Expert panel finds Malayalam 2,300 years old and rich in texts

Special Correspondent
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Says the language is eminently qualified for ‘classical language' status

M.A. Baby says the panel report will be submitted to the Prime Minister.
M.A. Baby says the panel report will be submitted to the Prime Minister.

Malayalam has an antiquity dating back to 300 B.C. and a rich heritage of texts making it eminently qualified for ‘classical language' status, experts have said.

In its report submitted to Education and Culture Minister M.A. Baby here on Thursday, an expert committee constituted by the State government said that with a totally independent linguistic tradition and a rich treasury of original texts, Malayalam could certainly stake claim to the status. The language qualified for the status on all four criteria stipulated by the Centre, the report said.

Manmohan's promise

Receiving the report from Jnanpith-winning poet O.N.V. Kurup, panel chairman Puthussery Ramachandran, poet Sugathakumari and linguists Naduvattom Gopalakrishnan and M. Rama, Mr. Baby said it would be submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Saturday. The Prime Minister, he pointed out, had promised to consider the matter favourably if the State could marshal sufficient evidence to support its case.

According to the four-volume panel report, the earliest reference to Kerala was to be found in Ashoka's edicts where the ruler of the region in deep south is referred to as ‘Keralaputta,' a reference that desegregates the region into an exclusive unit. The reference took the form ‘Kerabatros' in the writings of Pliny and Ptolemy. The region was referred to as ‘Cheram' in early Tamil literature and the person ruling the land as ‘Cheraman.' What was in evidence here was a phonetic change common to all Dravidian languages from ‘ka' to ‘cha.'

First Malayalam word

The first Malayalam word, the report said, had been discovered on a hero stone at Pulimankombu in the Kambham-Teni region, the word being ‘pedu' (meaning ‘to fall dead'). The presence of ‘a' sound instead of the ‘ai' sound in the initial, medial and final position of words and that of the dative case-marker ‘nu' sound in certain words dating back to 200 A.D. were all proof for the antiquity of the language, the report said.

Ancient texts

With reference to the second criterion that the language must have a body of ancient literary texts, the panel contended that the Sanghom literature was the common property of those who inhabited the western and eastern parts of the old Tamizhagom. Three important works of Tamizhagom, namely Ainkurunooru, Pathittupath and Silapadikaram, were undisputedly products of the west coast, the report said.

The panel cited the Paattu, Manipravalam and Chambu as being representative of the indigenous literary tradition of Malayalam, as required under the third criterion, and pointed out that Kautilya's Arthashasthra had its first translation in Malayalam towards the 10 {+t} {+h} century A.D. The first translation of the Bhagavad Gita too was into Malayalam in 1470 A.D..

As for the fourth criterion that a classical language should be distinct from its later current form and its off-shoots, the committee divided the history of the language into four periods and explained the distinct manner in which the language had evolved over time.

Presenting the report, Prof. Kurup hoped that the government would give priority to making Malayalam the first language in schools. Responding to the plea, the Minister said the government would take a decision in the matter very soon.

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