Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Vai Mu Kothainayagi

There is a monthly series of lectures underway at Krishna Gana Saba, titled Tamil Valartha CaanRor தமிழ் வளர்த்த சான்றோர். The primary speaker is Dr Va Ve Subramaniam, former Principal of Vivekananda College, Madras. He shares the stage with another speaker, and they discuss the contributions of various writers or artists – exemplars (caanRor சான்றோர்) –  of the 20th century, to Tamil literature. The include U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, Kothamangalam Subbu, Periyasami Thooran, Thiru Vi Ka, Avvai Shanmugam, Papanasam Sivan, Rajaji, AK Chettiar etc. I have attended a few lecture and found them delightful. Here are some notes from Dr VaVeSu’s lecture on Vai Mu Kothainayagi. Tiruppur Krishnan shared the stage with him.

Notes from the Lecture 

VaiMuKo was an early writer, when prose and print were just coming into their own in Tamil. Novels were the rage, and reflected the religious overtones of the Brahmins who were some of the early novelists. In one case,18 pages of prayer in a novel, in the times of VaiMuKo.

When she met Gandhi, she switched to wearing khadi, though she used 9 gaja lengths. She wore the Iyengar saree for the rest of the life.

An attempted murderer of VaiMuKo who had a change of heart, was given refuge by her, since he was concerned that the Justice Party people who engaged him, would kill him for not going thro.

She never joined any party though she was an ardent supporter of the Congress and the freedom movement. Tirupur Krishnan compared her to Kodi kaatha Kumaran's wife, who was widowed at 12 and died at 96 but never joined any party. Rajaji praised VaiMuKo as an example and influence on all women.

Reflecting her strong religious beliefs, she wrote severe protests against atheist movement in her novels.

She was a path breaker with her magazine JaganMohini. VaVeSu said that she encouraged a 100 other women writers. Her feminism not of sexual freedom, of quick divorce, not of belittling men but demanding equality. An activism of gentle reform - Bharathi's feminism.

An interesting incident narrated was VaiMuKo was singing a song of Subramanya Bharathi, in her house in Triplicane. This song could be heard on the street, and struck by the beauty of the singing, a passerby stopped and visibly enjoyed her music. This intrusion offended some people in the household, one of whom asked the gentleman to not intrude in such a manner. Upon which the passerby asked, “May I know whose songs the lady was singing?” Came the reply: “A great and talented poet, called Subramanya Bharathi.” To which the intruder drily retorted, “I happen to be that very same Subramanya Bharathi.”


She could sing like MLVasanthakumari, MS Subbulakshmi, NC Vasanthakokilam etc. There was even an LP record of her singing about a mosquito! But since gramophone records became obsolete, this may be lost. 

After he became the Chief Minister, Kamaraj said, “I used to carry betel leaves for VaiMuKo; I'm in politics, because people like her are not.”

Kamaraj also promised that he would provide free education to descendants of freedom fighters, since VaiMuKo requested him to do so. This was narrated by her grandson, Krishnan, in attendance, who said that he studied in Vivekananda College because of that scheme.

Gopu’s Notes

The first time I heard of VaiMuKo was when I read an English translation of her short story in The Hindu’s monthly Literary Supplement. This was in the form of letters written by Sita, to her parental home in Mithila, after she had settled down in Ayodhya. They were written in the style of a Tamil Brahmin bride of the early 1900s, and involved drying vadaams on the roof, conversations with her mother-in-law, events in the palace etc.

I wonder if there is any truth to that alleged episode of attempted murder, or whether a faction of the Justice Party was indeed behind it. Oddly, it reminded me of the story of the murder attempt on SriVaishnavite acharya Ramanuja by his own teacher Yadavaprakasa.

It also seems strange that VaiMuKo’s family would not recognize Bharathi, who after all lived in the same Triplicane, right across the temple.

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  1. I would like to read Vai. Mu. Kothainayaki ammal's novels. Where can I get them? Are any ebooks available? I recently bought a novel of her at Triplicane from an old book seller. Very fortunate that I recognised the book for what it was, a gem. I treasure it now. I want to read more books by her including her detective novel.

  2. I am not sure if they are published or sold nowadays. Perhaps when the Annual Madras book fair is held in April in Chennai, some publishers will stock them

  3. Alliance publishers have her books at their store in Mylapore.

  4. Very interesting account of the Lady whose name is rarely heard now. Hers appears to have been the liberation women here, aspired for and many still seek.

    Reading the following words in the article makes one marvel at the Strong Personality she must have been in the early 1900s!

    "Reflecting her strong religious beliefs, she wrote severe protests against atheist movement in her novels."

    "She was a path breaker with her magazine JaganMohini. VaVeSu said that she encouraged a 100 other women writers..... An activism of gentle reform - Bharathi's feminism."