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Malayalam Novels

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:: Comming soon Malayalam Novels in your Kerals.com ::

Progressive Writers ::

  • Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

  • Kesava Dev and his Contemporaries

  • Thunchathu Ezhuthachan

  • Poonthanam Nambudiri

  • Kottayam Tampuran

  • Ramapurathu Warrier (1703-1753)

  • Kerala Varma Valiya Koyitampuran

  • A.R.Rajaraja Varma (1863-1918)

  • K.C.Kesava Pillai (1868-1914)

  • Kunchan Nambiar (1705-1770)

  • C.V.Raman Pillai (1858-1922)

  • Chandu Menon

  • N. Kumaran Asan (1873-1924)

  • Ulloor Parameswara Iyer (1877-1949)

  • Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958)

  • Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai

The most well-known Malayalam writer, both nationally and internationally, is Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (b. 1914). His fame is partly on account of the UNESCO translation of his masterpiece Chemmeen (The Prawn) and its classic film adaptation made in 1966 by Ramu Kariat. Though Thakazhi is often considered as a hardcore socialist realist, his major works like Chemmeen and Enippadikal are intense portrayals of love and tragedy, and they have little to do with socialism or realism. Very few Indian novelists have explored the nature of passion the way Thakazhi has in Chemmeen, in which the social and economic exploitation is mostly a subtext. Taken as a whole, his voluminous works present a proletarian position. Like Basheer's work, Thakazhi Sivansankara Pillai also captured the living language of the underclass and traced the waxing and waning of their hopes in modern India.


Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

Basheer (1910-1994), is arguably the most significant novelist of the latter half of the century. He spent his youth wandering all over India and the Middle East when he was not incarcerated by the British. Having begun his writing career during the final phase of Gandhi's struggles, he became a popular novelist after Independence in 1947. Though one would suspect great revolutionary spirit in his works, what he offered were simple pictures of the life in the poor, illiterate Muslim community of Kerala trying to adjust to the modernity, religious pluralism, and socialism. Though a tragic sense of life is prevalent in his early work, his characters learn to accept the tragic; they live in a spirit of profound love for their neighbors and fellow- beings, including animals and birds and all the creatures of the natural world.

Kesava Dev and his Contemporaries

Another novelist who started out along with Thakazhi was Kesava Dev whose novels Odayil Ninnu (From the Gutters) and Ulakka (The Pestle) are typical examples of socialist realism. Unlike Basheer and Thakazhi, Dev did not evolve and grow as a novelist; he even became a strident voice of the socialist orthodoxy. His tireless polemic against the postmodernist generation indicated the limitations of the original position of the Progressives, and the literature of commitment came to be somewhat discredited in Malayalam.

Thunchathu Ezhuthachan

          Malayalam literature passed though 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 there flourished numerous Sanskrit poets who were very active during this period. The greatest of them was Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam. The Manipravala poets were no less active, as is shown by a series of Chambus and Kavyas and single quatrains produced in the period, the greatest monument of which is perhaps the Naishadham Chambu. But the most significant development of the time took place in the field of Malayalam poetry.

Poonthanam Nambudiri
          If there ever was another writer who could be Ezhuthachan's equal in bhakti, if not poetic power, it was Poonthanam Nambudiri, a contemporary of Melpathur Bhattatiri and possibly of Ezhuthachan himself. His chief poems in Malayalam are Bhasha Karnamritam, Kumaraharanam or Santanagopalam Pana and Jnanappana. The first of these is a devotional work intended to create Krishna bhakti in the readers. The second is a touching narrative in very simple and straight-forward language and fast moving verse. It tells the story of a Brahmin father who lost all his children and sought the help of the Pandava prince Arjuna. Arjuna proudly offered to help him preserve his next child alive, but he was unable to keep his word. The Brahmin abuses Arjuna to his great anguish and in his wounded pride he decides to commit suicide by leaping into flames. Krishna out of love for Arjuna, intervenes at the last moment and takes him to Vaikuntha from where they recover all the lost children of the Brahmin. Krishna's infinite love for his devotees is thus the central theme, but the poem also makes its appeal because of its down-to-earth realism and unmistakable touch of authenticity.
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Kottayam Tampuran

The greatest fillip to the growth of Attakkatha as a literary form and Kathakali as a performing art came from Koattayam Tampuran, a prince in the royal family of Northern Kottayam who is believed to have lived in the late 17th century. His main Attakkathas are Bakavadham, Kalyana Saughadhikam, Kirmiravadham and Kalakeyavadham. Their success led to the phenomenal popularity of this form of literary composition. Kottayam was a more gifted poet and scholar than Kottarakara, and in his hands Attakkatha attained a position of respectability. His quatrains are invariably in Sanskrit, but the padas are in Malayalam. Several of this padas are extremely poular not only with the Kathakali audience but even with the general public. They are also good as poetry. The dialogue between Hanuman and Bhima in Kalyana Saugandhikam or the one between Urvasi and Arjuna in Kalakeyavadham will bear out this point:

Ramapurathu Warrier (1703-1753)

In the court of Maharaja Martanda Varma, the maker of the former State of Travancore and his successor 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 Vanchipattu or B
oatsong is a poetic form of folk origin. Kuchela Vrittam is the most famous boatsong in the language. Composed entirely in the Dravidian metre natonnata, it is a popular classic that retells the story of Kuchela, the indigent devotee and one-time classmate of Sri Krishna, going to Dwaraka to pay homage to him. The poverty of the old Brahmin and his family is described with extreme authenticity. The realistic touch shown by the poet in presenting this Puranic story with a personal edge to it has gained for the work, immense popularity. In the poem, the poet specifically referes to King Martanda Varma and describes the circumstances under which he came to write the poem. Warrier makes Kuchela's wife declare: "there is no greater affliction than that of poverty". The meeting of Kuchela with Krishna is described in memorable language:

Kerala Varma Valiya Koyitampuran

Kerala Varma represnts the confluence of two major traditions in literature, the Oriental as represented by the Sanskrit classics and the Western represented by English/European classics. His translation of Kalidasa's Abhinjana Sakuntalam (completed in 1882), and of Von Limburg Brower's Akbar (started in 1882) clearly illustrates the historic role of a synthesizer which he was destined to play on the Kerala cultural front. His connections with the royal family, his education and upbringing, his position as president of the Text Book Committee, his progressive and independent outlook, his intellectual prowess and other personality factors made him tower head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. He wrote a number of works in both Sanskrit and Malayalam, both in prose and verse but his personal influence was greater than what was achieve through these works. It may be said that the man was greater than all his writings. Well versed in all aspects of classical Sanskrit poetics and quite at home in the native tradition, master of a sonorous Sanskrit diction and proficient in simple colloquial Malayalam, Kerala Varma's reputation, still depends not on any single book he wrote.

A.R.Rajaraja Varma (1863-1918)

Kerala Varma's nephewA.R.Rajaraja Varma went a step further than his uncle in the promotion of a synthesis between the different trends current in the literature of his time. A professor in the University College, Thiruvananthapruam, he had to modernize the process of teaching Malayalam language and literature; this made him write books on grammer and rhetoric (which earned him the title of Kerala panini) and eventually prepare the ground for an enlightened renaissance in Malayalam poetry and literary criticism. His differences of opinion with Kerala Varma were not confined to the continued use of the second syllable rhyme: behind the controversy lay the basis of a new poetics: the rejection of neoclassicism and the acceptance of a romantic theory of literature. The influence of the study of British Romantic poets of the 19th century, coupled with a renewed interest in the real classics of Sanskrit literature can be seen in Rajaraja Varma's poetic efforts. The critic and scholar in him might have stifled the poet, but in works like Malayavilasam he may be seen as looking forward to an expected romantic revival. His translations of Kalidasa and Bhasa and the preface he wrote for Kumaran Asan's Nalini point to this trend in unmistakable terms. Like Kerala Varma, Rajaraja Varma also contributed significantly to the growth of prose through his essays.

K.C.Kesava Pillai (1868-1914)

A close associate of both Kerala Varma and Rajaraja Varma, K.C.Kesa Pillai was a man of remarkable talent. His major works are Kesaviyam (a mahakavya), Sadarama (a musical play on the Tamil mode, extremely popular at the time), Asanna marana chinta satakam (Reflections of a Dying Man, in a century of quatrains)and a number of attakkathas. His Kesaviyam is a mahakavya modeled on the Sanskrit pattern and strictly adhering to the rules of structure and style laid down by the classical rhetorician, Dandi.
The first fifteen years of the 20th century saw a mushrooming of mahakavyas: Kesava Pillais contemporaries like Azhakathu Padmanabha Kurup (1869-1932: author of Ramachandravilasam), Pandalam Kerala Varma (1879-1919: author of Rukmangatha charitam), Kattakkayam Cherian Mappila (1859-1937: author of Sri Yesu Vijayam), Ulloor Parameswara Iyer (1877-1949: author of Umakeralam) and Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958: author of Chitrayogam). All these paid their obeisance to this neoclassicist trend.P.Sankaran Nambiar refers to the appearance of a mockmahakavya Kothakelam by one Vidushaka, which did to the flood of these exercises what Ramakurup's Chakki Chankaram did to the imitation plays, Datyuha Sandesam (1897) by Seevolli Narayanan Nambudiri (1869-1906) did to spurious message poems and Parangodi Parinayam (1892) by Kizhakkeppatt Kunhiraman Nayanar, tried to do to the spurt of uninspired novels in imitation of Indulekha.
Kunchan Nambiar (1705-1770)

fore he came to the court at Thiruvananthapuram, Kunchan Nambiar had spent his early childhood at Killikurissimangalam, his boyhood at Kudamaloor and his youth at Ambalapuzha. In 1748 he moved to Thiruvananthapuram, first to the court of Martanda Varma and later to the court of Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma. He had already written several of his works before leaving Ambalapuzha. The chief contribution of Nambiar is the invention and popularization of a new performing art known as Thullal. The world 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 form popular till then. He was to use pure Malayalam as opposed to the stylized and Sanskritized language of Koothu. He also adopted many elements from Padayani or Kolam Thullal and certain other folk arts. It is reasonable to assume that he was himself a performer. The first hand knowledge of the various thalas and ragas and even the practices of drummers is a pre-requisite for the writing of a Thullal. Kunchan Nambiar possessed this in abundance. Each Thullal composition consists of a Puranic tale retoled in simple rhythmic verse, fit for loud recitation before an audience. There are three kinds of Thullal distinguished on the basis of the performer's costume and the style of rendering, viz., Ottan, Seethankan and Parayan. Dravidian metres are used throughout although there is nothing to prevent the insertion of a quatrain in a Sanskrit metre. Nambiar also developed new metres (e.g. Vaythari metres) based on the vocal notation for various talas. The language also is predominantly Malayalam with a large admixture of colloquial and dialectal forms. Humour is invariable the dominant mood: other bhavas are brought in for variety and to suit the situation.

C.V.Raman Pillai (1858-1922)

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.

Chandu Menon

Chandu Menon has written that he initially meant to translate Benjamin Disraeli's Henrietta Temple (1836) into Malayalam, but having struggled with the subtleties of an alien culture, he abandoned the project in favor of writing one on his own, depicting a familiar story. The fact that Chandu Menon's novel deals with the decline of the feudal, Brahminical culture in Kerala also explains the rise of the novel form in Malayalam, as one of the necessary preconditions required for the flourishing of the novel genre is the emergence of an educated middle class.

Menon's Indulekha dramatizes the resistance of a progressive woman named Indulekha who is being pressured into marrying the lecherous Brahmin, Suri Namboothiri, who represents the decadence of feudalism, its caste oppression and polygamy. While feudalism controlled art and kept it limited to self-serving ritual forms, caste prohibited literary production because education itself was prohibited to the lower castes. The Brahmins maintained a belief that the untouchables would pollute the sacred language, Sanskrit. The gradual breakdown of such structures of oppression opened up the culture and made the rise of the novel posssible.

Chandu Menon's heroine persists in her educated believes (she is an ardent student of English language!) and eventually weds her lover, Madhavan, in the process defeating the Brahmin who is shown as an effete oppressor. Many of the social evils depicted in the novel have disappeared in independent India, partly due to the forceful representation of these problems in new literary forms. Chandu Menon's Indulekha set the tone for the future development of the novel in Malayalam: novelists began debating social issues through their elaborate probing into the individual experience of characters who were drawn from contemporary society. This literary trend had shown its first signs in Malayalam as early as during the eighteenth century (as it did in Europe) when the poet Kunchan Nambiar satirized society and its mannerisms and inequities. Had he written a prose narrative, we would have called it a novel.

In the absence of the print culture, prose fiction had to wait until the final years of the nineteenth century. The second major novelist to emerge in Malayalam was C.V. Raman Pillai. His Walter Scott-inspired historical novels about the Travancore dynasty, Marthanda Varma (1891) and Dharma Raja (1911) made up for the late-blooming of the genre. He produced grand historical romances about the different Travancore kings and war-heroes who stood up to British imperialism. In his Dharmaraja, actually a sequel to Marthanda Varma, C.V. Raman Pillai follows up on the historical events that ended with the execution of a clan of King Marthanda Varma's enemies. In Dharmaraja, two descendants from the clan returns disguised as wandering monks seeking revenge at the new King, and to usurp the throne of Travancore, but the conspiracy is spoiled by the King's lieutenant, Kesava Pillai, who himself becomes the central character in the third part of the saga, Rama Raja Bahadur.

The historical context is that of the incursions of Tippu Sultan into the kingdom and the persistence of clanish dissent which leads Travancore into accepting the hegemony of the British. Very much in the manner of Walter Scott's romances, C. V. Raman Pillai also creates an elaborate human drama grounded in history, yet peopled with realistic characters. Following in the tradition of C. V. Raman Pillai, several historical novels were written. Pallath Raman's Amrita Pulinam and Appan Thampuran's Bhoota Rayar and Bhaskara Menon (the first detective novel) deserve mention. Sardar K. M. Panikkar's Paranki Padayali (The Portuguese Soldier), Dhumakethuvinte Udayam (The Comet of Ill-Omen) and Kerala Simham (The Lion of Kerala) are also important works of subaltern sensibility in presenting Kerala's encounter with the colonizers and imperialists. The range and popularity of the early novels helped the construction of a culture of the novel in Malayalam literature.

When C. V. Raman Pillai wrote his first satirical novel, Premamrutam, it also spawned yet another series of imitations. At this time, translations of novels from world literature began to appear, further enhancing the credibility of the genre. Besides Nalappat's classic translation of Les Miserables, several other translations of John Bunyan, Maxim Gorky, Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Tagore elevated the position of the novel in Malayalam. The Malayalam Novel in Transition If Malayalam poetry was revitalized the moment it parted company with the tiresome gods who came to dominate the South Indian Literatures after the waning of the Sangam Period, resurgence of the novel as the preeminent literary genre followed the social and political transformations taking place in response to Western humanist tradition, increasingly drawing its energy from the Marxist philosophy and aesthetics.

By 1930s, a whole new school of writers, known as Progressive Writers, had come into existence. Three young critics, Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, M. P. Paul, and Joseph Muntasseri became the theoreticians of the school. Having understood the great potential of realistic fiction, these critics theorized about the new role of Malayalam Literature in an era of Western literary and cultural paradigms. Through the many critical introductions he contributed to the works of emerging writers, Kesari Balakrishna Pillai affirmed the literary and aesthetic qualities of prose fiction. The mature theoretical synthesis of M. P. Paul's critical monographs, Novel Sahityam, Cherukatha Prasthanam, and Gadyagathi defined the novel, the short story, and the essay respectively, and aligned Malayalam literature with international aesthetic trends. Joseph Muntasseri spoke primarily as a Marxist aesthete grounded in Indian literary traditions.


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