Literary Shelf

Portrayal of Women in Marathi Novels

“Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, husbands, brothers, brothers-in-law who desire their own welfare” — Manu Smrti, 111-55

Woman has been the epicenter of Indian literature. She has inspired our poets in such a way, that even Adi Kavi Valmiki  has given ‘Sitaayaha Charitam’ as the second title to his immortal epic Ramayana. All most all early novels published in Indian languages are named after women only. Marathi and Kannada are the only two Indian languages where novel is known as Kaadambari (named after Bana Bhatta’s Sanskrit work Kadambari). In fact this trend of naming a novel after a woman’s name was started by the very first Marathi novelist Baba Padmanji.  His Yamuna Paryatan, when you go by the year of publication i.e. 1857 is considered to be the first novel in Indian literature. Even to this day books, majority of them, are named after women. Some of the established authors prefer to have the name of a woman as their ‘Pen Name”.  As you find the hand of the woman, as the proverb goes, behind a successful man, you will be surprised to find the name of a woman as title, behind the successful fiction writers. Marathi is not an exception to this rule. Sometimes a book becomes a best seller just because either it has the name of a woman as the title or the book is written by a woman.

In 1818, Maharashtra received the shock of the century. Peshwa’s rule came to an end by paving a way for the East India Company, to control the reins of Maharashtra. It ultimately ended in British rule. East India Company’s educational policy was to spread Christianity through their missionary zeal. This in a way helped Indians in ways more than one.  Missionaries particularly, could vividly understand the richness of Indian languages in general and Marathi in particular. Mr. John Wilson, while writing the preface to the revised edition of J.T. Moles worth’s Marathi – English Dictionary observes: ‘(Hence) the great richness and power of the Marathi Language, which, without exaggeration may be held capable of meeting any exigency in social life or in literature, science or religion.(p.p.xxix,Bombay,1857). This revelation compelled both Rulers and Missionaries to learn this language. Christian religious literature was translated in to Marathi. William Carry of Serampur (Bengal) wrote a grammar book for Marathi in the year 1805. Molesworth James with the assistance of Candy brothers brought out Marathi-English Dictionary in the year 1826. 40,000 words were included in this dictionary. Seeing everything conducive for starting a school, that too for girls, American Missionary Society started a school for Hindu Girls in Bombay in the year 1824.

For various political, social obvious reasons, women were not given education. Parents thought that their daughters after getting education may elope and marry Christian boys and will become Christians. To avoid this they encouraged child marriages. Child mortality rate being very high and average life span being very low girls used to attain widowhood even before attaining girlhood. This resulted in harassment of innocent girls who could not even understand the meaning of either girlhood or widowhood.

The widowed girl was physically and mentally tortured; leave alone by girl’s in-laws, even by her parents and old women folk of the house. The very first novelist of not only Marathi but also the very first novelist of India Baba Padmanji (1831-1906) has recorded the plights of young widows thus: No relative will touch her. Witches will be guarding her 24x7. Their ears and noses will be pierced. To remove the bangles made of gold or silver they used to break them with stone by keeping the hands on the ground or hard surface. No one ever used to try to console the unfortunate girl. Till the first death anniversary she has to eat only once. They will make her fast forcibly (from the appendix of Baba Padmanji’s  novel ‘Yamuna Paryatan’, Vth Edition, 1994, Sneha Vardhan Prakashan, Poone, page 104-105, English translation of these lines by Dr A B Sai Prasad)  In a nut shell the women were  not treated properly. The main character Indira Bai of Kannada’s first social novel “Indira Bai” by Gulvadi Venkat Rao says once,  after becoming a young widow,  unfortunately we do not have women barbers to clean shave the head of a young widow. In those days the young widows were not allowed to wear blouse.

Baba Padmanji being a very sensitive human being, soon after his conversion to Christianity in the year 1854 (He was known as Baba Padmanji Moole before his conversion) took up cudgels against the atrocities that were being committed against young Hindu widows. To highlight their miseries he penned his novel “Yamuna Paryatan” in the year 1857. He was so perturbed over the pathetic conditions of Hindu widows of those days, particularly in Maharashtra, he gave a second title to his novel as Hindusthanan Til Vidhwanchya Sthithiche Nirupan i.e. A narration of the Pathetic conditions of Indian Widow.  Baba Padmanji a native of Belgaum, Karnataka while writing his novel in Marathi talks about India. He had pan Indian view. He actively supports the Act of 1856 which legalizes the marriage of Hindu widow. This Act came in to force from the Month of July 1856. Yamuna the heroine of the novel “Yamuna Paryatan” during her paryatan i.e. pilgrimage comes across number of widows. She appeals to people to fight against those despicable crimes that are committed against young Hindu widows. Yamuna’s husband Vinayak Rao dies in an accident at Pandarpur. After her husband’s death may be to set an example before the society she marries a Christian and herself becomes a Christian. Baba Padmanji presents his heroine Yamuna as a militant woman who revolts against the society. Though Baba Padmanji’s novel could not become very popular, it underwent only two editions during his life time, it has left an indelible mark on the minds of people. Baba Padmanji may be through his colleagues might have heard about ‘Mardani’ Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. He would have taken inspiration from her militant spirit while depicting the character of Yamuna. Whatever may be the purpose behind writing this novel Yamuna Paryatan Baba Padmanji has succeeded in conveying the message that women can achieve things provided they have mind and determination to achieve things.

The die was cast in the form of Yamuna to fight social evil like child marriage. Baba Padmanji’s Yamuna became a role model to other novelists like Lakshmana Shastri Moreswar Shastri Halbeji  (1831-1904) . Four years after the publication of ‘Yamuna Paryatan Halbeji came out with the publication of social novel “Mukthamala”. In 1866 he published his second novel Rathna Prabha. Emancipation of women was the central theme of his two novels. In Mukthamala he depicts the character Mukthmala as a suffering woman. He vividly depicts the cruelty to which she was subjected to. Halbeji instead of encouraging the widow marriage introduces a cinematic scene and brings back her husband whom everybody thought is dead. In this novel Halbeji depicts his heroine as an embodiment of patience. In his second novel Rathna Prabha Halbeji presents his heroine as an awakened person. Rathna Prabha loses her husband when she was young. The hero of the novel tries to convince Rathna Prabha by saying that even our Dharma Sashtras have permitted widow marriage. The step mother of Rathna Prabha says that she (Rathna Prabha ) is no doubt an educated girl but not properly bred in the bone. Thus Halbeji consciously brings to the front that only properly educated girls can take right decision as far as widow marriage is concerned. Halbeji has successfully portrayed the first conscious woman.

In Apte Hari Narayan (1864-1919) Marathi Society discovered a literatus who could paint the then Marathi society in its true colours. Himself being an English educated person, could see and perceive the pathetic conditions of the young widows, particularly of Brahmin community. He was very influenced by stalwarts like Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas etc. on one hand and by the leading magazine of those days like ‘Kesari’ on the other hand. His very first novel “Aaj Kal Chya Goshti-Madhli Sthithi (1884) could stir the imagination of the people of Maharashtra. At the time of writing this novel he was pursuing his studies. ‘Pune Vaibhav’ magazine started publishing this novel in the year 1884 itself as a serial. From the third issue onwards this novel caught the imagination of the people. It became hot topic of those days. People started to wait impatiently for the next installment of the novel in Pune Vaibhav. The reader-ship of the magazine went up like anything. It may or may not be a coincidence. Hari Bhavuji also names his heroine as Yamuna, the heroine of Baba Padmanji’s novel “Yamuna Paryatan”. His second novel “Pan  Lakshyant Kon Gheto?” (Who will Pay heed to) was published in the year 1893. About this novel publishers have this to say: Hari Narayan Apte’s novel depicts the then social conditions. It is written in an autobiographical strain. This is the story of Yamuna. She is brought up before our eyes. As a child bride, she adored her in laws. She becomes a tender but a firm wife. She boldly faces all situations and finally breaths her last….This is not only the pathetic story of Yamuna, but the heart rendering story of women of Maharashtra. Critic M. Manohar is of the opinion that, all his social novels deal with the contemporary problems of the society like child marriages, dowry system, widowhood, female education etc. Hari Bhavuji has honestly tried to portray the woman who could see the problems pertaining to her with her own wide opened eyes and sincerely try to solve them. Novelists like V M Joshi (Aashram Harini, Nalini, Susheelacha Dev, Ragini etc.) Apte Narayana Hari (B 11-07-1889-D 14-11-1971) popularly known as Nanasaheb Apte (Na Patnari Ghoshta, Sukhacha Moola Mantra, Pahate Purwicha Kalok, Bhagyashri etc.) and others, it seems have taken inspiration from Hari Bhavuji. V M Joshi’s  two novels - Nalini and Susheelacha Dev are worth mentioning here. In Nalini novel V M Joshi takes up two characters Nalini and Kamala and proves that woman should be under the protective care of her husband.  Like a ‘Manuvadi’ he feels that, if full freedom is given to her she may go astray like Kamala and lose her chastity. In Susheelacha Dev he highlights the point that woman must be educated and only an educated woman can know what to do and what not to do. V M Joshi succeeds in presenting two faces of woman in his novels.

S V Ketkar’s ‘Brahmana Kanya (1930) gave a new twist  to the problems of women. Here, problems are different from usual problem like child marriage. It is more with the child after the marriage, that too outside the bondage of marriage. This is the story of a Kalindi, whose mother was a non Brahmin and father Appu Saheb Dagge was a Brahmin. In spite of her father’s caste she could not get a good alliance because of her mother. She has to become a concubine of one Mr. Shiva Saranappa, a Kannada contractor. Finally, a liberal minded trade unionist Rama Rao marries her. Brahmana Kanya is not a mere novel, but a real portrayal of a woman, who was trying to gauge herself. Brahman Kanya by  S V Ketkar has churned the imagination of readers as well as the writers. In S N Pendse’s novel ‘Garambicha Bapu (1952) Kalindi of Brahman Kanya becomes Bapu and fights against the society. Hence, once again the problem of an illegitimate children crops up. Bapu’s mother knows everything about Bapu’s birth and her father. But she never opens her mouth. Bapu’s employer’s young wife comes closer to Bapu over a period of time and reveals fact some women have libido and long for extra martial relationship. Indirectly the novelist touches on a new problem of adultery. Both Ketkar and Pendse deal with this problem. Sripada Narayan Pendse has written one more novel with the title ‘Garambicha Radha in 1993. After the publication of Garambicha Bapu, in 1957 he has written another novel Yashoda. It seems he is fond of naming his novels after women 

Mama Varekar has penned more than 100 n0vels in Marathi. He mainly deals with the awakened women, in his much discussed novel ‘Vidhava Kumari’ (1928). This is a different novel. In this novel women raise their voice and boldly fight against the injustice, particularly social injustice. Though the same old child marriage and child widowhood are discussed, the handling of situations and depiction of characters makes it a different novel. Picking up threads from Mama Varekar Madholkar Gajanan Trayambak (1899-1976) goes a step further and suggests that if the compatibility is lacking in couples it is better to seek divorce. His ‘Bhangalelen Devul’ novel written in 1934 gives a new twist to thinking of women in Maharashtra.

Ranaangan by Vishram Bedekar is one of the thought provoking novels of pre Independence days. It is not the Indian version of Romeo and Juliet. Yet it is a different love story of two star crossed individuals, Chakradhar and Harita. Harita was in love with one Mr. Franz the German Manager of a company. The fear of Gestapo makes Mr. Franz to avoid Harita. Finally she comes closer to Chakradhar the narrator of the story. After Chakradhar’s disembarkation at Bombay, Harita commits suicide at Honkong. For the first time in this novel man-woman relationship is openly discussed. Author Vishnu Badekar draws our attention to the fact that Maharashtra is slowly being influenced by the Western Culture. Educated women were curious to know about the Western concept of the man woman relationship. 

Writing about novels critics G M Kulkarni and Arundhati Deosthale observe that, “However it is pleasing to see that, women in Marathi novels, in those days ( they mean pre independence days) were not painted chiefly as an extra ordinary persons in a middle class family. But they are portrayed in various roles like those of sister, daughter-in-law, widow, mother-in-law etc. (Encyclopedia of Indian Literature Vol. IV page 2986-88)

With the dawn of independence and with the newly acquired economic independence due to education, women began to assert their rights. The illiterate woman had to face problems like sexual harassment, discrimination, male chauvinism, joint family system, urbanization, westernization etc. All these aspects of women were taken up by the novelists, after independence. Awakened women began to wield the pen with greater penchant. Smt. Vibhavani Shirukar and a band of other writers presented the burning problems of women from their point of view. ‘Bali’ and ‘Hindolyavar’ created many ripples in the minds of Marathi reading public. 

After two controversial novels ‘Kalyanache Nisvas and ‘Hindolyavar Smt. Vibhavani Shirukar came out with yet another thought provoking novel ‘Bali’ (!950). It takes up hither too untouched subject –settlement camp. Abar, a boy of Dalit caste Marudi, after getting through his exams comes to see his parents. He was shell shocked to see his mother offering her body for carnal pleasure of a soldier.  If ‘Bali’ throws search light on the life of women in settlement camps, her ‘Hindolyavar’ describes the life of a working woman, who with the help of her uncle, walks out of her womanizer husband and becomes a graduate. Even after becoming a good teacher she could not propose herself to a co-teacher whom she loves. Shirukar, through her novel ‘Hindolyavar’ appears to suggest that, tradition bound Indian woman may not take the bold step of marrying another man after walking out from the matrimonial relationship.

Bokil Vishnu Vinayak in his novels like ‘Kuber Ki Rang’ ,‘Tu Thithe Mi’, ‘Bhavin’ etc. depicts social problems pertaining to women. He even writes about ill effects of second marriage.

The suffering of woman continues to be the subject of discussion in the novels like ‘Rathachakra (S N Pendse), ‘Padaghavli’ (Gopal Nilakanth Dandekar), ‘Pachola’ (Rao Saheb Ranganath Borde), ‘Anandi Gopal’ (S M Joshi) etc. Here we find the depiction of woman as a crusader. All women boldly say that the days of silently suffering have gone and we are awakened women now.

Dalit novelist like Dalvi Jayant (Chakra, Album) Babu Rao Bagul (Maran Swatha Hota Ahe, Sud),  Dhasal Namdev (Hadki Hadavala, Negetive Space), Anna Bhavu Sathe (Fakira , Varanechya Khoryat Master, Tara etc.), Shankar Rao Kharat Daya Pawar and others have enriched Marathi literature by depicting the woman and her personal problems from the angle of Dalits. All have uniformly tried to improve the status woman in the society.

Women novelists have over taken men novelists as far as depiction of woman and her problems are concerned. Novelists like Deodhar Jothsna Keshava (27-02-1926- 17-01-2013), Geetha Janardhan etc. have carved out a name for themselves in painting woman in their true colours. Deodhar Jothsna is a bilingual novelists. She has penned in Hindi also. Her much discussed novel ‘Ghar Gangecya Kaatti’ has been appreciated by the critics as well as readers. In this she has tried to portray all aspects of women. Her other novels like ‘Chuka Muka (!970) ‘Pad Jhad’ (1979) ‘Ek Adhyay’ (1980) ‘Ek Swas Aankhi’ (1981) show her versatility as novelist.

Miseries of educated women and atrocities that are committed against women in modern society, social injustice to which they are subjected to, the role of an earning member in middle class families, male ego etc. are some of the topics  dealt with by the   novelist  Saur Geetha Janardhan (!907-1991). Here are her well received novels: ‘Hirwali Khali’, Vathaleela Vriksha and ‘NikhalLeli Hira Kani’

Novelists both men and women can only bring facts to life through their powerful pen. It is only women who can work for their development and not the fictitiously true characters created by the novelists. Panditha Rama Bai once said: A woman has no greater enemy than herself. You (woman) must equip yourself to work for your salvation. (G L Chandra Varkar, Dhondu Kesav Karve, Publication Division, April, 1970). Several centuries ago even Bhagwan Mahavir had expressed a similar view about each and every one of us, who fondly wish to thrive in life. He said: Fight with yourself, why fight with external foes? He who conquers himself will obtain happiness. May this wisdom dawn on each and every one of us. May He lead us from darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom.


More by :  Dr. A.B. Rao Sai Prasad

Top | Literary Shelf

Views: 4030      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.