Brief History of Malayalam Language and Literature

History of Malayalam Language and Literature.

Pacha Malayalam, i.e. the pure Malayalam stream consists of ballads and folk songs difficult to date. By the 10th century or so, Malayalam Language had come into its own. As a literary language, Malayalam was influenced by Tamil in its early stages of development. To this period belongs Chiraman’s Ramacharitam (12th century AD). Then came the works of the Niranam poets who show little less of Tamil influence.

Sanskrit also influenced Malayalam Language, resulting in a special variety of literary dialect as manipravalam. In the 14th century was written Lilathilakam which is concerned with grammar, especially of the manipravalam compositions. Such compositions either Sandesa kavyas or Champus. Among sandesa as, the best-known is the Unnunli Sandesam (14th century) whose authorship is not known. Among the champus, a well-known work is Unniyaticharitarn. In the fifteenth century there was a move to avoid excessive use of Sanskrit or Tamil idiom. A pioneer in this class of literature was Rama Panikkar who wrote Kannassa Ramanayam.

Ramanuja Ezhuthachan (16th century) represented grandeur in poetic quality. His Adhyatama Ramayanam and Bhagavatam are classics in Malayalam literature. His literary modes were anticipated to an extent by Cherusseri Namboodri who wrote Krishnagatha. Ezhuthachan made popular the Malayalam literary form known as kilipattu or song of tile parrot.

In the 18th century came Kunchan Nambiar who took Malayalam literature to the common masses through his Thullals – popular narrative poems full of social criticism and satire. In the same period we have Atta-katha—the Malayalam literature form for the Kathakali performance. Kottarakara Thampuran’s Ramanattam is the first full-fledged Atta-katha.

In the nineteenth century two factors gave a fillip to the development of Malayalam as a literary language, the new system of education that had taken roots through the activities of missionaries and the influence of Madras University established in 1857. Kerala Varma’s name is famous for devising a programme for developing .the Malayalam language by the production of suitable text books for classes. The Venmani School of poets broke off the shackles of Sanskrit and developed a popular diction to take Malayalam literature to the masses.

Besides, there were missionaries like Benjamin Bully and Hermann Gundert who compiled dictionaries. Rajaraja Varma gave Malayalam an authoritative grammer (Kerala Paniniyam) and standardised Malayalam metres. With Kumaran Asan and Vallathol Narayana Menon, modernism gathered momen­tum. Vallathol brought the spirit of nationalism into Malayalam literature. Man’s writings were motivated by deep social urges. Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer attempted to reconcile the classical with the modern spirit. By the 1930s a new revolt began to manifest itself. Changampuzha Krishna Pillai was its leader. Symbolism became prominent and G. Sankara Kurup, the first ever Jnanpith Award winner, was its outstanding exponent.

Not only in poetry but in all fields of literature, Malayalam language has made its mark. Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (Chemmeen) and S.K. Pottekat are Jnanpith Award winners in fiction writing. Other novelists of note are Mohammed Basheer, O.V. Vijayan and MT Vasudevan Nair. In the field of drama names like E.V. Krishna Pillai, C.J. Thomas and G. Sankara Pillai stand out. Malayalam literature has shown great vitality and creativity in recent times.