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Malayalam (//; Malayalam: മലയാളം, Malayāḷam ?, [mɐlɐjäːɭɐm] (listen)) is a Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé district) by the Malayali people. It is one of 22 scheduled languages of India and is spoken by 2.88% of Indians. Malayalam has official language status in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé), and is spoken by 34 million people worldwide. Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states; with significant number of speakers in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari, and Coimbatore, Tenkasi, Theni districts of Tamil Nadu and Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Due to Malayali expatriates in the Persian Gulf, Malayalam is also widely spoken in the Gulf countries.
The origin of Malayalam remains a matter of dispute among scholars. The mainstream view holds that Malayalam descends from early Middle Tamil and separated from it sometime after the c. 9th century AD. A second view argues for the development of the two languages out of "Proto-Dravidian" or "Proto-Tamil-Malayalam" in the prehistoric era, although this is generally rejected by historical linguists. Malayalam was designated a "Classical Language in India" in 2013. The oldest documents written in proto-Malayalam, which bears high similarity with Tamil language, and still surviving are the Vazhappally Copper plates from 832 AD and Tharisapalli Copper plates from 849 AD. Malayalam literature has been profoundly influenced by poets Cherusseri Namboothiri (Born near Kannur), Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan (Born near Tirur), and Poonthanam Nambudiri (Born near Perinthalmanna), in the 15th and the 16th centuries of Common Era. Unnayi Variyar, a probable 17th-18th century poet of Thrissur, and Kunchan Nambiar, a Palakkad-based poet of 18th century, also greatly influenced Malayalam literature in it's early form. The words used in many of the Arabi Malayalam works those date back to 16th-17th centuries of Common Era are also very closer to the modern Malayalam language.
The earliest script used to write Malayalam was the Vatteluttu script. The current Malayalam script is based on the Vatteluttu script, which was extended with Grantha script letters to adopt Indo-Aryan loanwords. It bears high similarity with the Tigalari script, a historical script that was used to write the Tulu language in South Canara, and Sanskrit in the adjacent Malabar region. The oldest literary work in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated from between the 9th and 11th centuries. The first travelogue in any Indian language is the Malayalam Varthamanappusthakam, written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar in 1785.
The word Malayalam originated from the words mala, meaning 'mountain', and alam, meaning 'region' or '-ship' (as in "township"); Malayalam thus translates directly as 'the mountain region'. The term originally referred to the land of the Chera dynasty, and only later became the name of its language. The language Malayalam is alternatively called Alealum, Malayalani, Malayali, Malean, Maliyad, and Mallealle.
The earliest extant literary works in the regional language of present-day Kerala probably date back to as early as the 12th century. However, the named identity of this language appears to have come into existence only around the 16th century, when it was known as "Malayayma" or "Malayanma"; the words were also used to refer to the script and the region. The word "Malayalam" was coined in the later period, and the local people referred to their language as both "Tamil" until the colonial period.
Despite having similar names, Malayalam has no relationship whatsoever with the Malay language.
The generally held view is that Malayalam was the western coastal dialect of Medieval Tamil and separated from Middle Tamil (Proto-Tamil-Malayalam) sometime between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Some scholars however believe that both Tamil and Malayalam developed during the prehistoric period from a common ancestor, 'Proto-Tamil-Malayalam', and that the notion of Malayalam being a 'daughter' of Tamil is misplaced. This is based on the fact that Malayalam and several Dravidian languages on the western coast have common archaic features which are not found even in the oldest historical forms of literary Tamil.
Despite this Malayalam shares many common innovations with Tamil that emerged during the early Middle Tamil period, thus making independent descent untenable. For example, Old Tamil lacks the first and second person plural pronouns with the ending kaḷ. It is in the Early Middle Tamil stage that kaḷ first appears:
Indeed, most features of Malayalam morphology are derivable from a form of speech corresponding to early Middle Tamil. Malayalam also borrowed some of its vocabulary from other foreign languages, such as Arabic, Dutch, and Portuguese, due to trade and colonization. For example:
Robert Caldwell, in his 1856 book "A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages", opined that Malayalam branched from Classical Tamil and over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs. As the language of scholarship and administration, Old-Tamil, which was written in Tamil-Brahmi and the Vatteluttu alphabet later, greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam. The Malayalam script began to diverge from the Tamil-Brahmi script in the 8th and 9th centuries. And by the end of the 13th century a written form of the language emerged which was unique from the Tamil-Brahmi script that was used to write Tamil.
Malayalam has shared similarities to some Sri Lankan Tamil dialects, and the two are often mistaken by native Indian Tamil speakers.
Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, religion, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register.
According to the Dravidian Encyclopedia, the regional dialects of Malayalam can be divided into thirteen dialect areas. They are as follows:
According to Ethnologue, the dialects are: Malabar, Nagari-Malayalam, South Kerala, Central Kerala, North Kerala, Kayavar, Namboodiri, Nair, Mappila, Pulaya, Nasrani, and Kasargod. The community dialects are: Namboodiri, Nair, Arabi Malayalam, Pulaya, and Nasrani. Whereas both the Namboothiri and Nair dialects have a common nature, the Arabi Malayalam is among the most divergent of dialects, differing considerably from literary Malayalam.Jeseri is a dialect of Malayalam spoken mainly in the Union territory of Lakshadweep which is nearer to Kerala.
Concerning the geographical dialects of Malayalam, surveys conducted so far by the Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala restricted the focus of attention during a given study on one specific caste so as to avoid mixing up of more than one variable such as communal and geographical factors. Thus for example, the survey of the Ezhava dialect of Malayalam, results of which have been published by the Department in 1974, has brought to light the existence of twelve major dialect areas for Malayalam, although the isoglosses are found to crisscross in many instances. Sub-dialect regions, which could be marked off, were found to be thirty. This number is reported to tally approximately with the number of principalities that existed during the pre-British period in Kerala. In a few instances at least, as in the case of Venad, Karappuram, Nileswaram, and Kumbala, the known boundaries of old principalities are found to coincide with those of certain dialects or sub-dialects that retain their individuality even today. This seems to reveal the significance of political divisions in Kerala in bringing about dialect differences.
Divergence among dialects of Malayalam embraces almost all aspects of language such as phonetics, phonology, grammar and vocabulary. Differences between any two given dialects can be quantified in terms of the presence or absence of specific units at each level of the language. To cite a single example of language variation along with the geographical parameter, it may be noted that there are as many as seventy-seven different expressions employed by the Ezhavas and spread over various geographical points just to refer to a single item, namely, the flower bunch of coconut. 'Kola' is the expression attested in most of the panchayats in the Malappuram, Palakkad, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala, whereas 'kolachil' occurs most predominantly in Kannur and Kochi and 'klannil' in Alappuzha and Kollam. 'Kozhinnul' and 'kulannilu' are the forms most common in Trissur Idukki and Kottayam respectively. In addition to these forms most widely spread among the areas specified above, there are dozens of other forms such as 'kotumpu' (Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram), 'katirpu' (Kottayam), 'krali' (Pathanamthitta), 'pattachi', 'gnannil' (Kollam), 'pochata' (Palakkad) etc. referring to the same item.
Labels such as "Nampoothiri Dialect", "Mappila Dialect", and "Nasrani Dialect" refer to overall patterns constituted by the sub-dialects spoken by the subcastes or sub-groups of each such caste. The most outstanding features of the major communal dialects of Malayalam are summarized below:
Malayalam has incorporated many elements from other languages over the years, the most notable of these being Sanskrit and later, English. According to Sooranad Kunjan Pillai who compiled the authoritative Malayalam lexicon, the other principal languages whose vocabulary was incorporated over the ages were Pali, Prakrit, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Syriac, Dutch, and Portuguese.
Many medieval liturgical texts were written in an admixture of Sanskrit and early Malayalam, called Manipravalam. The influence of Sanskrit was very prominent in formal Malayalam used in literature. Malayalam has a substantially high number of Sanskrit loanwords but these are seldom used. Loanwords and influences also from Hebrew, Syriac, and Ladino abound in the Jewish Malayalam dialects, as well as English, Portuguese, Syriac, and Greek in the Christian dialects, while Arabic and Persian elements predominate in the Muslim dialects. The Muslim dialect known as Mappila Malayalam is used in the Malabar region of Kerala. Another Muslim dialect called Beary bashe is used in the extreme northern part of Kerala and the southern part of Karnataka.
For a comprehensive list of loan words, see Loan words in Malayalam.
Malayalam is a language spoken by the native people of southwestern India (from Mangalore to Kanyakumari). According to the Indian census of 2011, there were 32,413,213 speakers of Malayalam in Kerala, making up 93.2% of the total number of Malayalam speakers in India, and 97.03% of the total population of the state. There were a further 701,673 (1.14% of the total number) in Karnataka, 957,705 (2.70%) in Tamil Nadu, and 406,358 (1.2%) in Maharashtra. The number of Malayalam speakers in Lakshadweep is 51,100, which is only 0.15% of the total number, but is as much as about 84% of the population of Lakshadweep. Malayalam was the most spoken language in erstwhile Gudalur taluk(now Gudalur and Panthalur taluks) of Tamilnadu state which accounts for 48.8% population and it was the second most spoken language in Mangalore and Puttur taluks of Karnataka state accounting for 21.2% and 15.4% respectively according to 1951 census report.
In all, Malayalis made up 3.22% of the total Indian population in 2011. Of the total 34,713,130 Malayalam speakers in India in 2011, 33,015,420 spoke the standard dialects, 19,643 spoke the Yerava dialect and 31,329 spoke non-standard regional variations like Eranadan. As per the 1991 census data, 28.85% of all Malayalam speakers in India spoke a second language and 19.64% of the total knew three or more languages.
Large numbers of Malayalis have settled in Chennai, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Mysuru and Delhi. Many Malayalis have also emigrated to the Middle East, the United States, and Europe. There were 179,860 speakers of Malayalam in the United States, according to the 2000 census, with the highest concentrations in Bergen County, New Jersey, and Rockland County, New York. There are 344,000 of Malayalam speakers in Malaysia. There were 11,687 Malayalam speakers in Australia in 2016.The 2001 Canadian census reported 7,070 people who listed Malayalam as their mother tongue, mainly in Toronto. The 2006 New Zealand census reported 2,139 speakers. 134 Malayalam speaking households were reported in 1956 in Fiji. There is also a considerable Malayali population in the Persian Gulf regions, especially in Dubai and Doha. The faster growth of languages spoken in the southern parts of India, like Malayalam, compared to those spoken in the north of the country, like Hindi, shows exactly which regions Indian immigrants to the US are coming from. Malayalam is 8th in the list of top ten fastest-growing foreign first languages spoken in English schools in UK, according to a report.
For the consonants and vowels, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol is given, followed by the Malayalam character and the ISO 15919 transliteration. The current Malayalam script bears high similarity with Tigalari script, which was used for writing the Tulu language, spoken in coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and the northernmost Kasargod district of Kerala. Tigalari script was also used for writing Sanskrit in Malabar region.
Malayalam has also borrowed the Sanskrit diphthongs of /äu/ (represented in Malayalam as ഔ, au) and /ai/ (represented in Malayalam as ഐ, ai), although these mostly occur only in Sanskrit loanwords. Traditionally (as in Sanskrit), four vocalic consonants (usually pronounced in Malayalam as consonants followed by the saṁvr̥tōkāram, which is not officially a vowel, and not as actual vocalic consonants) have been classified as vowels: vocalic r (ഋ, /rɨ̆/, r̥), long vocalic r (ൠ, /rɨː/, r̥̄), vocalic l (ഌ, /lɨ̆/, l̥) and long vocalic l (ൡ, /lɨː/, l̥̄). Except for the first, the other three have been omitted from the current script used in Kerala as there are no words in current Malayalam that use them.
A chillu (ചില്ല്, cillŭ), or a chillaksharam (ചില്ലക്ഷരം, cillakṣaram), is a special consonant letter that represents a pure consonant independently, without help of a virama. Unlike a consonant represented by an ordinary consonant letter, this consonant is never followed by an inherent vowel. Anusvara and visarga fit this definition but are not usually included. ISCII and Unicode 5.0 treat a chillu as a glyph variant of a normal ("base") consonant letter. In Unicode 5.1 and later, chillu letters are treated as independent characters, encoded atomically.
Malayalam numbers and fractions are written as follows. These are archaic and no longer used. Instead, the common Hindu-Arabic numeral system is followed. Note that there is a confusion about the glyph of Malayalam digit zero. The correct form is oval-shaped, but occasionally the glyph for 1⁄4 (൳) is erroneously shown as the glyph for 0.
Number "11" is written as "൰൧" and not "൧൧". "32" is written as "൩൰൨" similar to the Tamil numeral system.
For example, the number "2013" is read in Malayalam as രണ്ടായിരത്തി പതിമൂന്ന് (raṇḍāyiratti padimūnnŭ). It is split into:
Combine them together to get the Malayalam number ൨൲൰൩.
And 1,00,000 as "൱൲" = hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (100×1000), 10,00,000 as "൰൱൲" = ten(൰), hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (10×100×1000) and 1,00,00,000 as "൱൱൲" = hundred(൱), hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (100×100×1000).
Later on this system got reformed to be more similar to the Hindu-Arabic numerals so 10,00,000 in the reformed numerals it would be ൧൦൦൦൦൦൦.
In Malayalam you can transcribe any fraction by affixing (-il) after the denominator followed by the numerator, so a fraction like 7⁄10 would be read as പത്തിൽ ഏഴ് (pattil ēḻŭ) 'out of ten, seven' but fractions like 1⁄2 1⁄4 and 3⁄4 have distinct names (ara, kāl, mukkāl) and 1⁄8 (arakkāl) 'half quarter'.
Malayalam has a canonical word order of SOV (subject–object–verb), as do other Dravidian languages. A rare OSV word order occurs in interrogative clauses when the interrogative word is the subject. Both adjectives and possessive adjectives precede the nouns they modify. Malayalam has 6 or 7[unreliable source?] grammatical cases. Verbs are conjugated for tense, mood and aspect, but not for person, gender nor number except in archaic or poetic language.
The declensional paradigms for some common nouns and pronouns are given below. As Malayalam is an agglutinative language, it is difficult to delineate the cases strictly and determine how many there are, although seven or eight is the generally accepted number. Alveolar plosives and nasals (although the modern Malayalam script does not distinguish the latter from the dental nasal) are underlined for clarity, following the convention of the National Library at Kolkata romanization.
Vocative forms are given in parentheses after the nominative, as the only pronominal vocatives that are used are the third person ones, which only occur in compounds.
The following are examples of some of the most common declension patterns.
When words are adopted from Sanskrit, their endings are usually changed to conform to Malayalam norms:
Historically, several scripts were used to write Malayalam. Among these were the Vatteluttu, Kolezhuthu and Malayanma scripts. But it was the Grantha script, another Southern Brahmi variation, which gave rise to the modern Malayalam script. The modern Malayalam script bears high similarity to Tigalari script, which was used for writing Tulu language in Coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and the northernmost Kasaragod district of Kerala. It is syllabic in the sense that the sequence of graphic elements means that syllables have to be read as units, though in this system the elements representing individual vowels and consonants are for the most part readily identifiable. In the 1960s Malayalam dispensed with many special letters representing less frequent conjunct consonants and combinations of the vowel /u/ with different consonants.
Malayalam script consists of a total of 578 characters. The script contains 52 letters including 16 vowels and 36 consonants, which forms 576 syllabic characters, and contains two additional diacritic characters named anusvāra and visarga. The earlier style of writing has been superseded by a new style as of 1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typesetting from 900 to fewer than 90. This was mainly done to include Malayalam in the keyboards of typewriters and computers.
In 1999 a group named "Rachana Akshara Vedi" produced a set of free fonts containing the entire character repertoire of more than 900 glyphs. This was announced and released along with a text editor in the same year at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. In 2004, the fonts were released under the GNU GPL license by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation at the Cochin University of Science and Technology in Kochi, Kerala.
Malayalam has been written in other scripts like Roman, Syriac and Arabic. Suriyani Malayalam was used by Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Nasranis) until the 19th century. Arabic scripts particularly were taught in madrasahs in Kerala and the Lakshadweep Islands.
According to Iravatham Mahadevan, the earliest Malayalam inscription discovered until now is the Edakal-5 inscription (ca. late 4th century – early 5th century) reading ī pazhama (English: 'this is old'). Although this has been disputed by other scholars. The use of the pronoun ī and the lack of the literary Tamil -ai ending are archaisms from Proto-Dravidian rather than unique innovations of Malayalam.
The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition: Malayalam Nada, Tamil Nada and Sanskrit Nada.
Malayalam poetry to the late 20th century betrays varying degrees of the fusion of the three different strands. The oldest examples of Pattu and Manipravalam, respectively, are Ramacharitam and Vaishikatantram, both from the 12th century.[unreliable source?]
The earliest extant prose work in the language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautalyam (12th century) on Chanakya's Arthashastra. Adhyatmaramayanam by Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan (known as the father of modern Malayalam literature) who was born in Tirur, one of the most important works in Malayalam literature. Unnunili Sandesam written in the 14th century is amongst the oldest literary works in Malayalam language. Cherusseri Namboothiri of 15th century (Kannur-based poet), Poonthanam Nambudiri of 16th century (Perinthalmanna-based poet), Unnayi Variyar of 17th-18th centuries (Thrissur-based poet), and Kunchan Nambiar of 18th century (Palakkad-based poet), have played a major role in the development of Malayalam literature into current form. The words used in many of the Arabi Malayalam works, which dates back to 16th-17th centuries are also very closer to modern Malayalam language.
By the end of the 18th century some of the Christian missionaries from Kerala started writing in Malayalam but mostly travelogues, dictionaries and religious books. Varthamanappusthakam (1778), written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar is considered to be the first travelogue in an Indian language.
The earliest known poem in Malayalam, Ramacharitam, dated to the 12th to 14th century, was completed before the introduction of the Sanskrit alphabet. It shows the same phase of the language as in Jewish and Nasrani Sasanas (dated to mid‑8th century). But the period of the earliest available literary document cannot be the sole criterion used to determine the antiquity of a language. In its early literature, Malayalam has songs, Pattu, for various subjects and occasions, such as harvesting, love songs, heroes, gods, etc. A form of writing called Campu emerged from the 14th century onwards. It mixed poetry with prose and used a vocabulary strongly influenced by Sanskrit, with themes from epics and Puranas.
Rama-charitam, which was composed in the 14th century A.D., may be said to have inaugurated Malayalam literature just as Naniah's Mahabharatam did for Telugu. The fact is that dialectical and local peculiarities had already developed and stamped themselves in local songs and ballads. But these linguistic variations were at last gathered together and made to give a coloring to a sustained literary work, the Rama-charitam, thereby giving the new language a justification and a new lease on life.
The Malayalam language, with the introduction of a new type of devotional literature, underwent a metamorphosis, both in form and content, and it is generally held that modernity in Malayalam language and literature commenced at this period. This change was brought about by Thunchathu Ezhuthachan (16th century) who is known as the father of modern Malayalam literature. Till this time Malayalam indicated two different courses of development depending on its relationship with either Sanskrit or Tamil–Kannada languages.
The earliest literary work in Malayalam now available is a prose commentary on Chanakya's Arthashastra, ascribed to the 13th century. The poetical works called Vaisikatantram are also believed to belong to the early 14th century. These works come under a special category known as Manipravalam, literally the combination of two languages, the language of Kerala and Sanskrit. A grammar and rhetoric in this hybrid style was written sometime in the 14th century in Sanskrit and the work, called the Lilatikalam, is the main source of information for a student of literary and linguistic history.
According to this book, the Manipravalam and Pattu styles of literary compositions were in vogue during this period. "Pattu" means "song" and more or less represents the pure Malayalam school of poetry. From the definition of the Pattu style given in the Lilatikalam, it can be surmised that the language of Kerala during this period was more or less in line with Tamil, but this has misled many people to believe incorrectly that Malayalam was itself Tamil during this period and before. However, till the 13th century there is no hard evidence to show that the language of Kerala had a literary tradition except in folk songs.
The literary tradition consisted of three early Manipravalam Champus, a few Sandesa Kavyas and innumerable amorous compositions on the courtesans of Kerala, which throb with literary beauty and poetical fancies, combined with a relishing touch of realism about them with regard to the then social conditions. Many prose works in the form of commentaries upon Puranic episodes form the bulk of the classical works in Malayalam.
The Pattu (a sutra devoted to define this pattern is termed a pattu) school also has major works like the Ramacharitam (12th century), and the Bhagavad Gita (14th century) by a set of poets belonging to one family called the Kannassas. Some of them like Ramacharitam have a close resemblance to the Tamil language during this period. This is to be attributed to the influence of Tamil works on native poets belonging to areas that lie close to the Tamil country. The words used in most of the Arabi Malayalam works, which dates back to 16th-17th centuries, are also very closer to modern Malayalam language.
It was during the 16th and 17th centuries that later Champu kavyas were written. Their specialty was that they contained both Sanskritic and indigenous elements of poetry to an equal degree, and in that manner were unique.
Unnayi Varyar, whose Nalacharitan Attakkatha is popular even today, was the most prominent poet of the 18th century among not only the Kathakali writers, but also among the classical poets of Kerala. He is often referred to as the Kalidasa of Kerala. Although Kathakali is a dance drama and its literary form should more or less be modeled after the drama, there is nothing more in common between an Attakkatha and Sanskrit drama.
That is to say, the principles of dramaturgy to be observed in writing a particular type of Sanskrit drama are completely ignored by an author of Attakkatha. Delineation of a particular rasa is an inevitable feature with Sanskrit drama, whereas in an Attakkatha all the predominant rasas are given full treatment, and consequently the theme of an Attakkatha often loses its integrity and artistic unity when viewed as a literary work.
Any Attakkatha fulfills its objective if it affords a variety of scenes depicting different types of characters, and each scene would have its own hero with the rasa associated with that character. When that hero is portrayed he is given utmost importance, to the utter neglect of the main sentiment (rasa) of the theme in general. However, the purpose of Attakkatha is not to present a theme with a well-knit emotional plot as its central point, but to present all approved types of characters already set to suit the technique of the art of Kathakali.
The major literary output of the century was in the form of local plays composed for the art of kathakali, the dance dramas of Kerala also known as Attakkatha. It seems the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva provided a model for this type of literary composition. The verses in Sanskrit narrate the story and the dialogue is composed in imitation of songs in the Gitagovinda, set to music in appropriate ragas in the classical Karnataka style.
Besides the Raja of Kottarakkara and Unnayi Varyar referred to above, nearly a hundred plays were composed during this century by poets belonging to all categories and subscribing to all standards, such as Irayimman Tampi and Ashvati Raja, to mention just two.
Devotional literature in Malayalam found its heyday during the early phase of this period. Ezhuthachan referred to above gave emphasis to the Bhakti cult. The Jnanappana by Puntanam Nambudiri is a unique work in the branch of philosophical poetry. Written in simple language, it is a sincere approach to the advaita philosophy of Vedanta.
It took nearly two centuries for a salutary blending of the scholarly Sanskrit and popular styles to bring Malayalam prose to its present form, enriched in its vocabulary by Sanskrit but at the same time flexible, pliable and effective as to popular parlance.
As regards literature, the leading figures were Irayimman Thampi and Vidwan Koithampuran, both poets of the royal court. Their works abound in a beautiful and happy blending of music and poetry. The former is surely the most musical poet of Kerala and his beautiful lullaby commencing with the line Omana Thinkalkidavo has earned him an everlasting name. But the prime reason why he is held in such high esteem in Malayalam is the contribution he has made to Kathakali literature by his three works, namely the Dakshayagam, the Kichakavadham and the Uttara-svayamvaram. The latter's Kathakali work Ravana Vijayam has made him immortal in literature.
The first printed book in Kerala was Doctrina Christam, written by Henrique Henriques in Lingua Malabar Tamul. It was transliterated and translated into Malayalam, and printed by the Portuguese in 1578. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan was the first to substitute Grantha-Malayalam script for the Tamil Vatteluttu alphabet. Ezhuthachan, regarded as the father of the modern Malayalam literature, undertook an elaborate translation of the ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata into Malayalam. His Adhyatma Ramayana and Mahabharata are still read with religious reverence by the Malayalam-speaking Hindu community. Kunchan Nambiar, the founder of Tullal, was a prolific literary figure of the 18th century.
The British printed Malabar English Dictionary by Graham Shaw in 1779 was still in the form of a Tamil-English Dictionary. The Syrian Christians of Kerala started to learn the Tulu-Grantha Bhasha of Nambudiris under the British Tutelage. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar wrote the first Malayalam travelogue called Varthamanappusthakam in 1789.
Work on Bible translations in Malayalam was begun in 1806 by Pulikkottil Joseph Ittoop and Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban, with the support of the Rev. Claudius Buchanan (a missionary) and Colin Macaulay (the British Resident of Travancore). Their first edition was published in 1811. Macaulay, who was also a gifted linguist, supervised the actual translation work.
The educational activities of the missionaries belonging to the Basel Mission deserve special mention. Hermann Gundert, (1814–1893), a German missionary and scholar of exceptional linguistic talents, played a distinguishable role in the development of Malayalam literature. His major works are Keralolpathi (1843), Pazhancholmala (1845), Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1851), Paathamala (1860) the first Malayalam school text book, Kerala pazhama (1868), the first Malayalam dictionary (1872), Malayalarajyam (1879) – Geography of Kerala, Rajya Samacharam (1847 June) the first Malayalam news paper, Paschimodayam (1879) – Magazine. He lived in Thalassery for around 20 years. He learned the language from well established local teachers Ooracheri Gurukkanmar from Chokli, a village near Thalassery and consulted them in works. He also translated the Bible into Malayalam.
In 1821, the Church Mission Society (CMS) at Kottayam in association with the Syriac Orthodox Church started a seminary at Kottayam in 1819 and started printing books in Malayalam when Benjamin Bailey, an Anglican priest, made the first Malayalam types. In addition, he contributed to standardizing the prose. Hermann Gundert from Stuttgart, Germany, started the first Malayalam newspaper, Rajya Samacaram in 1847 at Talasseri. It was printed at Basel Mission. Malayalam and Sanskrit were increasingly studied by Christians of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta. The Marthomite movement in the mid-19th century called for replacement of Syriac by Malayalam for liturgical purposes. By the end of the 19th century Malayalam replaced Syriac as language of Liturgy in all Syrian Christian churches.
Thanks to the efforts of kings like Swathi Thirunal and to the assistance given by him to the Church Mission and London Mission Societies, a number of schools were started.
The establishment of the Madras University in 1857 marks an important event in the cultural history of Kerala. It is from here that a generation of scholars well versed in Western literature and with the capacity to enrich their own language by adopting Western literary trends came into being. Prose was the first branch to receive an impetus by its contact with English. Though there was no shortage of prose in Malayalam, it was not along Western lines. It was left to the farsighted policy of the Maharaja of Travancore (1861 to 1880) to start a scheme for the preparation of textbooks for use by schools in the state. Kerala Varma V, a scholar in Sanskrit, Malayalam and English was appointed Chairman of the Committee formed to prepare textbooks. He wrote several books suited for various standards.
The growth of journalism, too, helped in the development of prose. Initiated by missionaries for the purpose of religious propaganda, journalism was taken up by local scholars who started newspapers and journals for literary and political activities.
Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar, (1861–1914) from Thalassery was the author of first Malayalam short story, Vasanavikriti. After him innumerable world class literature works by was born in Malayalam.
With his work Kundalatha in 1887, Appu Nedungadi marks the origin of prose fiction in Malayalam. Other talented writers were Chandu Menon, the author of Indulekha, a great social novel, in 1889 and another called Sarada. Also there was C V Raman Pillai, who wrote the historical novel Marthandavarma in 1890 as well as works like Dharmaraja, and Ramaraja Bahadur. O. Chandu Menon wrote his novels "Indulekha" and "Saradha" while he was the judge at Parappanangadi Munciff Court. Indulekha is also the first Major Novel written in Malayalam language.
In poetry there were two main trends, one represented by Venmani Nampoodiris (venmani Poets) and the other by Kerala Varma. Kerala Varma belonged to Parappanad royal family based at Parappanangadi. The latter's poetry was modeled on the old Manipravalam style abounding in Sanskrit words and terms, but it had a charm of its own when adapted to express new ideas in that masterly way characteristic of himself. His translation of Kalidasa's Abhijnanasakuntalam in 1882 marks an important event in the history of Malayalam drama and poetry. Also Kerala Varma's Mayura-sandesam is a Sandesakavya (messenger poem) written after the manner of Kalidasa's Meghadutam. Though it cannot be compared with the original, it was still one of the most popularly acclaimed poems in Malayalam.
One of the notable features of the early decades of the 20th century was the great interest taken by writers in translating works from Sanskrit and English into Malayalam. Kalidasa's Meghaduta and Kumarasambhava by A. R. Raja Raja Varma and the Raghuvamsa by K. N. Menon must be mentioned. One of the most successful of the later translators was C. S. Subramaniam Potti who set a good model by his translation of the Durgesanandini of Bankim Chandra from an English version of it.
The early decades of the 20th century saw the beginning of a period of rapid development of all branches of Malayalam literature. A good number of authors familiar with the latest trends in English literature came forward to contribute to the enrichment of their mother tongue. Their efforts were directed more to the development of prose than poetry.
Several Bengali novels were translated during this period. C. S. S. Potti, mentioned above, also brought out the Lake of Palms of R. C. Dutt under the title Thala Pushkarani, Kapalakundala by V. K. Thampi and Visha Vruksham by T. C. Kalyani Amma were also translations of novels by Bankimochandra Chatterji.
Among the original novels written at that time only a few are worth mentioning, such as Bhootha Rayar by Appan Thampuran, Keraleswaran by Raman Nambeesan and Cheraman Perumal by K. K. Menon. Although many social novels were produced during this period, only a few are remembered, such as Snehalatha by Kannan Menon, Hemalatha by T. K. Velu Pillai and Kambola-balika by N. K. Krishna Pillai. But by far the most inspiring work of that time was Aphante Makal by M. B. Namboodiri, who directed his literary talents towards the abolition of old worn-out customs and manners which had for years been the bane of the community.
Short stories came into being. With the advent of E. V. Krishna Pillai, certain marks of novelty became noticeable in the short story. His Keleesoudham proved his capacity to write with considerable emotional appeal.
C. V. Raman Pillai was a pioneer in prose dramas. He had a particular knack for writing dramas in a lighter vein. His Kurupillakalari of 1909 marks the appearance of the first original Malayalam prose drama. It is a satirical drama intended to ridicule the Malayali official classes who started imitating Western fashion and etiquette. There were other authors, less well-known, who wrote in this vein.
Under the guidance of A. Balakrishna Pillai, a progressive school of authors appeared in almost all branches of literature, such as the novel, the short story, the drama, and criticism.
Kumaran Asan's celebrated poem, Veena Poovu (The Fallen Flower) depicts in a symbolic manner the tragedy of human life in a moving and thought-provoking manner. Vallathol's Bandhanasthanaya Aniruddhan, which demonstrates an exceptionally brilliant power of imagination and deep emotional faculties, depicts a situation from the Puranic story of Usha and Aniruddha. Ulloor S. P. Iyer was another veteran who joined the new school. He wrote a series of poems like Oru Mazhathulli in which he excelled as a romantic poet.
The three more or less contemporary poets Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer considerably enriched Malayalam poetry. Some of their works reflect social and political movements of that time. Asan wrote about untouchability in Kerala; Ullor's writings reflect his deep devotion and admiration for the great moral and spiritual values, which he believed were the real assets of ancient social life of India. They were known as the trio of Malayalam poetry. After them there were others like K. K. Nair and K. M. Panikkar who contributed to the growth of poetry.