Tamil Nadu

Traversing the Sangam Tamil landscape in Malayalam

Manoj Kuroor.

Manoj Kuroor.  

Novelist Manoj Kuroor's richly imagined magnum opus is now available to Tamil readers in a translation

Malayalam novelist Manoj Kuroor has succeeded in going where most Tamil writers have not —penning a story set in the Tamil Sangam period, imagining (in Malayalam) a 2,000-year-old landscape with kings, chieftains, warriors, singers, dancers (and their instruments), communities divided on the basis of their profession, and in particular the last seven philanthropists (the 'Kadaiezhu Vallalkal') and the constant wars among them. The novel, 'Nilam poothu malarnna naal' ('The day the land bloomed and blossomed') has now reached Tamil readers in an elegant translation by K.V. Jeyasri as 'Nilam poothu malarantha naal', published by Vamsi Books. The 312-page novel is priced at Rs 250.

The translator's language is evocative and the imagery flows like a waterfall in the hill region of the Tamil country, carrying along with it the fragrance of the all the 99 flowers mentioned in the Kurinjipattu. The novel is narrated by three characters from the community of dancers and musicians — Paanar, Koothar and Virali — who migrate from one place to another in search of a livelihood.

“I started it off as fiction in verse form but I soon realised that this approach was inadequate to convey the ideas,” said Mr. Kuroor, who teaches Malayalam at the NSS Hindu College in Changanaserry and has read the Malayalam translations of Sangam literary works by Neemara Viswanatha Pillai, K.N. Ezhuthachan and via learnsangamtamil.com, a website on Sangam literature.

Whether depicting the landscape or war, or poverty, or songs and dance rendered with primal rhythms, the meeting of lovers and the drunken orgies, the author’s deep knowledge of Sangam literature comes in handy.

“Our poverty does not spare the dog. It is not able to transfer its heart’s love to its nipples,” writes Mr. Kuroor in a description of a mother dog’s inability to feed pups that have not opened their eyes. In another chapter on the dark-skinned Chitirai, he writes, “She wears bangles made of ivory. All colours fades before the combination of black and white.”

Paari's assassination by the Tamil kings, in his palace in the middle of singing and dancing — war was constantly fought between these tribal chieftains and Chera, Chola and Pandya kings — reads like a thriller. Subsequently, Paari's friend Kabila leaves the country with the slain chieftain's two daughters.

Revisiting history

Asked about the reason behind penning a novel set in the Sangam period, Mr. Kuroor said that while the Tamil people are conscious of their history, Malayalees, although a part of ancient Tamil country, are ignorant of the relatively established history of the Sangam period.

“Instead they associate their history with Sanskritisation and the ethnologyof the 9th century CE. That is why they emotionally relate their story with myths like the creation of Kerala by Parasurama and the return of the king Mahabali,” says Mr. Kuroor, who had read most of the literature pertaining to the Sangam period either in Malayalam or English.

He said this happened because there is a large gap between the Sangam period and the temple-related culture nurtured by Brahmins, who also penned their own version of the history of Kerala, long before the emergence of the modern history of the land.

Equally appealing in the novel are the names of the characters like Perumbanan, Kizhiolam, Chithirai, Maheeran, Mayilan, Seerai and Chanthan. “I borrowed the names from tribal and Dalit communities in Kerala,” says Mr. Kuroor.

'Nilam poothu...' has already achieved critical acclaim in Malayalam and critic Aymanam John has said it should replace 'Indulekha', the first major novel in Malayalam, published in 1889, from its position as the 'first novel of Malayalam'.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 11:48:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/traversing-the-sangam-tamil-landscape-in-malayalam/article17744661.ece

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