Lalithambika Antharjanam

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Lalithambika Antharjanam
Lalithambika Antherjanam.jpg
Born(1909-03-30)March 30, 1909
Punalur, Kollam, India
DiedFebruary 6, 1987(1987-02-06) (aged 77)
Njaliyakuzhi, Kottayam district, Kerala
OccupationWriter, social reformer
Notable worksAgnisakshi, Aathmakadhakkoru Aamukham
Notable awards
SpouseNarayanan Nambudiri
ChildrenBhaskara Kumar, N. Mohanan, Leela, Shantha, Rajam, Mani, Rajendran
  • Damodaran Namboothiri (father)
  • Aryadevi Antharjanam (mother)

Lalithambika Antharjanam (March 30, 1909–February 6, 1987) was an Indian author and social reformer best known for her literary works in Malayalam language. She was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and social reform movements among the Nambudiri caste led by V. T. Bhattathiripad[1] and her writing reflects a sensitivity to the women's role in society, in the family and as an individual. Her published oeuvre consists of nine volumes of short stories, six collections of poems, two books for children, and a novel, Agnisakshi (1976) which won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award and Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1977. Her autobiography Aathmakadhakkoru Aamukham (An Introduction to Autobiography) is also considered a significant work in Malayalam literature.


Lalithambika Antharjanam[note 1] was born on March 30, 1909 at Kottavattom near Punalur, Kollam district, in the south Indian state of Kerala, in a conservative household to Kottavattathu Illathu Damodaran Namboothiri and Changarappilli Manaykkal Aryadevi Antharjanam.[2] She had little formal education, however, her father appointed a private tutor who taught the child, which was unusual at the time.[3]

Although she was part of the most powerful landholding Brahmin caste of Kerala, Lalithambika's life-work was the exposure and destruction of the hypocrisy, violence and injustice with which women were treated in Nambudiri society. She was not allowed to study in school, and could only glean scraps of information about the outside world through male relatives who were kind enough to tell her about current affairs. She knew a little about the ongoing Indian freedom movement, and longed to take part. In 1926, she was married in the prescribed way to the farmer Narayanan Nambudiri.[4] As a wife, she now lost all contact with the outside world and her day consisted of a claustrophobic routine of hard physical labour in smoky kitchens and damp closed courtyards, petty domestic politics and the fears and jealousies of other similarly imprisoned women. But she also saw their courage and their determination to be human in spite of the unnatural conditions of their lives. In this world her only outlet was her writing, which she did in secret. At the end of a working day that began before dawn, she would put her children to sleep, bar the door and write in the light of a tiny lamp. Constant exposure to smoke and inadequate lighting began to destroy her eyes. When the pain got very bad, she would write with her eyes closed. The frustration and degradation of her caste sisters moved Lalithambika to expose their plight in her celebrated Malayalam novel Agnisakshi (Fire being the Witness).[5] The novel was later made into a film with the same title in 1997.

Nambudiri custom allowed only the eldest son to marry within the caste; all the others contracted sambandhams with women from other castes, usually the matrilineal Nairs. This ensured that inheritance through the male line was always undisputed, since the children of sambandhams did not have the right to inherit. As a result, many Nambudiri women remained unmarried all their lives, in restrictions that amounted to rigorous imprisonment. They were not supposed to let the sun's rays touch their bodies. Any slip or shadow of suspicion would condemn them to being tried by the smarthavicharam courts of male elders. These courts were empowered to strip a woman of her social position and throw her out to starve. For these women, who were not even allowed to look out of windows, such a fate was psychologically as well as economically devastating.

On the rare occasions when antharjanams left the house, they had to envelope their whole bodies in a thick cloak, and carry a leaf umbrella whose canopy reached to their waists, so that they could only see their own feet when walking. By contrast, lower caste women were required by law to bare their breasts when in the presence of higher caste men, and could be punished for not doing so. They thus habitually went with their upper bodied uncovered, and many reformist and missionary movements in early twentieth century Kerala clothed lower caste women by force to uplift them. By the 1930s, most royal households (who were below Brahmins, caste-wise) were allowing their women to wear blouses, but the practice took longer to percolate downwards to poorer families, especially as blouses were quite costly.

In her story Revenge Herself (English translation anthologised in The Inner Courtyard[3]), she highlights the moral and sexual choices faced by upper caste Nambudiri women, who were secluded in the inner house, through the story of the "fallen woman" Tatri. This is especially sensitive in Kerala, where Nair women are relatively free sexual lives in their matriarchal culture. In her story Mulappalinte Manam she highlights the woman's role as the central cohesive force in society, and she supports artificial birth control, so long as it does not contradict this basic womanly qualities of healing the schisms opened up by individualism.[6]

From her marriage with Narayanan Naboothiri, she had four sons, Bhaskara Kumar, N. Mohanan, Mani and Rajendra and three daughters, Leela, Shantha and Rajam. N. Mohanan was also a noted author and a recipient of Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award.[7]

Awards and honours[edit]


  • Adyathe Kathakal (First Stories), 1937
  • Takarna Talamura (Ruined Generation), 1949
  • Kilivaathililoode (Through the Pigeon Hole), 1950
  • Kodumkatil Ninnu (From a Whirlwind), 1951
  • Moodupadathil (Behind the Veil), 1955
  • Agni Pushpangal (Flowers of Fire), 1960
  • Seetha Muthal Satyavathi Vare (From Sita to Satyavati), 1972
  • Agnisakshi (Fire being the Witness), 1976


  • Lalithambika Antharjanam (1998). Cast Me Out If You Will: Stories and Memoir. Stree. ISBN 978-81-85604-11-4.
  • Lalithambika Antharjanam (18 September 2017). On the Far Side of Memory: Short Stories of Lalithambika Antharjanam. OUP India. ISBN 978-0-19-909153-9.
  • N. Lalithambika Antharjanam (2004). Agg Goah. Sahitya Akademi Publications. ISBN 978-81-260-1741-6.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Antharjanam' means 'she who spends her life inside'. Her first name is a compound of 'Lalitha' (Simple,) and 'Ambika' (literally 'little mother', the name of a goddess)


  1. ^ Devi, Gayatri (29 March 2019). "Lalithambika Antharjanam : The Writer Who Helped Shape Kerala's Feminist Literature". Feminism In India. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Biography on Kerala Sahitya Akademi portal". Kerala Sahitya Akademi portal. 30 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b Lakshmi Holmström, ed. (1991). The Inner Courtyard. Rupa & Co.Contains the translation "Revenge Herself", tr. Vasanti Sankaranarayan
  4. ^ "Profile of Malayalam Story Writer Lalithambika Antharjanam". 30 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Agnisakshi by Lalithambika Antharjanam - Book Review". Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  6. ^ J. Devika, Family planning as liberation: the ambiguities of "emancipation from biology" in Kerala(Working paper version),Inter-Asia Cultural StudiesVolume 7, Issue 1 March 2006 , pages 43–61
  7. ^ a b c "Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Novel N. Mohanan". Kerala Sahitya Akademi. 30 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Literary Awards". 24 May 2007. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  9. ^ "Kerala Sahitya Akademi Fellowship". Kerala Sahitya Akademi. 30 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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