Perumal Murugan and his works

Perumal Murugan, a name that reverberates through the labyrinthine lanes of Tamil literature, stands as a testament to the enduring power of words. Born in the quaint village of Thiruchengode in Tamil Nadu, India, his life, and works have been a beacon illuminating the often-forgotten narratives of rural India. With a prolific literary career spanning several decades, Perumal Murugan has brought forth a vivid tapestry of rural life, culture, and human emotions through his novels, poems, stories, and essays.  His journey from a small village to global acclaim, his thought-provoking books, and his remarkable awards are evidence of the power of literature to bridge cultures and illuminate lives.

Early life and literary journey

Perumal Murugan’s journey into the world of literature began in his early years, driven by his insatiable curiosity and love for words. Born on December 9, 1966, he grew up in an agrarian community that would later become the backdrop for many of his literary masterpieces. Growing up in a simple agrarian family, he found solace in books and the rich oral traditions of his village. This early exposure to the vibrant tapestry of rural life and the profound impact of folklore would later become the cornerstone of his literary career.

His academic journey was firmly rooted in the exploration of Tamil literature. He embarked on his scholarly pursuits as an undergraduate student, studying Tamil literature in Erode. His thirst for knowledge led him to pursue a postgraduate degree in the same field, this time in Coimbatore.

Murugan’s dedication to the study of Tamil literature continued to flourish as he pursued higher degrees. He earned an M.Phil. degree from the prestigious Madras University, specializing in Tamil studies. His scholarly pursuits culminated in a PhD, where he delved deeply into the literary works of author R. Shanmugasundaram. Murugan taught as a professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal and briefly at Presidency College Chennai.

Exploring rural realities through his words

His life and works serve as proof of the enduring power of literature to bridge the gap between different worlds. Perumal Murugan’s novels and stories are a testament to his deep-rooted connection to his native soil.

Inspired by the tales he heard from his grandmother and the stories that surrounded him, Murugan embarked on his literary journey. His initial foray into writing began with poetry, and his debut collection, “Koonanadi” was well-received for its lyrical portrayal of rural landscapes and the human condition.

His representative works like “Poonachi: Or the Story of a Black Goat (2016) translated by N Kalyan Raman’ and “One Part Woman” delve into the lives of ordinary villagers, bringing their joys and struggles to life with a vividness that can only be borne of personal experience. The novel “Poonachi” tells the heartwarming and poignant story of a small black goat named Poonachi. Through the eyes of this lovable creature, Murugan explores the struggles, joys, and vulnerabilities of rural women who care for her. “Poonachi” is a beautifully crafted allegory that draws parallels between the life of the goat and the lives of the women who tend to her.

As we know “One Part Woman (2010) translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan” explores the sensitive topic of childlessness in rural India, shedding light on the societal pressures faced by couples in such situations. Originally published in Tamil as “Madhorubhagan,” this novel explores the sensitive issue of childlessness in rural India. The book delves into themes of love, desire, and the constraints of societal norms.

Perumal Murugan’s other books are also characterized by their nuanced storytelling, deep empathy for his characters, and an uncanny ability to paint a vivid picture of rural life in Tamil Nadu. “Seasons of the Palm” (2005) Translated by V Geetha, this novel is a poetic exploration of the lives of palm tree climbers in rural Tamil Nadu. The narrative subtly delves into persistent issues of casteism and oppression in Tamil Nadu, avoiding overt didacticism. It portrays the resigned acceptance of their plight by the downtrodden with matter-of-fact fatalism. The novel also celebrates the resilience and spirit of these workers while shedding light on the challenges they face.

His writing is often infused with local folklore, traditions, and customs, which enriches the reading experience and provides a unique window into the cultural milieu of rural India. Murugan’s works have not only earned him critical acclaim but have also resonated with readers across languages and borders, making him a prominent figure in contemporary Indian literature.

For example, in his other important work “Current Show” (2019) translated by V Geetha, which is a collection of short stories, Perumal Murugan showcases his narrative versatility by offering a glimpse into the lives of a diverse set of characters. ‘Current Show’ is Perumal Murugan’s second novel, originally written in Tamil and titled ‘Nizhal Muttram’.  Each story is a gem that reflects the intricacies of human relationships, emotions, and everyday struggles. The power of his storytelling lies in his ability to blend the universal with the specific.

A major novel “Pūkkul̲i” (2004) which was translated into English as “Pyre translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan,” is a powerful exploration of caste dynamics and social prejudices in a rural village. It revolves around the life of a socially marginalized character, who becomes the focal point of a tragic event. The book delves into themes of discrimination, injustice, and the indomitable human spirit.

Perumal Murugan’s Sandalwood Soap and Other Stories (2023) translated by Kavitha Muralidharan is the latest collection of short stories, mingling absurdity and pathos like no one else. These stories and many more are part of this unsettling, moving and grippingly told collection. Sandalwood Soap and Other Stories is another extraordinary book from one of our great writers working at the height of his powers.

Murugan’s works have not only earned him critical acclaim but have also resonated with readers across languages and borders, making him a prominent figure in contemporary Indian literature. While his narratives are deeply rooted in the rural Tamil Nadu context, the themes of love, loss, and resilience are universally relatable. His works serve as a bridge between different cultures, fostering understanding and empathy for the human condition in diverse contexts.

Controversies and resilience

Perumal Murugan’s literary journey has not been without its share of controversies. His novel “Madhorubhagan” (translated as “One Part Woman”) faced vehement protests from conservative groups who took offence at its exploration of a sensitive issue. In the face of threats and pressure, the author famously declared his literary death on social media, stating that he would write no more. This act of self-censorship sparked a nationwide debate on freedom of expression.

However, resilience is a hallmark of Perumal Murugan’s character. He eventually returned to writing, refusing to be silenced by the forces of intolerance. His resolve to tell the stories he deemed important, even when faced with adversity, earned him the admiration of the literary community and free speech advocates worldwide.

Legacy and impact

Today, Perumal Murugan stands as a literary luminary, celebrated for his ability to capture the essence of rural life and the complexities of human relationships. His works have been translated into multiple languages, allowing readers from diverse backgrounds to connect with his narratives. Perumal Murugan’s legacy is a testament to the transformative power of literature, and his journey is a source of inspiration for aspiring writers and lovers of literature worldwide. He has enriched Tamil literature and contributed to a global understanding of rural India and the human experience. His unwavering commitment to storytelling, even in the face of adversity, makes him a true literary icon whose words will continue to resonate with generations to come.

Awards and recognition

Perumal Murugan’s remarkable literary achievements have not gone unnoticed. Over the years, he has garnered numerous prestigious awards and accolades that unequivocally underscore the profound significance of his work in the world of literature.

In the year 2014, he received the highly coveted Sahitya Akademi Award in recognition of his exceptional novel “Madhorubhagan,” which has been translated into English as “One Part Woman.” This award, bestowed by India’s esteemed National Academy of Letters, marked a pivotal milestone in Perumal Murugan’s illustrious career, serving as a resounding acknowledgement of his enduring contribution to the tapestry of Indian literature.

In 2023, the English translation of Murugan’s novel “Pūkkul̲i”, or “Pyre”, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023. This accolade further solidified his status as a literary luminary with a global impact. Additionally, in the same year, Perumal Murugan achieved a remarkable feat by securing a place on the JCB Prize for Literature 2023 Longlist, marking his third appearance on this coveted list. The JCB Prize for Literature stands as one of India’s most esteemed fiction awards, and Murugan’s recurrent presence on its longlist speaks volumes about the enduring quality and significance of his literary contributions.

In addition to the Sahitya Akademi Award for his translated book, Murugan has received the Ilakkiya Chinthanai Award and the Pudhumaipithan Award, further solidifying his status as a literary icon in Tamil literature.


Perumal Murugan’s life and literary oeuvre stand as a testament to the transformative power of words. From his humble beginnings in a rural village to becoming a globally acclaimed author, his journey is a source of inspiration for aspiring writers and readers alike. His ability to illuminate the often-neglected narratives of rural India, coupled with his resilience in the face of controversy, has earned him a special place in the world of literature.

As we celebrate Perumal Murugan’s contributions to the literary world, we also celebrate the enduring impact of literature in fostering empathy, understanding, and connection among people from diverse backgrounds. His words have the unique ability to traverse linguistic and cultural barriers, making him not just a literary giant in Tamil literature but a global storyteller whose narratives continue to resonate and enrich the lives of readers worldwide. In Perumal Murugan’s books, we find not only stories but also a reflection of our shared humanity.

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About Ashutosh Kumar Thakur


Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bengaluru-based management professional, curator, and literary critic. He can be reached at [email protected]