It is the smallest of the Dravidian languages,
dating back to the 10th century.
¤ The Origin of Malayalam
Malayalam is the baby in the Dravidian family. Its an offshoot
of Old Tamil, and remained in the latters shadows for a long
time before it struggled free in the 10th century. But
soon after the young Malayalam stepped out on its own, it met with the
biggest bully of all Sanskrit.
Thanks to the endeavors of the Namboodiris, the powerful feudal
aristocrats of Kerala, Aryan Sanskrit had almost replaced Malayalam in
its own land. The Mani-pravalam or ruby and coral style
was the baby of such a pileup, a style which meant using as many
Sanskrit words as possible.
The linguistic result of the two dominions, however, has been a happy
one; the orchestral resources of Malayalam have been infinitely
But while Tamil and Sanskrit took turns in stamping their authority,
a third kind of Malayalam evolved and survived the pure or
pucca Malayalam. This was the folk stream of lullabies, wedding songs
and dirges, which flowed through the centuries and became the source
of Malayalam literature later. It had Christian and Muslim elements
too. The Kathakali dance form, which is famous the world over, traces
its roots in this folk culture of Kerala.
¤ The Changing Trends of Malayalam
Malayalam literature takes a lazy and winding route till the end of
the 18th century, after which the modern period begins.
The Ramacharitam (1300AD) is the oldest Malayalam text. Writings of
the first few centuries were in Mani-pravalam or the high style.
This went on until Cherusseri Namboodiri turned his attention to pure
Malayalam and wrote Krishna Gatha in early 15th century.
This was again followed by a generation of campu compositions, a
mixture of prose and verse with a liberal sprinkling of Sanskrit
words. The themes were from the great Sanskrit epics and Puranas. As
late as the 17th century, the first big Malayali poet,
Tunchattu Ramanuja Ezhuttachchan adopted the Sanskrit alphabet in
place of Malayalams incomplete one. A new literary type arose in
the 18th century, the Tullal or dance drama, which again
dipped into the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas for themes.
¤ Kotungallur and Trivandrum -- The Major Centers of Literary
Kotungallur (in North Kerala) and Trivandrum (in South Kerala) became
the two hectic centers of literary activity in the second half of the
19th century. Volumes of translations were being written
Valiya Koyil Tampurans Shakuntala (1881), Kunnikkuttan Tampurans
Hamlet and Mahabharata, Vallattol Narayana Menons Ramayana
(1878) and others.
¤ The Famous Writers
It was a period of original works too, with a flood of essays on
historical and literary topics, dramas, novels and poems, and literary
journals. The first and original novel in Malayalam was T. M. Appu
Netunnatis Kundalata (1887), but more popular was Chantu Menons
Some of the later novelists were Vennayil Kunniraman Nayanar, Appan
Tampuran, V. K. Kunnan Menon, Ambati Narayana Potuval and C. P.
Achyuta Menon who grounded the present day Malayalam prose style.
Vaikkom Mohammad Bashir is one of the most loved literary figures of
Kerala. Some poets of the modern school are Kumaran Ashan, G. Sankara
Kurup, K. K. Raja, Channampuzha Krishna Pilla and N. Balamaniyamma.
As the state with the highest literacy rate, Kerala is one of the
intellectual centers of the country. It is just the place for
literature and litterateurs today.