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Who penned Onappattu? the debate is on

August 26, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 29, 2016 05:35 pm IST - KANNUR:

Chennai: 13/04/2012: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column:

Title: Sahodaran Ayyappan, towards a Democractic future Life and Select Works.
Author: Ajay Sekar, foreword by Gail Omvedt and Reflecrtions by J. Raghu.

Chennai: 13/04/2012: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column: Title: Sahodaran Ayyappan, towards a Democractic future Life and Select Works. Author: Ajay Sekar, foreword by Gail Omvedt and Reflecrtions by J. Raghu.

The question as to the original author of ‘Onappaattu’ that resonates with the egalitarian spirit of Onam could not have been more opportune now as the people of the State are preparing to celebrate the festival.

The song in folk tune that begins with the lines “Maveli naadu vaanidum kaalam/ Maanusharellarumonnu pole” is the theme song, so to speak, of the Onam festival. But there is no unanimity in the literary and cultural circles in the State over the authorship of the poem.

If the ongoing debate in the cyber world, especially in the social networks and discussion groups, on the question is any indication, a unanimous view is not likely to emerge sooner.

The debate is over whether or not the song as we know it today was written by Sahodaran Ayyappan in the early 20th century or a modification of the already existing original version written by an anonymous poet.

Origin of debate

The origin of the debate is a Malayalam article published last year by Ajay S. Sekher, Assistant Professor of English at the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit at Kaladi, who authored the book ‘Sahodaran Ayyappan: Toward a Democratic Future.’

The article said that though the song was normally rendered in text books and media as an anonymous song, it was penned and popularised by Sahodaran Ayyappan, one of the disciples of Sree Narayana Guru. His was countered by many in the literary and cultural circles.

“It is a political poem written by Sahodaran Ayyappan as part of the social revolution of the renaissance period of the early 20th century,” Dr. Sekher told The Hindu when contacted. Since then many lines have been edited out and new lines included in versions popularised by the official media, as a result of ‘Hinduvisation’ process, he said.

He said that Sahodaran’s song referred to a folk source which is believed to be written by Pakkanar in the 16th century.

Those who subscribe to Dr. Sekher’s view show that the original poem penned by Ayyappan and published first in 1934 was included in the book ‘Sahodaran Ayyappan’ authored by Shoranur Karthikeyan and published by the NBS. In a Facebook debate on the issue, Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad president K.P. Aravindan observed that “the language of the song that we learned seems too modern to have been of sixteenth century vintage.”

Writer M.O.G. Malappattam, who wrote a rejoinder to Dr. Sekher’s article said the ‘Onappattu kavi’ mentioned in Sahodaran’s second Onappattu titled ‘Yukthikalam Onappattu’ was apparently a reference to the 10th century anonymous poet. He also questions the argument that many lines of Sahodaran’s poem was edited out.

“Its full version was published in 1934 and later in 2009,” he said.

Dr. Sekher rebuts it saying that the language in the State in the 10th century was not Malayalam but a mixture of Malayalam and Tamil.

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