When Malayalam found its feet

Ezhuthachan’s epic Adhyatma Ramayanam will be read in homes across the State with the start of Karkkidakam today.  

As rain clouds hover above the horizon and a veil of darkness shrouds the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, chants of Adhyatma Ramayanam fill most Hindu homes.

Karkkidakam is also called ‘Ramayana masam,’ when the entire epic is read over a month.

This is the time when Kerala remembers and pays tribute to its author Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, considered the father of Malayalam language and literature.

Ezhuthachan narrates the tale of Valmiki Ramayana in the form of ‘Kilipattu.’ He portrays a parrot narrating the tale. So go the verses: “ Sree Rama Namam Paadi Vanna Painkili Penne Sreerama Charitham Nee Cholleedu Madiyathe” (Here darling bird that came chanting Lord Rama’s name! Tell me the tale of Rama, hesitate not!)

Reading or reciting the Ramayana during the month is not merely a religious practice that upholds a spiritual text that gave momentum to the Bhakthi cult. It has wider significance. It is a culturally fulfilling secular endeavour as Adhyatma Ramayanam is a landmark of Malayalam literature.

According to critic K. Ayyappa Panicker, those who see it merely as a devotional work belittle Ezhuthachan.

Ezhuthachan’s native cultural moorings are seen in the choice of metres in each of its six cantos: Keka for Balakandam, Aranyakandam; Kakali for Ayodhya, Kishkinda, and Yudhakandam; and Kalakanchi for Sundarakanda.

Alphabet system

Adhyatma Ramayanam, his other major work Sri Mahabharatam, and shorter pieces Irupathinalu Vrittam and Harinama Kirtanam mark the confluence of Sanskrit and Dravidian linguistic streams.

His major contribution has been in establishing an alphabet system equivalent to Sanskrit instead of Vattezhuthu, the 30-letter script of Malayalam. He thought it was best for the new system to have 51 characters.

In the 14th stanza of Harinama Kirtanam, he writes,

Anpathoraksharavum Oronnithenmozhiyil, Anpodu Cherkka Hari Narayanaya Nama.

What happened in Malayalam literature in the pre-Ezhuthachan era? Folk songs and ballads – early ones such as Nalupadam in Yatrakali and Payyannur Pattola and those of a later date such as Vadakkan Pattukal, Thekkan Pattukal and Mappila Pattukal – expanded the lore of native culture. Ramacharitham (12th century), fashioned in a mix of Malayalam and Tamil, is one of the earliest poems of the region.

Indigenous idiom

Niranom poets Rama Panikkar, Madhava Panikkar, and Sankara Panikkar did their bit to develop a quintessential indigenous idiom. So did Tolan, author of Attaprakarams and Kramadeepika, who composed verses in Manipravalam (mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit). Manipravalam works of two kinds – Champus and Sandesakavyas – enriched early Malayalam literature. In the 15th century, Malayalis read Krishnagatha, a poem with calm, rich imagery, written by Cherussery Nampoothiri.

But massive changes in the language and a major standardisation were to happen a century later through the works of Ezhuthachan.

Malayalam witnessed a worthy tribute to the father of Malayalam language and literature in 2003-04 in Theekkadal Kadannu Thirumadhuram, a novel written by C. Radhakrishnan that sketched Ezhuthachan’s life and journeyed through the emotions he must have gone through. Backed by painstaking research, the novelist argued that Ezhuthachan’s age must have been between 1475 and 1550 AD.

The take-off point for the novelist’s research was the tale of Ezhuthachan he heard as a child from his grandparents.

Nothing inspired him more that Ezhuthachan’s famous verses:

Kathayamama Kathayamama Kathakal Athi Sadaram...

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 7:56:38 PM |

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