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A role model

Vai. Mu. Kodhainayaki was a multi-faceted personality who excelled in many fields. A tribute in the year of her birth centenary by SULOCHANA PATTABHIRAMAN .

THE national biography of freedom fighters, published by the Government of India, states in page 276 that V. M. Kodhainayaki, wife of V. M. Parthasarathi Iyengar, took part in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932, and was arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment under Section 17(1) of 1908. She was sent to the State jail for women at Vellore.

During the first half of the last century, Vai. Mu. Kodhainayaki was a name associated with Tamil literature, Carnatic Music, cinema, oration, journalism, patriotism and spiritualism. Her prowess in the fine art of story telling captured millions of hearts, especially those of Tamil women who became her avid admirers. This year is the birth centenary year of this remarkable woman who left lasting imprints on the sands of more spheres than one.

She was born in an orthodox Vaishnavite family on the December 1, 1901 to Neervalam Venkatachariar and Pattammal. In childhood, Kodhai was affectionately addressed as Andal. Maybe this was prophetic, as this Kodhai, like the celestial one, was a personification of total surrender to the perennial charmer, Lord Krishna.

Her literary genius, her creative ability to compose in ragas conceived imaginatively and her unswerving bhakti, which she laid at the Divine Feet of Nandagopala, probably prompted many to refer to her as the Kaliyuga manifestation of Andal. She was a repository of erudition and culture, coupled with an extraordinary vision.

Kodhai lost her mother when still a baby, but abundant love and care was showered on her by her aunt Kanakammal, whose heart was as golden as her name. Kodhai entered matrimony at the tender age of five. The lucky groom was Parthasarathi, then all of nine years old and studying in standard IV. In those times, when male chauvinism was the order of the day, Parthasarathi, like the proverbial candle, burnt himself to provide the light of encouragement and enduring support to his wife, including her efforts to unshackle the country from the crippling fetters of the British Raj. He took great pride in the fact that Kodhai was identified as a freedom fighter and thrown into jail.

The popularity of the Tamil magazine, Jaganmohini, started by Kodhai in 1925, was mainly because of her commitment, contribution and constant focus. It was also due, to a large extent, to the support given by her son Vai. Mu. Srinivasan and daughter-in-law, Padmini Srinivasan, both of whom made sizable contributions to the magazine.

Her literary achievements were amazing. An unlettered person who initially had to have help in putting her ideas on paper, she had a prolific output of 115 novels. It is believed that at first Kodhai's neighbour, Pattammal, was the Vinayaka to her Vyasa. Her simple style of conveying the substance without flamboyance attracted even the not-so-well-read person. It bears repetition to say that Kodhai's literary style was governed by simple, yet effective, lyrical expression. Her novel Padma Sundaram was arguably the first in Tamil to be translated into Malayalam.

Later, when she learnt to read and write in Tamil from Pattammal, she became a household name in Tamil-speaking homes and a legend in her own lifetime. I vividly remember my mother, also a Pattammal, not merely reading Kodhainayaki's creations, but almost devouring and still yearning for more.

Her novels focussed on women's education, abolition of child marriage, removal of caste distinctions, social and economic upliftment of Harijans, and raising the quality of life of the poor, infirm and handicapped.

Literary giants such as Suddhananda Bharatiar, P. Sri, Rajaji, Somasundara Bharatiar, T. K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliar, Guhapriyai, Vasumati Ramaswamy, Kamala Satagopan and others all enriched the pages of Jaganmohini with their writings.

Though from a strict orthodox background, her enthusiasm and national consciousness spurred her into action against colonial rule. She actively participated in the freedom movement that earned her the appreciation of many top leaders and the public. Mere words cannot describe the support given to Kodhai by her husband during this period.

Her oratorical capabilities were manifest in their full glory in her public speeches to awaken the Indian people to appreciate the monumental struggle for liberty by the likes of Gandhiji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Rajaji and Satyamurthy, among others.

During the early part of the last century, the Gandhian mantra of non-violence, ahimsa and prohibition were creating waves in the Indian subcontinent. Kodhainayaki became an ardent propagator of Gandhian principles through the medium of her novels.

Her dream of meeting Gandhiji became a reality when, during one of his trips to the South, she came face to face with the Mahatma. Kodhainayaki, in her youthful exuberance, thought it was proper to meet the great man in all her finery of silk sari, gold waist band, gold bangles, diamond ear studs, nose ring, nose drop or bullakku as it is called, mattal, silver anklets... Gandhiji took one look at her and, with his charming, characteristic toothless smile, said: "When our Bharat Mata is shackled with heavy iron fetters, is such ostentation necessary?" Kodhai felt a deep sense of guilt and shame and, from that day, she shunned silk saris and ornaments. She wore handspun khadar, nine yards of it. In those days, khadar was coarse and heavy. Except for the auspicious tirumangalyam, a nose ring and a couple of gold bangles, she wore no jewellery.

Her inherent desa bhakti was kindled by many national leaders, among them being the unparalleled Satyamurthi, and K. Bashyam or Arya, as he was known as a portrait painter. It was Bashyam who hoisted the Indian national flag at Fort St. George when the British rule showed the least cracks. Although totally irrelevant, this writer is absolutely proud to mention that she is Bashyam's niece, his brother K. Sadagopan's daughter.

Satyamurthi was the force behind Kodhai's oratorical skills. He recognised her potential and encouraged her to participate in a public meeting at Tindivanam instead of himself - and what a splendid beginning that was! Even seasoned speakers like Moodharignar Rajaji acknowledged her free flowing, confident, impressive articulation and considered her an asset to the Congress Party.

During the district board election at Tirunelveli in 1934, where the strength of the Justice Party was unquestionable and unshakeable, Kodhainayaki, with 12 other women among whom was the popular K. B. Sundarambal, took upon herself to storm the Justice Party bastion with her mesmerising oration. She proved to be such a runaway success that her opponents made elaborate plans to do away with her. Fortunately, her ishta devata Lord Krishna saw to it that nothing untoward happened.

Her forays in the world of celluloid began with Kodhai training a young girl, Vyjayantimala's mother, Vasundhara Devi. Vai. Mu. Ko. was a member of the Film Censor Board for more than 10 years, and took decisions with an acute sense of fairness and conscientiousness. She could never be influenced by others, and would depend solely on her own impartial, uncompromising judgment.

Some of the films based on her novels met with resounding success - such as "Rajamohan", "Tyagakodi", "Anadhai" and "Nalina Sekharan". But the film that attracted cinema aficionados most was "Chithi", originally named "Dayanidhi", for which she received the best story writer award, instituted by the Film Fans Association. Padmini's and M. R. Radha's roles in this film earned them the best actress and actor awards.

As a musician, she earned the appreciation of one and all because of her melodious voice, her impeccable diction, her understanding of the lyrical substance and the emotion and devotion in her musical expression.

When the All India Radio Broadcasting Corporation was inaugurated by none other than Rajaji in 1938, Kodhainayaki was given the honour to present a vocal recital, after which there was no looking back.

She was invited to perform almost every month in various capacities as a drama artiste, as a speaker and as a singer. When it came to music, she preferred to sing the patriotic songs of Subramanya Bharathiar with the same emotion and fervour as the composer himself.

Kodhainayaki Ammal was also a composer of consummate merit. She had added considerable richness to the repertoire of Carnatic Music. Her songs, immersed in the ocean of devotion and extolling the glory of the deities in the Hindu pantheon, are full of lyrical, melodic, prosodic excellence and rhythmic exactitude. The sahitya is simple, yet arresting, the melody in the different ragas emphatically brought to the fore and the prosody flawless. The talas in which the kritis have been set have a lilt of their own. The composer's creative brilliance is not only reflected in the songs, but also in the new ragas of varied hues that she has conceived. It is not that difficult to create a new raga, stringing the seven swaras in various permutations and combinations. But to give life and soul to the scale is the litmus test - the essence of the raga should be embedded in a composition, and in that respect how well Vai. Mu. Ko. has succeeded!

Apoorva ragas such as Amsabrahmari (50th Mela), Dhavalihamsi (57th Mela), Ambamanohari (23rd Mela), Kankanaalankari (52nd Mela), Nepala Gowla (15th Mela) that have a similar format to Dikshitar's Lalitha, Kathayodhakanti (32nd Mela) are some of the melodies employed as rich apparel to her songs that not only provide aural fulfillment but also spiritual upliftment. One wishes that these compositions are sung frequently on concert platforms and become popular.

Her musical opera "Chandra Kala Malai" for All India Radio depicting the deep devotion of Villi, a cook in the temple at Srivilliputhur, to that Kodhai in the Heavens created a phenomenal impact on listeners. D. K. Pattammal, the doyenne of Carnatic Music in the contemporary scenario, is believed to have benefited much through her close association with Vai. Mu. Ko. On August 15, 1947, when the nation had its "tryst with destiny," Kodhai installed a statue of the Mahatma at Singaperumal Koil and than she made a slow exit from the political scene.

The loss of her only son Srinivasan at a young age greatly affected Kodhai, both physically and mentally. She fell seriously ill in 1959. The publication of Jaganmohini was stopped on October 5, 1959, and soon after, on February 20, 1960, Kodhainayaki passed into eternity.

Vai. Mu. Kodhanaiyaki, who did not wait for things to happen but made them happen, was a role model to many South Indian women of those times. Her lifestyle, her far-reaching vision and her achievements even within constrained parameters, truly cement her place among our national icons. Even if a small fraction of the billion people of India today were to be cast in the mould of Vai. Mu. Ko, our country's image in the eyes of the international community would certainly rise to appreciable levels.

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