Today’s Google Doodle, illustrated by Kerala-based artist Devika Ramachandran, celebrates the 113th birthday of Balamani Amma, a famous Indian poet who was known as the grandmother of Malayalam literature—a language spoken in Kerala, India. On this day in 1909, she was born in Nalapat, her ancestral home in Punnayurkulam located in the Thrissur district. She was a recipient of countless awards for her poetry including the Saraswati Samman—the nation’s most esteemed literary award—and Padma Vibhushanthe—second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India.
Amma never received any formal training or education, but was instead schooled at home by her uncle Nalappat Narayana Menon, who was also a popular Malayali poet. He had an impressive collection of books and works that Amma studied at a young age. At 19, she married V.M. Nair, the managing director and managing editor of Mathrubhumi, a Malayalam newspaper.
In 1930, at the age of 21, Amma published her first poem titled Kooppukai. Her first recognition as a gifted poet came from the former ruler of the Kingdom of Cochin, Parikshith Thampuran, who awarded her with the Sahithya Nipuna Puraskaram.
As an avid reader of Indian mythology, Amma’s poetry tended to put a spin on the traditional understanding of women characters. Her early poems glorified motherhood in a new light—she became known as the “poetess of motherhood”. Her works adopted the ideas and stories of mythological characters, but depicted women as powerful figures who remained ordinary human beings. Her most famous works include Amma (1934), Muthassi (1962) and Mazhuvinte Katha (1966).
Balamani Amma was a recipient of multiple awards, and published more than 20 anthologies of poetry, prose and translations. She was also the mother of Kamala Das, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1984. Amma passed away in 2004 and her cremation was attended with full state honors. Her poems describing her love for children and grandchildren earned her the titles of Amma (Mother) and Muthassi (Grandmother) of Malayalam poetry.
Happy birthday, Balamani Amma!