Malayalam, the mother tongue of nearly thirty million Malayalis, ninety per cent of whom live in Kerala State in the south-west corner of India, belongs to the Dravidian family of languages. Like the speakers, the languages also has been receptive to influences from abroad and tolerant of elements added from outside.
Malayalam literature too reflects this spirit of accommodation and has over the centuries developed a tradition which, even while rooted in the locality, is truly universal in taste. It is remarkably free from the provincialisms and parochial prejudices that have bedevilled the literature of certain other areas. To its basic Dravidian stock have been added elements borrowed or adopted from non-Dravidian literatures such as Sanskrit , Arabic, French, Portuguese and English . The earliest of these associations was inevitably with Tamil. Sanskrit, however, accounts for the largest of the "foreign" influences, followed closely in recent times by English. This broad based cosmopolitanism has indeed become a distinctive features of Malayalam literature.
According to the most dependable evidence now available to us, Malayalam literature is at least a thousand years old. The language must certainly be older, but linguistic research has yet to discover unmistakable evidence to prove its antiquity. Historical accuracy has often been a problem since the records in most cases show no reference to the exact date of their composition. Legends and folklore have often taken the place of historical facts and chronology has been consciously or unconsciously tampered with. Modern research on scientific lines, however, has gone a long way to explain the origin and early development of the language.
A comprehensive literary history of Kerala shoud take into account the works produced in the region not only in Malayalam language, but also in Tamil, beginning with the fourth century B.C. and continuing to the end of the first millennium A.D. It should also trace the evolution of the works in Sanskrit produced by writers in Kerala. The contribution of Kerala to Tamil literature which includes Chilappadikaram produced in the 2nd century B.C., should be perhaps find its proper place in the history of Tamil literature just as Kerala's contribution to Sanskrit, which includes the works of Sankaracharya and Kulasekhara Alwar of the early 9th century A.D., should come within a history of Sanskrit literature. The contribution of Kerala writers to English and Hindi in recent years, in the same way is part of the literatures in those languages. Since this article is primarily devoted to the evolution of literature in Malayalam the political history and the history of the language as well as the literature written in other languages are not discussed here in detail.
The poetry of the Earth
It is difficult to provide documentary evidence for the existence of the earliest literary works written in Malayalam. The folk-songs and ballads of popular origin have been orally transmitted from generation to generation, but the forms in which they survive today must be quite different from their original forms.
Any sweeping generalizations based on their present day forms are bound to be wrong. However, it would not be wrong to think that in some of them at least one can find evidence of the earliest springs of poetic inspiration in Malayalam. A large number of these folk-songs are associated with various kinds of religious rituals dating back to primitive Dravidian and Pre-Aryan times. Among these are perhaps the songs recited by Pulluvars at the festivals in serpent groves and by Panars when they used to go from house to house waking the people up in the early hours of the morning. The intrusion of Aryan faith even into these primitive rituals has led to their total transformation in theme, diction and imagery. The secular songs for popular entertainment and for agricultural operations have probably survived without serious damage. These are marked by a simplicity of structure and commitment to the problems of every day life. Some of them relate to the tragedy and pathos of the poorer classes; others are marked by a sparkling sense of humour. One of the most widely popular of these tragic songs is in the form of a complaint voiced by the farm labourer who is detained by the landlord for long hours to do all kinds of chores in the manorial household:
The time is gone, the time gone,
the water fowl
is hopping away
behind the screwpine.
When I went there
there was neither this nor that.
When I went there
they made me do the fence which was not there.
When I went there
they made me dig the pond which was not there.
When I went there
they made me thatch the unthatched roof.
For half a pint of toddy
they drive me to death,
for half a green coconut
they drive me to death.
The time is gone, the time is gone
the water fowl
is hopping away
behind the screwpine.
Another of these folk-songs presents a young girl who is able to outwit the young man who slyly approaches her as she is walking across a paddy field. It is in the form of a dialogue. The young man asks her to move closer to him and take cover under his umbrella, but she parries his requests with witty evasions.
Who is going there along the causeway
with bangles on the arms?
Oh, it is only the slave girl
of my lord of the farm.
Throw away those bangles, girl,
and come under this umbrella.
This umbrella is just for a day,
but my bangles are for all my life.
Who is going there along the causeway
with palm-leaf rolls in the ears?
Oh, it is only the slave girl
of my lord of the farm.
Throw away the palm-leaf rolls, girl,
and come under this umbrella.
This unbrella is just for a day,
but these palm-leaf rolls are for all my life.
Who is there going along the causeway
with silver anklets on the feet?
Oh, it is only the slave girl
of my lord of the farm.
Throw away the silver anklets, girl,
and come under this umbrella.
This umbrella is just for a day,
but these anklets are for all my life.
Among the vocational songs are many which render an actual account of agricultural operations, especially the planting of seedlings and harvesting. The following song is sung by Pulayas who earn their living by working all the year round on the soil:
The rains have all come down,
the little fields are now wet,
the ploughing and tilling over,
the little seedlings have been scattered,
Omala, Chenthila, Mala,
little Kannamma, Kali, Karumpi,
Chatha, Chadaya and all
the Pulaya women have come.
They have come and lined up
and portioned out the seedlings.
To move up the line in unison
they get ready and bend down.
Kanna, the Pulaya girl then,
she calls out to Omala and says:
"You must sing a song
before you finish the planting and go."
Then comes a parrot girl
she perches on the tree and chirps.
The little Pulaya girl Omala
looks up at it and says:
"O, parrot girl, now tell me
why you have come here at all."
Interspread with beautiful choric refrains made up of meaningless vocables constituting Vaythari metres, these folk-songs have preserved for centuries the pristine musical traditions of Kerala. The Christians and Muslims, along with Brahmins and other upper classes, have also had their religious and social songs. Examples are the door-opening song of the Christians associated with marriage celebrations, coaxing the bridegroom to open the door of the bridal chamber; the famous Moplah songs and ballads with their lyrical lilt and fervour; the Sanghakali songs of the Brahmin theatre, the songs about Kali, used for Thiyattu and Mudiyyettu, the boatsongs or Vanchippattu sung by choral groups to accompany spirited boat race activities: and songs used for Kalameshuthu, Thira and other kinds of ritualistic religious worship.
Among the ballads of a later period we have the famous Vatakkan Pattukal (ballads of the north) and Thekkan Pattukal (ballads of the south). They cover a wide variety of themes ranging from the historical exploits of the legendary heroes of non-religious folk mythology to songs of lamentation and mourning. The ballads of the north are narratives full of dramatic tension: the main characters belong to the Nayar or Ezhava communities, and are distinguished for their valour, military skill and sense of honour. Family feuds often provide the background or foreground of these stories in verse. Odenan, Aromar, Unniyarcha, Komappan, Chandu, Kelu, Alikkutty and Kannan, are a few of the unforgettable characters who figure in these ballads. Aromar and Odenan are the most colourful of these folk heroes. The Tachcholi ballad which reveals the greatness of Odenan is a saga of heroism, violence, revenge, love and courage. Logan calls Odenan "the Robin Hood of North Malabar". "In the popular ballad he is stated to have been treacherously shot, but whether mortally or not is uncertain, by a Mappilla on returning to search for a dagger he had accidentally dropped in a duel in which he had discomfitted his enemy". The opening of the poem reveals some of the general characteristics of these ballads and conjures up the medieval world of family fueds and superstitions. (Translation by Logan:)
To his squire Odayottidathil Kandasseri (Chappan)
said Tachcholi Meppayil Kunhi Odenan,
"For the Lokanar Kavil Kavut,
Which day of ceremony has come and dawned
We to that temple must go".
Tachcholi Meppayil Kunhi Odenan
His apparel he put on,
His sword and shield he took in his right and left.
In front walked Kandasseri,
In the rear the nobleman Kunhi Odenan,
Together proceeded in company.
Said dear Kunhi Odenan
To his wife Kavile Chathoth Kunchichiru:
"Till I go and come
Don't you go down the gate steps;
Do caress child Ambadi,
Give him milk when thirsty'
And rice when hungry",
So Tachcholi Meppayil Kunhi Odenan
Took leave of Kavile Chathoth.
When Odenan reached Lokanar Kavu, he found the place already "fenced with men on all four sides". He took his sat under the Banian tree. Mathilur Kurikkal and his twenty-two disciples arrived there then. Kurikkal was not pleased to see Odenan seated there. After an exchange of rancour and insult, the two men came to challenge each other:
When descending the steps,
The Kurikkal shouted loud and challenged:
"My good fellow, Tachcholi Kunhi Odena!
If the tenth and eleventh of Kumbham shall come,
If God will spare my life,
I pledge my word to be at Ponniyat
There under the Banian tree
In single combat could we test out supremacy.
That day let us meet again!"
Thus the Kurikkal declared the war,
In the midst of the Ten Thousand,
And proceeded back on his way.
The sight-seers trembled
At this throwing down and taking up the gauntlet.
A stillness prevailed like that after a heavy rain.
A panic spread
Over all assembled.
Odenan accepted the challenge and in spite of warnings went to the appointed place on the appointed day. The poetic excellence of this ballad consists not only in the narrative vigour but also in the acuteness of observation displayed by the anonymous writer. Odenan's dinner is described with scrupulous attention to detail:
A Kadali plantain leaf was spread
His sister Tachcholi Unichira
Served him the dinner.
Fine lily-white rice,
A large quantity of pure ghee,
And eleven kinds of vegetables curries.
He fed himself sumptuously on all these
And washed his hands and mouth after it.
He then sat in the south verandah.
Kandassery Chappan, his squire,
Served him betel to chew.
The description of Odenan's appearance as he set out is even better than this:
He wore God-of-serpent's head ear-ring in ears,
Combed down his hair,
And wore a flower of gold over the crown,
A silk cloth round the lions,
A gold girdle over it,
Gold rings in four fingers,
A bracelet worked in with scenes
From Ramayanam and Bharatam
High up on his right arm,
A gold-handled sword in his right hand,
And a tiger-fighting shield in his left hand.
When coming out thus dressed, he looked
Like melted gold of ten and a half touch!
Like the rising sun in the east!
Like the setting moon in the west!
Among the ballads of the south, one of the most powerful is the Iravikkuttipillai Battle, also called "The Battle of Kaniyamkulam". The dialogue between the distinguished Warrior Iravikuttippillai and his wife, the latter asking her husband not to proceed to battle because she had seen bad dreams about its dire consequences, is particularly touching. Another equally arresting passage is the description of how the women celebrated the occasion of the hero's glorious march to the battle field in full array. The southern songs have a greater admixture of Tamil words. Ramakatha Pattu, which is, perhaps the most elaborate and most magnificent of these southern poems, is not a ballad but a genuine folk epic. Ayyappilli Asan, the author of this massive epic on the theme of Ramayana, is believed to have lived in the 15th century A.D. But the language and literary style point to a folk bias. Born near Kovalam to the south of Thiruvananthapuram, Asan was a master of Tamil too; his language thus remains very close to Tamil. There are numerous passages in Ramakatha Pattu which have a highly lyrical quality and an unmatched delicacy of imagination.
The folk poetry of Kerala is still an unspent force. It has always shown greater vigour and vitality than the poetry of the elite. The metrical richness of Malayalam folk poetry, too, is immense. It reflects the fundamentally musical approach to poetry that manifests itself in Malayalam literature. A predominant and all-pervasive sense of rhythm seems to be so characteristic a feature of Kerala culture. It might even be said that the perenial appeal of the Pattu school of poetry is mainly due to the inexhaustible melodic potentiality of its metrical structure. The vitality of the folk tradition in historical times is demonstrated by the Mappila Pattukal (Moplah songs) which have not only enriched the metrical resources of the language but put special emphasis on vira and sringara (the heroic and the erotic). The Arabi-Malayalam language used in these Moplah songs establishes the quaint beauty of their melodies. In the same way the Idanadan Pattu, a ballad with a Pylaya hero, adds to the variety of folk poetry in Malayalam.
The evidence for the beginning of conscious literary creation in Malayalam is to be found in Ramacharitam, written in the 12th century and believed to be the oldest extant classic in Malayalam (some scholars have assigned it to the 14th century). The language represented here is an early form of Malayalam which appears to be almost indistinguishable from Tamil, except perhaps for a linguist. Ramacharitam is the earliest of the many poetic versions of the story of Ramayana that have appeared in Malayalam. The work is thus important from the linguistic as well as the literary point of view. Ulloor Parameswara Iyer who was the first to bring to light long excerpts from this poem, holds the view that it was written by Sri Vira Rama Varma who ruled over Travancore from 1195 to 1208. Scholars differ on whether the language of Ramacharitam represents the literary dialect or the spoken dialect of Malayalam of that period.
Ramacharitam is also taken to the greatest work belonging to the Pattu school. Cheeraman, the author, as his name is given in the poem itself, has adapted to suit a Dravidian sensibility, a story which is unmistakably of Aryan origin. The work retells the story of Ramayana and the author tries to follow Valmiki in all essential details. However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that one could read the work as an original and independent poem in which the story is told with remarkable ease, maturity and perfect craftsmanship. It rises far above the level of ordinary folk poetry in its literary sophistication. Even the stansas of invocation is section one show great skill not only in condensing a whole series of events in one context but also in intoning the emotion or bhava in a concentrated form. Here is a passage, for example:
So difficult it is for me to narrate
how the son of Vayu hugged grief for a night
seeking Maithili, the long-eyed one,
crossing the billowy sea with perfect skill,
as the monkeys went about in all directions
at the orders of their king who had become friends
with Rama, while he was wandering along the route
on which, before the rainy months came,
the Rakshasa chief had disappeared with Sita.
The focus is on Hanuman and the context is clearly specified so that the reference to the night of grief spells out the central bhava. It also marks out the part of the Ramayana story which is going to be narrated in the present work. In the 1814 verses grouped into 164 sections the poet tries to tell in a dramatic style the war between Rama and Ravana. Thus, although the work is called Ramacharitam, it deals with only the Battle Canto (Yudha Kanda) of Ramayana. The earlier episodes in Rama's life are told by means of retrospective narration. The scenes of battle are described with verve and vigour. Physical prowess in fully appreciated by the poet. Some scholars have argued that this poem was composed in order to inspire the soldiers in the discharge of their duty. But there are other emotions also invoked in the poem. Bhakti or piety is dominant in many passages since the author presents Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu. In this, as in many other aspects, it is likely that the author was influenced by writers like Kambar. There is no doubt that in the depiction of both the heroic and the pathetic or tragic the poet shows extreme delicacy of touch and propriety. Here is Mandodari's lament as Ravana, her lord, lies killed in battle:
O King, lying asleep on this battle ground
in royal regalia, kindly rise,
as we of the weaker sex and I, your bondmaid,
who used to make you utter elixir-like words,
weep, while speaking brave words to endure this,
so that our lotus eyes fill with tears blurring the sight.
The Beginning of Prose
There is no literary work of the same period in prose matching in quality with Ramacharitam. The earliest pieces of prose in existence are of a documentary nature, with no touch of imagination.
The Attoor copper plate of Vira Udaya Marthanda Varma of Venad dated 1251 is, according to Ulloor, the earliest document, wholly in Malayalam proper. But Bhasha Kautaliyam, a Malayalam translation of Kautalya's Artha Sastra, is contemporaneous with Ramachirtham and illustrates the use of prose for imaginative purposes as well . The writer reveals a remarkable sense of style. The alternation between short and long sentences produces a sense of rhythm without destroying the straight-forwardness of the writing. Here is a passage describing rainfall:
Hereinafter types of clouds that rain in Sushama year are described. There are three types of clouds that rain continuously for seven days. There are eight types of clouds which shower minute drops. Sixty are the types of clouds that appear but do no rain at all. All these kinds of rain will be good for all seeds and plants.
While the Pattu school flourished among certain sections of the society, the literature of the elite was composed in the curious mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam which is referred to as Manipravalam, mani meaning ruby (Malayalam) and pravalam meaning coral (Sanskrit).
Lilathilakam, a work on grammar and rhetoric, written in the last quarter of the 14th century discusses the relationship between Manipravalam and Pattu as poetic forms. It lays special emphais on the types of words that blend harmoniously. It points out that the rules of Sanskrit prosody should be followed in Manipravalam poetry. This particular school of poetry was patronized by the upper classes, especially the Nambudiris. It is also to be remembered that the composition of this dialect also reflects the way Aryan and Dravidian cultures were moving towards a synthesis. Dramatic performances given in Koothampalams, known by the names of Koothu and Koodiyattom, often used Sanskrit and Malayalam. In Koodiyattom, the clown (vidooshaka) is allowed to use Malayalam while the hero recites slokas in Sanskrit. Tholan, a legendary court poet in the period of the Kulasekhara kings, is believed to have started this practice. The language of Kramadeepikas and Attaprakarams, which lay down the rules and regulations for these dramatic performances, is considerably influenced by the composite literary dialect of Manipravalam.
Early Manipravalam Works
The earliest of these works in the Manipravalam school is Vaisika Tantram written in the 13th century. It is fairly typical of the works that appealed to the upper class reading public of those days. It contains about 200 quatrains in Sanskrit metres and is in the form of professional advice given to a prostitute or courtesan by her mother.
These instructions are of a practical nature calculated to please the pampered tastes of a leisured class. But each quatrain is composed with care and due weight is given to the rules of rhetoric. For instance the mother tells the daughter, who is to get ready for the family vocation as a courtesan, that "old age is a sea to be crossed by means of the wealth earned during one's youth". Several quatrains of this type are quoted in Lilathilakam by way of illustration for the several rules of grammar and rhetoric. An example may be quoted here:
All breezes are not breezes. The real breeze is the one
That bathes in the nearby river, dances among the growing coconut trees,
Caresses the uniquely beautiful body of mistress Rohini
And comes in kindness to thrill me by blowing over me.
Perhaps the most representative of these early Manipravalam works are the tales of courtesans (Achi Charitams) and the Message Poems (Sandesa Kavyas).
Unniyachi Charitam, Unnichiruthevi Charitam and Unniyadi Charitam are examples of the former type which is known by the name champoo, written in close imitation of the champoos in Sanskrit. The Padya or "verse" portion is in Sanskrit metres and the gadya or "prose" portion is mostly in Dravidian metres.
Unniyachi is the heroine of Unniyachi Charitham and the poem is concerned with a Gandharva's love for her. There are plenty of passages of ornate description of either the heroine's charms or the splendour of the town or market place visited by her. The authorship is unknown. In Unnichiruthevi Charitham, it is Indra, the King of the Gods, who is smitten by a passion for the heroine and descends on the earth to visit her. In the course of the elaborate description of things seen by Indra, we get passages which throw light on the manners and morals of the upper class society of its time. Only a portion of the work is now available to us. Unniyadi Charitam, which also exists in a fragmented form, is supposed to be by Damodara Chakkiar. Against the backdrop of a complicated story involving generations of Gandharvas, there merges the story of Unniyadi, the heroine. The moon god happens to hear wonderful music wafted into the sky and sends his attendant Suvakan to find out its source. The poem contains the description of all that Suvakan sees on the earth, especially in places like Thrissur, Mahodayapuram and Kayamkulam......
It is natural that Manipravalam looked to Sanskrit for models of literary works. The Sandesa Kavyas are an important poetic genre in Sanskrit, and on the model of Kalidasa's Meghadoot and Lakhsmidasa's Sukasandesa, a number of message poems came to be written first in Manipravalam and later in pure Malayalam.
The best of these sandesas is perhaps Unnuneelisandesam written in the 14th century. Unnuneeli is the heroine, and she and her lover live in Kaduthuruthi. One night as they as asleep, a fairy (Yakshi) carries him away and goes south. He wakes up by the time they reach Thiruvananthapuram and frees himself from the hold of the fairy. He visits Sri Padmanabha Temple and meeting Aditya Varma, a junior prince of Kollam there, engages him as a messenger to carry his news to his beloved in Kaduthuruthi. In part one, as usual, the poet describes the route to Kaduthuruthi, for the benefit of the messenger as well as the readers. In part two the actual message is described and entrusted to the messenger. The poem is a treasure house of information relating to the conditions of life in Kerala in the fourteenth century. In addition, it contains several quatrains of unexceptionable beauty, both in its thought and in its verbal felicity. In two hundred and forty stanzas, with breath-taking eroticism and exquisite imagery, this message poem reaches the high watermark of early Manipravalam poetry. It combines extreme sophistication and complexity in its poetic craft with remarkable naturalness and authenticity in its theme and thought.
The Niranam Poets
While the Manipravala poetry flourished as a diversion from the mainstream, the tradition set up by Cheeraman of Ramacharitam and the more enlightened among the anonymous folk poets was resumed and replenished by three writers commonly referred to as Niranam poets. The Bhakti school was thus revived, and in the place of the excessive sensuality and eroticism of the Manipravala poets, the seriousness of the poetic vocation was reasserted by them.
It is believed that they all belonged to the same Kannassa family and that Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar were the unless of Rama Panikkar, the youngest of the three. They lived between 1350 and 450 A.D. and made valuable contribution to the Pattu school. Madhava Panikkar wrote a condensed Malayalam translation of Bhagavad Gita, aperhaps the first ever translation of that classic into any modern Indian language. Sankara Panikkars's main work is Bharatamala, a masterly condensation of Mahabharatam, is also the first major work of its kind in Malayalam. The greatest of the three is of course Rama Panikkar, the author of Ramayanam, Bhartam, Bhagavatam and Sivarathri Mahatmyam. Kannassa Ramayanam and Kannassa Bharatam are the most important of these Niranam works. Rama Panikkar's Ramayanam is an important link between Cheeraman's Ramacharitam, Ayyappilli Asan's Ramakathappattu and Ezhuthachan's Adhytma Ramayanam. They bear eloquent testimony to the continuing popularity of the Ramayana story in Kerala. Together they constitute the strong bulwark of the Bhakti movement which enabled the Malayalis to withstand and resist the onslaught of foreign cultures. The Dravidianization of Aryan mythology and philosophy was their joint achievement, coming in the wake of the heroic effort of Sankaracharya, who wrote only in Sanskrit. The central native tradition of Malayalam poetry has its most significant watershed in the works of the Niranam poets. Their success led to the gradual replacement of the Manipravala cult of worldliness and sensual revelry by an indigenous poetics of high seriousness. One step forward from the Niranam poets will take us to Cherusseri and his Krishnagatha; two steps together will land us in the company of Kerala's greatest poet Thunchathu Ezhuthachan. The centrality of Niranam Rama Panikkar is of vital concern to any conscientious literary historian of Malayalam. The subordination of the descriptive and the narrative elements to the controlling theme is a feature of Rama Panikkar's poetic style. The killing of Thataka in the Balakanda of Kannassa Ramayanam is disposed of in one verse which helps to preserve the dramatic tension of the action.
Came she like a gigantic blue cloud,
shouting with frightening fury,
Wearing garlands of blood-dripping intestines
bearing her crescent-white tusks,
But the leader of mankind woke up to anger
and smashing her magic witchcraft
With arrows shot, saluted the rishi
and killer her at his command.
Lakshman's furious threat to Tara when Sugriva failed to expedite the quest for Sita is another eloquent example:
Tara, your husband does not consider
what is good and what is bad without delay.
He had said, with the approach of summer
he would search for Devi without fail.
We waited so long upon that word
and then he has forgotten all that
Blind and stupid with drunkenness,
knowing neither day or night.
Ulloor has said that Rama Panikkar holds the same position in Malayalam literature that Spenser does in English literature. His command over complex rhythms, his attention to sensuous, concrete details, his power of phrasing and perfect control over mythological material seem to lend support to this view.
The Later Champoos
The 15th century A.D. saw two parallelled movements in Malayalam literature: one spearheaded by the Manipravala works, especially the Champoos, mixing verse and prose, and continuing the trend of the earlier Champoos at least in part; and the other emanating from the pattu school and adumbrated in Cherusseri's magnum opus, the Krishnagatha (Song of Krishna).
As the elitist Manipravala Champoo school is to disappear later in the next century, it may be disccussed first. The language of the later Champoos reads more like modern Malayalam than that of the earlier Champoos and Sandesakavyas. Perhaps it can also be said that there is an improvement in poetic quality and craftsmanship too. The greatest Manipravala Champoos of the 15th century is Punam Nambudiri's Ramayanam, a close rival to Mahishamangalam's Naishadha of the 17th century. It is believed that Punam was responsible for using Puranic themes and episodes in Champoos for the first time, unlike the 14th century Champoos which were tales of the courtesans.
The later Champoos came to be used for dramatic oral narration by performing artists in their Koothu and Pathakam. Their diction like their themes, seems to be more refined than that of the earlier Champoos showing a self-conscious effort on the part of their authors. Ramayanam Champoos consists of 20 Prabandhas viz., Ravana's birth, Rama's incarnation, the killing of Thataka, the deliverance of Ahalya, the marriage of Sita, the truimph over parasurama, the foiled coronation, the killing of Khara, the treaty with Sugriva, the killing of Bali, the entry into the garden, the scene of the ring, the entry into Lanka, the killing of Ravana, the ordeal by fire, the entry into Ayodhya, the coronation, the repudiation of Sita, the Aswamedha and the Swargarohana.
A recurring feature of some of these Champoos is that several passags are common to many of them. It would appear as though the performing artists, the Chakyars or the Nambiars, appropriated passages from other Champoos and introduced them into any given Champoos chosen for presentation. A remarkable feature of Ramayanam Champoo is the sense of humour that sparkles in many passages. Punam also wrote a Bharatam Champoos. There are also many others, the authorship of which is ascribed to him.
Mahishamangalam (or Mazhamangalam) Narayanan Nambudiri is the author of some of the best Champoos of all time. The most widely known of these is Naishadham followed by Rajaratnavaliyam and Kodia Viraham. Like Punam, Mahishamangalam also reveals in humour. This aspect of the work must have specially appealed to the performing artists who used the text for public performance. It may be this sense of the comic that eventually percolated into the Thullal poems of Kunchan Nambiar, centuries later.
Chandrolsavam, a long narrative poem written in Manipravala on the model of the Kavyas in Sanskrit, should also be mentioned here. The authorship is unknown.
A shy intrusion of romantic sensibility may be detected in parts of this poem. There are also lines which seem to strike an ironic note. Some scholars consider it a work of satire. Hyperbole was a regular feature of Chambu literature, but to our taste today, it might look like conscious exaggeration to provoke ridicule and laughter.
The story of Manipravala poetry will remain incomplete, unless the Muktakas or single quatrains are also touched upon. Some of them are exquisite wordpictures. Some have a lyrical perfection rarely eq
The poetics of the Pattu school find a further confirmation in the celebrated and popular Song of Krishna (Krishnagatha) by Cherusseri Nambudiri. With the writing of Krishnagatha, the validity of the use of spoken Malayalam for literary purposes receives its ultimate justification. Unlike the language of Ramacharitam and the works of the Niranam poets the language of Krishnagatha marks the culmination of a stage of evolution. Cherusseri excels by the simplicity and limpidness of his diction and imagery. Krishnagatha is an epic in Malayalam written in a popular Dravidian metre which has evolved from a folk metre. It does not have the tightness and characteristics of either Ramacharitam or Kannassa Ramayanam. There are also local touches in an abundant measure. Sweetness and light, rather than vigour or high seriousness, is Cherusseri's forte. It arises partly from his localizing devices. There is also an entrancing freshness about his description of domestic life. The naturalness and ease of his flowing lines also accounts for Cherusseri's popularity.
Cherusseri belonged to Kolathunad in northern Kerala. The consensus among scholars is that he lived and wrote in the 15th century A.D. There is some dispute about the author's name and his identity. Some scholars are of opinion that he was the same as the Punam Nambudiri of the Chambus. The difference between the style of Krishnagatha and that of any of the Chambus should point to the impossibility of this identification. Even a casual reading of the work will convince one of the uniqueness of its style. Later poets have learned a lot from him, but no one can successfully imitate him. The distinctive Cherusseri stamp is deeply marked on every line of his poem. His use of figures of speech, his pleasant diction and his mastery over the metrical structure (especially the pause and the caesura) are borne out by almost any part of the poem. Here is an example, a description of Poothana's arrival in Ampadi with the intention of causing baby Krishna's death through milk poisoning:
As she saw the place from a distance
She went close and shyly sneaked in
EVen as the python stealthily goes
Close to the perch of the king of birds.
She stood there for a while
Watching the darling's charming face,
As though she waited in impatience
She went forward and stood touching
Why the lord of death had not come.
That flower-soft body, softer than tender leavers,
As if touching real fire
Taking it for a jewel.
Then she picked up the darling child
Like taking a serpent for a rope.
In this string of smiles the poet shows both insight and wit; the figures anticipate her future course. Here is an eloquent picture of the pitiful position in which she puts herself unknowingly. Bhakti, Vatsalyam (love of children, etc.) Karuna, Sringara: these are the dominent moods in Cherusseri's poetry.
The Growth of Prose
The evolution of prose literature in the early centuries was a very slow process. In the wake of Bhashakautaliyam several translations began to appear in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The prose of Attprakarams was meant to aid the Chakiyars in learning the art of Koodiyattam. Doothavakyam (14th century A.D.) is one of the earliest of these free renderings which reveals a kind of style that is suited for elaborate oral narration.
The long, rolling sonorous sentences are interspersed with pieces of dialogue which contain spoken forms. Fifteenth century Malayalam prose is represented by Brahmanda Puranam, a summary of the original in Sanskrit. The prose here is more free from Sanskrit influence than in Doothavakyam. The syntax is less cumbersome and the units are presented in the sequential order without resorting to specific co-ordination or sub-ordination. There are however, numerous Tamil and Sanskrit expressions scattered here and there. These give a stylized effect to the prose. A large number of prose works appeared during this period, most of which are either narratives based on puranas and eligious works in Sanskrit or commentaries on similar works. With the starting of the first printing presses in the Sixteenth century by Christian missionaries, prose literature received a great boost.
Malayalam literature passed though a tremendous process of development in the 15th and 16th centuries. Cherusseri's Krishnagatha bore witness to the evolution of modern Malayalam language as a proper medium for serious poetic communication.
Alongside there flourished numerous Sanskrit poets who were very active during this period. The greatest of them was Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam. The Manipravala poets were no less active, as is shown by a series of Chambus and Kavyas and single quatrains produced in the period, the greatest monument of which is perhaps the Naishadham Chambu. But the most significant development of the time took place in the field of Malayalam poetry.
Thunchattu Ezhuthachan, the greatest Malayalam poet of all time, wrote his two great epics Adhyatma Ramayanam and Srimahabharatam and two shorter pieces, Irupattinalu Vrittam and Harinama Kirtanam and thereby revolutionized Malayalam language and literature at once. He is rightly regarded as the maker of modern Malayalam and the father of Malayalam poetry. The study of Malayalam should properly begin with the acquisition of the skill to read Ezhuthachan's Ramayanam with fluency. It was in his works that the Sanskrit and Dravidian streams in our language as well as literature achieved a proper synthesis.
The evolution of modern Malayalam becomes complete with his judicious fusion of the disparate elements. In his diction there is no violation of euphony. Ezhuthachan's mind and ear went together in the selection and ordering of phonological and morophological units. The Kilippattu form he adopted in Ramayanam and Bharatam may be a pointer to his recognition of importance of the sound effect in poetry. It enable him to combine fluency with elegance, spontaneity with complexity, naturalness with depth of meaning and simplicity with high seriousness. His choice of classcial Dravidian metres in preference to both the classical Aryan metres and the Dravidian-based folk metres reveals his concern for striking a balance in most of his endeavours . Ezhuthachan is the greatest spokesman of the Bhakti movement in Malayalam but he is more than a writer of devotional hymns. It is possible to think of him primarily as a poet imbued with a sense of mission, but not willing to fritter away his energies on negative projects like castigating any section or community.
Ezhuthachan is the greatest synthesizer Kerala has ever seen. A non-Brahmin himself, who studied the Vedas and Upanishads without prior priestly sanction, he was yet devoted to the real Brahmins and always revealed a sublime sense of humility. Critics have sometimes, in their over enthusiasm and admiration for the poet, pointed out that whenever he has to mention Rama or Krishna, he goes into raptures and produces a string of the Lord's names. If this is shown as an inability on the part of the poet to decide what is proper and what is improper in a given situation, it would only mean denigrating Ezuthachan as a poet. Ezhuthachan is a master of auchitya or the quality of propriety in writing. It could easily be seen that the intrusion of his personal bhakti is not at the expense of aesthetic propriety. The very fact that he close Adhyatma Ramayana and not Valmiki Ramayana as his model, shows that devotional effusions are automatically justified in his telling of the story of Rama. Bhakti becomes the Sthayibhava and it would have been improper if he narrated the story merely as an account of events without any transcendental significance.
That Ezhuthachan is not a mere translator is granted by all critics and scholars. In fact he follows the earlier Kerala writers in freely elaborating or condensing the original as he thinks proper. The celebration of this freedom gained in poetic creation is what enlivens and ennobles the hymns interspersed in his works. There seems to be another superstition among some critics that his Bharatam is more poetic than his Ramayanam. This again arises from the misconception that devotion is an anachronism in poetry. In Ezhuthachan's time there was no dissociation of religious sensibility and devotion and spirituality could always go together. His Bharatam is a later work, a more nature work but its artistic greatness does not depend on the exclusion of bhakti in it. As a matter of fact his Bharatam is as much imbued with religious devotion as his Ramayanam. The differences are perfectly consistent with the change of subject matter and the period of composition. The bhaktivadi critics who praise Ramayanam purely as a devotional work are unconsciously belittling Ezhuthachan. His greatness as a poet consists in the appropriateness of the form he chose and the language he used for what he wanted to present to the people of his time as well as of later times.
The transition from Cherusseri to Ezhuthachan marks the triumph of modernism over medievalism. This is very much in evidence in the self restraint with which Ezhuthachan resorts to the use of figures of speech. There is an urbanity and refinement in his portrayal of Ravana and Duryodhana. He was able to achieve the perfect integration of the literacy and the spiritual; one was not scarificed for the sake of the other, for the new, that would spoil both. This liberalism enabled Ezhuthachan to excel his predecessors in the presentation of the different rasas and bhavas. Some passages will illustrate this wonderful versatility. Here is Gandhari's lament on the battlefield of Kurukshetra:
"My child, my son, Duryodhana!
Why have you thrown away
Your golden crown and jewels
And the pomp and pride of the king of the Gods
And all the show of splendour and prowess
Thus deserting me and your dear father'
All so suddenly? My heart breaks at this sight.
Are you, who used to lie in a silken bed,
Now lying lifeless in a pool of blood?
Maruti in great anger has smashed
Your leg and killed you thus.
I cannot bear to see this, alas!"
So Gandhari ran and fell and rolled round
Then fainted and woke up and again
Cried in great grief and began to say.....
He is most eloquent when he comes to praise Rama or Krishan. The visual power of the following description of Krishna in the thick of the battle is indeed marvellous:
The colourful peacock feathers fixed in a row
And brought together and tied up on the top
With the heavy tresses so like dark clouds,
The jewelled diadem with its glitter and glow,
The dangling little curls on the forehead,
The tiny particles of dust on them,
The tilak too moist with sweat,
The beauty of the brows that keep moving
To create, protect and destroy and world,
The eyes that reflect the changing sentiments
With pity and compassion for the lowly and
Anger towards the cruel and the wily,
Love for the lovely, wonder at the squabble,
Laughter for the stupid, terror for the foes,
The cheeks that reflect the jewelled ear-rings,
The lotus face, the nose with, beads of sweat,
The glowing smile and the lovely lips,
Garlands swaying on the breast
Made of tulsi and lotus and and tender leaves,
Strings of rubies and Kaustubha jewel
Around the neck, the whip in hand
The breast smeared with kumkum,
The bright yellow clothes, the anklets,
The twin lotus feet, as in my heart,
So saw I clearly in the chariot to my joy.
The choice of the metres in each of the six cantos of Adhyatma Ramayana is itself an unmistakable indication of Ezhuthachan's native sense of the cultural moorings of his people: Keka for Balakandam, Kakali for Ayodhya, Keka again for Aranya followed by Kakali for Kishkindha, with a sudden change over to Kalakanchi in Sundarakanda and return to Kakali for the Yudhakanda. The changes in the tempo are clearly marked in these variations. The purely narrative portions have an even flow which is never allowed to drag. The slow-motion unfolding of beauty at close quarters is often rendered in appropriate metrical pattern as in the leisurely description of the childhood of Rama and his three brothers. Hanuman's leap to Lanka and his dangerous pranks there, are rendered in passage marked by a quicker tempo. The intimacy one feels in reading Ezhuthachan is accounted for by the efficient handling of the linguistic resources.
With his absolute sincerity, his adept skill in the use of language, his total dedication to poetry and religion, his disarming humility, Ezhuthachan was able to create and establish once and for all a language, a literature, a culture and a people. In later times, whenever there was a deviation or distortion in the cultural trend, the return to the central native tradition was facilitated by a true recognition and fresh realization of what Ezhuthachan had done and had stood for. He is thus a magnificent symbol or a great cultural monument.
If there ever was another writer who could be Ezhuthachan's equal in bhakti, if not poetic power, it was Poonthanam Nambudiri, a contemporary of Melpathur Bhattatiri and possibly of Ezhuthachan himself. His chief poems in Malayalam are Bhasha Karnamritam, Kumaraharanam or Santanagopalam Pana and Jnanappana. The first of these is a devotional work intended to create Krishna bhakti in the readers. The second is a touching narrative in very simple and straight-forward language and fast moving verse.
If there ever was another writer who could be Ezhuthachan's equal in bhakti, if not poetic power, it was Poonthanam Nambudiri, a contemporary of Melpathur Bhattatiri and possibly of Ezhuthachan himself. His chief poems in Malayalam are Bhasha Karnamritam, Kumaraharanam or Santanagopalam Pana and Jnanappana. The first of these is a devotional work intended to create Krishna bhakti in the readers. The second is a touching narrative in very simple and straight-forward language and fast moving verse. It tells the story of a Brahmin father who lost all his children and sought the help of the Pandava prince Arjuna. Arjuna proudly offered to help him preserve his next child alive, but he was unable to keep his word. The Brahmin abuses Arjuna to his great anguish and in his wounded pride he decides to commit suicide by leaping into flames. Krishna out of love for Arjuna, intervenes at the last moment and takes him to Vaikuntha from where they recover all the lost children of the Brahmin. Krishna's infinite love for his devotees is thus the central theme, but the poem also makes its appeal because of its down-to-earth realism and unmistakable touch of authenticity.
Jnanappana or the Song of Divine Wisdom is a veritable storehouse of transcendental knowledge which is firmly rooted in the experiences of this world. In a language, absolutely free from regionalism and dialectal influences, unadorned with excessive rhetorical features, through a series of concrete pictures taken from contemporary life, the poet is able to drive home his perception of the short lived nature of the ephemeral aspects of life. His religious meditations flow uncluttered and unencumbered with irrelevant matter.
Is there scarcity of the Lord's name?
Or has fear of hell declined?
Is there life without use of tongues?
Have we escaped from mortality?
Alas, alas, without reflection
We roast and eat out life in vain.
After how many lifetimes of labour
We happened to be born here by luck!
How many lifetimes spent in water,
How many lifetimes lived like trees,
How many lifetimes as beasts, as cattle
Ere we could be born as men?
After so much hard labour
We fell into our mother's womb,
Ten months have been spent in the womb,
Ten or twelve years spent as a child too
And the rest of the time not knowing ourselves
We spend in self-centred vain glory.
A large number of hymns and prayer songs which are still popular have been attributed to Poonthanam.
The Performing Art
The sixteenth century also saw the writing of some dramatic works in Manipravalam and pure Malayalam Bharatavakyam, often described as a choral narration, is a work in Manipravalam which was used for stage performance. The authorship is uncertain, but the work seems to have been staged several times.
It is a comedy with a large dose of farce in it. It may be regarded as the first roopakam in which Malayalam is combined with Sanskrit to present in a visual form, a story based on Kerala society, centring round a few characters such as a Nambudiri (Apphan), his Nayar wife, his manager (Ilayathu) and the children's tutor (Pisharoti).
Margamkali was the form of ritual and entertainment among the Syrian Christians corresponding to the Sanghakali of the Brahmins. Margamkalippattu is the song for this performance depicting the story of St.Thomas, the Adpostle. This was one of the numerous pieces of Christian literature that must have gained currency in the 16th and 17th centureies.
The main development in the cultural field in Kerala in the 17th century was the growth of a new form of visual art called Attam or Kathakali, which brought into being a new genre of poetry called Attakkatha consisting of the libertto used for a Kathakali performance.
Gitagovinda, a work in Sanskrit by the Oriya poetof the 12th century, Jayadeva, provided inspiration to Manaveda Raja of Kozhikode to set up a troupe to perform a dance-drama depicting the life of Krishna in eight parts. This Krishnattam was the model before the prince of Kottarakkara who invented Ramanattom to put on stage the story of Ramayana also in eight parts. Koodiyattom was classical Sanskrit drama patronized by the elite class; Padayani or Kolamthullal was popular among the loweer classes. In between there flourished various forms of ritualistic drama like Mudiyettu, Thiyyattu, Kalam Ezhuthu Pattu, Teyyam and Thira. The new are developed by Kottarakkara Thampuran appeared to combine the features of both. The evolution of Kathakali must have been a slow process and did not reach a final stage in the time of Kottarakkara Tampuran. The literature of Kathakali also came to develop its special features over the centuries.
The Ramayana plays of Kottarakkara Tampuran are not distinguished by literary excellence. However, his farsightedness is clearly revealed in the structure he set up for this new genre. The narrative framework of an attakatha consists of quatrains in Sanskrit metres where the diction also is heavily Sanskritised; the dialogue part, however, is made up of padas which can be set to raga and tala and have to be rendered by means of gestures and body movements by the actors while being sung by the musicians from behind. The two-part structure is perhaps modeled on the Chambus. To judge an Attakatha solely on the basis of literary criteria would be unjust. It is a composite art and words of the text are only a pretext for the visual representation. Even the selection and arrangement of words and lines will be guided by considerations of stage production. The words must yield to representation through gestures; they must lend themselves to musical rendering and if possible respond in sympathy to the instrumental music that accompanies their recitation. The stories are usually well-known to the audience, being mostly taken from the Puranas. The success of the performance depends on the degree of synchronization achieved by the actors, vocalists, instrumentalists and other helpers. The style of production has a definite bearing on the literature of Kathakali. Kottarakkara's attakkathas are better on the stage than in the library: a silent reading may even irritate the reader. However, there are passages in some of these plays, which could be appreciated as literature, if one could simultaneously visualize the gestural rendering also. The last words of Bali to Rama in Balivadham, after the monkey king is mortally wounded in battle, are quite powerful:
King Raghava, please listen to my words,
Finding it difficult to kill me in a straight fight
You had to hide yourself and cheat me.
That is no good. If you met me straight
I would have killed you, brave one! ere now.
In my heart I think you were born amiss
Although you are the son of good Dasaratha.
Brave people do not resort to cheating
You did this to me because you are a very small man.
Tara had warned me, but rejecting her warning
I came here to fight and got killed by you.
Is a monkey's flesh eatable?
The skin, too, is useless, O jewel among men!
I who live in the forest never did
Anything untoward in your city.
This may sound conventional outside the context of a Kathakali, but the conventionality may not be felt when action accompanies the words. Nevertheless it has to be conceded that Kottarakkara Tampuran was more of a dramatist than a poet, more of a connoisseur than an artist.
The greatest fillip to the growth of Attakkatha as a literary form and Kathakali as a performing art came from Koattayam Tampuran, a prince in the royal family of Northern Kottayam who is believed to have lived in the late 17th century.
His main Attakkathas are Bakavadham, Kalyana Saughadhikam, Kirmiravadham and Kalakeyavadham. Their success led to the phenomenal popularity of this form of literary composition. Kottayam was a more gifted poet and scholar than Kottarakara, and in his hands Attakkatha attained a position of respectability. His quatrains are invariably in Sanskrit, but the padas are in Malayalam. Several of this padas are extremely poular not only with the Kathakali audience but even with the general public. They are also good as poetry. The dialogue between Hanuman and Bhima in Kalyana Saugandhikam or the one between Urvasi and Arjuna in Kalakeyavadham will bear out this point:
Hanuman (pretending to be an old monkey, not revealing his identity as Bhima's elder brother):
Who is it that has come to my side,
Tell me, brave one, who is it?
Too old and tired am I:
How can I receive you properly?
I am too lazy also, O great Kind,
To great you and speak to you properly.
Bhima (not knowing that the old monkey is his elder brother Hanuman who is going to test Bhima playfully):
Who is this fool, tell me, wicked fellow,
Get away from my path.
Have you not, old monkey, heard of me
The brave sun of the wind-good.
Why do you, for no reason, block my path?
I will kill you, no doubt, and
Send you to the god of death.
O King, please do not be angry,
Please be kind, O supreme among men:
Kind-hearted one, equal to the lord of the sea!
Bhima: Know you that I am the brother of Maruti
Who smashed with his hand at once
Aksha, son of the Rakshasa Chief (Ravana)
You may remove my tail and clear the path:
And then you may proceed soon, O lotus-eyed one!
Then you will see my powers
In the battlefield, no doubt, today,
You will be put to grief quite soon,
If you are brave and fight against me.
The dramatic irony anticipating boastful Bhima's collapse makes the passage really interesting.
The end of the 17th century and the early quarter of the 18th century saw the enrichment of Kathakali literature by the production of Unnayi Warrier's Nalacharitam in four parts, the gratest attakkatha at all time. Unnayi Warrier was a poet of exceptional skill.
His sense of drama, command over language, knowledge of dance and music and insight into human psychology enabled him to present the story of Nala and Damayanti in a compact form, observing auchitya to the maximum extent possible. He also sticks to the concept of a dominant rasa supported by other dependent rasas. The dramatic unravelling of the ups and downs in the career of a noble king and his beloved consort is magnificently achieved by Warrier. Variety in situation and characterization are provided by the introduction of characters like Kali, Pushkara, Rituparna, Karkotaka, Kattala and even the Hamsam (Swan). Even minor characters are presented as fulfledged human beings. Nalacharitham is the highwatermark of Kathakali literature mainly because of its profound human interest. The central plot is concerned with the fall of a noble and good man brought about by his accidental involvement in a game of dice and by the intervention of evil forces like Kali. He is rescued in the end, by his steadfastness and adherence to moral values. The heroine is unconsciously responsible for the jealousy of Kali, but at the end it is her goodness and her intelligence that come to the king's aid. King Nala and his queen, Damayanti, have become immortal characters, illustrating, through their suffereings the vicissitudes of human fortunes.
Among the many special features of Nalacharitam, is the happy blending of poetry, abhinaya (acting) and nritya (dance). One of the most felicitous passages from this point of view is the scene between Damayanti and the Swan-messanger. The cleverness of the Swan in drawing Damayanti away from her maids is superb dramatic material. He follows it up with an equally clever way of revealing his identity to her. Once her curiosity is aroused, it is easy for the Swan to find out how much she is interested in Nala. With his encouragement, unsuspected by her, she tells him about her love for Nala. On getting confirmation of it, the Swan proceeds to Kundinam to take the good news to King Nala. In the third day's play we have a touching soliloquy by Nala, now separated from his wife, sleepless in his grief, in the saddest moment of his life:
In the lonely vast forest, alas,
O moon-faced one, what do you do, waking up in pain?
Who (is there) but the wolf for help? or,
Have you reached home, timid one?
When can I see your moon-bright face?
When embrace you body coveted by the gods?
Beloved, what did you get there when you were hungry,
As I lay in stupor born of illusion?
O god! my blessed one, I cannot bear to think of you
O parrot-tongued one, and the wild forest full of howling jackals.
Unnayi Warrier seems to have been influenced by the pattern of classical drama in Sanskrit. This has helped him to tighten the structure, stead of leaving it loosely held together as in most attakkathas. The introduction of Narada as a kind of celestial Sutradhara to control and direct the course of the play provides a meaningful framework to the whole structure. His poetic gift has encouraged him to take freedom in the use of language. With the same boldness he has kept out as far as possible the merely conventional passages, often found in attakkathas but irrelevant to plot and character. Nalacharitam has an organic unity rarely found in attakkathas. Of all the writers of attakkathas Unnayi Warrier alone seems to have had the totality of his work in perspective; most of the others concentrated on the details and forgot about the whole. He was also more serious-minded than the others since there is a basically moral outlook controlling and underscoring the destinies of the characters presented by him. He must have meditated deeply on the presence of evil in the world and has tried to account for it in the course of his work.
Princes and Poets
The Golden Age of Kathakali saw two poets in the royal family Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja (1724-1798) was a scholar in many languages and a great patron of learning and the fine arts. His Sanskrit work, Balaramabharatam is unique in that it tries to codify his own ideas of dance, music and drama.
His main contributions to literature are seven attakkathas: Rajasooyam, Subhadraharanam, Bakavadham, Gandharva Vijayam, Panchali Swayamvaram, Kalyana Saugandhikam and Narakasuravadham Part I. An expert in Natya Shastra and a patron of Kathakali, Kartika Tirunal is perhaps the greatest of our ruler-authors.
Kartika Tirunal's nephew Aswati Tirunal Ilaya Tampuran (1756-1794) is chiefly remembered for his five attakkathas: Narakasuravadham art II, Rugmini Swayamvaram, Poothana Moksham, Ambarisha Charitam and Poundraka Vadham. Aswathi Tirunal was gifted with genuine poetic talent. Some of the padas in Poothana Moksham like "not even the king of serpents can described the glory of Ampady" have a delicate workmanship about them. It is a pity that this poet died at the early age of thirty-eight.
Ramapurathu Warrier (1703-1753)
In the court of Maharaja Martanda Varma, the maker of the former State of Travancore and his successor Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma, there flourished a number of poets distinguished in several ways. Ramapurathu Warrier, the author of Kuchela Vrittam Vanchippattu, was one of them. The Vanchipattu or Boatsong is a poetic form of folk origin. Kuchela Vrittam is the most famous boatsong in the language.
Composed entirely in the Dravidian metre natonnata, it is a popular classic that retells the story of Kuchela, the indigent devotee and one-time classmate of Sri Krishna, going to Dwaraka to pay homage to him. The poverty of the old Brahmin and his family is described with extreme authenticity. The realistic touch shown by the poet in presenting this Puranic story with a personal edge to it has gained for the work, immense popularity. In the poem, the poet specifically referes to King Martanda Varma and describes the circumstances under which he came to write the poem. Warrier makes Kuchela's wife declare: "there is no greater affliction than that of poverty". The meeting of Kuchela with Krishna is described in memorable language:
Because of either the joy of seeing the Brahmin
Or the grief at the thought of his misery
Shouri's eyes filled with tears, whatever be the cause:
Has the brave lotus-eyed one ever wept at all?
Warrier has also translated Gitagovinda into Malayalam.
Kunchan Nambiar (1705-1770)
Before he came to the court at Thiruvananthapuram, Kunchan Nambiar had spent his early childhood at Killikurissimangalam, his boyhood at Kudamaloor and his youth at Ambalapuzha. In 1748 he moved to Thiruvananthapuram, first to the court of Martanda Varma and later to the court of Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma. He had already written several of his works before leaving Ambalapuzha.
The chief contribution of Nambiar is the invention and popularization of a new performing art known as Thullal. The world literally means "dance", but under this name Nambiar devised a new style of verse narration with a little background music and dance-like swinging movement to wean the people away from the Chakkiyar Koothu, which was the form popular till then. He was to use pure Malayalam as opposed to the stylized and Sanskritized language of Koothu. He also adopted many elements from Padayani or Kolam Thullal and certain other folk arts. It is reasonable to assume that he was himself a performer. The first hand knowledge of the various thalas and ragas and even the practices of drummers is a pre-requisite for the writing of a Thullal. Kunchan Nambiar possessed this in abundance. Each Thullal composition consists of a Puranic tale retoled in simple rhythmic verse, fit for loud recitation before an audience. There are three kinds of Thullal distinguished on the basis of the performer's costume and the style of rendering, viz., Ottan, Seethankan and Parayan. Dravidian metres are used throughout although there is nothing to prevent the insertion of a quatrain in a Sanskrit metre. Nambiar also developed new metres (e.g. Vaythari metres) based on the vocal notation for various talas. The language also is predominantly Malayalam with a large admixture of colloquial and dialectal forms. Humour is invariable the dominant mood: other bhavas are brought in for variety and to suit the situation.
Kunchan Nambiar is believed to have written over forty Thullal composition. Some scholars allot a larger number to his credit. They belong to all the three types: 21 Otttan, 11 Seethankan and 9 Parayan. The most important of Nambiar's Thullals are: Syamantakam, Ghoshayatra, Kiratam, Santanagopalam, Patracharitam, Kartaviryarijunavijam, Bakavadham, Kalyana Saugandhikam, Hariniswayamvaram, Tripuradakanam and Sabha Pravesam. Nambiar was an extrovert and observed the life around very closely. He was also very critical of the social evils he saw around him. Thus even when the main story is from the Puranas, he would introduce digressions in plenty and use such occasions to comment on life in his own time. He did not worry about the charge of anachronism. He knew his audience very well: not scholars and poets, but laymen, especially soldiers, barely literate. In one of his works he says:
It is impossible to entertain without laughter
Those soldiers who think they should stay
If it is a comic tale, or else should leave the place.
He certainly succeeded in his aim. He is comparable to Chaucer and Rabelais for his boisterous humour and knowledge of contemporary life. Like them, he too borders on the obsence at times, as a matter of concession to the audience or readers. All classes of people and all professions come in for sharp criticism in his compositions: Nambudiris, Tamil Brahmins, Nayars, courtiers, courtesans. Nambiar is undoubtedly the greatest satirist in Malayalam. An example of how he introduce a satire on contemporary life into a text based on a puranic episode may be found in the following passage from Kartavirarjuna Vijayam. Ravana is speaking to Narada about his own prowess that has reduced other kings to utter misery:
The kingdom of the Gandharaka ruler
Has turned into a mere desert.
The land of the Simhala King
Is now filled with lions and leopards.
The lord of the Chera people
Feeds himself on cheap vegetables.
The Chola King has nothing to ear
Except the maize of low quality
The kings of the Kuru house
Have nothing but jackfruit seeds.
The lord of the land of Kashmir
Is busy eating cucumbers.
The ruler of the Champeya land
Eats only tubers and broken rice.
The Konkan prince is about to die
Thinking of his wives' breasts.
After Ravana reaches Hehaya, his messengers announce that everybody should owe allegiance to him:
Tributes must be paid from time to time;
Half the yield should be given to me.
The whole of pepper yield should be handed over
Coconut, arecanut, mango, jackfruit:
All the trees should be confiscated.
There will be no place in my country
For the pomp of local barons.
Double the seed crop should be given
To me by every houseowner.
The Tamil Brahmins (Pattars) staying here
Should also give one fourth to me.
The Nayars who stay at home
Should take their bows and spears
And stay at the residence of Ravana
And do whatever chores are assigned.
Nayars who drink toddy
Would be beaten up, beware!
Nambiar's poetry lacks the high seriousness such as we find in Ezhuthachan. The difference here is significant. The two are complementary. Just as Kilipattu seems to express the total personality of a writer like Ezhuthachan, the Thullal brings out the characteristic features of the personality of Nambiar. Between them they cover the entire spectrum of humanity, the entire gamut of human emotions. No other Kilipattu has come anywhere near Ezhuthachan's Ramayanam and Mahabharatam, no other Thullal composition is ever likely to equal the best of Nambiar's compositions.
There has been a great lull in the field of literary creation in Malayalam for nearly a century after the death of Kunchan Nambiar. No great work of literature was produced during this long and uneasy interregnum. There was a consistent and steady development of prose at this time.
Several regional versions of Keralolpathi, tracing the beginnings of Kerala history, began to appear. Father Clement's Sankshepa Vedartham came out in 1772. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar (1737-1799) wrote the first travelogue in Malayalam, Varthamanapustakam, (Book of News). It is perhaps the most sustained piece of prose writing written till that date. The works of Christian missionaries like Arnos Patiri (John Ernestus Hanksalden, 1699-17332) and Paulinose Patire (John Philip Wesdin, 1748-1806) also led to a widening of the range of topics and themes in Malayalam literature.
The transmission from the 18thcentury to the 19th century did not immediately lead to any great spurt of literary activity. The intrusion of European influence was beginning to be felt in the national life at large. The starting of schools on the British model and the introduction of English as a subject of study were to have a tremendous impact in the years to come. Maharaja Swati Thirunal (1813-1847) is a symbol of the process of modernisation that was beginning to be set in motion at the time. Like Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma who was not only a patron of literature and the arts but also a distinguished writer of attakkathas, Swathi Tirunal was both a patron and a poet-musician. He is perhaps the most distinguished music composer of Kerala. The foundations of modern education were laid in the former State of Travancore during his reign. Among the great writers at his court, the most talented was without doubt Irayimman (Ravi Varma) Tampi (1783-1856). He is chiefly remembered today for two things: one, a delicate and exquisite lullaby poem ("Is it the darling baby moon") and three well-designed and superbly composed attakkathas (Keejakavadham, Utharaswayamvaram and Dakshayagom). Like his patron, Tampi also wrote a number of songs to be set to music. As a writer of attakkathas Tampi has only one formidable rival, Unnayi Warrier. His Padas are themselves exquisite musical compositions. Tampi has an unerring ear, and for sheer verbal felicity, his attakkathas have few rivals. He was a master of words and melody. The famous dandaka (long stanza) in Keechakavadham reveals Tampi's exquisite artistry with words; it describes in graphic and dramatic terms, the response of Draupadi to the queen who had asked her to go to Keechaka's palace with his food:
Hearing the words of the queen
The deer-eyed one shuddered,
Her eyes turned red-she was overcome with fatigue.
She offered many excauses to her
But harsh words made her quiet.
Servitude, she thought an object of derision for all;
She lowered her eyes,
She, superior to heavenly damsels-but now
Benefit of joy
Her clothes became soiled and wet
With tears and sweat;
Her body trembling, she stood there
With the vessel in her hand
Then started walking-then stopped on the way,
She felt exhausted like a deer
That goes to the den of the enemy of all deers.
Kilimanoor Vidwan Rajaraja Varm Koyitampuran (1812-1846 also known as Kareendran) was also at the court of Swati Tirunal. He is chiefly remembered for his attakkatha, Ravana Vijayam, one of the most popular of attakkathas. The roles of Ravana and Rambha are particularly suited to the Kathakali style of presentation, and although part of the play represents a rape, its crudity is considerably toned down by the highly stylized gestures and movements and the lyrical quality of the verse. In the hands of inept actors it can lead to excessive vulgarity. Critics of attakkatha literature will take these as signs of decadence, as a true representation of the erotic exuberance characteristic of elitist feudal class of the time.
The Venmani School
The third quarter of the nineteenth century bore witness to the rise of a new school of poets devoted to (1) the observation of life around them and (2) the use of pure Malayalam. they aimed at a certain simplicity and directness, preferring words of Dravidian origin and Sanskrit words that would not sound strange or harsh.
They thus achieved a balanced middle style with a slight bias towards the Dravidian elements (although "mahan" pseudo-Sanskrit for Malayalam "makan" does not bear this out.) Euphony was their watchword. An easy flowing diction that creates no problem for loud and relaxed recitation, a smooth and even rhythmic cadence, maximum clarity of meaning and a pervasive sense of humour and light-heartedness: these qualities were inherited from the chambus via the writers of the Muktakas (single independent quatrains making up complete poetic crystals) like Chelapparampu Nambudiri of a generation earlier.
The major poets of the Venmani school were Venmani Acchan Nambudiri (1817-1891), Venmani Mahan Nambudiri (1844-1893), Poonthottam Acchan Nambudiri (1821-1865), Poonthottam Mahan Nambudiri (1857-1896) and the members of the Kodungalloor Kovilakam. The style of these poets became quite popular for a while and influenced even others who were not members of the group like Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar (1839-1897) and Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidyan (1863-1894). The fact that they represented a kind of a moral decadence is not fully recognized by scholars and critics. The slight realism they resorted to was meant only to highlight the down to earth appeal of their erotic exuberance. They were incapable of moral earnestness or intellectual high seriousness. There is nothing in their writings that remind us of the central tradition of Malayalam poetry, beginning in folk poetry and later Ramacharitam and gradually evolving through the Niranam poets, Cherusseri, Poonthanam, Ezhuthachan and Kunchan Nambiar. It is necessary to point out that Nambiar's humour has a basis in social criticism. The humour of the Venmani poets is an end in itself; it is an indulgence in the ludicrous and ridiculous for its own sake. This explains why they could write Ambopadesams over and over again, in which a grandmother gives instructions to the granddaughter on the art of courtsanship. Venmani Mahan, Cochunni Tampuran ,Naduvath Acchan, Oravankara Neelakantan Nambudiri: each wrote an Ambopadesam on the moder of the old Manipravala classic Vaisika Tantram. They all invariably resorted to Sanskrit metres in these works. Another favourite form of poetic exercise for these poets was to bring together the names of contemporary poets comparing them to various flowers (as in Kavipushpamala, by Venmani Mahan), to different characters in Mahabharata (as in Kavibharatam by Kunjukuttan Tampuran), to characters in Ramayana (as in the later Kaviramayanam by Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panikkar), to animals (as in Kavimrigavali by Oduvil Kunjukrishna Menon) and to birds (as in Kavipakshimala by Koyippalli Parameswara Kurup).
The most representative poem of the Venmani school is perhaps Pooraprabandam which reveals both the strong and the weak points of the movement. Except for the modernity of the diction and the finish in versification, it is difficult to see any great difference between the descriptive passages in Pooraprabandam and those in the earlier chambus (where also we get realistic descriptions of local people and market places with a touch of pointless humour).
The Kodungalloor school was an offshoot of the Venmani School, but some of the poets like Kunjukuttan Tampuran had a greater seriousness in their vocation. The best evidence for his commitment to his vocation in his magnificent translation of the whole of Vyasa's Mahabharata completed in the course of a few months. But most of the Kodungalloor poets took poetry for a pastime and indulged in versification for want of any other form of entertainment. The neoclassical games of instant poetic composition, verse-making competition, recitation competition, joint composition of poems, samasya or riddle completion, writing to prescriptions and various other kinds of formulaic exercises were their main concern. They have, no doubt, produced a number of quatrains in Sanskrit metres which are pleasant to recite aloud but they give no deep or complex experience to the reader. In their hands poetry became a skill, a game, a performance without any spiritual dimension. The various controversies of the time had nothing to do with the fundamentals of poetic experience or poetic communication. The squabble over the second syllable rhyme is a good example to show how superficial they were in their speculations on poetry. One hand only to look into Kalidasa's Meghadoot (Cloud Messenger) to realize how the music of poetry was different from the concatenation of similar consonants in the different lines of a stanza. But that was perhaps the last breath of the neoclassical trend which ushered in the Romantic Renaissance at the end of the century.
The Modern Age
Nineteenth century was not a very creative period for Malayalam literature (except towards the end) from the point of view of imaginative writing. But the foundations for the great renaissance that began at the end of the century were laid during this period.
The establishment of colleges for imparting English education, the translation of the Bible and other religious works, the compilation of dictionaries and grammars, the formation of the text book committee, the growth of printing presses, the starting of newspapers and periodicals, the introduction of science and technology, the beginning of industrialization and the awakening of social and political consciousness: these constitute the giant strides towards modernization. It would appear as if the people's, energies were totally consumed by these activities.
Like his predecessors Swati Tirunal and Uttram Tirunal, Ayilyam Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja of Travancore (1832-1880) was a great patron of letters. There were many great scholars at his court. He was personally interested in promoting prose literature. He himself wrote, while still young, two prose works Meenaketancharitam and Bhasha Sakuntalam which were published by Kerala Varma Valiya Koyitampuran after his death. In Meenaketanacharitam one of the Arabian tales is retold: Bhasha Sakuntalam is a free translation of Kalidasa's Abinjana Sakuntalam. These two words are pioneers indicating the way Malayalam literature was destined to develop in the coming decades. The spate of translations from Indian languages including Sanskrit and from European languages including English, which began in Ayilyam Tirunal's time, has not yet abated.
Vishakam Tirunal Rama Varma Maharaja (1837-1885) who succeeded Ayilyam Tirunal, was also an indefatigable promoter of education and the arts. Himself a talented writer of discursive prose in English and translator of English works into Malayalam, he was the cause that others also took up writing original works and doing translations. Chidambara Vadhyar who had translated Sahakespeare's As you Like It and The Winter's Tale into Malayalam received encouragement from him. Visakham Tirunal was one of the earliest essayists in Malayalam. Benjamin Bailey (1805-1871) Joseph Peet, Richar Collins and George Mathen (1819-1970) were responsible for many works on Malayalam language based on western models. Archdeacon Koshy (1826-1900) is remembered for his numerous works in prose, especially for his work Pulleli Kunchu (1882).
Perhaps the most important of these missionaries was Herman Gundert (1814-1893). Born in Stuttgart in Germany and educated at Tubingen and Switzerland, Gundert came to India in 1836. He wrote over twenty books in Malayalam, the most important which are (1) A Malayalam English Dictionary, (2) A Grammer of Malayalam (3) Keralappazhama (Kerala antiquity) and (4) Pazhamcholmala (A garland of proverb). He also edited an anthology of prose and verse for the use of students under the name, Pathamala. The first authoritative grammer of Malayalam was also Gundert's contribution (1851). This led to the production of a number of grammatical works in Malayalam. Vaikam Patchu Moothathu (1814-1883) published his Grammer of Malayalam in 1876. Kerala Kaumudi by Kovunni Nedungadi (1831-1889) came out in 1878. This was soon followed by the first history of the language by P.Govinda Pillai (1849-1897) published in 1881. The first work on rhetoric in Malayalam on the European model was brought out by Father Gerad under the title Alankara Sastram in the same year. These works are clear indication of the increasing western influence which became established by the end of the 19th century. There were of course distinguished scholars of the traditionalist school like Kaikulangara Rama Warrier (1883-1897) who specialized in writing commentaries on the classic of Sanskrit literature. But the influence of Kerala Varma Valiya Koyitampuran and the general socio-political developments seemed to favour a reorientation towards western models. This trend continued to be powerful until the middle of the 20th century.
Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran
Kerala Varma represnts the confluence of two major traditions in literature, the Oriental as represented by the Sanskrit classics and the Western represented by English/European classics.
His translation of Kalidasa's Abhinjana Sakuntalam (completed in 1882), and of Von Limburg Brower's Akbar (started in 1882) clearly illustrates the historic role of a synthesizer which he was destined to play on the Kerala cultural front. His connections with the royal family, his education and upbringing, his position as president of the Text Book Committee, his progressive and independent outlook, his intellectual prowess and other personality factors made him tower head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. He wrote a number of works in both Sanskrit and Malayalam, both in prose and verse but his personal influence was greater than what was achieve through these works. It may be said that the man was greater than all his writings. Well versed in all aspects of classical Sanskrit poetics and quite at home in the native tradition, master of a sonorous Sanskrit diction and proficient in simple colloquial Malayalam, Kerala Varma's reputation, still depends not on any single book he wrote.
The development of Malayalam and literature was his life's mission: and in collaboration with C.P.Achutha Menon (editor of Vidyavinodini magazine) and Kandathil Varghese Mappila (editor of Malayala Manorama), he did his utmost to encourage all kinds of writers and writings. Even underserving quill-pushes received his support, encouragement and blessing in this process of all-out promotion of letters. His most widely known literary work is Mayursandesam (Peacock Message) written in 1884. Its intrinsic merits were perhaps exaggerated at the time of its first appearance, but itss historical importance is yet to be properly assessed. It is a work that looks in many directions. It harks back to Kalidasa, the most romantic and subjective work of that poet, whose influence among other things was chiefly responsible for the revival of romanticism in 19th century Europe. It combines the mixed style of Manipravala poems with the pure Malayalam of Venmani poets but used for a "personal" communication. It allows the free play of fancy (as seen in the pun on Neelakanta), but also reveals the operation of a complex imagination at times (as in the identification quatrain). It would be too much to say that Mayurasandesam anticipates the romantic movement, but there is no doubt that there is a softening of the rhetoric of classicism in several of its quatrains. Already in the heart of classicism one hears the soft notes of romantic lyricism.
Once while alone hunting birds in the park,
O blue-eyed one, I happened to kill a bird.
Out of pity for his bereaved companion close by
Did you not, O timid one, ask me to kill her too!
The lyrical note is heard at some depth; the subjective element is openly acknowledged; these are important gains.Mrigayasmaranakal Some of his prose essays are of an informal, subjective type like (Memories of Hunting).
The Growth of Literary Criticism
The establishment of periodicals was directly responsible for the development of literary criticism. The year 1890 saw the starting of two important periodicals, Kandathil Varghese Mappila's Malayala Manorama and C.P.Achutha Menon's Vidyavinodini. Apan Tampuran started his Rasikaranjini in 1903.
Varghese Mappila had the active co-operation of Kottarathil Sankunni, the author of Aitihyamala. Bhashaposhini Sabha acted as a catalyst. C.P.Achutha Menon wrote a number of perceptive reviews which are still marvels of honesty, frankness, fearlessness and commitment to definite values. Here is an example to show his sense of commitment:
Since defects exceed virtues in new it books,is inevitable that, when one tries to express unbiased and impartial opinions on them, the demonstration of faults may be more conspicuous. We are sincerely sorry that as we do point out these defects, some people are deeply hurt. But then we cannot but do so, since our interest in our literature is far greater than their hurt feelings.
Reviewing another book called Rathisundari Achutha Menon says: "Man's life on earth is limited and sorrow filled; hence whether wasting part of it on the painful experience of reading books like this is a sin, let the conscience of good people decide; whether it is a legal crime, let the advocates decide".
The Plethora of Plays
Kerala Varma's nephew A.R.Rajaraja Varma went a step further than his uncle in the promotion of a synthesis between the different trends current in the literature of his time.
A professor in the University College, Thiruvananthapruam, he had to modernize the process of teaching Malayalam language and literature; this made him write books on grammer and rhetoric (which earned him the title of Kerala panini) and eventually prepare the ground for an enlightened renaissance in Malayalam poetry and literary criticism. His differences of opinion with Kerala Varma were not confined to the continued use of the second syllable rhyme: behind the controversy lay the basis of a new poetics: the rejection of neoclassicism and the acceptance of a romantic theory of literature. The influence of the study of British Romantic poets of the 19th century, coupled with a renewed interest in the real classics of Sanskrit literature can be seen in Rajaraja Varma's poetic efforts. The critic and scholar in him might have stifled the poet, but in works like Malayavilasam he may be seen as looking forward to an expected romantic revival. His translations of Kalidasa and Bhasa and the preface he wrote for Kumaran Asan's Nalini point to this trend in unmistakable terms. Like Kerala Varma, Rajaraja Varma also contributed significantly to the growth of prose through his essays.
A.R.Rajaraja Varma (1863-1918)
Kerala Varma's nephewA.R.Rajaraja Varma went a step further than his uncle in the promotion of a synthesis between the different trends current in the literature of his time.
A professor in the University College, Thiruvananthapruam, he had to modernize the process of teaching Malayalam language and literature; this made him write books on grammer and rhetoric (which earned him the title of Kerala panini) and eventually prepare the ground for an enlightened renaissance in Malayalam poetry and literary criticism. His differences of opinion with Kerala Varma were not confined to the continued use of the second syllable rhyme: behind the controversy lay the basis of a new poetics: the rejection of neoclassicism and the acceptance of a romantic theory of literature. The influence of the study of British Romantic poets of the 19th century, coupled with a renewed interest in the real classics of Sanskrit literature can be seen in Rajaraja Varma's poetic efforts. The critic and scholar in him might have stifled the poet, but in works like Malayavilasam he may be seen as looking forward to an expected romantic revival. His translations of Kalidasa and Bhasa and the preface he wrote for Kumaran Asan's Nalini point to this trend in unmistakable terms. Like Kerala Varma, Rajaraja Varma also contributed significantly to the growth of prose through his essays.
K.C.Kesava Pillai (1868-1914)
A close associate of both Kerala Varma and Rajaraja Varma, K.C.Kesa Pillai was a man of remarkable talent. His major works are Kesaviyam (a mahakavya), Sadarama (a musical play on the Tamil mode, extremely popular at the time), Asanna marana chinta satakam (Reflections of a Dying Man, in a century of quatrains)and a number of attakkathas. His Kesaviyam is a mahakavya modeled on the Sanskrit pattern and strictly adhering to the rules of structure and style laid down by the classical rhetorician, Dandi.
The first fifteen years of the 20th century saw a mushrooming of mahakavyas: Kesava Pillai contemporaries like Azhakathu Padmanabha Kurup (1869-1932: author of Ramachandravilasam), Pandalam Kerala Varma (1879-1919: author of Rukmangatha charitam), Kattakkayam Cherian Mappila (1859-1937: author of Sri Yesu Vijayam), Ulloor Parameswara Iyer (1877-1949: author of Umakeralam) and Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958: author of Chitrayogam). All these paid their obeisance to this neoclassicist trend.P.Sankaran Nambiar refers to the appearance of a mockmahakavya Kothakelam by one Vidushaka, which did to the flood of these exercises what Ramakurup's Chakki Chankaram did to the imitation plays, Datyuha Sandesam (1897) by Seevolli Narayanan Nambudiri (1869-1906) did to spurious message poems and Parangodi Parinayam (1892) by Kizhakkeppatt Kunhiraman Nayanar, tried to do to the spurt of uninspired novels in imitation of Indulekha.
K.C. Kesava Pillai was also a distinguished composer of songs of rare merit and his position as a composer is next only to those of Swathi Tirunal and Irayimman Tampi among Kerala musicians. But his best work as a poet is Asanna marana chita satakam which, although written for a competition, is a touching lyrical monologue with a predominant elegiac tone and anticipates the Khandakavyas or shorter poems of the poets of the renaissance. It has an underground connection with C.S.Subramanian Potti's Oruvilapam (A Lament: 1903), V.C.Balakrishna Panikkar's Oruvilapam (A Lament:1908) and even Kumaran Asan's Oru Veena Poovu (A Fallen Flower:1907) which may be thought of an elegy in disguise.
The developments in prose at this time were very significant. Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar (1861-1895), more famous under his pseudonym Kesari, was one of the first to explore the essay form in Malayalam. He was closely associated with periodicals like Kerala Chandrika (started in 1879 at Thiruvananthapuram), Kerala Patrika [started in 1884 by C.Kunhiraman Menon (1854-1936) and Appu Nedungadi (1866-1934) at Kozhikode], Kerala Sanchari (after 1898 under the editorship of Murkoth Kumaran) and the English Journal Malabar spectator.
Kesari has often been compared to Mark Twain. As he was not overburdened with scholarship, he could write in a simpler, popular, informal style. He was a life-long devotee of the goddess of comedy. Here is a passage from his essay, "The Pleasures of Death".
When you do not have to breathe any longer, you will not be troubled by the innumerable germs of disease in the air not by the insufferable smoke from other people's cigars, etc. Nothing to be anxious about even if motor cars and bicycles send up dust while driving along or if you fall or die or your nose is hurt. You don't have to endure any such grief. You don't have to put up any longer with the ringing of bells or the call of the siren or frog-tongued voice-refiners exerting their throats or reciting songs from plays even on the road.
Kesari belongs to the comic tradition in our literature, and like Tholan, Nambiar, Chandu Menon, E.V.Krishna Pillai and Sanjayan, he was a sharp critic of social reality.
O.Chandu Menon (1847-1900)
An inevitable consequence of the development of prose was a creative use of this medium for imaginative literary communication. The last quarter of the 19th century saw the birth of the novel in Malayalam. It has been pointed out that the novel arose in Kerala as in other regions of India, not just because of European influence through English education nut chiefly because the condition that existed in India at this time were similar to those in England in the 17th and 18th centuries which favoured the growth of this new form of writing called the novel.
It would perhaps be more correct to say that both internal socio-educational conditions and external influence combined to produce and popularize this new genre. It was perhaps not wholly transplanted as a finished product into Malayalam: the existence of the printing press, the growth of a literate reading public, the development of the habit of buying books, the increasing requirements of educational institutions and libraries, the rise in the status of women (Appu Nedungadi, the author of Kundalatha, was also the founder of the society for the promotion of the education of women; Chandu Menon also thought of women as potential readers of his works), and the gradual penetration of democratic ideas and liberalism into the social fabric: these were essential factors which by their conjunction could favour the growth of the novel in Malayalam.
The question which is the first novel in Malayalam can be answered only if we agree on the definition of the novel. Ghataka Vadham (the slayer slain) by Mrs. Collins, Pullelikunchu by Archdeacon Koshy, his translation of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Ayilyam Tirunal's translation of Meenaketanacharitam, Kerala Varma's transalation of Akbar - these certainly have a historical importance. The use of prose for long narratives based on non-puranic themes was itself of great importance. Appu Nedungadi's Kundalata (1887) marks an important stage in the development of prose fiction in Malayalam. The events are supposed to have taken place in a far-off place and the characters bear more or less outlandish names like Kundalata, Aghoranathan, Ramakisoran and Taranatan. Pullelikunchu has greater realism as far as physical details are concerned. Parts of Kundalata read like the prose romances which in England and other countries of Europe preceded the novel. Appu Nedungadi may have been influenced by Bengali novels too, since the novel as the term is understood in the modern world appeared earlier in Bengali than in other Indian languages. The air was thick with expectations of the birth of the great novel all through the 1880's when in the last year of the decade O. Chandu Menon brought out his Indulekha.
A Religious Awakening
An inevitable consequence of the development of prose was a creative use of this medium for imaginative literary communication. In the preface to the first ediction of Indulekha (1889) Chandu Menon describes the genesis of the novel thus:
I began to read English novels extensively after I left Calicut in the end of 1886, and I then devoted all the leisure which my official duties left me to novel reading. Thereupon I found that my circle of intimates with whom I had been accustomed to pass the time in social conversation and amusement considered itself somewhat neglected, and I accordingly endeavoured to find means by which I could conciliate its members without in any degree foregoing my novels. With this object in view, I attempted at first to convey to them in Malayalam the gist of the story contained in some of the novels I had read, but my hearers did not seem particularly interested in the version which I gave them of two or three of these books. At last it happened that one of these individuals was greatly taken with Lord Beacondfield's Henrietta Temple, and the taste then acquired for listening to novels translated orally, gradually developed into a passion. The importunity of this personage in the matter was so great that I had seldom time to read a book on my own account...........
Finally, I was urged to produce a written translation of the novel by Beaconsfield which I have mentioned, and I consented. But when I had made some little progress in the work, I thought the matter over, and decided that a translation thus made would be absolutely without value........Taking therefore, all these circumstances (the difficulties and inadequacies of translation), I determined to write a Malayalam novel more or less after the English fashion and gave my persecutor a promise to this effect..........
I do not know how my contrymen will be disposed to regard a work of this description. those who do not understand English have had no opportunity of reading stories cast in this mould; and I doubt if they will relish their first experience of this kind of literature.
This prefatory note, which itself reads like a passage in a novel highlights the twin sources of inspiration for the novel in Malayalam: the influence of the English model and the pressure of a readership. His last sentence also makes it clear that at the time of writing, he thought of his work as the first novel in Malayalam, which incidentally is a possible answer to the question we posed at the beginning of our discussion on the novel.
Chandu Menon started as a writer rather late in his life. He wrote Indulekha his first work and a novel of no mean length in just about two months. It is easily seen that plot is not his strong point. But Indulekha is a ;work which Malayalis cam always hold up aloft as an excellent specimen of what a novel should aim to be. The dramatic unfolding of the tale, the perfect balance between narration and dialogue, the magnificent characterization, the splendid direct and indirect criticism of manners and morals, the all-pervasive humour and irony, the vitality of every scene fully visualized-these are among the many virtues of this pioneering work of exceptional maturity. Chandu Menon started writing his second novel Sarada, but he could not finish it. The first part - about one third of the proposed work - was published in 1892. The author reveals here a firmer grip over the novel form: his speculations during the four - year interval between the two works, as P.K. Balakrishnan has pointed out, have taken him to a far more serious conception of the nature and function of the novel as a work of art.
The interview between Indulekha and Nambudiripad may be quoted to illustrate Chandu Menon's art at its ironic best:
"Are you made about play, Indulekha?" inquired the
"Mad about what?" asked Indulekha.
"About the play-the Kathakali".
"I have never yet been mad about anything", answered Indulekha.
"Oh I'am very mad about it, I'am as mad as I can be".
"I can quite believe that; there is no doubt about it", responded
Indulekha with a smile.
"How do you know, Indulekha? Did any one tell
you about it before?"
"No, I knew if only now"
"You know it from what I said, did'nt you?"
"Exactly; I felt certain of it from your own words".
"I had a piece acted at your place yesterday", said the Nambudiripad. "That fellow Raman acts beautifully on the stage. Have you ever heard of Raman, Indulekha? Raman, Raman, I mean: the Sudras call him Rama Panikkar: he is immensely clever, such a splendid actor and so handsome. Hereafter, Indulekha, you shall see play every day. I am quite mad on it. I have a play on most nights of the week, and yesterday I saw a male impersonating a female character. You have never seen anything like it. It was Raghavan, a boy they call Raghavan. Do you know Raghavan, Indulekha? If his face were smooth, it would be just like yours, just like it; there wouldn't be the slightest difference".
C.V.Raman Pillai (1858-1922)
The impact of Western education was the great reality in Indian national life in the 19th century. The Renaissance in Bengal was its most direct consequence. Exposure to western culture made Indians look at their culture with a certain detachment. This led on the one had to increased political awareness and consequently the struggle against foreign domination; on the other hand, it provoked the Indians to set about modernizing the Indian social structure which was still steeped in medievalism.
A new understanding India culture, especially Hindu philosophy, was thus called for; and the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekandanda and others had their impact on Bengali literature. In Kerala too, there was a similar religious awakening. Sri Chattampi Swamikal (1854-1924) and Sree Narayana Guru (1857-1929), close companions often engaged in long wanderings as mendicants from place to place, were the harbingers of this new spirituality, a new moral idealism which was deeply rooted in both the wisdom of the past and the reality of the present.
Through their revolutionary reinterpretation of the philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads, they brought about a massive transformation in the basic moorings of our people. Both were gifted with a linguistic insight and had a Dravidian orientation in the expression of their thought. Both used their writings - Chattampi Swamikal in prose and Narayana Guru in verse-to effect fundamental changes. Both achieved a fusion of intuition and reason, and co-ordinate the metaphysical with the mundane. Narayana Guru's poetic instinct found a supplementary fulfillment in the works of his disciple Kumaran Asan.
The Romanitc Movement
The great renaissance that started in Malayalam literature towards the end of the 19th century found its most effective spokesmen in two great novelists and three poets. The two novelists were O.Chandu Menon of Malabar and C.V.Raman Pillai of Travancore. C.V.Raman Pillai was eleven years junior to Chandu Menon.
Both benefited from English education, but consistent with their respective gifts and temperaments, they achieved near perfection in what they tried to do. Their high position as supreme masters of the novel remains unchallenged till date. Chandu Menon is the greatest novelist in Malayalam, and C.V.Raman Pillai's Ramaraja Bahadur is the greatest novel. Chandu Menon's attention was focused on contemporary social reality and through it he discovered the eternal springs of human character. C.V.Raman Pillai used history as a means of unfolding the intricacies of human life, both on the socio-political plane and on the psychological plane. It is difficult to say whether he ever tried to explore history as a means of redemption. But it would be wrong to say that he does not concern himself with social reality: he does speculate on the role of leadership in society, on the fortunes of families through generations and on the conflict between character and destiny.
C.V.Raman Pillai's major contribution to fiction consists of Martanda Varma (published 1891), Dharmaraja (1893), Premamritam (started in 1915) and Ramaraja Bahadur (1918-20). Martanda Varma is a very early work, written under the direct influence of Walter Scott's Waverley novels, especially Ivanhoe. The history of Travancore (earlier Venad) -strictly speaking, the formationof the State of Travancore and its teething troubles - had caught and captured C.V.Raman Pillai's imagination from his student days and it continued to be a haunting obsession for an entire lifetime. Centring around the love affair or Ananthapadmanabhan and Parukkutty, the entire political conspiracy of Pappu Tampi and the Eight Nayar Houses against young Martanda Varma, the rightful heir to the throne on the matrilineal model, is hatched, unravelled, and foiled by the clever machinations of the prince and his able supporters. And yet outside of the involutions of the plot, the reader gets very little from the work. Most of the characters are either types or unfinished studies: the exception is Subhadra, that flickering wick of love and loyalty beaming through the solid darkness of intrigue and treachery enveloping the main plot. History appears here as a fairy tale where our wiling suspension of disbelief is the author's chief asset. The author himself makes it clear in the preface that he was writing historical romance. But the style is adequate, the narration is bold, and the plot is ingenious.
The work shows, even as Kerala Varmas Akbar tries to demonstrate, that the style for a novel of epic dimensions is a combination of Sanskritized diction, repeated rhetorical flourishes and heavy dramatic juxtapositions. The colloquial or contemporary language might be judiciously used for certain characters in certain scenes, but must inevitably merge in the larger sweep and must swell the chorus for the final effect. This principle is kept up in C.V.Raman Pillai's maturer novels also Dharmaraja, published twenty two years later, reveals what a big stride the author had taken during the interval. This is an unusual gap, but the glory is that C.V.Raman Pillai was able to bridge it and now with redoubled vigour and heightened imaginative power he ransacks the archives of Travancore history. Raja Kesava Das and the royal family, whose fortunes he consciously chose to espouse, recede into the background; even the nominal love story of Meenakshi and Kesavan Unnithan pale into relative insignificance. The psychology of revenge and personal ambition and the ultimate triumph of moral power are the things that neo come into the foreground. It is the tragedy of the Kazhakkoottam House- high tragedy overtaking the scion of that "family of the unflinching heart" - that holds the attention of the novelist as well as the readers.
Ramaraja Bahadur, C.V.Raman Pillai's masterpiece, is conceived on an epic style: the little love story of Savitri and Trivikraman cannot loom very large on this cyclorama of history where the clash of wits and the crash of arms overwhelm the readers. If there is an epic for the people of Kerala, it is perhaps Ramaraja Bahadur. The high seriousness of the work is unmistakable. What is at stake in Tippu's invasion and the battle that follows is the fate of millions, not of just a king or a royal family. But within the nerve centre of this conflict of historical forces, there is the delicate situation of the two Kesavas: Kesava Pillai Dewanji and Kesavan Unnithan. The resolution of this two-fold war on the domestic front stirred up by Unnithan's jealousy and war on the country's frontier - is brought about at one stroke at the end. The inscrutable destiny of man - of both the individual and the masses - is the central theme of Ramaraja Bahadur; the structure of the plot, the skill in characterization, the narrative and descriptive skill: all these are merely the means to the ultimate end of unravelling this mystery. Ramaraja Bahadur has attempted this more successfully than any other Malayalam novel written so far. Its imitators succumbed to an easy and total collapse because of their failure to understand this essential feature of C.V's art.
N. Kumaran Asan (1873-1924)
The poet who most clearly symbolizes the poetic revolution in the first quarter of the 20th century is Kumaran Asan. His early discipleship of Sri Narayana Guru and his Sanskrit studies at Bangalore, Madras and Calcutta were important influences on his poetic development. The three and a half years he spent outside Kerala provided him with a kind of board outlook and deep sensibility which would perhaps have been impossible if he had stayed at home.
A deep moral and spiritual commitment became part of Asan's personality and when after a spell of writing devotional poetry he turned to secular themes, he could produce something without any precedent in the language. Oru Veena Poovu ( A fallen flower, 1907) combines the lyrical and the elegiac with the romantic. Yet the relaxed discipline of a classical training was always there to add a deeper tone to his close investigation of the meaning of life as seen in the brief career of a flower. The infinite delicacy of touch in passages like the following was rare in Malayalam poetry at that time (Translation by G.Kumara Pillai).
The mother-plant with loving care
Enfolded your infant charm in calyx soft;
The gentle breeze came rocking you to sleep
To the lullaby of the murmuring leaves.
Your lovely body told a moving tale
Of golden days of fulfilled youth;
Your days were brief, and yet so rich and full;
You had your woes; and yet your mind was steeped in joy.
The same close attention to detail may be found in all his poems, which authenticates and thereby enhances their spiritual glow. Asan did not try to write a neoclassicist mahakavya: instead he specialized in the narratives of middle length. Nalini (1911), Leela (1914), Chintavishtayaya Sita (1919), Duravastha (1922), Chandalabhikshuki (1923) and Karuna (1923) are eloquent testimony to Asan's powers of poetic concentration and dramatic contextualization. Occasionally the call of social pressures lured him to try a different strain, as in "Reflections of a Thiyya Boy".
Why shouldst thou wail, then, O Bharat?
Thy slavery is thy destiny, O Mother!
Thy sons, blinded by caste, clash among themselves
And get killed; what for is freedom, then?
Asan is often described as the poet of love: many writers have written about love, but Asan's love is of a transcendental kind and in poem after poem. Nalini, Leela, Chandalabhikshki, he demonstrates it. For him it was identical with ultimate and absolute freedom, as he explains it in "The Song of Freedom". In Sita his reflections on love turn a bit bitter as the situation perhaps deserves it. In Duravastha it achieves a slight transformation, since he tries to seek love's meaning in terms of contemporary reality. It is set against the historical background of the Moplah Rebellion, but Asan the poet is basically concerned with the establishment of the idea that all men belong to the same caste and same religion, as he was taught by Sri Narayana Guru. Here is a representative passage from Duravastha which reveals the social reformer and prophet in Asan:
Wake up O you gardeners,
Wake up and toil, spring is at hand.
In this garden enriched by beautiful blossoms
On high bough and low,
Remember there is not a single flower
Which does not delight the Lord.
And replace the laws,
Or else they are sure to displace you.
There is a raging wind
Unceasingly reverberating with this utterance in today's Kerala
Time from all the four directions declares the self-same thing
And even the earth beneath your feet resounds
with the din of unrest.
Asan as a poet was a great synthesizer. He wrote two major poems on Buddhist legends; Chandalabhikshuki and Karuna (Compassion). They were his last works, written before his untimely death in 1924. Love Freedom and Equality are his basic concerns. The last lines of Karuna sum up all
these in concrete, context-based terms:
Salutations to thee, O Upagupta: without getting lost in
'nirvana' come back again to serve the world.
Mother Earth today needs more of such sons as you whose
compassion reaches the lowliest and lost.
Asan's career illustrates in full changes that were taking place in the Malayalam poetry of his time. His earliest works were mainly hymns employing Sanskritized diction and Sanskrit metres. With Oru Veena Poovu (1907) his sensibility registers a change: the diction is simplified, and although Sanskrit metres are used, they have a closeness by now to the easy and flowing Dravidian metres. The pessimistic note is replaced by a more strident note in some of the later poems. The use of a focal character - most of such characters are women like Nalini in Nalini and Sita in the poem named after her - as protagonist helps to dramatize the whole experience of the poem. In the shorter poems and in Prarodanam, an elegy with a splendid and reasonant orchestration, the style fluctuates, but in his last three poems Dravidian metres are used, the diction is simple and natural. Karuna is the culminating point of this trend.
The high tide of renaissance was brought into Malayalam literature by a variety of influences. The familiarity our poet acquired with British romantic poets was one of them. There were in 19th century Kerala, as in 18th century England, a number of precursors of the Romantic movement.
One of the most gifted of them was V.C.Balakrishna Panikkar (1890-1915)-"the marvellous boy" of Malayalam poetry. In his short life he was able to make a tremendous breakthrough in the language and sensibility of Malayalam poets. His most important poems are Oru Vilapam and Viswaroopam. The former, "A Lament" is a major elegy in Malayalam. The lover who is lamenting the death to his lady in an epidemic of cholera is the focus of our attention here. The opening quatrain presents him "as seated facing a lamp that continued to burn while he could not even push its wick". One quatrain must suffice to illustrate his intensity and power of phrasing:
The freshness that comes of beauty,
The frame arising from poetry,
The prestige due to scholarship,
The pomp on account of martial skill:
All virtues so described knock at the same gate
And merge at the end into the same ultimate
Source of all.
Ulloor Parameswara Iyer (1877-1949)
Ulloor, the second of the grand poetic trinity of the 20th century renaissance in Malayalam, started his career as a poet under the tutelage of Kerala Varma Valiya Koyitampuran. He was a pastmaster in all the traditional games of classical poetry. He even excelled as the writer of a mahakavya by choosing a story from early Kerla history.
Umakeralam, his mahakavya, is a work of great devotion: devotion to the land, to the language, to a poetic tradition and to high moral values. He wrote, like Asan and Vallathol, a number of short narratives or khandakavyas, of which the most famous are Karanabhooshanam and Pingala. In the former he celebrates Karna's infinite generosity and dedication to principles. In the later he tries to portray the transformation of a courtesan overnight into a pious and refined character - almost a saint. Ulloor also wrote quite a large number of lyrics and shorter pieces, now available in various collections. They cover a wide range from eulogies to kings and friends to the poetry of social commitment (for example, arguing for Temple Entry for low-caste Hindus).
Ulloor was perhaps the most classical and the least romantic of the three poets. One could say either that the romantic in him was stifled by the authoritarian classicist or that the classicist in him was trying to pass for a romantic to suit the changing tastes of the time. It must be remembered that Ulloor was one of the first of our fullfledged poets to achieve the benefits of formal education to the post-graduate level from a University. He was thus exposed to the influence of English poetry through class-room instruction. Asan and Vallathol had only informal contact with English poetry. Neither of them could have, on the basis of their training, written a work like Ulloor's monumental History of Kerala Literature. But Asan through self-study and Vallathol partly by his native gift and partly through indirect channels, became imbued with the spirit of romanticism. All the three began as classicists, graduated into romanticism and finally peeped into realism. All of them wrote their best poems during the second phase. Ulloor cultivated the classical lyric with its were severe discipline over the structure and its ultimate didactic motivation. He could say with Wrodsworth that he was a teacher or nothing. But we know that in his best poems, Wordsworth could not keep up his declared intention of being a teacher. What was important was that the reader should be enabled to experience in full, the wonder and excitement that was the source of inspiration for the poem itself. Ulloor is interested not in the communication of that experience through the senses, but in distilling the abstract moral value of that experience. Thus even in his best lyrics he adds almost mechanically like Coleridge at the end of The Ancient Mariner, a moral. Being suspicious of his subjective evaluation, he would invoke some value approved of by the masters of the past. His master was Sri Harsha, not Kalidasa. Thus Annum Innum (Then and Now), after glorifying the past and visualizing a bright future in glowing, eloquent terms, he adds the last quatrain which is an exhortation to the people of India: "India will become the Paradise it was once, O Indians, if we, pure in body and mind, lift ourselves through hard work". The sensuous experience presented earlier does not, according to him, make it valid enough. There are times when Ulloor could rise to the heights of lyricism for short flights: in Bhoothakkannadi (Microscope) he writes:
"The desire to rise seen in the flying fireflies,
the enthusiasm brimming within the singing cuckoo'
to offer worship to other beings,
the skill of the full-blown flower to entice the entire world,
the expertise of the jumping bird to move its feet.......
I have read ambrosia-like suggestive poetry even in mere rust;
I have heard with my ear sweet veena sounds even in silence".
Ulloor's idea of transcendental love is clearly brought out in his Prema Sangeetam
(The Music of Love) which concludes with the poet's total self-dedication to God:
O Thou, Spirit Eternal!
Approached through devotion,
Who can ever see Thee
That has not eyes tinted with Universal Love?
What is happiness for others
Is my happiness, indeed;
What is sorrow for others
Is my sorrow, too:
Thou and I and others:
Are not all these the same in truth?
At your beck and call
Are my body and soul:
Shape them, day and night,
Both for others' sake;
O Lord, I salute Thee!
Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958)
Vallathol Narayana Menon popularly known as Mahakavi, was one of the Famous Poet. Vallathol was born in Chennara, near Tirur, in Malappuram District of Kerala state, southern India. He died in March 1958.
He is the author of the famous Sahithya Manjari. He got the title, Mahakavi for his Mahakaavyam 'Chitrayogam'. He played a prominent role in setting up the Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthy, near the banks of Bharathapuzha River. Later this place was renamed Vallathol Nagar. He raised Kathakali as a great art form to the level today. He wrote dozens of kavya.
Vallathol wrote predominantly in Malayalam, the language of Kerala. Along with Kumaran Asan and Ullur S. Parameswara Iyer, he was part of a highly creative period in Malayalam literature. Influenced by Tagore, Gandhi, and Marx, as well as by the Sanskrit classics, Vallathol's poetry evolved from its classical beginnings to increasing expression of nationalist and broadly socialist sentiment. He wrote in a variety of forms, using both Sanskrit and Dravidian meters. He did not know English. Vallathol's many works include the mahakavya (a form of epic poem), Chitrayogam (1914), and the narrative poems Magdalena Mariyam (Mary Magdalene, 1921) and Kochu Sita (1928), as well as 11 volumes containing his collected romantic poems entitled Sahityamanjari. In addition to subjects from nature and the lives of ordinary people, Vallathol's opposition to the indignities of the caste system and the injustices suffered by the poor form the themes of many of his poems. His own struggle with deafness from his early twenties also features in some works. Vallathol's poetry has been translated into English and Russian as well as Hindi.Kerala Kalamandalam - The temple of classical arts - It is the realisation of a poet's dream, of a life of dedication, of a journey through the agonies of creation, of the ecstasies of fulfilment. Mahakavi Vallathol was forty nine years old when the idea struck him like a ton of bricks. He had been to a friend's house in Kunnamkulam to witness a performance of Kathakali. Several connoisseurs like him were there. They had come with great expecta- tions. The performance was deplorable, shocking. The Mahakavi felt scandalised that this unique art form, well recognised as total theatre, should have fallen to such low depths. He took a silent vow that night. He would dedicate the rest of his life to the resurrection of Kathakali.
Literary Criticism: Western Influence
The influence of Western literary model is most clearly seen in the field of criiticism. The attempt to relate old Indian values to new western values will account for most of the developments in literature in the first half of the 20th century. The rapid growth of prose through journals like Bhashaposhini (started 1896) inevitably led to the new trend in criticism, viz., the evaluation of literary works in Malayalam on the basis of Western critical standards.
This tendency which existed in its rudimentary form in Kerala Varma became more systematic in A.R. Rajaraja Varma. It found its full-throated spokesman in Sahitya Panchananan P.K. Narayana Pillai (1878-1937). His critical treatises on Cherusseri, Ezhuthachan, Kunchan Nambiar and Unnayi Warrier are the best monuments of this creative encounter between two traditions of criticism. Close interpretation of what is there in the text, attempts to investigate into problems of authorship and chronology and to relate what is in a work to socio-religious developments and historical setting at the time of composition, application of documentary evidence of textual problems and final judgment based on total evaluation rather than on alankara and diction: these were the general features of his best critical writings. One could say that he promoted judicial criticism. The use of quotations from Sanskrit alongside those from English is proof to show that his aim was a short of synthesis of the East and West. His third lecture on Thunchattu Ezhuthachan begins thus:
Since there could be difference of opinion about the vedantic passages in Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu as shown before, I would not like to erect Ezhuthachan's pillar of fame on such a foundation. More secure bases other than that are not difficult to find. No one need hesitate to say that the Bhakti Rasa sparkling throughout that work and the skill in the use of language are unique to it. Although it is possible to see many other Rasas like Sringara (erotic) Vira (heroic) and Karuna (tragic) clearly demonstrated in it, there is something special about the Bhakti Rasa. No other Rasa seems to have bestirred him as deeply as Bhakti Rasa.
While this shows the application of the Indian aesthetic theory of Rasa, we have in the following passage, the application of western ideas: It is the good fortune of the people of Kerala that in Ezhuthachan, who is to be regarded as the founding preceptor of Malayalam literature, there is a strong bias toward ethics. Rasas are born of emotions and emotions are the tools of the trade for the poets. I remember Benedito Croce, the Italian critic, as having said somewhere as follows: "The poets transform the subjects they deal with into ideal goals. It is done not through the silly tricks of tropes, but through a total involvement. And in this way we pass from a state of emotional excitement into one of quiet reflection". How well this remark suits Ezhuthachan's poetry!
P.K.Narayana Pillai's critical credo is clearly expressed in the preface he wrote to this monograph on Ezhuthachan. "It is said that we are so much encumbered about with the ever growing pile of contemporary literature that we seldom find time to make or renew acquaintance with old masters of the pen. The reason of the likely neglect of old masters, according to one view, is that unless we are introduced to them by men of our own time, we may not recognize them. Every age requires the past to be interpreted to it in terms of its own ideas". The classicist in P.K.Narayana Pillai seems to agree with the classicist in T.S. Eliot who came to hold an almost similar view about the need to interpret the past afresh to each age.
Swadeshabhimani K.Ramakrishna Pillai (1978-1916), the stormy petrel of Travancore politics, was also imbued with the western influence, but he did not care for a judicial approach. Instead he spoke out loud and clear and at times with virulence, giving no quarter to the author he criticized. His political radicalism and training as a journalist aided him in this. His short biography of Karl Marx is the first work of socialist thought in Malayalam. He also wrote books on Socrates, Columbus, Frankiln and Gandhi. His Vrithanta Patra Pravartanam (1912) is a pioneering work of journalism and consistent with lofty idealism even lays down a severe code of conduct for the aspiring journalist. He had become editor of Swadeshabhimani in 1906 and was exiled from Travancore in 1910. He held the view that style was born of the writer's character and could not be earned through imitation. The truth of this is a borne out by his own style, as for instance in his virulent attack on kingship:
The monarchs believe and force others to believe that they
are God's representatives or incarnations. This is absurd.
Did God create a special kind of dog to be the king of dogs,
or a special kind of elephant to rule over all elephants?
There were many other critics like C.Anthappayi who tried to assimilate the western critical modes.
Drama and the Stage
TIn the history of drama too, we find the Indian tradition trying to adjust itself to the growing influence of European drama. The Portugues brought into Kerala their miracle plays which supplied the inspiration for Chavittunatakam. One of the earliest examples of this type is Genoa (date not known). Among the historical plays that followed were Caralman Charitam and Napoleon Charitam.
These plays however did not influence Malayalam literature in any way. The first translation of a Shakespearen play came out in 1866 (Almarattam from A Comedy of Errors). Dramatic literature proper began with Kerala Varma;s translation of Abhijnana Sakuntalam (1881-1882). This was a popular hit. It also led to numerous other translations few of which were put on stage. C.V.Raman Pillai's Chandramukhivilasam (1885), Kochunni Tampuran's Kalyani Kalyanam (1888), K.C.Kesava Pillai's Lakshmi Kalyanam (1893), Kandathil Varghese Mappila's Ebrayakutty (1894) as well as Kalahinidamanakam (from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew) and Kocheepan Tharakan's (1861-1940) Mariamma (published in 1903: the author claims 1878 as the date of composition) were major landmarks in the growth of Malayalam drama.
C.V's Chandramukhivilasam is a combination of Sanskrit elements and western elements. Mariamma dramatizes the characteristically Christian domestic problem of the conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. It is a play clearly modeled on western social problem play in prose interspersed with quatrains in verse. The use of dialect is realistic and effective. C.V.Raman Pillai returned to the stage in 1909 with Kurupillakalari, a prose comedy in the manner of Goldsmith and Sheridan. It was a very effective social satire. The henpecked husband and the westernized English-educated lady are satirized in the play. C.V.'s later dramatic works included Tentanamkottu Harischandran (1914), Kaimalassante Kadassikkai (1915), Pandathe Patchan (1918) and Butler Pappan (1921). These are basically farces with an emphasis on social satire. His real contribution to drama perhaps consists of dramatizations of his famous historical novels: they are among the best historical plays still put on stage. K.P. Karuppan's Balakalesam (1914) is a play with a message, although traditional in form. The traditional kind of verse used in it may be said to give an added sharpness to its social criticism. It advocates progressive measures of social reform in unmistakable terms and calls upon the government to put an end to caste practices by law and to promote the education and upliftment of the lower classes. It is prophetic in this sense and provoked bitter opposition at the time.
E.V.Krishna Pillai (1895-1938) inherited from C.V.Raman Pillai the tradition of social comedy on the one hand and historical tragedy on the other. E.V.'s native comic gift was put to good use in his Pranayakkammishan (1932), B.A.Mayavi (1933) and Vivahakammattam (1934). Himself an actor, he could exploit the devices of stage presentation effectively. The serious side of his personality found expression in his historical tragedies: Sitalakshmi (1926), Raja Kesava Dasan (1930) and Iravikutty Pillai (1934). They are really the dramatic counterpart to C.V.Raman Pillai's fictional representation of history. E.V.'s comic legacy was pursued by N.P.Chellappan Nair, M.G.Kesava Pillai and T.N.Gopinathan Nair. His tragic heritage was sustained and improved upon by Kainikkara Padmanabha Pillai with his Velu Tampi Dalava and Kalvariyile Kalpapadapam (1934), Kappan Krishan Menon with his Cheraman Perumal and Pazhassi Raja, Kainikkara Kurama Pillai with his Karishchandran (1934), Mohavum Muktiyum (1938) and Kutanad Ramakrishna Pillai with his Taptabashpam (1934). The part played by Shri Chithira Tirunal Vayanasala, Thiruvananthapuram, in promoting the writing of new plays every year for the annual performance on the Maharaja's birthday is very significant in this regard, although on many occasions it had to be satisfied with second-rate or third-rate plays. But it has kept up the longest continuous tradition in amature acting in Thiruvananthapuram: a rare achievement in itself.
The most important theatre arts in Kerla have always had their devoted audience in the villages. There in the open air the ritualistic arts like Padayani, Theyyam, Kakkarissi, Poothamkali and Poorakkali are still attracting large crowds. The classical lperforming arts received a big boost in the present century with the founding of Kerala Kala Mandalam by the poet Vallathol. Attakkathas continue to be written on old subjects as well as new ones. The purists and the traditionalists do not quite favour the widening of the range of the Kathakali repertoire. Changes nevertheless are taking place, however imperceptible they may be at the time. Drama on the western model has always had to face an implicit challenge from these traditional performing arts with a hoary heritage behind them. In more recent times the cinema may appear to be a threat, but these challenges should be a source of insipiration for the dramatist committed to his vocation. The influence of Tamil musicals and their Malayalam adaptations or imitations was keenly felt in the 1920's and 1930's. It is perhaps a legacy from the tremendously popular Sangitanishadham (1892) of T.C.Achyutha Menon (1870-1942) and the later Balagopalam (1920) of Kuttamath Kunjukrishan Kurup. The musical drama version of Kumaran Asan's Karuna was also a very popular play on the commercial stage. This tradition may be said to continue still, occasionally with an overdose of spicy humour or with a leftist-oriented political message.
Malayalam drama underwent a significant development in the 1930's. It may be said to have started with the discovery of Ibsen. A. Balakrishna Pillai, one of the major critics of the period, translated Ibsen's Ghosts into Malayalam in 1936 and wrote articles about him to popularize the kind of drama that Ibsen seemed to stand for. In 1940 C.Narayana Pillai translated Rosmersholm. this trend merged with the new trend which had already made some advance in Malabar. That drama was no mere entertainment, that it was a powerful means of social awakemning and that serious drama could make a powerful appeal to the audience: these truths were demonstrated by two plays based on the Brahmin community in Malabar. Adukkalayilninnu Arangathekku (From the Kitchen to the Scene of Action: 1930) by V.T.Raman Bhattathiripad, traces the history of the liberation of the Namboothiri women. It was an epoch-making play, mainly because of its ideological thrust. Ritumati (The Nubile Maiden: 1939) by M.P.Bhattathiripad continued the movement. K.Damodaran's Pattabakki (Rental Arrears: 1938) is our first play on a socio-political theme it is out and out propangandist yet has an important difference from the conventional type of commercial drama without any serious thought in it. The forties were thus ready for a real take-off. New playwrights like N.Krishna Pillai, Pulimana Parameswaran Pillai, Edasseri Govindan Nair and C.J.Thomas brought into the stage in Kerala the much-needed seriousness of genuine tragedy through the front door itself. N.Krishna Pillai had declared his intentions as a playwright in categorical terms: "the ideal play, as far as I am concerned, is one in which some serious and fundamental human problem is realistically analysed and handled with the utmost concentration, avoiding wastage in words, dialogues, situations and characters. This ideal was instilled in me by Ibsen whom I consider to be the most successful master dramatist of the modern age and hence have attempted to emulate, with discrimination, his dramatic form and technique in my plays".
Krishna Pillai's major works are Bhagna Bhavanam (Shattred Home: 1942), Kanyaka (The Virgin: 1944) and Balabalam (The Trial of Strength: 1946). Pulimana Parameswaran Pillai's Samatvavadi (The Socialist: 1944) is a precisous work; it employs the expressionist device with consummate skill. Edasseri Govindan Nair's Koottukrishi (Joint Farming: 1950) emphasised the value of rustic realism. A new dimension to the serious problem play was given by C.J.Thomas in his Avan Veendum Varunnu (He Comes Again). It is a work that anticipates the later development of Malayalam drama. C.J.Thoma's experimental urge achieves its magnificent fulfilment in his Crime 27 of 1128 (1952-1954). A challenge to directors and actors, Crime is unique among Malayalam dramas. Before Beckett and Ionesco became known as writers of the Absurd Theatre and without proclaiming himself to be the founder of any school. C.J.Thomas gave total expression to his concept of drama-neither tragedy nor comedy alone, but both at the same time, each seeking its justification in the other. C.J.Thomas was to write one more tragedy, Aa Manushyan Nee Thanne (Thou Art That Man), a dramatization of the story of David and Bathsheba. This pattern of epic drama on puranic themes was taken up by C.N.Sreekantan Nair after his first attempts at the social drama. The fifties and early sixties were the period of stage musicals, often with a pronounced socil-political bias. Thoppil Bhasi, N.N.Pillai, K.T.Mohammed, G.Sankara Pillai and Kavalam Narayana Panicker, among others, have kept the theatre active and meaningful during the post-independence period.
Poetry - The Second Generation of Romantics
Of the three poets, Asan, Ulloor and Vallathol, it was Vallathol the youngest that attracted the largest following in his life - time and enjoyed the greatest popularity.
Among those who were close to him in style are Nalappat Narayana Menon, Kuttippurathu Kesavan Nair, K.M.Panikkar, G.Sankara Kurup, Pallathu Raman, Bodheswaran, Vennikulam Gopala Kurup, P.Kunjiraman Nair, Palai Narayanan Nair, M.P.Appan and Balamani Amma. Nalappat Narayana Menon (1887-1955) is mainly remembered for his clasic elegy on the death of hiswife, Kannuneer Tulli (Tear Drop), one of the best meditative lyrics in Malayalam. Like the English elegiac poets, he is prompted to speculate on the meaning of life by the experience of bereavement:
Infinite, inscrutable and ineffable
The route on which spins this cosmic globe;
What does man know of its true meaning,
Who looks at it from an obscure corner?
This philosophical strain which is an undercurrent of romantic poetry makes Nalappat Narayana Menon closest to Asan, of all the poets in the Vallathol school. Kuttippurathu Kesavan Nair (1883-1959) in his poem Grameena Kanyka (The Village Maid) wrote about the simple yous of the rural society that were threatened by the prospect of urbanization. Pallathu Raman (1892-1950) mainly wrote poems of social revolt. K.M.Panikkar (1895-1963), also a historian in English and a novelist in the C.V.tradition, came under the influence of the early Vallathol and wrote poems in several genres.
G.Sankara Kurup (1900-1978), brought up in the classicist tradition of Ulloor and Vallathol, fell early under the influence of Rabindranath Tagore and emerged as one of the major voices in the 1930's. He passed through various stages of evolution marked by movements such as mysticism, symbolism, realism and also socialist realism. Among his major lyrical and meditative poems are Nakshtragitam (Song of the Star), Suryakanti (The Sunflower) Innu Jnan Nale Nee (Today I, Tomorrow Thou), Nimisham (The Moment) and Viswadarsanam (TheCosmic Vision). They are all imbued with a spiritual earnestness whioch often brings him closer to the poetry of Kumaran Asan. His dramatic monologue, Perumthachan (The Master Carpenter), is one of the more successful poems in the genre in Malayalam.
Vennikulam Gopala Kurup (1902-1980) has stayed more or less within the Vallathol frame-work, but has achieved some fine effects in his best poems about scenes in everyday life. P.Kunhiraman Nair (1909-1978) was an indefatigable champion of the native tradition of life and an unwearied admirer of the beauty of Kerala landscape. Nalappat Balamani Amma is the greatest poetess Kerala has produced so far. She is equally good at domestic themes and at speculative phimosophy. Her longer monologues on Parasurama, Viswamitra, Mahabali and Vibhishana add a new dimension to Vallathol's portrayals of puranic characters and episodes.
Two poets, Edappally Raghavan Pillai and Changapuzha Krishana Pillai, brought in a new breath of life into the Malayalam poetry of the 1930's. Edappalli Raghavan Pillai (1909-1936), one of the true inheritors of unfulfilled renown among modern Malayalam poets, brought out and emphasized the finer elements which were often muted in the poems of the Vallathol School. His poetry reiminds us a a vibrant melody played on a single-string instrument. Before he committed suicide in 1936 he wrote a few excellent lyrics in the purer romantic strain with no hangover from neoclassicism. The close alliance between nature and the poet's mood of the moment is a recurring theme in his work, as in the
following lines from Prateeksha (Hope):
Come away, come away, my bird of hope:
Darkeness is spreading everywhere!
Singing its last song, to the west
Has flown the golden bird of twilight;
In the flower garden of the night
Already the jasmine buds of tonight have blossomed.
The last flickering smile of the lotus
Has melted into the twilight glow:
The cuckoo, tired of its singing,
is asleep on the tree in the yard.
My bird of hope, wandering somewhere
In the heavens, please come away!
The double-distilled essence of romantic lyricism, tender and delicate and wistful: never before or after in the history of Malayalam poetry has it been captured in words. Edappalli Raghavan Pillai has been compared by A.Balakrishna Pillai to Leopardi of Italy: the brooding melancholy of an autumnal afternoon lingers over the poems of both. Raghavan Pillai's best poem is perhaps Maninadam (The sound of the bells) which ends with a quiet prayer:
Will each drop of my blood
Dripping from my heart's broken wall
Tired of the repeated batterings
Of the rough rubbles of insult
Inspire the pen that writes love songs?
And if it does, will it be effective?
His companion Changampuzha Krishna Pillai (1911-1948) met the same challenge of life with greater resilience. But deep down in him too there glowed an incurable idealism which saw the world in primary colours. In a "statement" in verse prefixed to his first volume Bashpanjali (Tearful Offerings: 1934) he said:
May be it's right - this world
May be a source of unique joys;
May be a wave in the milky sea
Of the life of power and pomp;
Unlucky that I am, whatever I saw
Was shrouded in pain!
Whatever fell upon my ears
Was the cry of pity!
Whatever my burning soul suffered
Were sighs deep and hot.
Changampuzha's most popular work is a pastoral play in verse called Ramanan. It is a dramatization of the life and death of Raghavan Pillai presented in idealized terms. Its romantic melodies have captured the loveliness of the landscape of Kerala with its evergreen trees and its numerous rivers. With Changampuzha, Malayalam poetry comes directly under the influence of world poetry other than English too. He was a prolific writer with an ever-widening readership. He was susceptible to different kinds of influence from time to time: he has written poems extolling vedic culture and condemning it vehemently; he has denounced socialism and has hailed Marx. These contradictions exist only on the intellectual plane. The magic of his poetry subsumes all these paradoxes. His last collection of poems Swararagasudha (1948) represents his art at its most mature. "Rakkilikal" (Night birds: 1946) is in the form of a duet recited by a young man and a young woman calling upon the sleeping world to awaken to a new day, better and brighter than ever before. "Manaswini" (Women with a generous heart: 1947) is an autobiographical poem in which the poet pays his homage in glowing words:
As my heart, reflecting on you,
Melts and dissolves in a reverie,
My soul, urged by some ecstasy,
Is thrilled through and through.
Pain, pain, intoxicating
Pain - let me drench myself in it!
Drench myself, and from within me
Let a soft strain of the flute flow.
Changampuzha passed away in 1948 and with that the magic world of romanticism too came to an end. In the thirties and forties, realism had threatened to creep into Malayalam poetry, but never could raise its head very high. Edasseri Govindan Nair was one of the first poets to use a non-romantic diction and talk about the problems of life with precision and sharpness. Rural life and industrial life appear in his poems [Puthenkalavum Arivalum (The new pot and the sockle); "Panimudakku" (Strike)] in naked, unadorned and not-to-musical verse. Changampuzha's protest songs were so mellifluous that they often lulled both the rebel and his opponent into the luxury of a daydream. Edasseri made the rebel think and understand, before rushing into a fury of voilence. Through him Malayalam poetry learned to shed some colourful but unhealthy encrustations and speak the language of truth as in : "Bury the griefs in a pit and let us tale a leap to power".
Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon (1911-1985) is perhaps the last of our major links with Vallathol. He survived the flood tide of the poetry of Changampuzha, his exact contemporary. He started publishing collections late and in the late forties and fifties he wrote some of his very poems. He had once declared himself to be a "poet of beauty" but later extended the meaning of the word "beauty" to cover all aspects of life. His poetry gained in depth and complexity in the years that followed. His most popular poem is "Mampazham" (Ripe Mango), a very early work illustrating the Wordsworthian view that children are prophets. Among his more mature works are "Sahyante Makan" (Son of the Western Ghats) presenting with sympathy and understanding the troubled thoughts of a temple elephant in the process of going crazy and running amuck. The romantic train is not absent in him, for example Oonjalinmel (On the Swing), but it does not lead to uncontrolled outbursts or torrential overflow or loose meanderings. He always exercises severe control over his matter and manner: seldom does he tolerate sentimentality of melodrama. His most ambitious poem is perhaps Kudiyozhikkal ( Eviction), a kind of lyrical - dramatic narrative in which the poet tries to dramatize his own ambivalence vis-a-vis the community at large and to clarify the role of the poet in a world of changing values.
The Edappally school continued for a little while in the fifties as in the works of P.Bhaskaran. But the Edasseri line got strengthened with the coming into the scene of N.V.Krishana Warrier (1916-1989) author of Neenda Kavitakal (Long Poems) and Kochuthomman, Akkitham Achuthan Nambuduri, author of Irupatam Nootandine Itihasam (The Epic of the Twenty Century) and Olappamanna, author of Nangemakkutty
Fiction in the Foreground
In the wake of the western novel came the western short story. the stories in the puranas or in works like Panchatantra could not give rise to a modern form of short fiction. When English came to influence the prose style, it also led to the use of prose for story telling.
Among the earliest practioners of the short story in Malayalam are Vengayil Kinhiraman Nayanar (1861-1915), Ambadi Narayana Poduval (1871-1936), Murkot Kumaran (1874-1941), K.Sukumaran (1876-1956) and M.R.K.C. or Chenkulath Kunhiraman Menon (1882-1940). In the place of a native tradition of story-telling, they developed a new mode by incorporating the western narrative traditrion. But the stories of these early decades of the 20th century were quaint accounts of episodes: their main purpose seems to have been to provide entertainment to the literate population. But the short story began to forge ahead in the 1930's. A new generation of writers were just waiting in the wings when the Sahitya Parishath was launched in1927 in the place of the old Kavisamajam started in 1892 and the later Bhashaposhini Sabha which had become defunct. The best link between the older weiters of the short story and the new generation was E.V.Krishna Pillai, whose stories are collected in Kelisoudham. In 1937 the younger writers started a Jivat Sahitya Samiti which in 1944 grew into the Progressive Literature Association. Whatever limitations this movement may have had, the emphasis put on the realities of life and on the need to relate literature to contemporary problems had its salutary effect on the short story. Perhaps without this new awakening, the Malayalam short story would have remained where it was before. But in the new circumstances the short story got a boost. Some of the best talents went into this field.
Karur Neelakanta Pillai (1898-1974), P.Kesava Dev (1904-1983), Ponkunnam Varkey (b.1908), Vaikom Muhammed Basheer (1912-1994), S.K.Pottakkat (1913-1982), Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (1914 -1999), P.C.Kutikrishnan (1915-1979), Lalithambika Antharjanam (1909-1987) and K.Sarasmwathi Amma (1919-1974) were among the masters of the new short story that began its brilliant career in the 1930's and achieved great heights in the next twenty years. Karur was a humanist to the core and even when he used satire he had his sympathies in the right quarters in the right proportion. The moralizing strain is completely muted in his best stories such as Marappavakal (Wooden Dolls), Poovampazham (Bananas) and Mothiram (The Ring). Compared with the stories of E.V.Krishan Pillai or Bhavathrathan Nambudiripad, the stories of Karur are finished products. His stories about the episodes in the life of a school teachers such as he was, are marked by selective realism and poignant pathos. He is perhaps the most economical of our short-story writers.
Kesava Dev began as a politically-oriented writer and his sympathies lay with the oppressed classes. He is often impatient about the aesthetic side. His view is that if the writer takes enough care about what he has to say, then technical excellence will automatically follow. Nevertheless, some of his early stories are quite moving because of their raw, unselfconscious craftsmanship. No one can write without craft and it is the regard for authenticity in artistic communication that makes a writer care for the way communication is achieved. Meenkaran Koran (Koran, the fisherman) is a story that well reveals both Dev's thematic obsessions and his technique of narration. Ponkunnam Varkey is also concerned with socio-political reality and his early stories are open attacks on the church. The attempt to bring to light the hidden motivations for outwardly pious actions is what Varkey is specially interested in his stories which expose the foibles or cruelties of the church as an institution. His younger contemporary, Ponjikkara Raphy continued for a time, this tirade against the "tyranny" of the Catholic church. Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, quite unlike Varkey, works by suggestion. He is also a social critic (here a critic of the weakness of the Islamic society in Kerala) but he does not shout or harangue like Dev and Varkey. He is closer to Karur in this respect. The master artist in him is fully revealed in stories like Poovanpazham (Banana), Bhargavi Nilayam and Muchittukalikarante Makal ( A gambler's daughter). There is humour and pathos in several of his best stories.
S.K. Pottekkat is more interested in psychology than in social reality. His stories like "Stri" (Woman), "Vadhu" (The Bride) and "Nisagandhi" (Flower of the night) reveal this. The absence of a propagandist obsession enables him to use a poetic style. Some of the stories are laid in places outside Kerala. His romantic interests are reflected in the titles of his collection: Indraneelam, Chandrakantham, Padmaragam (names of precisous stones) Rajamally, Kanakambaram, Nisagandhi (names of flower plants): Pulliman, Himavahini, Manimalika, Vanakaumudi (all words with rich associations):
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai started as a short story writer in the line of Guy de Maupassant who was probably introduced to him by A.Balakrishna Pillai. He has an unerring eye for the telling detail and in his best stories he make this efect by using a simple unadorned style. Compared with him Pottekat and Kuttikrishnan may be said to employ an ornate style a "precious" diction and aim at special effects. In Thakazhi, the style is not an end in itself. We do not see it, as a matter of fact; we see through it. He is capable of clinical analysis and objective reporting in a neutral style. One of his popular early stories is "Vellappokkam" (Floods). His major themes concern the life of the peasants and the have nots. But it may be said that under the influence of his French masters, there is an overdose of "naturalist" writing in the early stories, roughly in the manner of Zola.
Lalithambika Antharjanam and K.Saraswathi Amma are among the foremost women story tellers in Malayalam; they deal with the pieties of domestic life. Antharjanam's stories are marked by her innate sympathy for people in distress. She has also a great deal of variety of themes, as exemplified by Pancharayoumma (A sweet kiss) on the one hand and Sathyathinte Swaram (The Voice of Truth) on the other. The former is personal, subjective, domestic, delicate, lyrical; the other is tragic, social, public, harsh, dramatic. The problems of a Nambudiri household are also taken up at times, as in Kuttasammatham (Confession). Saraswathi Amma has a less sophisticated style. Her forthright analysis of man-woman relationship is not too common even in Western literature. The short stories of P.C.Kuttikrishnan present the interplay of the romantic and the realistic. Like Karur and Basheer, Kuttikrishnan also is capable of using humour as an undertone. It does not graduate into satire. He also reveals a unique insight into human nature. The psychology of the proletariate has seldom been portrayed better than in some of the early short stories of Ponjikkara Raphy, just as middle class life is vividly portrayed in the stories of Vettoor Raman Nair.
The development of the novel in the second quarter of the twentieth century is a close parallel to the growth of the short story as outlined above. Chandu Menon and C.V.Raman Pillai had estblished two lineages in the Malayalam novel. For a long while they were without any real following. They were imitated ad infinitum. Social and historical novels came out in large numbers. But there was no creative originality in any of them. Narayana Kurukkal (1861-1948) wrote Parappuram (during the 1890's) and Udayabhanu during the 1900's which may be regarded as setting up a new genre, viz., the political novel. Virutan Sanku (Sanku, the smart fellow) by Karatt Achutha Menon (1867-1913) was written in 1913. Rama Varma Appan Thampuran (1876-1942) was the author of, among numerous other things, the novel Bhootharayar ( 1923). Ambadi Narayana Poduval's Keralaputran also deserves mention here. These were not major achievements. Thus it might be said that the course of extended prose fiction in Malayalam appeared to have come to an end.
It was then that in 1931 a work that was unique in many ways came out; it was Aphante Makal (Uncle's Daughter) by Bhavatratan Nambudiripad. Like V.T.Bhattathiripad's play Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku, produced about the same time, this novel also had a profound social relevance. But apart from that, it was a very readable story in prose, the characters were fully alive and the social situation, fuly realized in the context of the novel.
The fresh awakening of the novel in the thirties was due to various factors such as the arrival on the scene of a new generation of writers, the demand for reading material for the newly literate, the exposure of Malayalam writers to the new vistas of Russian and French fiction through the writings of Balakrishna Pillai and a genereal interest among the people in matters social, political and cultural, which is also seen in our national life at the time. The forties and the early fifties were a busy period for the novelists as the following table shows:
1942 Odayil Ninnu (Out of the Gutter: Kesava Dev)
1944 Balyakala Sakhi (Childhoold friend: Basheer)
1946 Nati (Actress : Dev)
1947 Nati (Actress : Dev)
1947 Sabdangal (Voices: Basheer),Thottiyude Makan (Scavenger's Son: Thakazhy)
1948 Vishakanyaka (Poison Maid: Pottekkat)
1949 Randidangazhi ( Two Measures: Thakazhi),Bhrantalayam (Mad House: Dev)
1950 Arkuvendi (For Whose Sake: Dev)
1951 Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu (My Grandpa had an Elephant:Basheer)
1955 Ummachu (Kuttykrishnan)
1956 Chemmeen (Prawns: Thakazhi)
1957 Pathummayude Adu (Pattumma's Goat: Basheer)
1958 Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum ( Women and Men of Charm: Kuttikrishnan)
It is clear from the above list that most of the time the same people wrote short stories and novels. Thus the early modern novel is no more than an extended short story: if the novelist does not appear on the stage and add his own comments and explanations, the novel would be still shorter. Thakazhi's early work Patita Pankajam (Fallen Lotus), Dev's Odayil Ninnu, Pottekkat's Nadan Premam (Country Love) and Basheer's Balyakala Sakhi are novels of this kind. Dev's Nati and Pottekkat's Vishakanyaka have graduated into what may be called the novel proper. Thus the modern novel in Malayalam is mostly a post-war-phenomenon. What is important here is that aspects of life which had never entered into literature before with sufficient force or depth, swept into it now, through these novels. The novel as a genre in the hands of these writers is purely a western transplantation; none of them has tried to evolve an indigenous form of prose naration. The influence of Chekhov, Maupssant, Gorky, Hugo, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Knut Hamsun and perhaps Dostoievsky; the list can be lengthened. But it must however be granted that these novelists widened the range of our readers' interests and thus provided a much needed education in literary sensibility. Pappu, Chanthan, Koran, Ummachu, Karuthamma, Majid, Suhra, Ouseph: they were all granted entry into the temple of Saraswathi. The Pariah and the Nambudiri jostled shoulders in claiming the compassion and consideration of the reading public. And what is more, the novel was no more a mere means of entertainment, a decoration or an outgrowth. It was like life itself, was life itself as created by the artist's vision. In the fifties the novel became the most productive literary form; but sceptics continued to feel there was not yet any one to chllange Chandu Menon nor any novel yet to stand comparison with Ramaraja Bahadur.
Among the forms of non-fiction prose that received a tremendous onward push in the modern period, was literary criticism. In the 1930's and 40's three names became most influential: A.Balakrishana Pillai (1889-1960), Joseph Mundasseri (1901-1977) and Kuttikrishna Marar (1900-1973). Their critical writings are mostly iterpretative rather than theoretical.
In theory they tried to draw upon literature in other languages: Balakrishana Pillai and Mundasseri mostly upon European literature, including Russian, while Marar was mainly confined to and contented with vedic and classical Sanskrit literature. Balakrishna Pillai wrote elaborate studies of the selected lyrics of Edappalli Raghavan Pillai, Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, G.Sankara Kurup, Kedamangalam Pappukkuty and works like Kerla Varma's Mayurasandesam and Thakazhi's Thalayode (Skull). He was widely read in European literature, French, Russian, Italian etc., and often quoted from or referred to works in these languages for comparison and contrast with contemporary Malayalam literature. He was in a way responsible for the cultivation of the exotic in Malayalam literature. His obsession with theoretical aspects of literary schools and movements, with archaeology and ancient history, with myth and psycholanalysis and with literary genres and formalist criticism helped fertilize the otherwise barren ground of literary criticism in Malayalam. At time he seemed to indulge in over-simplification and categorization, but even then he did help readers to look for specific elements in literary works. He was mainly responsible for the modernization of literary taste in Malayalam. Respect for contemporary classics seems to have been his watchword.
Joseph Mundasseri began his career as a critic by looking for a means of synthesizing Indian poetic with the insights of Western literary criticism. He was able to set forth some of these views in his early work Kavya Peetika. He applied these to the works of Kumaran Asan and tried to identify the elements of greatness in Asan's work. Thus, like Balakrishna Pillai, he was also bent upon interpretting and highlighting contemporary classics. His essays in Manadandam, show his interest in ancient classics like Kalidasa's Meghadoot. His controversial theory about Roopabhadrata - formal excellence - showed that he was not evaluating a work of art solely on the basis of the proclaimed aims of a writer. But he saw the artist fundamentally as a spokesman of his age. This established his position as the chief architect of the theory of progressive literature in the 1940's. He was ably supported by a host of other critics like M.S.Devadas, S.Guptan Nair and K.Damodaran. Mundasseri demonstrated the usefulness of the comparative method even in contemporary studies in Mattoli (Echo), although his conclusions were not always logical. He tried his hand occasionally at fiction, but his place in literature is basically that of a critic. He was master of a sonorous kind of prose, full of Sanskritisms and involved construction showing the influence of English syntax. He used this style to defend proletarian writing which employs the opposite kind of style.
Exactly opposed to the stand of Mundasseri was that of Kuttikrishna Marar, a champion of Indian classics and the values of classical criticism. He started his career an an interpreter-commentator of the works of Vallathol, but soon emerged into the arena fully armed to defend values which seemed to be threatened with extinction under the onslaughts of the progressivists. His eleborate critical study of Mahabharata from the point of view of a dedicated and enlightened classicist (Bharataparyatanam), his open avowal that critical impartiality is a misconception where values are at stake, his advocacy of art of life itself, as against art for life's sake, his wonderful penetration into the fundamental principles of spiritual and moral elements in literature enabled him to establish his position as a major critic although he did not know English well and did not have the benefits of western education.
As sober as Marar, but with all the erudition of A.Balakrishna Pillai and the social commitment of Mundasseri was M.P.Paul who however did not live long enough to do justice to his talents. His studies of literary genres, especially the short story and the novel, had a tremendous impact not only on critics, but on the novelists themselves. His attempt to study aesthetics as fundamental to the practice of literary criticism shows the influence of his English education. He had an easy, unaffected kind of middle style at his command, a prose free from the mannerisms of Mundasseri and the obscurantism of Balakrishna Pillai.
A number of essayists had contributed to the growth of prose and literary criticism in the forties and fifties. K.R.Krishan Pillai , R.Narayana Panikkar, P.Sankaran Nambiar, Sooranad Kunjan Pillai, Govindankutty Nair, Kainikkara Kumara Pillai and A.D.Harisarma are only a few of them. Among the writers of biographical and critical studies may be mentioned P.K.Paremeswaran Nair (Sahitya Panchanan, C.V. Raman Pillai), K.M.George (Sadhu Kochuoonju, Jeevacharita Sahityam), K.Bhaskaran Nair (Daivaneetikku Dakshinyam IIIa), N.Krishna Pillai (Thiranjedutha Prabandhangal) and P.K.Balakrishanan (Narayana Guru, Tippu Sultan and Chandu Menon - A Study). Among the travelogues are K.P.Kesava Menon's Bilathivisesham and numerous volumes by S.K.Pottekkat. There have been many great masters of humour; the most important of them are E.V.Krishna Pillai (1895-1938) and M.R.Nair (Sanjayan, 1903-1944). Among their followers are N.P.Chellappan Nair and P.K.Rajaraja Varma. The most important autobiographies in the language include those of P.K.Narayana Pillai (Smaranamandalam: 1938), E.V.Krishna Pillai (Jeevithasmaranakal: 1941), K.M.Panikkar (Atmakatha: 1953), K.P.Kesava Menon (Kazhinja Kalam), Mundasseri (Kozhinja Ilakal) and C.Kesavan (Jeevithasamaram).
The informal essay has been enriched by the writings of E.V.Krishna Pillai (Chiriyum Chintayum in 2 parts: 1936), which are marked by satire. Sanjayan wrote social satire both in prose and in verse. The light essay has had a number of practitioners but they are mostly scattered in various periodicals. The tradition of Cherrusseri and Kunchan Nambiar have been kept up by prose writers in our time. The literature of research has grown immensely, during the period. Among the histories of literature, the gratest monuments is Ulloor's Kerala Sahitya Charitram which is a compendium of the history of Sanskrit literature in Kerala too. Dictionaries like Sreekanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai's monumental Sabdataravali have been followed by other more diversified ones. Books on science and technology and on different aspects of Gandhism and Marx have come out in recent times.
Journalism is a flourishing field and weeklies like Mathrubhumi and Malayalarajyam and monthlies like Mangalodayam used to cater to the tastes of the young as well as the older generation of both readers and writers. The fifties began as a period of controversies set afloat by the progressive movement and its politicalization. Writers were often urged to take sides, and it was argued that not taking side at all was itself taking a certain side. But amidst the din and noise of the polemics and the splash of slogans and catchwrods and stereotyped formulas, it seems that efforts were being made somewhere for a powerful take-off after the fifties.