Malayalam literature , body of writing in the Malayalam language of South India. The earliest extant literary work is Ramacharitam late 12th or early 13th century. In the subsequent period, besides a popular pattu song literature , there flourished a literature of mainly erotic poetry composed in the Manipravalam style, an admixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit. The earliest examples of Malayalam literature are ballads and folk songs, which are entirely indigenous. Two outside sources, however, contributed much to the development of the later literature: Sanskrit , which was the language of scholarship, and Tamil , which was the language of administration over a long period. Ramacharitam , a poem based on the Yuddhakanda of the Ramayana , is the most important of the works influenced by Tamil.
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The earliest known literary work in Malayalam is Ramacharitam , an epic poem written by Cheeraman in CE. In the subsequent centuries, besides a popular pattu "song" literature, the manipravalam poetry also flourished. Manipravalam translates "ruby coral" style consisted of poetry in an admixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Later, poets like Cherusseri introduced poems on devotional themes. There were also other important works, in Arabi Malayalam like Muhyadheen Mala. Ezhuthachan , a strong proponent of Bhakti movement , is known as the father of Malayalam.
His poems are classified under the genre of kilippattu. Modern literary movements in Malayalam literature began in the late 19th century with the rise of the famous Modern Triumvirate consisting of Kumaran Asan ,  Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer  and Vallathol Narayana Menon.
Ullor wrote in the classical tradition , appealing for universal love , while Vallathol responded to the human significance of social progress. Contemporary Malayalam poetry deals with social, political, and economic life context. The tendency of the modern poetry is often towards political radicalism. For the first years of the Malayalam calendar , Malayalam literature remained in a preliminary stage.
During this time, Malayalam literature consisted mainly of various genres of songs Pattu. Prominent were songs praising the goddesses of the land, ballads of brave warriors, songs related to the work of a particular caste and songs intended just for entertainment. Bhadrakali pattu, thottam pattu,Mappila pattu, mavaratham pattu, sasthanga pattu, nizhalkoothu pattu, sarpa pattu, sastham pattu, thiyyattu pattu, pulluvar pattu, mannar pattu, panar pattu, krishi pattu, thamburan pattu, pada pattu, villadichan pattu, onappattu, kummi and lullaby were some of the major subgenres.
These names were not used historically, but are used in modern times to describe the song genres of that time. Ramacharitham is a collection of poems written at the end of the preliminary stage. It is the oldest Malayalam book available. The collection has 1, poems in it. Ramacharitham mainly consists of stories from the Yuddha Kanda of the Ramayana. George and P.
Krishnan Nair, claim that the origins of the book can be found in north Kerala. They cite the use of certain words in the book and also the fact that the manuscript of the book was recovered from Neeleshwaram in north Kerala. Rajaraja Varma, is of the opinion that Malayalam originated from ancient Tamil. Ramacharitham is considered a book written during the formative years of Malayalam.
According to Rev. Hermann Gundert , who compiled the first dictionary of the Malayalam language, Ramacharitham shows the ancient style of the Malayalam language.
While the Pattu school flourished among certain sections of the society, the literature of the elite was composed in the curious mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam which is referred to as Manipravalam , mani meaning ruby Malayalam and pravalam meaning coral Sanskrit.
It points out that the rules of Sanskrit prosody should be followed in Manipravalam poetry. This particular school of poetry was patronised by the upper classes, especially the Nambudiris. Dramatic performances given in Koothambalams , known by the names of Koothu and Koodiyattom , often used Sanskrit and Malayalam. In Koodiyattom , the clown vidooshaka is allowed to use Malayalam while the hero recites slokas in Sanskrit.
Tholan , a legendary court poet in the period of the Kulasekhara kings, is believed to have started this practice. The earliest of these works in the Manipravalam school is Vaisika Tantram written in the 13th century. It contains about quatrains in Sanskrit metres and is in the form of professional advice given to a prostitute or courtesan by her mother.
Each quatrain is composed with care and due weight is given to the rules of rhetoric. Several quatrains of this type are quoted in Lilathilakam by way of illustration for the several rules of grammar and rhetoric. The most representative of the early Manipravalam works are the tales of courtesans Achi Charitams and the Message Poems Sandesa Kavyas.
Unniyachi Charitam, Unnichiruthevi Charitam and Unniyadi Charitam are examples of the former type which is known by the name champu. The Padya verse portion is in Sanskrit metres and the Gadya prose portion is mostly in Dravidian metres. Authorship of Unniyachi Charitam and Unnichiruthevi Charitam is not known and only a portion of the works is now available.
Unniyadi Charitam , which also exists in a fragmented form, is supposed to be written by Damodara Chakkiar. The best known among these sandesas is perhaps Unnuneeli Sandesam written in the 14th century. The poem is written under the pen-name Amruthanilakshi, and some believe that it was written in CE.
The exact identity of the author remains a mystery, but it is widely believed that one of the members of the Travancore Royal Family wrote it. The next work to be mentioned is Ramakathapattu , as it is popularly known, though the author calls it Ramayanakavyam. Narayana Pillai, who discovered the full text of the book in , calls "the Homer of Malayalam. While the Manipravala poetry flourished as a diversion from the mainstream, the tradition set up by Cheeraman of Ramacharitam and the more enlightened among the anonymous folk poets was resumed and replenished by three writers commonly referred to as Niranam poets , being Madhava Panikkar , Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar.
They were influenced by the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti school was thus revived, and in the place of the excessive sensuality and eroticism of the Manipravalam poets, the seriousness of the poetic vocation was reasserted by them. It is believed that they all belonged to the same Kannassa family and that Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar were the uncles of Rama Panikkar, the youngest of the three.
Their most important work is Kannasa Ramayanam which is an important link between Ramacharitam , Ramakathapattu and Ezhuthachan 's Adhyathmaramayanam. Ulloor has said that Rama Panikkar holds the same position in Malayalam literature that Edmund Spenser has in English literature.
The 15th century CE saw two paralleled movements in Malayalam literature: one spearheaded by the Manipravalam works, especially the Champus , and the other emanating from the Pattu school and adumbrated in Cherusseri 's magnum opus, Krishnagatha Song of Krishna.
The language of the later Champus reads more like modern Malayalam than that of the earlier Champus and Sandesa Kavyas. Champus were mostly works of satire and hyperbole was a regular feature of it.
The greatest Champus of the 15th century is Punam Nambudiri's Ramayanam which uses Puranic themes and episodes unlike the 14th century Champus which were tales of the courtesans. Punam also wrote a Bharatam Champoo. There are also many others, the authorship of which is ascribed to him. The later Champus came to be used for dramatic oral narration by performing artists in their Koothu and Patakam.
Mahishamangalam or Mazhamangalam Narayanan Nambudiri who lived in the 16th century is the author of some of the best Champus of all time. The most widely known of these is Naishadham followed by Rajaratnavaliyam and Kodia Viraham.
Chandrotsavam , whose authorship is unknown, is a long narrative poem written in Manipravalam. The elitist Manipravala Champu school disappeared by the end of the 16th century. The average readers without much grounding in Sanskrit had their favourite poems and poets in the so-called Pattu school. With the writing of Krishnagatha by Cherusseri , the validity of the use of spoken Malayalam for literary purposes received its ultimate justification.
Unlike the language of Ramacharitam and the works of the Niranam poets , the language of Krishnagatha marks the culmination of a stage of evolution. There is some dispute about the author's name and his identity.
Some scholars are of opinion that he was the same as the Punam Nambudiri of the Champus. It is widely believed that Cherusseri lived in the 15th century CE and was the court poet of Udayavarma of Kolathunadu. Malayalam literature passed through a tremendous process of development in the 15th and 16th centuries. Cherusseri 's Krishnagatha bore witness to the evolution of modern Malayalam language as a proper medium for serious poetic communication. Alongside this, there flourished numerous Sanskrit poets who were very active during this period.
The greatest of them was Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri — , the author of Narayaniyam. The most significant development of the time took place in the field of Malayalam poetry. Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan wrote his two great epics Adhyathmaramayanam and Srimahabharatam and two shorter pieces, Irupathinalu Vrittam and Harinama Kirtanam and thereby revolutionised Malayalam language and literature at once. Ezhuthachan refined the style of Malayalam language and it was during his period that Malayalam literature attained its individuality and Malayalam became a fully fledged independent language.
Today he is known as the father of Malayalam language and its literature. The Kilippattu form he adopted in Ramayanam and Bharatam may be a pointer to his recognition of the importance of sound effect in poetry. Ezhuthachan is perhaps the greatest spokesman of the Bhakti movement in Malayalam but he is more than a writer of devotional hymns.
Ayyappa Paniker has noted that "the transition from Cherrusseri to Ezhuthachan marks the triumph of modernism over medievalism. The 16th century also saw the writing of some dramatic works in Manipravalam and pure Malayalam, Bharatavakyam , often described as a choral narration, is a work in Manipravalam which was used for stage performance.
The main development in the cultural field in Kerala in the 17th century was the growth of a new form of visual art called Kathakali , which brought into being a new genre of poetry called Attakkatha consisting of the libretto used for a Kathakali performance. The origins of aattakatha literature dates back to the 12th century and it emerged as a literary genre in the 17th century.
The earliest of the aattakathas is believed to be a cycle of eight Ramayana stories collectively known as Ramanattam , composed by Kottarakkara Tampuran and about whose date there is an ongoing controversy. Next in importance are the works of Kottayathu Tampuran whose period is about the middle of the seventeenth century. Since the four aattakatha s he wrote Bakavadham, Kalyanasaugandhikam, Kirmeeravadham and Kalakeyavadham punctiliously conform to the strict rules of Kathakali, they are particularly favoured by orthodox artistes and their patrons.
Another poet of this category is Irayimman Thampi — Unnayi Variyar 's Nalacharitham Aattakatha is one of the most famous works in this genre. Margamkali was the form of ritual and entertainment among the Syrian Christians corresponding to the Sanghakali of the Brahmins.
Margamkalippattu is the song for this performance depicting the story of Thomas the Apostle. This was one of the numerous pieces of Christian literature that must have gained currency in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the court of Travancore king Marthanda Varma — and his successor Dharma Raja Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma , there flourished a number of poets distinguished in several ways.
Ramapurathu Warrier — , the author of Kuchela Vrittam Vanchippattu , was one of them. The Vanchippattu or Boat song is a poetic form of folk origin composed entirely in the Dravidian metre nathonnata. Kunchan Nambiar — , the founder of Thullal and its rich literature, is often considered as the master of Malayalam satirist poetry.
Born in Killikkurussimangalam , he spent his boyhood at Kudamalur and youth at Ambalappuzha. The word "Thullal" literally means "dance", but under this name Nambiar devised a new style of verse narration with a little background music and dance-like swinging movement to wean the people away from the Chakkiyar Koothu , which was the art form popular till then.