now there would not be any hunch back


as You lift my face a little

all my life’s crookedness departs

the eye can no longer focus on the subtle and mud at my feet

no more shall the head bend and body hump

for you have put strength the straightness into me,

For first time, I see infinity today


brief is this vision, go now, do you mean?


Balamoniyamma led the life of a poet though she never got any formal education; even then, she was most educated in her knowledge and thinking and that is why she was never afraid of, never impressed by mythological characters, and never treated them as Gods. In her poetry, each and every mythological character is depicted as ordinary human beings.

I don’t know how many Hindu mythological characters are known to Latin American people, but I will give some examples along with the story behind them.

Valmiki is an ancient poet, who wrote a very popular epic named Ramayan. The hero of Ramayan is a very important deity of the Hindus, named Ram. The epic is the story of Rama and his wife Sita. It is said that the writer Valmiki was a dacoit and when some sages asked him to change his lifestyle, he also became a sage. Once he saw a pair of love birds being killed by a hunter, and felt so much pain that he curse the hunter, and started saying poetry on the cruel separation of the loving pair of birds, and thus got transformed into a poet. in this way his poetry is beleved to have started from that curse of grief and anger. Balamonyamma has given a twist to this story and gave the story a new direction. In her poem, when Valmiki saw the separation of love birds, he remembered his wife and children and felt guilty, as it was his duty to look after his family. Leaving his family in the forest without any support is crueller than killing, and thus he transformed into a poet because his curse is not directed to hunter only, it is directed to him too.

he says- I sing not the glory of man; flight ,but the wings that drop down,  . Here Balamoniyamma emphasises the   duty of man as lover, husband and father whereas Indian society always talk about the duty of a woman, not man. She as a poet questioned the duty of man.

Did the arrow strike my heart or the dove?

who is crying, the bird-mate or I the hermit?

what depths are measured by the Sun today,

who rose from the fire of the waters of earthly life?



Moreover she declares the religious epic Ramayana as in her poems, Valmiki accepts –

Now I am not singing the songs of flights

but the song of falling down wings

                        ( Valmiki)

There are so many poems, where   Balamoniyamma questioned the society for the right of woman, and asked woman to stand strong and educated.

The centre of her poetry was the intellectual world of a woman, as she only emphasises on education of woman, though she never opposes marriage and child bearing. She wrote a few poems, where she gave importance to motherhood and also to woman as grandmother.  In her poems, we don’t get any mention of physical love. Maybe this was as a result of the orthodox times she lived in, or an impact of her own personality.

In her poem, a grandmother says to her grandchild-

Your grandmother knows

Nothing is destroyed

Everything exists in human forever

In my old heart there are

so much of riches ,still

for your hands too

to play with

and throw away…

The love and creativity stored for generations of humans to play with, to grow up, and to inherit is eternal in the grandmother’s heart, just as in the heart of our earth.

She lived a married life, but was never an ordinary house wife of her times. She had children, but she was not attached blindly to them like a typical mother. Maybe she did not like to give the name of a different kind of love. Her poems talk about small things like pain of servants, arrogance of high-class or middle class women. She could see the love of an old half mad beggar woman, who could play with her child and make him laugh, she understood the pain of a servant, who could not take home the bunch of bananas for her son as she was not given leave by the lady of the house. The servant threw away the bananas, which she had kept for her child. She could see the anger of a young servant, whose master did not believe in him, when he has done a small shopping for the house or the servant girls who helped the master’s daughters to take bath in the pond. Here is one of her poems written for her daughter, the famous feminist writer- Kamala Das


your silken  sheath is mad by art

by flower of heart biting worms

your wings are shinning in the sky of mind

your veins are full of sadness

your body is tired by house hold work

but I am sure that you will convert in to a butter fly

I have faith…

( to the daughter)



One of her poems, learning to swim is very interesting as this teaches how a woman or girl  can come back as a main part of society and learn to live like a free soul.

In this poem a child is thrown into a flowing water body to learn swimming. She is afraid to see the open blue mouths of dancing waves. She is drowning and coming up, slapping the water with powerless limbs, and still looking at the horizon where the golden toy is shown as a reward. She wishes to take the end of her mother’s sari in her hand. The child then thinks, why does mother trouble me so much? She asks,

Is it not time for pulling me up?

This play is cruel. I will never learn to swim.

But in the end the play was not in vain, she could control the waves and get over them. She could swim with and against them.  Fighting with them is joyful, she understands that drowning is part of life, but she has to try her best to come up. That will make her strong; life is like learning swimming, especially for a woman.

She prays to Mother Goddess in a way different than male poets, she wishes for knowledge, not to win over enemies,

Come. Mother…

As power, dharma

And divine art

And bliss

Into our hearts


( Devi)

Balamoniyamma thought of human growth as spiritual, social, and wholesome-

With every step

Your growth internal

Is watched with delight

By ancestors

Who knew the five elements

Who don’t need a help

to move forward

who are never worried

who moves in homes, inside

and outside

who can kindle and light off

the starry heavens

those who keeps your path

whether you know it

or not. Therefore, my son,

Go forward. (Purathekku 1961)

For her a housewife lit the lamp not only for her home, but also educational institutions, factories and everywhere. The light of knowledge is given by the woman at home.

The poetic word of Balamoniyamma was quite large, though she was not given much importance for her philosophy. She was respected as a poet, but just as a mother poet, as rereading of her poetry was not done in a fair way. Though she always give respect to motherhood

sweetness of motherhood filled my soul

it troubled to flow from the breasts full

in to that sweet little rosy mouth

the moilk of love, my life blood

purified by love cares, no longer red


Her daughter Kamala Das was more popular because of a different kind of feminism, where women urge for sexual freedom, and shows her passion and love for the body. In fact, the idea of feminism has changed with the times, and though they were mother and daughter, there was hardly 17-18 years difference of age between them.