Malayalam is the official language of Kerala. It is spoken by over 38 million people, and acquired the designation of a Classical language in India, in 2013.
Malayalam is the youngest of Dravidian languages, which had its origin in the sixth century from Sen-Tamil or Middle Tamil. Malayalam has the influence of both Indian and Foreign languages.
The contribution of Malayalam language to the literature has a long history. The earliest form of literary works in Malayalam was folk songs. They were related to different phases of life and varities of labour and subjects, such as harvest, love, primitive stories and about heroes and Gods. They had no written forms, but existed on oral culture, and passed through the generations.
The Vadakkan Pattukal of the North Malabar region and the Thekkan Pattukal of the Travancore and examples of folk songs. In Vadakkan Pattukal, the stories of warriors of Puthooram and Manikkoth clans namely Thacholi Othenan, Aromal Chekavar, Aromalunni and Unniyarcha were the subjects.
Iravikutti Pillai Poru is a prominent southern ballad narrating the story of a warrior who wins eternal honour through death in the battle field. Unlike Northern ballads, the Southern ballads were in the form of ‘ Villupattu’, which were sung in chorus.
The tradition of folk songs and ballads had influenced the narrative poetry or ‘pattu’. It gained perfection and the diction became sophisticated in due course.
The History of Malayalam poetry begins with ‘Ramacharitham’, a pattu written by Cheeraman in AD 1300. It was based on Yudhakandas of Valmiki’s Ramayana, with elements from Kishkinda and Sundara Kandas. It was written before the introduction of Sanskrit alphabets; in a language intelligible to the common man.
Subsequently, along with the pattu, ‘Manipravalam’ style of poetry also flourished in the language. Literally , manipravalam means ‘ruby – coral’, in which Malayalam is referred as the ruby, and Sanskrit the coral. It is a mixture of both languages where Sanskrit dominates. In this period, Ramakathappattu’ written by Ayyapilla Asan was a landmark, as it render the whole story of Valmiki’s Ramayanam is Malayalam. ‘Ramakathappattu’ was the precursor of later Rama stories in the language.
The religious adoration or ‘Bhakti’ became definite in Malayalam literature with the entry of the ‘Kannassans’ or ‘Niranam poets’ in the South, and Cherusseri Nampoothiri in North Kerala in the 14th and 15th centuries. Instead of Manipravalam, they used modern Malayalam in their literary works.
The Kannassans or Niranam poets were three – Madhava Panikar, Rama Panikar and Shankara Panikar. They belong to the same family in Niranam near Thiruvalla. They gave a classic dimension to Malayalam poetry. Madhava Panikar introduced Bhagavat Gita into Malayalam. His ‘Bhashabhagawat Gita’ is a transcreation of Gita. The essence of Mahabharata is rendered in Shankara Panikar’s ‘Bharatmala’. Among the three the greatest is Rama Panikar. He wrote Ramayanam, Bharatam, Bhagavatham and Savithri Mahatmyam. ‘Kannassa Ramayanam’ and ‘Kannassa Bharatam’ were the most important works of Niranam poets.
‘Krishnagatha’ or ‘Krishnappattu’ is another masterpiece of the same period by Cherusseri Nampoothiri. It is an abbreviate version of Bhagavatham.
In the 16th century Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan gave a perfection to the Malayalam language. In his poems, he used the Classical Sanskrit, incorporating the popular speech of the language, making it to a level of common mans understanding. Till that period the 30 character ‘vattezhuthu’ were generally used in Malayalam writings. Ezhuthachan introduced the 51 character Malayalam alphabet, hence known as the father of Malayalam language. His poems were in the forms of ‘Kilippattu’ – a bird telling the story. Ezhuthachans writings includes the Adyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu (translation of Ramayanam), Mahabharatham Kilippattu (translation of Mahabharatham), Irupathinalu Vrutham, Harinama Keerthanam, Bhagavatham Kilippattu etc.
The other two eminent poets in this age were Poonthanam Nampoothiri and Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri. Poonthanam represents ‘Bhakthi’ (devotion) in its pure essence. His ‘Njanappana’ (the Song of Wisdom) is written in pure Malayalam. While Melpathur represents ‘Vibhakthi’ (learning) in high order. He opted Sanskrit in his work ‘Narayaneeyam’ - a major literary work of Melpathur. He also composed a dozen Champus in Sanskrit, which were later used by Koothu and Patakam artists; ‘Champu’ is a mixture of prose and poetry. Distinguished works in Champu form were the Ramayanam Champu of Punam Nampoothiri and Naishadham Champu of Mazhamangalam.
The origin of temple arts like Krishnanattam, Ramanattam and Kathakali gave rise to high quality poetry in the language. They are dance-drama presentations. Krishnanattam is the story of Lord Krishna in a series of eight plays created by Manaveda, the Zamorin of Calicut. While Ramanattam depicts the story of Rama in a series of eight plays. It was composed by Veera Kerala Varma alias Kottarakkara Thampuran.
In the 18th century, Kottayathu Thampuran refined Ramanattam into Kathakali. He was the poet who gave a scientific base to Kathakali and Attakkatha literature. The Nalacharitham Attakkatha by Unnayi Varier gave a glory to Kathakali literature.
The introduction of Ottanthullal by Kalakkathu Kunchan Nambiar is yet another turning point in Malayalam literature. He is the master of Malayalam Sataristic poetry. The elements from the classical art forms like Koodiyattam, Kathakali and Koothu , along with Padayani and Kolamthullal can be seen in Ottanthullal. The main characteristics of Ottanthullal are its simplicity and the humour mood it creates.
By the second half of 18th century transilations like ‘ Shakuntala’ by Valiya Koyil Thampuran (1881) and, the ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Mahabharata’ by Kunjikuttan Thampuran were done in Malayalam. At the same time, Dramas and Novels had their origin in Malayalam literature. The first novel in Malayalam was ‘Kundalatha’, written by T.M.Appu Nedungadi in 1887. But Chandu Menon’s ‘Indulekha’ (1889) gined popularity. C.V.Raman Pillai wrote the novels Marthanda Varma (1891), Dharma Raja (1913) and Ramaraja Bahadur (1918) in the backdrop of the political history of Travancore of the 18th century.
In the beginning of 19th century, the three ‘Mahakavis’ (the Great Poets) Kumaran Ashan, Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer and Vallathol Narayana Menon made a radical change in poetry, by introducing romantic poems into Malayalam. Kumaran Ashan’s ‘Veena Poovu’ was a new wave to Malayalam poetry. Nalini, Leela, Duravastha, Chandalabhikshuki, Karuna, Prarodhanam, Chinthavishtayaya Seetha, Budhacharitham and Balaramayanam were the other major works of Kumaran Ashan.
Vallathol Narayan Menon’s notable poems were Badhiravilapam, Bandhanasthanaya Anirudhan, Chitrayogam (Mahakavyam) and Sahithya Manjari. Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer’s contributions were Umakeralam (Mahakavyam), Karnabhooshanam, Pingala and Kerala Sahithya Charitram in five volumes.
In the thirties short stories and Drama in Malayalam attained maturity through the story writers like MRKC, Ambadi Narayana Poduval, Oduvil Kunjukrishna Menon and E.V.Krishna Pillai, and the Drama writers like V.T.Bhattathirippad (Adukkalayil ninnum Arangathekku), M.R.Bhattathirippad (Marakkudaykkullile Mahanarakam) and M.P.Bhattathirippad (Rithumathi). K.Damodaran’s ‘Pattabakki’ was yet another landmark in Malayalam Drama literature. They were followed by the powerful play writers like P.J.Antony, Cherukad, K.T.Mohammad, Thikkodiyan, S.L.Puram Sadanandan and Thoppil Bhasi.
Malayalam literature had expanded considerably through the contributions of notable writers like Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, Thakazhi Shiva Shankara Pillai, S.K.Pottakkad, Uroob, M.T.Vasudevan Nair, P.Keshavadev, Kovilan, Parappurathu, O.V.Vijayan, Cherukad, C.Radhakrishnan, M.Mukundan, Kakkanadan, Punathil Kunjabdullah, Anand, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, U.A.Khadar, Lalithambika Antharjanam, P.Valsala, Sara Joseph, Madhavikutty etc through their novels.
Malayalam poetry through Mahakavi G.Shankara Kurup, Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, Edappalli Raghavan Pillai, Vailopilly Sreedhara menon, O.N.V. Kurup, P.Bhaskaran, Vayalar Rama Varma, Sreekumaran Thampi, Balachandran Chullikkadu, N.V,Krishna Varier, Prof.Ayyappa Panikar, Kavalam Narayana Panikar, Sachidanandan, Ayyappan, Kadamanitta, D.Vinayachandran, Balamaniamma, Sugatha Kumari, Rajalakshmi, Dr.M.Lelavathy etc.
Critics like Kuttikrishana Marar, Dr.Sukumar Azhikode and Prof.N.Krishna Pillai also made their contribution in the development of Malayalam literature.