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Malayalam

Malayalam is one of the Dravidian languages, which dates back to the 10th century. Malayalam is the baby in the Dravidian family. It’s an offshoot of old Tamil and remained in the latter’s shadows for a long time before gaining independent identity in the 10th century. But soon after the young Malayalam stepped out on its own, it met with the biggest bully of all – Sanskrit. Thanks to the endeavors of the Namboodiris, the powerful feudal aristocrats of Kerala, Aryan Sanskrit had almost replaced Malayalam in its own land. The Mani-pravalam or ‘ruby and coral style’ was the baby of such a pileup, a style which meant using as many Sanskrit words as possible. The linguistic result of the two dominions, however, has been a happy one; the orchestral resources of Malayalam have been infinitely enriched.

But while Tamil and Sanskrit took turns in stamping their authority, a third kind of Malayalam evolved and survived – the pure or pucca Malayalam. This was the folk stream of lullabies, wedding songs and dirges, which flowed through the centuries and became the source of Malayalam literature later. It had Christian and Muslim elements too. The Kathakali dance form, which is famous the world over, traces its roots in this folk culture of Kerala.

Malayalam literature takes a lazy and winding route till the end of the 18th century, after which the modern period begins. The Ramacharitam (1300AD) is the oldest Malayalam text. Writings of the first few centuries were in Mani-pravalam or the ‘high style’. This went on until Cherusseri Namboodiri turned his attention to pure Malayalam and wrote Krishna Gatha in early 15th century. This was again followed by a generation of campu compositions, a mixture of prose and verse with a liberal sprinkling of Sanskrit words. The themes were from the great Sanskrit epics and Puranas. As late as the 17th century, the first big Malayali poet, Tunchattu Ramanuja Ezhuttachchan adopted the Sanskrit alphabet in place of Malayalam’s incomplete one. A new literary type arose in the 18th century, the Tullal or dance drama, which again dipped into the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas for themes.

Kotungallur (in North Kerala) and Trivandrum (in South Kerala) became the two hectic centers of literary activity in the second half of the 19th century. Volumes of translations were being written – Valiya Koyil Tampuran’s Shakuntala (1881), Kunnikkuttan Tampuran’s Hamlet and Mahabharata, Vallattol Narayana Menon’s Ramayana (1878) and others. It was a period of original works too, with a flood of essays on historical and literary topics, dramas, novels and poems and literary journals. The first and original novel in Malayalam was T. M. Appu Netunnati’s Kundalata (1887), but more popular was Chantu Menon’s Indulekha (1889). Some of the later novelists were Vennayil Kunniraman Nayanar, Appan Tampuran, V. K. Kunnan Menon, Ambati Narayana Potuval and C. P. Achyuta Menon who grounded the present day Malayalam prose style. Vaikkom Mohammad Bashir is one of the most loved literary figures of Kerala. Some poets of the modern school are Kumaran Ashan, G. Sankara Kurup, K. K. Raja, Channampuzha Krishna Pilla and N. Balamaniyamma.

As the state with the highest literacy rate, Kerala is one of the intellectual centers of the country. Kerala is just the place for literature and litterateurs.


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