Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised to refer to an expert panel Kerala's plea for conferring ‘classical' status to Malayalam.

The Prime Minister, who gave a patient hearing to the delegation led by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy, Culture Minister M.A. Baby and poets O. N. V. Kurup, Sugathakumari and K. Satchidanandan, said while Kerala appeared to have a strong case, it was for experts to decide on the State's plea.

“The Prime Minister gave us a warm welcome and patiently listened to our arguments. We are hopeful that this initiative by the Culture Minister and the State government would produce a positive outcome,” O.N.V. Kurup told The Hindu here on Thursday evening.

“This is a very significant initiative by the Culture Minister which was long overdue. We look forward to some change. We will also continue to strive for securing classical language status for Malayalam,” added Sugathakumari.

A language is accorded classical status if it is at least 1,000 years old, has a rich a literature and an independent literary tradition. Malayalam is the only South Indian language that has not been accorded classical status.

“We are not asking for any relaxation in the criteria because we are confident that Malayalam does fulfil all the criteria. What we ask for is patient consideration of our arguments which, we are confident, no independent minded panel would be able to reject,” said O.N.V. Kurup.

Submits memorandum

In the memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister, the delegation pointed out that Malayalam had developed sufficiently much earlier than 12th century.

Malayalam, the memorandum said, is as ancient as Tamil, Telugu and Kannada as it belonged to the Proto Dravidian family of languages. It was the language of the ancient ‘Chera' Kingdom, which underwent gradual transition like its sister languages, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. For long, the word ‘Tamil' was a synonym for the word language. ‘In fact this served as a misty curtain to hide the antiquity of Malayalam Language,' the memorandum said and added that it was significant that Malayalam versions and commentaries of Sanskrit works were mentioned as ‘Tamil Kuttu' (Tamil book), an important example being the Malayalam annotation of the famous Sanskrit Lexicon, ‘Amarakosham' which was mentioned as ‘Amaram Tamill Kuttu'.

The first available work in Malayalam, ‘Ramacharitham,' was proof of a rich heritage of poetic culture. Further, the present Malayalam script ‘Granthalipi' can be found in ancient Kerala writings from as far back as 9th century AD, it said.