Tamil, Sanskrit Streams Ezhuthachan’s contribution Venmani school
Modern Malayalam literature Poetry Novels
Fiction / short story Prose, Literary critisim, Satire Jnanapeeth laureates

The ancient Malayalam literature had three identical branches. They are: (i) The Pacha-Malayalam stream or Sudha Malayalam (Indigenous Stream); (ii) The Tamil stream, and (iii) the Sanskrit stream.

The first stream consisted of folk songs the period of which is difficult to state.

Folk songs belonged to the earliest times are fall under the first stream. Ramacharitham, Thirunizhalmala are the significant works of this branch. Theeyattupattu, Bhadrakalipattu, Sasthampattu, Sarppampattu etc. are the religious songs developed under the movement. Onappatt, Krishippattu, Thiruvathirappattu, Vanchippattu are some of them intended for social and cultural events. Vadakkanpattu and Thekkenpattu are the history of brave and courageous heroes of the past.

Tamil, Sanskrit Streams

In the Tamil stream the most outstanding work is Ramacharitham written in12th Century AD. The language was a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam. After Ramacharitham, Kannassa Ramayanam was the notable work under this stream. Also we have ‘Bhagavad Gita’ and ‘Bharatamala’ written by the Niranam poets (Kannassan group). The Tamil influence in these work is mush less.

The history of Sanskrit stream or Manipravala Prasthanam in Malayalam literature began in the 12th century A.D. The movement was originated consequent to the influence of Aryans who migrated to Kerala in large scale during the 8th century A.D. Sanskrit was their language. Gradually, the colloquial language of Kerala got mixed with Sanskrit and formed a mellifluous literary style resulting in the birth of Manipravala movement. Vysikathanthram, Sandesha Poems, Chambus were the ancient forms of Manipravala literature. It is believed that Vysikathanthram written in 13th century A.D. was the first work among this branch. Unniachi Charitham, Unniyadi Charitham, Ramayanam Chambu, Naishadham Chambu were the important Chambus. Unnuneeli Sandesham, Koka Sandesham were the sandesha poems written based on the famous Meghasandesha of Kalidas, the great Sanskrit poet. Being a sringara kavya (poem of passion) Chandrotsavam stood prominent among Manipravala works.

Ezhuthachan’s contribution

Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan is considered as the father of Malayalam literature. He made a revolution through his Kilippattu. It was he who gave an attractive form and shape to Malayalam language. He reformed the vocabulary and shaped separate Malayalam letters. He contributed the Manipravalam style to Malayalam language by bringing together Malayalam and Sanskrit in an unique form.

The emergence of Bhakthi cult in India blossomed in Kerala also. Ezhuthachan’s Ramayana and Bhagavatha, written in kilippattu style, could be influenced by the Bhakthi cult. Cherussery Namboodiri, who wrote Krishnagatha, was another great poet who gave significant contributions to the development of Malayalam literature under the influence of Bhakthi cult. The poetics of the Pattu School find a confirmation in Krishnagatha. Poonthanam Namboodiri’s Jnanappana, Ramapurathu Varrier’s Kuchelavrutham Vanchippattu are some of the similar works that contributed substantially to the Malayalam literature. Kathakali literature (Aattakadha Sahithyam) and Thullal literature are the other two powerful literary branches developed in response to the Bhakthi cult.The main development in the cultural field in Kerala in the 17th century was the growth of a new visual art form, Kathakali, which brought into being a new generation of poetry known Attakkatha for Kathakali performance.

Venmani school

The 19th century saw the blossoming of Malayalam literature. The third quarter of the nineteenth century bore witness to the rise of a new school known as Venmani school devoted to the observation of life around them and the use of pure Malayalam. The major poets of the Venmani School were Venmani Acchan Nambudiri (1817-1891), Venmani Mahan Nambudiri (1844-1893), Poonthottam Acchan Nambudiri (1821-1865), Poonthottam Mahan Nambudiri (1857-1896). The Kodungalloor school was an offshoot of the Venmani School.

The influence of the west in the literature began with the arrival of the Portuguese. In the year 1678 Hortus Malabaricus was printed and it became the first printed book in Malayalam prose. In the second half of the 18th century, Clement Patiri published the Samkshepa Vedartham, the first printed book in Malayalam. In the year 1811, Bible was printed and published in Malayalam from Mumbai (Bombay). The first Malayalam-English dictionary was printed and published in 1872 by Herman Gundert, the renowned German missionary and Malayalam scholar, to whom Kerala is highly indebted and remembered for ever.

Modern Malayalam literature


Modern Malayalam literature improved during the period of Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran (1845-1915). His works and the new style of prose gained much popularity. It was he who translated the Sanskrit drama Sakunthlam into Malayalam. His Mayoora Sandesam stands first among the Malayalam poetry. 'Kerala Panini' A. R. Raja Raja Varma’s popular poem, Malayala Vilasam, marks the beginning of the modern era of Malayalam poetry, which gave birth to Mahakavya Prasthanam (Great Poems). The first years of the 20th century witnessed growth of mahakavyas.

The golden era of Malayalam literature, especially Malayalam poetry, revolves around the famous trinity - Kumaran Asan, Ulloor S.Parameswara Iyer and Vallathol Narayana Menon. Kumaran Asan is the poet who most clearly represent ed the poetic revolution in the first quarter of the 20th century. He combined the lyrical and the melancholy with the romantics. Ulloor was a genius in the traditional classical poetry. Vallathol's training was also in classicism but the spirit of resurgence was in his writings. Among those who were close to him in style are Nalappat Narayana Menon, Kuttippurathu Kesavan Nair, K.M.Panikkar, G.Sankara Kurup, Pallathu Raman, Bodheswaran, Vennikulam Gopala Kurup, P.Kunjiraman Nair, Palai Narayanan Nair, M.P.Appan, Balamani Amma and many others. Edappally Raghavan Pillai and Changapuzha Krishana Pillai brought a new breath of life into the Malayalam poetry of the 1930's. Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon (1911-1985) is perhaps the last one who maintained links with the style of Vallathol. Prominent among modern poets are ONV Kurup, Sugathakumari, Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri, Thirunalloor Karunakaran, Kavalam, Sachidanandan, Balachandran Chullikkad, Kadammanitta, Madhusoodanan Nair, Yoosafali Kecheri etc. Though critics are of opinion that the contemporary poetry has lost the earlier vitality and diverse enthusiasm, it is energetic and developing towards newer dimensions in the hands of contemporary Malayalam poets.

Kodungallur Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Kerala Varma, A.R.Rajaraja Varma
Ulloor, Vallathol, Asan

The last quarter of the 19th century saw the birth of the novel in Malayalam. It has been pointed out that the novel arose in Kerala because of European influence through English education. The socio-educational conditions and external influence combined to produce and popularize novels. The earliest Malayalam novel was Kundalatha written by T. M. Appu Nedungadi, published in 1887. However, O.Chandu Menon's Indulekha is considered as the first ideal novel Malayalam. O.Chandu Menon and C.V.Raman Pillai had established two lineages in the Malayalam novel. The historical novels of C. V. Raman Pillai, Sardar K. M. Panikkar etc. accounted the historical events of Kerala. Later, novel became popular when it has broken the traditional style and became reflections of real life by handling issues of common folk through the works of Thakazhi Sivasankaran Pillai, P. Keshavdev, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, S. K. Pottekkat, P. C. KuttiKrishnan and many others. The current generation of Malayalam Novelists includes many luminous talents.

Fiction / short story

When English influenced the prose style, it led to the use of prose for writing short stories. Instead of traditional style of story telling a new western mode was emerged. The short story began to develop by 1930's when a new generation of writers started their writings. Karur Neelakanta Pillai, P.Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, S.K.Pottakkat, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, P.C.Kutikrishnan, Lalithambika Antharjanam, K.Saraswathi Amma, Vilasini (M.K.Menon), O.V.Vijayan were a few among them. M.T.Vasudevan Nair, V.K.N., M. Mukundan, C. Radhakrishnan, Anand are a few among prominent novelists of the modern generation.

The present generation has got a number of gifted talents like T. Padmanabhan, Zachariah, N.S. Madhavan, Gracy, T.V. Kochubava, K.B. Sreedevi, Valsala, Sara Thomas, B.M. Suhra, Geetha Hiranyan, Rosemary, A.S. Priya, K.L.Mohanavarma, Punattil Kunhabdulla, Ashtamurthy, K.P.Ramanunni, Mundur Krishnankutty, Asokan Charuvil,Vaisakhan, Sathrughnen, Unnikrishnan Tiruvazhiyodu, Mundur Sethumadhavan, Sethu and several others.

Prose, Literary criticism, Satire etc.

Literary criticism is one of non-fiction form of prose that emerged in the 1930 and 1940s. Kesari Balakrishana Pillai (1889-1960), Joseph Mundasseri (1901-1977) and Kuttikrishna Marar (1900-1973) were the pioneers in the field. A large number of critics and essayists had contributed to the growth of literary criticism in the forties and fifties. Sooranad Kunjan Pillai, Kainikkara Kumara Pillai A.D.Harisarma, S.Gupthan Nair, Prof. M.Krishnan Nair, M.Leelavathy, K.P.Appan, are a few among them. P.K.Paremeswaran Nair, K.M.George, K.Bhaskaran Nair, N.Krishna Pillai, and P.K.Balakrishanan were eminent writers of biographical and critical studies.

E.V.Krishna Pillai (1895-1938) and M.R.Nair (Sanjayan - 1903-1944) were the great masters of humour and satire. The most important autobiographies in Malayalam are the ones written by P.K.Narayana Pillai (Smaranamandalam), E.V.Krishna Pillai (Jeevithasmaranakal), K.M.Panikkar (Atmakatha), K.P.Kesava Menon (Kazhinja Kalam), Mundasseri (Kozhinja Ilakal) and C.Kesavan (Jeevithasamaram) Cherukad (Jeevithapatha). Among the travelogues numerous volumes written by S.K.Pottekkat stood first. Journalism is a flourishing field in the Malayalam literature. Newspapers and weeklies are playing a vital role in the development of literature. In Kerala there are more than 700 monthlies, 150 Fortnightlies, 175 weeklies and 200 dailies.

Jnanapeeth laureates of Malayalam

G.Sankara Kurup
S.K. (Sankaran Kutty) Pottakkat
Thakazhy Sivasankara Pillai
M.T.Vasudevan Nair