Saas and bahu: the eternal struggle

Some old readers of the blog would remember the following post where I wrote about how I played a part in getting my father’s Ph D thesis published. Here is the link:

The good news is that nearly all copies have been sold. The bad news is that there are only some 6-8 copies left. And I am loathe to give them away, whether for love or for money. I wonder whether I should get some more copies published. That should a record of sorts, an old Ph D thesis- on Bhojpuri Kahavatein that too- going into a reprint!

Sometimes, I wonder if an English translation could be a good idea.

In the meanwhile, I have attempted a translation of a section of the book. Take a look. This is my first attempt at translation so pardon any clumsy grammar. Just in case you understand Bhojpuri, I have given the original kahavat too. If there are any spelling errors , blame it on my lack of command over “Google transliteration” facility.

Do let me what you thought of the piece. Remember this was originally written some 50 years ago. So see it in that context.

And let me know if you want to read more of such translations.


The relationship between two women in a family is between a mother and her daughter, sister and sister, sisters-in law (nanad-bhabhi), daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law (saas-bahu). But the relationship between the mother-in-law (saas) and the daughter-in-law (bahu) attains importance for the power-struggle in encapsulates, the power for the upper hand in the affairs of the family. Not surprisingly we find more kahavatein on this relationship. The role of the saas is paramount in the household affairs till the bride (bahu) arrives. Before the marriage, the mother-in-law is the housewife- and the boss. And she genuinely believes that she has the rights to meddle into all the affairs within the family.

The saas feels threatened by the entry of the bahu so she wants to dominate her (the bahu) and underscore her powers.

A smart bahu slowly works her way to a status so that her voice is heard within the family. She exerts her personality and challenges the unbridled powers of the saas.

In the olden days of child-marriage a saas could easily establish her influence on the family; since the age of the bahu has begun getting higher this too has gone. The bahu would no longer meekly subject herself to torture and let her saas control her life. The bahu is ready to raise her voice against her tyrannical saas.

There are many Bhojpuri kahavatein dealing with this changing equation.


Any mother is keen to see her son married. (A bahu is critical to the extension of the family tree). Her anxiety grows when her son becomes older. Many-a-time, the matrimonial proposal may even break down when the enemies of the groom’s family create obstructions. The older the son, the more suspicious is the prospective bride’s family. So, when the son does get married, it is natural for his mother to rejoice as in the following kahavat:

बेटा भईले भाग से,

पतोहि बड़ी भाग से.

Having a son is lucky,

Having a daughter-in-law is fortuitous!

And, when the bahu enters the household, the saas does not relinquish her powers to the new bahu. To the contrary, she gets even more attached to them.


सभ सासू सतजुगी,
सभ पतोहि कलजुगी

All saas’ are pious,

All bahus are sinners.

The saas believes there really is no point in giving any rights to such useless bahus, even in the tiniest affairs of the household:


बहुरिया  के बड़ आदर,
बाकिर हांड़ी-डाली छुवहीं के ना.

Respect your bahu, yes,

But why let her touch the domestic vessels?


The saas shows her miserly attitude to the bahu as mentioned in the kahavat:


सास छोहैली त कहली जे,
लिटिया  में गडाहा कर, तनी माठा दे दीहीं.

In an outpouring of affection says the saas,

Dig a little cavity into your litti, I will fill it up with mattha (butter-milk)

In the days of yore it was rather common in households to serve the best portions of the meal to the men of the family and the dregs to the bahu. No wonder the bahu would feel liberated when her husband and saas were away:


सैयां गईले बाहारा, काहां-काहां जाओं
सासू गैली नइहर, का-का खाओं

He is away, and I am free to go wherever I wish,

And she is off to her mother’s place; and I can eat whatever I want.

But the saas returns and does what she is traditionally expected to do, trouble and torture her bahu:


खुस भैली सासू,
त लुआठी दगली गाल.

My saas feels a surge of affection for me,

And she singes my cheeks with glowing embers.

Saas regularly criticizes even the tiniest of mistakes of the bahu and makes frequent sarcastic remarks. The bahu does not find these funny at all and she starts retaliating.


उस्कावल बाती
खुद्कावल  पतोहि, अधसे नाहीं

A manipulated lamp-wick,

Or a criticized bahu,

Both are counter-productive.


The bahu starts feeding her husband with real and imagined tales her saas’ tortures. And, over a period of time, with such stories she is able to influence her husband enough for him to develop hatred towards his mother. The mother senses this and laments:


आपाना लागि हम बेटा पोसलों,
आइली पतोहि मोर नतवो छोडवाली

I nourished my son, he was my own,

The bahu arrives and cuts me off from my own.

The animosity intensifies and the saas is devastated. Once when her son was unmarried she longed for a bahu and now she can not stand her.


पतोहि आवसु, पतोहि जावसु,
पतोहि देखि के देहि का फट्वास लागेला.

Let a bahu come, let a bahu go; do I care?

My body burns when I see the bahu.

The bahu keeps consolidating her position with her husband who has now clearly turned anti-mother. She now feels emboldened to start treating her saas badly as said in this picturesque kahavat:


जब ले ऐली  कुलवंती नारी
एक चेरुई , दुह मुंह बनाई
एक में दिहली खाटा महेरी,
एक में दिहली अमृत लाई
बुधिया दिहली खाटा महेरी,
आपाना पुरुख के अमृत लाई

My cultured bahu, since she has come,

Serves food from a two-spouted vessel.

From one spout she pours buttermilk

And amrit from the other,

The old lady gets the sour buttermilk

While she serves amrit to her man.


The bahu tries to dominate her saas by all means fair and foul. She even threatens:


गाल देबो बजाई
सासू जइहें पराई

I will scream my lungs off,

Enough for saas to vanish.


Sure enough, the bahu starts dominating the household. She rules the roost even as she takes off on her saas ever so often:


सासु के ओढ़ना
पतोहि के गोड़-पोछना

The bed-clothes of saas

Serves as the foot-wiper of the bahu

The break between the bahu and saas is poignantly captured in the following kahavat.


आज मुअली सासु
काल्हु गिरलि आंसू

Saas dies today,

Cries tomorrow, the bahu.

The bahu was never happy with the treatment meted by her saas, right from the beginning. Though there were some moments (especially when the saas helped out with the chores when the bahu was in the family way) when the bahu felt some emotional attachment to her saas. Hence the bahu weeps a bit, albeit a day late.


The relationship between the two women deteriorates perhaps due to the lack of understanding between the two female protagonists. Perhaps the saas should reconcile to the fact that one day, over time, the bahu will be ruling the roost in the family. Why not reconcile to this situation early on?


बेटा के खाइल, आ पतोहि के चोरावल
कतहूँ ना जाला

Neither a well-fed son, nor a thieving bahu,

Carry the family gains away.

Thesis Cover Final



8 Responses to Saas and bahu: the eternal struggle

  1. Sanjeev Roy says:

    Santosh ji, I have read your dad’s book a couple of times and I believe that it is a pillar in bhojpuri literature. I am glad that you were able to translate that so perfectly (you are modest when you claim errors – I couldn’t find any).

  2. brijesh says:

    Sir,I had heard some of these kahawats from my mom but never understood the real meaning of it.Thanks for this wonderful translation.And yes, an english version will really be great for us(expatriate biharis………)

  3. BSD says:

    santosh bhaiya as always u r more thing , give a option to subscribe your blog. believe me it hekps a lot

  4. Seema says:

    Enjoyed reading it, Santosh! 🙂
    Like said its an eternal struggle between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law…why.. I have honestly never understood…:-)

    • santoshojha says:

      Nor have I! One of those mysteries of life!

      • Seema says:

        I feel the mother-in-law needs to realize that the daughter-in-law coming from another house will need help and support and should help her out while the daughter-in-law needs to realize that the ma-in-law has been ruling the house so must give her the due respect and try to adjust and maybe down the road all will be okay…the power struggle shouldnt be there and the son/husband should not get caught in it…but again I think it is like a cycle, so very the ma-in-law has been treated, she will may or may not treat her d-i-l like that…all depends on situation I guess…its like Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi…:-)…Just rambling…dont exactly know what I am trying to write here…:-)

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