A grammarian, poet, linguist, and translator – A.R. Rajaraja Varma was known as all of these. But his skills as a playwright have been overshadowed by his contributions to Malayalam grammar, said G. Kumara Varma, noted theatre director and great-grandson of Rajaraja Varma.
A.R. Rajaraja Varma, whose 150 birth anniversary was celebrated on February 20, is also known as ‘Kerala Panini.’ His comprehensive work on Malayalam grammar called ‘Kerala Panineeyam’ earned him the sobriquet. His Malayalam translations of Sanskrit plays, some of which took on a new life under his pen, are also well known.
“A.R. made plays like Charudattam his own through his translation. They were not just great works of literature. They were written for the stage and were produced and directed by him,” said Kumara Varma, who was also a director of the School of Drama and Fine Arts of the Calicut University.
A.R. Rajaraja Varma also staged his plays at Mavelikara, where he lived in his later days. His house ‘Sharada Mandiram’ at Mavelikara is now a memorial managed by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Several cultural programmes were held there on the occasion of his 150 birth anniversary.
Diaries of A.R. Rajaraja Varma and some of his books are preserved at the memorial. A few relatives of the renowned grammarian now live at Ananthapuram Palace at Haripad, where Varma lived in his childhood. From there, he was brought to Travancore at a young age by his uncle Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran, a celebrated writer and translator himself. The uncle and nephew were an important part of what was a golden period in Malayalam literature. They translated works in Sanskrit to Malayalam, making them accessible to everyone.
Rajaraja Varma’s language was direct and easily understood by the common man.
“His plays included even the colloquial Malayalam of the Travancore region,” said Kumara Varma. Despite his expertise in Sanskrit, his attempt as a professor was to modernise Malayalam.