Amrita Pritam was an Indian poet, essayist, and novelist who wrote in Hindi and Punjabi languages. She is widely regarded as the first major female Punjabi poet and the leading Punjabi-language poet of the 20th century. In 1956, she was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award, becoming the first woman to receive the prestigious award.
The 16th-century Hindu mystic poet, Mirabai, was a devotee of Lord Krishna. In the North Indian Hindu tradition, she is a celebrated Bhakti saint. While millions of devotional hymns in praise of Lord Krishna are attributed to Mirabai, only a few hundreds are believed to be actually composed by her. Several temples are dedicated to her memory.
Sarojini Naidu was an Indian poet and political activist. An important figure in the Indian Independence Movement, she was a proponent of anti-imperialistic ideas, women's rights, and civil rights. Her illustrious career as a poet earned her the nickname Nightingale of India. After India became independent, she became the first woman to hold the office of Governor in the Dominion of India.
A leading figure of the Chhayavad movement of Hindi literature, Indian author Mahadevi Varma was also a Jnanpith Award and Padma Bhushan winner. A champion of women’s rights, she contributed to the establishment of the Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth for educating girls. She also developed the soft Khadi boli.
Known as Hindi cinema’s “Tragedy Queen,” Meena Kumari is remembered for her stellar performances in films such as Pakeezah and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. The four-time Filmfare-winning actor sank into alcoholism after her separation from her abusive husband, director Kamal Amrohi, and died of liver cirrhosis.
Savitribai Phule was a revolutionary social reformer who dedicated her life to educate girls and bring about gender equality in the face of resistance from the conservative Indian society. Phule, who was illiterate till her marriage, went on to become a teacher, a feat considered first by an Indian woman. With her husband, she established schools for girls in Maharashtra.
Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning Indian author Mahasweta Devi is regarded as a gem of the Bengali literary world. She had also been a left-wing social activist, and her works such as Hajar Churashir Maa and Rudali have either tribals or people from the marginalized communities as their protagonists.
Best remembered for her poem Jhansi ki Rani, Indian poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan had also been part of the Non-Cooperation Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and was jailed twice. Her works were written in the simple Khariboli dialect of Hindi. An Indian Coast Guard ship has been named after her.
Balamani Amma was a 20th-century Indian poet who wrote in Malayalam. Even though she received no formal education as a child, she learned to read and write from her uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon, an acclaimed writer. She numerous poems and prose works and was a recipient of many awards, including the Padma Bhushan, Saraswati Samman, and Sahitya Akademi Award.
Kamala Suraiyya, also known by her pen-name Madhavikutty and by her married name Kamala Das, was a Malayali poet who is remembered for her liberal treatment of female sexuality in her works. Her writings, such as Summer in Calcutta, form an integral part of Indian literature written in English.
Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Indian author Nabaneeta Dev Sen is revered as one of the greatest figures of Bengali literature. Born to a poet couple, Nabaneeta was christened by Rabindrananth Tagore. She was also an academic and was married to economist Amartya Sen for almost 2 decades.
Gwangju Prize-winning human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, made international headlines with her 16-year hunger strike to urge the Indian government to repeal the AFSPA Act. She later married British citizen Desmond Coutinho and is now a mother to twin daughters.
Sugathakumari was an Indian activist and poet who played a major role in Kerala's feminist and environmental movements in the late-1970s. She is credited with founding organizations like Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi and Abhaya, which work towards protecting nature and safeguarding women and the mentally ill respectively. During her lifetime, she was honored with several prestigious awards like the Padma Shri.
Lalleshwari was a 14th-century Kashmiri mystic. She belonged to the Kashmir Shaivism school of philosophy and originated the style of mystic poetry called vatsun or vakhs. Her works have a significant place in the history of Kashmiri literature. She was known by several aliases, including Lal Ded, Lal Dyad, Lal Diddi, and Lalla Yogishwari/Yogeshwari.
Indian-born poet Meena Alexander spent most of her childhood in Sudan, owing to her father’s job. She then acquired a PhD in English from the U.K. and moved to the U.S., where she wrote and taught. Known for works such as Illiterate Heart, Meena experimented with themes such as migration.
16 Temsüla Ao
Temsüla Ao is an Indian poet, ethnographer, and short story writer. In 2007, she was honored with India's fourth-highest civilian award, Padma Shri. In 2009, she received the Governor's Gold Medal. In 2013, her short story collection titled Laburnum for My Head earned her the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award.
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18 Mah Laqa Bai
Born to a courtesan mother in Aurangabad, as Chanda Bibi, Mah Laqa Bai mastered Deccani Kathak. She grew up to be a refined woman, skilled in everything from martial arts to poetry. Remembered for her fine ghazals and Urdu poetry, she was also the courtesan of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Adela Florence Nicolson was a 19th-century English poet. She initially wrote under the pseudonym Laurence Hope but eventually gained fame as Violet Nicolson. She spent many years in India owing to her father’s job and was influenced by the works of Indian poets and the Sufi poets of Persia. She died of suicide at the age of 39.