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Born (1934-01-03) January 3, 1934 (age 80)
Aranmula, Travancore, British India
Occupation Poet, activist, environmentalist
Language Malayalam
Nationality Indian
Alma mater University College, Thiruvananthapuram
Period 1957–present
Notable work(s) Raathrimazha, Ambalamani, Manalezhuthu
Spouse(s) Dr. K. Velayudhan Nair (d. 2003)

Sugathakumari (born January 3, 1934) is an Indian poet and activist, who has been at the forefront of environmental and feminist movements in Kerala, South India. She is an established writer in Malayalam with a unique voice of her own emotional empathy, humanist sensitivity and moral alertness.[1] Most of her poetic works had a special place for Mother Nature and some of them dwelved on human relationships and emotional traverse of the mind. She played a big role in the Save Silent Valley protest. She is the founder secretary of the Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi, an organisation for the protection of nature and of Abhaya, a home for destitute women and a day-care centre for the mentally ill. She was the former chairperson of the Kerala State Women's Commission.[2]

Sugathakumari has won numerous awards and recognitions including Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (1968), Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (1978), Odakkuzhal Award (1982), Vayalar Award (1984), Indira Priyadarshini Vriksha Mitra Award (1986), Asan Prize (1991), Vallathol Award (2003), Kerala Sahithya Akademi Fellowship (2004), Ezhuthachan Puraskaram (2009) and Saraswati Samman (2012). In 2006, she was honoured with Padma Shri, the country's fourth highest civilian honour.

Early and personal life[edit]

Sugathakumari was born at Aranmula in January 1934 in the Vazahapallil Tharavadu. Her father, Bodheswaran was a famous Gandhian thinker and writer, involved in the country's freedom struggle. Prof. V. K. Karthiyayini Amma, her mother, was a well known scholar and teacher of Sanskrit.[3] After completing her graduation from the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, she took a Master's Degree in Philosophy in 1955, and did research for three years on 'Comparative Study of the Concept of Moksha in Indian Schools of Philosophy', but did not complete the thesis.[1]

Sugathakumari's husband Dr. K. Velayudhan Nair (1979–2003) was an educationist and writer. An expert in educational psychology, Nair has to his credit several works, including a widely acclaimed study on Sri Aurobindo's philosophy.[4] They have a daughter, Lakshmi. Sugathakumari's elder sister Hridayakumari is a literary critic, orator and educationist. Hridayakumari won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the year 1991 for her book Kalpanikatha, a study on romanticism in Malayalam literature.

Literary career[edit]

Sugathakumari during the Fokkana Award distribution ceremony, Thiruvananthapuram (1994)

Sugathakumari's very first poem which she published under a pseudonym in a weekly journal in 1957 attracted wide attention.[5] In 1968, Sugathakumari won the Kerala Sahithya Akademi for her work Pathirappookal (Flowers of Midnight). Raathrimazha (Night Rain) won the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award in the year 1978. Her other collections include Paavam Manavahridayam, Muthuchippi, Irulchirakukal and Swapnabhoomi. Sugathakumari's earlier poetry mostly dealt with the tragic quest for love and is considered more lyrical compared to her later works in which the quiet, lyrical sensibility is replaced by increasingly feminist responses to social disorder and injustice. Environmental issues and other contemporary problems are also sharply portrayed in her poetry.

Sugathakumari is perhaps the most sensitive and most philosophical of contemporary Malayalam poets.[5] She is regarded as having given a fresh lease on life to Romantic lyricism in Malayalam poetry. Her poetry makes an odyssey into the very essence of womanhood. She journeys into the psychological subtleties of man-woman relationship. Sugatha Kumari shows a conscious quest for women's identity and integration in her writings. She follows the traditional writing style and has not leaned much towards the modernism in Malayalam poetry. Her poetry has always drawn upon her sadness and unhappiness. "I have been inspired to write mostly through my emotional upheavals; few of my poems can be called joyous. But these days I feel I'm slowly walking away from it all, to a world that is futile or meaningless," says Sugathakumari.[6] Sugathakumari's most famous works include Raathrimazha, Ambalamani and Manalezhuthu. Sugathakumari has also made contribution to the field of children's literature. In 2008, she received an Award for Lifetime Contribution to Children's Literature, instituted by the State Institute of Children's Literature.[7] She also has several translated works to her credit.

She has won numerous other awards for her literary works, including the prestigious Vayalar Award and Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the highest literary honour by Government of Kerala.[8] In 2004, she was given the Kerala Sahithya Akademi Fellowship.[9][10] She won the prestigious Saraswati Samman in 2012, being only the third Malayalam writer to do so.[1] She was the principal of Kerala State Jawahar Balabhavan, Thiruvananthapuram. She is the founder chief editor of Thaliru, a children's magazine published by Kerala State Institute of Children's Literature.[1]

Social activity[edit]

Kumari was inspired by her father's poetry as well as his strong beliefs: 'He was a freedom fighter filled with the all too rare ideals of patriotism and sacrifice.' His example influenced her deeply and led her eventually to the conviction that the writer has an important obligation as a social conscience.

A committed conservationist, Sugathakumari served as the secretary of the Society for Conservation of Nature, Thiruvananthapuram. In the late seventies she led a successful nationwide movement, known as Save Silent Valley, to save some of the oldest natural forests in the country, the Silent Valley in Kerala, from submersion as a result of a planned hydroelectric project. Her poem "Marathinu Stuthi" (Ode to a Tree) became a symbol for the protest from the intellectual community and was the opening song of most of the Save Silent Valley campaign meetings.[11] She was the founder secretary of the Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi, an organisation for the protection of nature. She was also actively involved with various women's movements of the seventies and served as the chairperson of the Kerala State Women's Commission.[2]

Although she is best known as a poet environmentalist, Kumari is also the founder of Abhaya (refuge) -- an organization which gives shelter and hope to female mental patients. Her work to launch Abhaya was prompted by an off-chance visit to the government-run Mental Hospital in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram. There women were housed in 19th century conditions, sexually abused and regularly prostituted to men in the neighboring police camp. When she visited the hospital she saw 'women's bodies covered with sores and stark naked. They were emaciated and their hair was matted. They didn't even look like human beings.' The horror of this experience was embedded in her mind and she decided on the spot to do something about it, despite opposition to interventions from ngos by professionals in the field.

Sugatha Kumari has received the Bhattia Award for Social Science, the Sacred Soul International Award, the Lakshmi Award for social service and the first Indira Priyadarshini Vriksha Mitra Award from the Government of India for her efforts in environmental conservation and afforestation.[5]


  • Mutthuchippi (Pearl and Oyster; 1961)
  • Pathirappookkal (Midnight Flowers; 1967)
  • Paavam Maanavahridayam (Poor Human Heart; 1968)
  • Pranamam (Salutation; 1969)
  • Irul Chirakukal (The Wings of Darkness; 1969)
  • Raathrimazha (Night Rain; 1977)
  • Ambalamani (Temple Bell; 1981)
  • Kurinjippookkal (Kurinji Flowers; 1987)
  • Thulaavarshappacha (The Monsoon Green; 1990)
  • Radhayevide (Where is Radha?; 1995)
  • Devadasi (1998)
  • Manalezhuthu (The Writing on the Sand)

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Civilian honours
Literary awards
Other awards
  • 1986: Indira Priyadarshini Vriksha Mitra Award
  • 2006: Panampilly Prathibha Puraskaram[18]
  • 2007: Streesakti Award[19]
  • 2007: K. Kunhirama Kurup Award[20]
  • 2009: M.T.Chandrasenan Award[21]


  1. ^ a b c d "Saraswati Samman for Sugathakumari". Kerala Kaumudi ( March 18, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Status of women declining: Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Thiruvananthapuram, India). November 3, 2000. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  3. ^ Tharu, Susie J.; Lalita, Ke, eds. (1993). Women Writing in India: The twentieth century. Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present 2. Feminist Press. p. 399. ISBN 978-1-55861-029-3. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  4. ^ "Educationist Velayudhan Nair dead". The Times of India ( September 22, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Mohan Lal (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: sasay to zorgot, Volume 5. Sahitya Akademi. pp. 4211, 4212. 
  6. ^ a b "A pleasant surprise". The Hindu (Thiruvananthapuram, India). January 27, 2006. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Thiruvananthapuram, India). April 23, 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Ezhuthachan Puraskaram for Sugathakumari". The Hindu. November 14, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Trichur, India). March 13, 2004. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Antony to present Akademi Fellowship". The Hindu (Trichur, India). August 10, 2004. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  11. ^ Sridevi Mohan (April 24, 2004). "Bio-reserve nonpareil". The Hindu. Retrieved May 5, 2014.
  12. ^ "Kerala Sahithya Akademi Winners for Poetry (1959–2003)". Kerala Sahithya Akademi. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
  13. ^ "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Kochi, India). July 5, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Basheer award presented". The Hindu (Kochi, India). December 10, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Saraswati Samman for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (New Delhi, India). Press Trust of India. Retrieved March 19, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "പി.കെ.വി പുരസ്‌ക്കാരം സുഗതകുമാരിയ്ക്ക്" [PKV Award to Sugathakumari] (in Malayalam). DC Books. April 3, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  17. ^ "സുഗതകുമാരിക്ക് പണ്ഡിറ്റ് കറുപ്പന്‍ പുരസ്‌കാരം" [Pandit Karuppan to Sugathakumari] (in Malayalam). DC Books. May 21, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Kochi, India). September 26, 2006. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Award presented to Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Kochi, India). June 2, 2007. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Kozhikode, India). December 6, 2007. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Award for Sugathakumari". The Hindu (Alappuzha, India). August 17, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • M. Leelavathi (1980). Malayala kavita sahitya charitram (in Malayalam). Trichur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi. 
  • T. M. Chummar (1973). Padya sahitya charitram (in Malayalam). Kottayam. 
  • Mohan Lal (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: sasay to zorgot 5. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. pp. 4111, 4112. 
  • K. V. Surendran (ed.). "5. Indian Women Poets: Mapping out New Terrains and 8. Man-Woman Relationship in Kamala Das and Sugathakumari". Indian English Poetry: New Perspectives 5. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. pp. 37–50, 62–70. 
  • Susie Tharu, K. Lalita, ed. (1993). Women Writing in India: The Twentieth century 2. Feminist Press. pp. 398–401.