Thunjathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan
Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan is well known as the father of the Malayalam language. This legendary man of letters belonged to the 17th century. His precise birthplace known as Thunjan Parambu is at Trikkantiyur in Vettathunad, Malappuram District. Thunchaththu is his family name, Ramanujan is his personal name and Ezhuthachan points to his caste name or an honorific title, normally given to a great teacher or schoolmaster. He was an ardent lover of Malayalam language and taught his pupils to love the language. It is through his persistent hard work that Malayalam language has got a script of its own, Arya-ezhuttu, a Grantha-based script originally used to write Sanskrit.
Ezhuthachan's contributions to Malayalam language through Adhyathmaramayanam (a translation of the epic Ramayana) and Mahabharatam (a translation of the epic Mahabharata) are unprecedented. His work Harinamakeerthanam popularized the Malayalam alphabets. The kilippaattu style in Malayalam, which was introduced by Ezhuthachan was an instant success and many treaded his footsteps lavishly. He wrote for the common folk with a broader vision of humanity and rendered a sincere devotion in the use of the mother tongue.
Ezhuthachan's original works include: Keralolpathi, Hari Nama Keerthanam, Ganapatistavam, Kilippatu Prasthanam, Devi Mahathmayam and Kerala Natakam. He is regarded as an outstanding cultural figure and a memoriam has been built at the birth place of Thunchathu Ezhuthachan.
One of the most renowned poets of the mappila paattu genre in Malayalam language, Moyinkutty Vaidyar (1852–1892) is often referred to as mahakavi (great poet). His father was a famous practitioner of Ayurveda and Moyinkutty continued his family tradition of Ayurvedic medical practice. He learnt Sanskrit and Arabic languages, which later became a pivotal influence in his writing career.
Born to a father who was also a poet, Moinkutty Vaidyar showed exemplary skills in writing and he composed the romantic epic Badarul Munir - Husnul Jamal (1872) at a very young age of seventeen. He took an altogether different pattern in his style of writing and turned to subjects, which are essentially war songs in nature. The Badar Padappattu and Malappuram Padappattu are the most popular songs of this genre. Badar Padappattu, which tells the tale of the battle of Badar by Prophet Muhammed and his companions is considered a classic in the genre of mappila paattu. The Malappuram Padappattu (1883) narrates the hardships endured by the peasant and the lost life of men owing to strife between the landlord's men and the mappilas and the lower caste Hindus amongst the tenants.
Poonthanam Nampoothiri is believed to have lived in the 8th century in a place called Agatipuram. Apart from his early education, he was never considered a scholar. His Jnanapana emerges from the heart-breaking grief of losing his child and is one among the unforgettable works in the history of Malayalam literature. After his child's demise, Poonthanam remained impassive and melancholic. He became an ardent devotee of Lord Guruvayurappan chanting hymns in the premises of the temple.
Melpathoor Bhattathirippadu was Poonthanam's contemporary. In the glory and pomp of his scholastic genius, he meets the humble Poonthanam, who requests him to verify his new work Santhana Gopalam and provide remarks. Bhattathiri rejects the innocent offer and insults Poonthanam in public for lacking the scholastic and Vedic knowledge. The uproar came from the Lord; a loud echo from the sanctum sanctorum speaking of Poonthanam's deep devotion to Guruvayurappan, which was far greater than Bhattathiri's. Bhattathiri became astounded and remorseful at the same time and went in search of Poonthanam who was weeping in a corner. Bhattathiri apologized for his ignorance. Bhattathiri then evaluated Poonthanam's Santhana Gopalam and congratulated him for the beauty of it. Poonthanam recited the stories of the Lord to the devotees there and became the favourite of the public, which aroused jealousy from the learned. It is said that Lord Krishna appeared before him on the left side and Poonthanam built a temple and since Krishna appeared on his left the idol was placed on the very same spot and the temple was named Idathupurathambalam.
Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri
Born in Melpathur Illam, Tirunavaya, Narayana Bhattathiri was the third student to Achutha Pisharody, Sanskrit grammarian, astrologer, astronomer and mathematician. Melpathur is also married to Achutha Pisharody’s niece and later settled in Thrikandyur. Suffering from severe rheumatism he went on a quest for its remedy. Finally, Ezhuthachan, the great poet, advised him, meen thottu kootuka (meaning start from the fish). Melpathur, not mistaking for its literal sense, started composing the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu, in a series of dasakas (a group of 10 slokas) beginning from the fish. Melpathur reached Guruvayur and started his work, Narayaneeyam, composing a dasaka per day. The last refrain on each dasaka addressed and appealed to the Lord to recover him from his illness. It is believed that on the completion of it, he was liberated from his ailment. Narayaneeyam is of utmost importance to the Guruvayur Temple. Every year the Narayaneeyam Day is celebrated with great enthusiasm and splendour.
A Sanskrit grammarian, astrologer, astronomer and mathematician, Achtutha Pisharody was born in Thrikandyur, Tirur, Kerala. He was a member of Madhava of Sangamagrama's Kerala School of astronomy and mathematics. He is remembered chiefly for his part in composition of the great work Narayaneeyam by Melpathur Bhattathiripad. Bhattathiri was one of his disciples who showed his immense loyalty and love for his guru.
It is said that he willingly took up his teacher’s ailment - rheumatism. Pisharody completely recovered from it but it was found that nothing could cure Bhattathiri of his illness. It was then that Bhattathiri, on the advice of Ezhuhachan, composed Narayaneeyam, on the completion of which he got relieved from rheumatism and restored his healthy self. So, Pisharody triggered the composition of this great work, which went on to become a landmark in the Malayalam literary history. He discovered the technique of 'the reduction of the ecliptic'. He authored Sphutanirnaya, Raasigolasphutaneeti (raasi means zodiac, gola means sphere and neeti roughly means justice), Karanottama (1593) and a four-chapter treatise Uparaga Kriyakarma on lunar and solar eclipses.
A treasure of Malayalam criticism, a window of knowledge, Kuttikrishnan Marar was a renowned Malayalam literary critic and essayist. Born in Pattambi, he was a daring critic, who questioned anything that he felt was wrong under the realm of literature. Numerous awards were bestowed on this literary genius. He received the M. P Paul Award and the Kendra Sahithya Academy Award in 1966. The year 1967 brought him two prestigious awards – the Sahithya Ratnam’ and the ‘Sahithya Nipunam Award’. Malayala Saili is one of the most sought after and one of the most bona fide treatises on proper Malayalam usage. Bharatha Paryatanam which won him many honours is a critique on the Mahabharatha. It is remarkable for the critical exposition of the characters, which reveals Marar’s profound knowledge of the great Indian Epic. But it was Kala Jeevitham Thanne (Art is Life Itself) which attracted the Kendra Sahithya Academy Award, the Kerala Sahithya Academy Award and the M. P Paul Award.
Marar exploded against didactic and imagery adorned poetry. He severely criticised the scholars who were misled by the Dhwani theory. He vehemently upheld that poetry was not a mere thread embellished with imagery, but far different from that. Malayala Saili, Vrithashilpam, Sahithyavaidhya and many such works became the mouth-piece for his views. Marar gave a new dimension, modality and maturity to Malayalam criticism. He wanted Malayalam criticism to be liberated from the rusty shackles of eastern aesthetics and traditional old nodes.
Popularly known as Mahakavi Vallathol, he was one of the celebrity poets in Malayalam literature. Born in Chennara, near Tirur in Malappuram, he wrote a number of poems and is the author of the renowned Sahithya Manjari. His mahakaavyam (epic poetry) Chithrayogam earned him the title mahakavi (great poet). He had a prominent role in setting up the Kerala Kalamandalam at Chenthuruthy near the banks of Bharathapuzha. He shared the great literary period, which he was part of with mahakavi Kumaranasan and mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer. Tagore, Gandhi, Marx as well as the Sanskrit classicists inspired Vallathol’s poetry. From classical beginnings, his poetry drifted to nationalist and broadly socialist sentiments.
Sahitya Manjari, Magdalena Mariyam, Kochu Sita, Chithrayogam are his best-known works. He was the fuel and the pillar stone in the resurrection of Kathakali. Vallathol, with the help of other veterans ushered back the richness of Malayalam literature after the intellectual hiatus of the First World War. Valathol’s poems have been translated to English as well as Russian. He was the champion of the poor and the oppressed; actively took part in the nationalist movement; was scornful against the indignities of the caste system and remained an ardent admirer of Gandhiji on whom he wrote the poem Ente Gurunathan (My Teacher).
He translated the Sanskrit Rig Veda and Valmiki’s Ramayana into Malayalam, besides producing a prose translation of the puranas. In 1955, he was awarded the prestigious honour of Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.
V C Balakrishna Panicker
One of the harbingers of the Romantic Movement in Malayalam poetry V C Balakrishnan (1889-1915) was born at Oorakam in Vengara, Malappuram district. His two works Viswaroopam and Oru Vilapam gave a new vision in Malayalam romantic poetry, but he did not live long enough to fulfill his promises. His most famous poem Oru Vilapam narrates the agony of a young man, who lost his wife at the prime of her youth. Remarkable for its loftiness in vision and the splendour of diction, the poem explores the meaning of life and death.
Neralattu Rama Poduval
Neralattu Rama Poduval or Njaralathu Rama Poduval (1921–1996) was a maestro of the sopanam / ashtapadi music practiced in the temples of Kerala. Hailing from a village called Thiruvaazhaamkunnu, near Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district, he was born to an ambalavasi (a community of people undertaking duties in Hindu temples) family in the year 1921. His uncle Njaralathu Karunakara Poduval initiated him into the art of playing edakka (a percussion instrument) and he practiced chenda and edakka at a very tender age. Apart from this, Rama Poduval also practiced veena (a south Indian string instrument) and Carnatic music from great masters like Parappanaatu Rama Kuruppu and Chembai Vaidyanantha Bhagavatar respectively. He was good at Kathakali music too. After his marriage with Lakshmikutty Amma he moved to Palakkode village near Angadipuram and there he enjoyed the patronage of Pandhalakkode Sankaran Namboodiri, the chief priest of Thirumandhamkunnu temple at Angadipuram.
He revived the traditional temple music of Kerala, leading it from the forefront and immensely contributing to it. Neralattu Rama Poduval’s popularity was in bringing out the spellbound beauty of sopanam music from within the walls of the temple and allowing all sections of people to enjoy it. Many documentaries were produced based on his life and the music that he made popular. He received many fellowships and awards and includes the prestigious Kendra Sahithya Academy Award. He died in the year1996 at the age of 75.
Edasseri Govindan Nair, a pioneer in bringing an array of changes in Malayalam literature during the modern era, was born in Kuttippuram, a quiet village 15 km off Ponnani. He was a poet, playwright and social activist. He wrote during a turbulent era of Indian freedom struggle and his poems brim with patriotism and a vision about a society equal in all aspects. Popularly known as ‘the poet of strength’ he borrowed themes from myths and contributed to the sensibilities of modern Kerala psyche. Edasseri’s commitment to the society is best portrayed in plays and as a playwright his contribution was seminal in the development of a modern stage sensibility. His works include 19 books, over 300 poems in 10 anthologies, 6 books of plays and a collection of essays.
He was a visionary who could foresee the ailments of a deteriorating environment and wrote poems marking his strong disagreement with the development paradigms, which has an adverse effect on nature. His popular poem Poothappattu celebrates the fortitude and the maternal love. Edasseri cherished a different perspective of the various aspects of womanhood and he has been rightly called the bard of the heroic Motherhood. His collection of poems Oru Pidi Nellikka won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the year 1969 and in 1970 he got the Sahitya Akademi Award (New Delhi) for the collection of poems Kavile Pattu. He has been awarded with the Kumaran Asan Prize for the collection of poems Anthithiri in 1979 posthumously.
P. C. Kuttikrishnan, popularly known by his penname Uroob was a famous Malayalam writer from Kerala. He along with writers like Basheer, Thakazhi, Kesavadev and Pottekkatt formed the progressive writers in Malayalam during the twentieth century. Uroob is a recipient of Kendra Sahithya Academy Award (Malayalam) for his novel Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum. He was a prominent member of the literary circle that was formed in the 1930s in Ponnani. Others in the group are the eminent critic Kuttikrishna Marar, young poets like Edasseri Govindan Nair, Akkitham, Kadavanad Kuttikrishnan, and Moothedath Narayanan Vaidyar.
The outstanding works of P. C. Kuttikrishnan are Ummachu and Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum; both brought out in the fifties. Uroob sets the Keralite against the background of his national history, his social environment, his domestic set up and his own mental makeup. The three stages in the development of the Indian novel combine harmoniously to produce a symphony that is Uroob's novels. Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum affirms the optimistic Indian outlook of the fifties. It traces the development of the Kerala society from the time of the 'Moplah Riot' to the day of Independence through different stages. The novel offers ample scope for the study of sociology, psychology and even theology and philosophy. Aniyara and Ammini appeared in the sixties. Though they retained the fictional framework of a renaissance novel they show a marked change in the attitude, symptomatic of the changes that have come over the country in the last two decades. In the realm of Malayalam literature, his contributions are immense and varied. He has to his credit 9 novels, about 20 short stories, a poem Pirannal, 3 plays, 3 essay compilations, children's stories, several screenplays and a short film Rachiyamma.
Cherukad Govinda Pisharodi
Cherukad Govinda Pisharodi, known as Cherukad was a great playwright and novelist, associated with the Communist movement. Some of his important works are Jeevithappatha, Tharavaditham, Manushyabandhangal, Namal Onnu, Manushya Hridayangal, Janma Bhoomi, Devalokam, Manninte Maril, Muthassi, and Sanidasa. His autobiography Jeevithappatha received Kerala Sahithya Akademi Award. Jeevithappatha presents the socio-economic conditions of not only his small community, but also the entire Keralite community who were under the sweeping currents of new principles after the wave of Independence.
Cherukad earnestly welcomed the surging tides of communism and rationalism combined with the diffusion of the peasant movements with his revolutionary fervour. He vociferously spoke against the then prevalent matrilineal system. A born story teller; he had a profound concern for humanity. The social matrix became his vehicle to voice his views of extortion and peasant-landlord relations. Cherukad, the artist, hardly generalizes, never preaches and resorts to rhetorics. The author impresses us as a dedicated worker, mixing freely with all kinds of people. The sheer force of his will and determination steals a place of greatness and importance in our hearts. A devoted Gandhian in the beginning, he later turned to communism and remained a committed writer till his death. So, Jeevithappatha, his swansong, has the distinction of being his own story as well as a relevant social document. No wonder it earned him (though posthumously), the coveted Sahithya Akademi Award in 1976.
Renowned communist ideologue and writer K. Damodaran was one of the founding heads of the Communist Party in Kerala. He was born at Ponnani in Malappuram district in the year 1912. Damodaran was known as one of the great theoreticians in the Communist Movement in Kerala. His play Pattabakki was a path-breaker in Malayalam drama and had contributed immensely to the growth of the peasant movement in Malabar. Damodaran was a multilingual scholar and had translated many books from Russian to Malayalam. Of his best known works is Indiayude Atmavu in English; an excellent exposition of Indian culture and philosophy from the ancient times. Damodaran was a great orator too. He could read, write, discuss and reflect a lot during his several terms in jail and it contributed to his intellectual input.
What was most amazing in K. Damodaran's writings was his capacity to write extremely complex ideas in simple language. At a time when the term ‘liberation theology’ was unheard of, he wrote a pamphlet called ‘Jesus Christ in Moscow’ portraying Jesus Christ as a revolutionary, who worked for the poor and slaves and politically crucified. One cannot but wonder at the fact that how and why a communist initiated a debate on liberation theology in Kerala. Damodaran was also good when it came to polemics. He dwelled deep into Indian Philosophy, which was considered solely spiritual until then and extracted new chains of material thoughts in it. A Marxian intellectual and theoretician, and the first Malayalee communist, K. Damodaran left large footprints.
Kuttipurathu Keshavan Nair
Born at Thiruvilwamala in 1882, he was from Kuttipuram in Malappuram district. Almost all his works focused on the agrarian beauty and the innocent rustic landscape as their themes. Kavyopaharam, Navyopaharam, Prapancham, and Onam Kazhinju are his major works. He has also translated Sakunthalam and Bhagavath Gita from Sanskrit to Malayalam
Apart from enriching Malayalam literature with his soothing poetry, he played a vital role in moulding one of the greatest poets Malayalam has ever witnessed - Changampuzha Krishna Pilla. He encouraged and directed Changampuzha in his compositions, which paved for Changampuzha’s magnum opus, the evergreen Ramanan. Changambuzha wrote a farewell poem to Kuttipuram on his retirement from service and recited this feelingly in front of a large gathering.
P. V. Krishna Warrier
A scholar, writer, and journalist in Malayalam, P. V. Krishna Warrier, also known as kavikulaguru was born in 1877 at Kottakkal in Malappuram. He worked as the editor of Kavana Koumudi. Special issues were brought out for the first time by this publication. The greatest contribution of Kavana Kaumudi is that it served as a launching pad for many of the great writers, who were perhaps novices at that time. Besides its contributions to the Malayalam literary field, Kavana Kaumudi served as a unifying factor, surpassing the regional differences and parochial discriminations. This publication also was instrumental in sowing the seeds of a State, which later on came to be known as Kerala, following the integration of the princely domains of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. P. V. Krishna Warrier died in 1958.
Famous for the interpretation of Amarakosam, Parameswari Vachaspathi Parameswaran Moosad, was a native of Ponmala near Malappuram.
Pulikkottil Hyder, popularly known as the Kunchan Nambiar of Mappilappaattu was born in 1879 at Wandoor. He was a poet of the common cause, who used poetry as a medium for attacking the evils of the society. He composed mappila (songs of the Muslim community) songs in the colloquial Malayalam of Ernad. These were on the simple lives of the ordinary folk. His simple lyrics on the mappilas thus defied the traditional patterns of Mappilappaattu. In Vellappokka Maala, he describes a heavy flood that affected throughout the Malabar region, Mysore and Travancore. The sufferings of common men in the flood are depicted realistically using ordinary Malayalam vocabulary. The Pulikkotil Hyder Smaraka Puraskaram, an award instituted by Mahakavi Moyinkutty Vaidyar Smaraka Committee is given to personalities who have contributed to the art of Mappilappattu. In 1979, the Mappila Kala Sahithya Vedi published a compilation of his works titled Pulikkottil Krithikal.
Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair
A native of Vazhenkada, in Malappuram district, Kunchu Nair was an exceptional Kathakali genius of the 20th century. He was initiated into Kathakali by gurus Kariyattil Koppan Nair and Kalluvazhi Govinda Pisharody; two masters of Kathakali of that time. He was an excellent performer unique in many ways. He mainly served in two of the great institutions of Kathakali in Kerala viz. PSV Natya Sangham, Kottakkal and Kerala Kalamandalam.
Kunchu Nair rendered commendable services to Kerala Kalamandalam by being the first principle of this premier performing arts institute of Kerala. The nation honoured him with the Padma Shri for his contribution as a Kathakali artist. He was praised for his excellent portrayal of lead Kathakali roles like Nalan, Rukmangadan, Dharmaputrar, Bhiman, Arjunan, Brahmanan and Parasuraman. Besides this, Kunchu Nair rendered the anti-hero slots like Ravanan and Duryodhanan with rare genius. He redefined the principal Kathakali characters giving them a more subtle dimension in relation to the textual nuances and the conceptualization of characters.
Chakkiri Moideen Kutty
Chakkiri Moideen Kutty was a well known poet of Mappilappattu. He was born in Cherur near Vengara, a place famous for its spice trade in the year 1853. His work titled Ghazvath Badril Kubra (The great Battle of Badar), which was on the Battle of Badr marked a fresh pattern in Mappilappattu. This poem deviated from the then prevailing style of using Arabic, Kannada and Tamil and used pure Malayalam language. The poem was also known as the Chakkeeri Badr, to distinguish it from the other works on the same subject by other poets. His other works include Futhuhussaman, Minhathul Bari, Soubhagya Sundari and Adi Ahaduna. He also authored a Malayalam-Arabic-Sanskrit dictionary.
P. C. Gopalan (1926–1974), better known by his penname Nandanar, he was a leading figure in the Malayalam Literature in the 1950s. He stands along with Kovilan (P. V. Ayyappan) and Parappurath (K. E. Mathai) writers whose novels and stories depicted the life in the army camps and battlefields during the 1940s and 1950s. P. C. Gopalan's major works include Anubhavangal, Ira, Thokkukalkkidayile Jeevitham, Athmavinte Novukal, Ariyappedatha Manushyajeevikal and Anubhoothikalude Lokam.
Born into a poor family, Gopalan's childhood was challenged by economic difficulties and he managed to get himself recruited into the army. He wrote profusely during his service in the army. Later, he returned home disillusioned and in his novels and short stories he realistically portrayed the army life. An endearing author of children's fiction, he created a fictional figure named Unnikkuttan keeping in mind the concept of ideal childhood of happiness. He skillfully sketched the serene beauty of the villages of Kerala in his novels and his novel Anubhavangal poignantly narrates the hardships of his childhood. He continued his writing while staying at his house in Angadippuram until committing suicide in a lodge at Palakkad.