An Introduction to the Literature in Malayalam




Language can be described in simple terms as a tool for communication. The world had witnessed the birth and extinction of a millions of languages and a lot of them survived which differ on the basis of vocabulary, sound, geographical and demographical differences etc. Languages evolved over time in such a way that it wasn’t just a tool for communication; but emerged as a portrayal representing a whole community of people or a geographical diversification.
Malayalam, precisely is one such language belonging to the Dravidian Classification widely used in the Indian state of Kerala and other parts of South India. Indian government honoured the language by recognising it as a classical language, adding it to the hall of fame in 2013. This South Indian language tracks nearly 40 million people communicating and is one among the 22 scheduled Indian languages.
History
The origin of the Malayalam language still remains a dispute as the roots evidently belong to multiple languages. Undoubtedly, Sanskrit and Tamil played a huge role in birth of Malayalam. Malayalam language uses 2 types of basic scripts. ‘Vattezhuthu’ and ‘Kolezhuthu’. ‘Vattezhuthu’ which is said to be evolved from the Tamil Brahmi script which was widely used in the 9th century and the former got diverged from the latter in 13th century.
The invasion of Cheras and Pandyas in the Malabar region served as a reason behind the influence of Tamil in the former Malayalam vocabulary. Soon the power was snatched by Tulu dynasty, and being a North Indian kingdom, they popularised the usage of Hindi, Sanskrit and Kannada in their province. The arrival of European powers accelerated the process of complete modification of Malayalam language. As the Germans found a relation between Sanskrit and German, it led to formation of a new script called ‘Granta Malayalam’ which was a version of Sanskritised German.
Herman Gundert and Benjamin Braille, belonging to Germany were the ones behind the first dictionary and grammar of ancient Granta Malayalam. They even worked on introducing the first newspaper in the colloquial language.
At the same time, it discouraged the use of Kolezhuthu, also known as Malayanma, in which a famous work of Itti Achudan, ‘Hortus Malabaricus’ was made. The British administrators too, used Granta Malayalam script which led to the birth of ‘Manipravalam’ from which the modern Malayalam language originated. Hereby, Mani meant for Malayalam and Pravalam meant for Sanskrit, and it even led to formation of a larger number of dialects which differed with castes, religion and even provinces.
Introduction to Literature
The records of early Malayalam literatures tracks us back to the period of late 12th century. Researchers were only able to recover some of those and one of the noteworthy contribution was made by Sreeramavarma, King of Travancore in 13th century under pen name ‘Cheeramavarma’ titled as ‘Ramacharitham’. It was a collection of 1,814 poems written on the famous ‘Yuddhkanda’ of the epic Ramayana. It was written using the ancient script and style of Malayalam language.
Kerala is a land, famous for its local folklores and instruments. A lot of songs and ballads were sung by the working caste people during their recess and other occasions. These were collectively called as ‘Pattu’ which was found to be written on ancient Malayalam script. The themes of these songs and ballads differed on the basis of their castes, occasions and festivities. Some of these songs were written as a sign of worship of their goddesses, ballads about their warriors, in praise of their wars, victories and bravery. Some of the songs were about their occupations and caste, their domesticated animals and household women.
 Apart from the literatures which used ancient Malayalam script, the poetic trio of Niranam poets were the first to use Manipravalam style of script for their poems. Later on, Manipravalam style of script was used in other famous literary works like ‘Achi Charithams’ and ‘Sandesha Kavyas’ etc. The people belonging to the ‘Namboodiri’ caste, a high profile community within Brahmins, who were the only ones having direct access to all temples and to worship played a significant role in popularising Manipravalam as they saw the language as a sign of prestige and dignity. This stand of Namboodiri community reflected on the art forms especially the ones which were presented in temples like ‘koothu’ and ‘Koodiyattom’ as their songs were written in the style of Manipravalam.
Another major contribution in Manipravalam literature was made by Ayyappilli Asan, named as ‘Ramakathapattu’ hereby, he wrote the epic Ramayana in the form of a song (pattu) in Manipravalam.

Development of Malayalam Literature
The Poetic Trio
Wherever we discuss about Malayalam literature, it remains incomplete without the mentioning of the great poetic trio. They played the most significant role in the origin and development of the present day Malayalam language, its vocabulary and script. The great poetic trio were Cherusseri Namboothirippad, Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan and Kalakkath Kunjan Nambiyar.
Cherusseri Namboothirippad, who was a poet in the court of Udayavarma Thamburan, who ruled the province in the mid-15th century. Cherusseri wrote his renowned literary work to fulfil a request placed by the ruler. He thereby used the theme of devotional poetry and named it ‘Krishnagadha’ which means the story of Lord Krishna. ‘Krishnagadha’ was his masterpiece, he wrote it in ‘Pattu’ style and the most interesting fact about it was it can only be recited in a lullaby tone. None of the courtiers were able to recite it with another tone and it is still considered a piece of wonder.
Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, is also known as Father of Malayalam language and also the personality behind the innovation of the famous literary form ‘Kilippattu’. He made use of Manipravalam for his literary pieces and formed a new set of alphabets for creating a unique identity for Malayalam language. As of like Cherusseri, Ezhuthachan too followed the theme of devotional poetry and innovated a new style of poetry which is ‘Kilippattu’ which means the song recited by a bird. The theme was designed in such a way that a parrot is reciting the poem for others. He wrote the ‘Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu’ and ‘Mahabharatham Kilippattu’ based on Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Kalakkath Kunjan Nambiyar, is the innovator of ‘Thullalprasthanam’ a renowned art form of Kerala. Thullalprasthanam comprises of 3 types of art forms, they are ‘Ottan Thullal’ ‘Sheetankan Tullal’ and ‘Parayan Thullal’. Kunjan Nambiyar is famous for adopting a humorous tone in all his art forms which gave them a unique appearance. He chose specific incidents from the Hindu mythology and presented them in form of Thullal with a touch of humour.

The Bhakti Movement
One of the most common theme that you can find in almost all of the Literatures in Manipravalam was they were either devotional poetries or acts connected with mythology. Other than the great poetic trio there were other renowned poets who were associated with the Bhakti Movement.
Melpathur Narayana Bhattathirippad was one among them, who was known to be a great devotee of Lord Vishnu wrote ‘Narayaneeyam’ which was tracked back to 16th century. Poonthanam Namboothirippad, who was also a great devotee, worshipped Lord Krishna in the form of his child wrote ‘Jnanappana’ which strengthened the Bhakti Movement.

The Role of Literature in Early Art forms
Just like our mother tongue, art forms of a state or region carries its own uniqueness and identity. Just like our mother tongue, these art forms are been carried to coming generations without losing its purity and divinity. Literature, hence plays an important role in preserving our art forms just like the way it has been.
Kathakali, is one of the most beautiful and entertaining art form of Kerala whose literature tracks back to the 17th century. Various scenes in mythological stories form the basis of Kathakali act and it is performed with other musical instruments.
Attakatha, is another renowned art form of Kerala, also known as Ramanattam found by Kottarakkara Thamburan and Nalacharitham, a masterpiece of Unnayi Varrier has strong defined literature pieces on how it should be performed and recited.
Kerala is famous for its backwaters and ‘Vanchippattu’ which means boat song, a literary piece by Ramapurath Varrier are well known for its reciting style.

Contemporary Writers and other Prose
Apart from songs, ballads and poetries, 19th century witnessed the emergence of first magazine of Malayalam and a short story titled ‘Oru Kuttiyude Maranam’ which was recorded to be appeared on 1847 is considered as the first short story of Malayalam. It took four more decades, where Malayalam had its first novel, penned down by Appu Nedungadi, titled as ‘Kundalatha’ in 1887. Two years later, ‘Indulekha’ by O.Chandumenon became the first novel that portrayed lives of people of Kerala.
Later, Kerala Sahitya Academy was formed which acted as a governing body of literature in Kerala. Gradually, Malayalam was able to produce a lot of talented writers who represented the language.

The Modern Poetic Trio
The trio of famous poets Kumaranasan, Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor Parameshwara Iyer constituted the Modern Poetic trio of Malayalam Language. In this period, the literary works produced consisted of different themes apart from mythology and devotional literature.
Kumaranasan, who is famous for his poetry works like ‘Veenapoovu’ took social problems and injustice around him as a theme for his poems. He even wrote about life and death, sadness and untouchability.
Vallathol and Ulloor used the same tone of poems and shared themes similar to them. They wrote poems questioning the injustices and untouchability, caste discrimination existed in the society. Most of the poets and writers in this age, dealt with the literature of same theme and issues that where, Independence and freedom fights, social anarchies and discriminations, caste system and untouchability etc. This period marked a new era of Malayalam literature, it proved the poetries and proses are not only meant for divine purposes, but can also be used as a weapon against social injustices.
G. Shankarakurupp, a Malayalam poet was the first recipient of Gyanapith award, one of the honorary award in field of literature. Even after independence and abolishment of untouchability, there were a lot of things that inspired Malayalam literature. S.K Pottekkad, is a known writer who chose travel as his passion and an inspiration for his literary works. He even won Gyanapith award for his travelogue ‘Oru Deshathinte Katha’.


Other renowned authors like Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer, who chose his childhood and his village as a theme of his stories. MT Vasudevan Nair, famous for his novels ‘Nalukettu’ ‘Kayar’ and ‘Randamoozham’ wrote about the changing society and loss of values. Changambuzha Krishnappilla, famous for his Poem ‘Ramanan’ in which he chose romance and pain as the theme.

After knowing about the history of Malayalam literature, the way it has evolved so far is really an inspiring one. The efforts of thousands of writers and poets in building such a beautiful language is worth an applause. The transformation of Malayalam Literature from being limited to a medium of communicating divinity principles, to a language which produces quality literature in relation social causes and what in the society needs to be changed. It was even able to produce lot of gifted writers who took the language literature to new phases. Literature played a significant role in making the language which was just spoken by 40 million people to a recognised classical language of one of the greatest nations of the world.

- Ajay Sreeram


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An Introduction to the Literature in Malayalam An Introduction to the Literature in Malayalam Reviewed by EMN on January 03, 2019 Rating: 5

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