Dr. M.N.Singaramma (aka Singaramma) (1920 - 2006) was an eminent scholar, writer and social activist from Mandya in Karnataka, Southern India. She wrote many philosophical books and articles under the pen name Sridevi.
Her love for the national language Hindi, despite having been born and brought up in Southern India earned her a lot of respect and admiration. She is still remembered by scholars working on philosophical and religious texts as a pathbreaker during times when there was no one doing any research on these subjects.
Whenever we think of women in a traditional society, the image that comes to our mind is that of a submissive, docile, self-sacrificing paragon of virtue who has no notion of individuality or of a world that she can regard as her own – especially in the 1950s-70s when the general belief was that they are fit to be confined within four walls and serve their family. But within such a world of serving and suffering, there have been women who have come out the cocoon and made a mark for themselves. One such woman of exemplary scholarly achievements and dedication to women’s causes was Smt. M.N.Singaramma who wrote under the pen name Sridevi.
Singaramma was born and brought up in a small town Mandya in the state Karnataka in Southern India. She was the second child of a poor mill owner. Theirs was a large family of 6 brothers and 4 sisters. She was married off early, but was soon widowed and returned back to her parents house when both her children died young. After the early demise of her parents, it was Singaramma, the eldest daughter who had to take care of the entire family along with her second brother Thirunarayanan. Despite being from a poor family and the burden of having to take care of such a large family, her interest and passion for studying and working never waned. She went out on a lonely path to pursue her literary aspirations in philosophy and religious texts.
This was at a time when society was far more conservative and patriarchal than today and the spaces available for women to pursue development of their personality was limited. Most present day modernists and radical feminists fail to comprehend the ingenuity with which these few women worked out a cosmology of their own by creatively making use of cultural elements available within their traditions and subverting dominant discourses that dictated patterns of their lives.
In spite of lack of any encouragement and even opposition to formal education for girls, Singaramma did not give up her quest for learning. She strived hard and acquired mastery over more than five languages, especially noteworthy being her pursuit of Hindi as a language, coming from a small town in Southern India.
She passed the highest level examinations in Hindi – Sahitya Ratna from Prayag Vishwa Vidyalaya, Allahabad – more than five decades back when it was a rare phenomenon in South India. After that she started running a Hindi Vidyalaya through which she has trained innumerable girl students and popularized Hindi as a language in Mandya and Karnataka. For her efforts she was conferred the Doctorate in Literature (Vidyasagar D.Lit) by the Vikramshila Hindi Vidyapeetha, Bihar.
Apart from Hindi, she also pursued her interest in religious studies. Her command over so many languages helped her to have an in-depth knowledge of the Indian Philosophy, especially the Srivaishnava Philosophy as propounded by the Alwars and Ramanujacharya. Working in an all-male bastion, she was privileged to have guidance of such eminent scholars like Shri. Vellikudi Swamy, Shri. Karpankadu Venkatachariar Swamy and Shri. P.B.Annagaracharya under whose able guidance she conducted research in Srivaishnava Philosophy.
Her command over so many languages and her vast scholarship resulted in the publication of several important works on Indian Philosophy and Religion. The number of publications brought out by her is exhaustive, and it can surely be said that even full time professors and writers have not achieved so much in their life-time. Singaramma, without doubt, also happened to be the only woman to have extensive, in-depth knowledge of Agama Shastra and had been widely recognized as an authority on Agamas and Indian Temple architecture.
Recognizing her scholarly aptitude, she was conferred a Literary Fellowship and an Honorarium by the Central Government, which though meager helped her in continuing her literary pursuits.
Her publications bears testimony to the copious work done by her in the form of presentation of papers at reputed seminars and conferences, serving on several academic committees – which included the Bibliography Project of the Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote. She received a number of awards and citations from several institutions and eminent scholars for her works.
She even received a letter of appreciation from former President of USA, Bill Clinton in May 2000 for her book ’Philosophy of Pancharatra’. She was awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Hindi Award by the Bangalore University’s Hindi Department for her book ‘Bhakti Siddhanjana’. Another great honour was her being listed in the Reference Asia – Who is Who of Men and Women of Achievement, USA in 2000.
Smt. M.N.Singaramma did not restricted her interest and energy to literary activities alone. The most important contribution of her was in the field of women’s empowerment. She knew the plight of women through her own personal experience and hence wanted to work for the improvement of other women in distress. She served the Mahila Samaja, Mandya for over 25 years and worked for the upliftment of women by organizing literacy programmes, coaching classes for aged women, music sessions, crafts, tailoring and other income generating programmes. She also extended her work in the social service sector by serving as a member of the local general hospital committees and organized a number of eye camps.
She continued writing and publishing till the ripe age of 84. Till the end, her enthusiasm and dedication for scholarly pursuits never flagged. She still had lined up a few publications ready for printing and was looking for support – both moral and financial – from the government and institutions. She was keen to bring these books into the public domain to enhance contribution to religious studies and women’s empowerment and inspire present generation youth, shaping their ideas and activities to usher in a better humane society.
Her books, which are now part of libraries in Universities and Colleges in Karnataka, India and abroad, continue to enrich knowledge and understanding of Indian philosophy and culture.
She primarily worked for educating and uplifting of women’s status and enabling them to independently earn a living.