Malayalam Literature

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Malayalam, the mother tongue of nearly thirty million Malayalis, ninety per cent of whom live in Kerala State in the south-west corner of India, belongs to the Dravidian family of languages.

Malayalam is the principal language of the South Indian state of Kerala and also of the Lakshadweep Islands of the west coast of India. Malayalis, who - males and females alike - are almost totally literate, constitute 4 percent of the population of India and 96 percent of the population of Kerala (29.01 million in 1991). In terms of the number of speakers Malayalam ranks eights among the fifteen major languages of India. The word /Malayalam/ originally meant mountainous country) (/mala/- mountain + /aLam/-place).


The English words teak, copra, and atoll all come from Malayalam.According to the most dependable evidence now available to us, Malayalam literature is at least a thousand years old. The language must certainly be older, but linguistic research has yet to discover unmistakable evidence to prove its antiquity.
Malayalam now consists of 53 letters including 20 long and short vowels and the rest consonants. The earlier style of writing is now substituted with a new style from 1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typeset from 900 to less than 90.


The first Malayalam prose work, Bhashakautiliyam, a commentary on Kautilya's Arthasastra was written in the twelfth century. The first Malayalam grammar/literary treatise, Lilathilakam, compiled in the fourteenth century, is considered the culmination of Manipravalam style. While the region continued to produce important works of literature in Sanskrit and Tamil, only by the fifteenth century Malayalam had would produce its first truly classic work--this was Cherusseri's Krishna Gatha--and the sixteenth century became the age of Thunchath Ezhuthachan, the father of modern Malayalam literature, whose renderings of Adhyatma Ramayana and Mahabharata employed the narrative device of kilipattu, Bird Song.


Until the end of the eighteenth century, Malayalam Literature was closely allied with Kathakali, a complex operatic dance form dependent on the literary quality of the text. The nexus between Kathakali and poetry helped the growth of literary Malayalam.

The great renaissance that started in Malayalam literature towards the end of the 19th century found its most effective spokesmen in two great novelists and three poets. The two novelists were O.Chandu Menon of Malabar and C.V.Raman Pillai of Travancore. C.V.Raman Pillai was eleven years junior to Chandu Menon. Both benefited from English education, but consistent with their respective gifts and temperaments, they achieved near perfection in what they tried to do. Their high position as supreme masters of the novel remains unchallenged till date. Chandu Menon is the greatest novelist in Malayalam, and C.V.Raman Pillai's Ramaraja Bahadur is the greatest novel. Chandu Menon's attention was focused on contemporary social reality and through it he discovered the eternal springs of human character.    


C.V.Raman Pillai used history as a means of unfolding the intricacies of human life, both on the socio-political plane and on the psychological plane. It is difficult to say whether he ever tried to explore history as a means of redemption. But it would be wrong to say that he does not concern himself with social reality: he does speculate on the role of leadership in society, on the fortunes of families through generations and on the conflict between character and destiny.

Malayalam is extraordinarily rich in every genre of literature. Every year numerous books and publications are produced in Malayalam. In Kerala alone 170 daily papers, 235 weekly and 560 monthly periodicals are published in Malayalam. The most circulated daily paper in India is in Malyalam. This language is presently taught in many Universities outside Kerala including some in the United States.
Malayalam belongs to the family of Dravidian languages. Both the language and its writing system are closely related to Tamil, although Malayalam has a signficantly larger phoneme inventory. Malayalam has a script of its own. Malayalam is probably the only language whose name, when spelled in English, is a palindrome.


 A person who speaks Malayalam is called a "Malayali".Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 75 languages that are mainly spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka. Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, and they appear to be unrelated to languages of other known families. (A relationship with the ancient Mesopotamian language Elamite has been suggested, and some versions of the Nostratic language theory include Dravidian.) The Dravidian language family was first described in 1816 by Francis Ellis, a British civil servant who recognized the relationship between the four literary languages as well as Tulu, Kodagu and Malto.


 In 1856 Robert Caldwell added several more languages, Kota, Toda, Gondi, Kui, Kurukh and Brahui. He then took the Sanskrit word dravida, supposedly meaning "Tamil", and used it to name the family. We may presume that proto-Dravidian was the language of all of India before ca.1500 B.C. Prominent Dravidian languages include:

Brahui  |  Kannada  |  Malayalam language
Tamil | Telugu

Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European language family, and an official language of India. Having first developed around 1500 BC, It has sometimes been described as the Asian equivalent to Latin for its role in the religious and historical literature of India. Sanskrit is also the ancestor of the Prakrit languages of India, such as Pali and redirectPrakrit. Greek combined. The Vedic scriptures were written in a form of Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is generally written in the syllabic Devanagari script. Several Latin-alphabet transliterations of varying utility are also available. It is found written on stone, birch bark, palm leaves and paper.
Devanāgarī is a script used to write many Indian languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, as well as Nepali. It is a close descendent of the Brāhmī script that has been traced back to 500 BC. The Brahmi script, in turn, is derived from the Indus-Sarasvati script of the 3rd millennium BC.


Indian languages written in scripts other than Devanagari include Gujarati (Gujarati script is however similar to Devanagari), Tamil, Urdu and Telugu. Deva is the Sanskrit for "god", and Nagari is "a city"; together they mean, literally, "City of the Gods" (the humanbody) (when the compound is read as a shashtitatpurusha). This refers to the legend that the script was one used in such a city. The philosophy behind it being that when one meditates on the specific sounds of the Devanagari alphabet, the written forms appear spontaneously in the mind. The compound really functions as a bahuvrihi. An often-used transcription variant is "Devnagri". Devanagari is written from left to right. Words are written together without spaces, so that the top bar is unbroken (there are some exceptions to this rule).


The break of the top line primarily marks breath groups. Devanagari knows no distinction of case, i.e. no majuscule and minuscule letters. The spelling of languages written in Devanagari is partly phonetic in the sense that a word written in it can only be pronounced in one way, but not all possible pronunciations can be written perfectly. Devanagari has 34 consonants (vyanjan), and 12 vowels (svar). A syllable (akshar) is formed by the combination of zero or one consonants and one vowel.

Sanskrit had some influence on the Chinese culture because Buddhism was initially transmitted to China in Sanskrit. Many Chinese Buddhist scriptures were written with Chinese transliterations of Sanskrit words. Some Chinese proverbs use Buddhist terms that originate from Sanskrit. Sanskrit words are found in many present-day languages. For instance the Thai language contains many loan words from Sanskrit, and ranged as far as the Philippines viz. Tagalog 'guru', or 'teacher', with the Hindu seafarers who traded there well before Magellan.

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