Kerala forgets to commemorate its first female teacher
Saraswathi Bai Narayana Mallya, a 15-year-old girl, created history in Kerala about a century back. She was the first female teacher appointed by the Kingdom of Cochin in 1919.
The historical records also noted her name as the first female teacher of Kerala (Kingdom of Cochin).
MN Saraswathi Bai, a member of Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community in Cochin started her career at the age of 15 after her marriage. Though her mother tongue was Konkani, she learned Marathi, Hindi, Urudu, Sanskrit, English and Malayalam.
Unfortunately, Kerala failed to commemorate the great teacher on her 125th birth anniversary in 2018.
Teacher in Tirumala School
Saraswathi Bai started her career as primary school teacher in ‘Balika Dharma Padasala’, school for girls under Thirumala Devaswom High School in 1908. Apart from language lessons, she also taught the students handicrafts like woollen craft making, Crochet design (a stitching method) and so on.
But she faced criticism during her career and many parents refused to send their daughters to school. She was forced to take a break from teaching for two years due to shortage of students. But she was not ready to stop her service as a teacher.
With the help of her husband Narayana Mallya, she made a tent at her husband’s native place in Kandakadavu. In this small school-cum-tent, the couple started to teach lessons to the children in the village.
Later, Saraswathi Bai got appointed as high school teacher in Tirumala Devaswom High School in 1919. She received a salary of Rs 10 as a High School teacher. During this period, the society started to discuss on the need to educate girls.
The mid-day meal scheme was started in Tirumala Devaswom School during the service of Saraswathi Bai.
Saraswathi Bai’s family
Born as daughter of Sanskrit scholar Harihara Bhatt and Ganga Bhai in September 1893, from the age of 4, she used to travel with her father to various places including Karwar, Uduppi, Mangalore and Majeshwar. These trips helped her to learn various languages.
The teacher was 13 years old when she got married to Narayana Mallya. The couple has six children including Padma awardee Purushothama Mallaya. Their son Purushothama Mallaya is popular as Konkani scholar, poet, historian and translator.
Saraswathi Bai breathed her last at the age of 91 in 1984. Her birth centenary was celebrated in Mattancherry in 1994.
It is unfortunate that her contributions in Kerala as a renaissance leader is not recorded in history.