There are various views about the origin of Malayalam. Many hold that it is the offshoot of Tamil, and a few believe that it owes its origin to Sanskrit. Others hold the view that it is a mixture of independent languages spoken by the aboriginal tribes of Kerala. Some of the modern linguists think that it belongs to the. Southern group of Dravidian languages. During the period of Aryanization in Kerala, Sanskrit and its proto forms came to exercise a great influence on the development of Malayalam language. With the emergence as a distinct language, Malayalam discarded the old Vattezuthu script and evolved a new script based on Grantha used in South India for writing Sanskrit. It is believed that Malayalam as a distinct language emerged in the 9th century A.D. In early Malayalam, there are folk songs and ballads, which were composed in a dialect closely resembling Tamil. They are grouped under the category of Pattu or songs. Onam songs, serpent songs, war songs and harvest songs were written in a simple language with beautiful descriptive effect. Vadakkanpattukal and Thekkan Pattukal (Northern ballads and Southern Ballads) were composed after the 12th century A.D.
Manipravalam, a new language, a mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit, evolved during the period from the 9th to the 12th century. It was the vehicle of literary expression after the 11 th century A.D. It symbolizes the social transformation that took place in Kerala after the llth century. The earliest manipravalam works are Attaprakaram and Kramadipika of Tolan, one of the luminaries of the Kulasekhara Age. Some scholars believe that Vaisikatantram is the first full-fledged Manipravalam work. It embodies the advice given by a mother to her daughter on the art of enticement. Some scholars believe that certain songs like Nalupadam in Yatrakali and Payyannur Pattola belong to a very early period. The greatest work of the period is Ramacharita, which deals with the Yuddhakandam or battle canto of the Ramayana. Manipravalam works are romantic and amorous
Champus and Sandesakavyas
Two forms of poetic expression came into existence in the Malayalam language in the 13th and 14th centuries. Unniaci Charitam, Unnichirutevi Charitam and Vnniati Charitam are the famous champus of the period. All these works give detailed descriptions of Devadasis. Unnunilisandesam and Kokasandesam are the Sandesakavyas of the period. Unnunilisandesam describes the places from Trivandrum to Kaduthuruthi.
Niranam poets and Cherussari
The Niranam poets enriched Malayalam language and literature by translations from Sanskrit, showing originality of treatment. They flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries. The outstanding poets of the group were Madhava Panicker, Rama Panicker and Sankara Panicker. Their important works are Ramyanam, Bharathamala, Bhagavatam, Sivarathri Mahatmyam and Bhagavat Githa. They belonged to the Kannassan family. They revived the tradition of religious poetry and their works are marked by the choice of vocabulary and loftiness of thought and imagination.
A new star was born in the literary fermament in the middle of the 15th century. This was Cherrussery Namboothiri who became immortal in the world of literature by his monumental work Krishnagatha. The theme of the work is Lord Krishna's life. In simple lucid style, he portrayed the warmth of love, with a sense of satire and romance. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Malayalam language got liberatedfrom Tamil and fell under the influence of Sanskrit. During this period, the poets were patronized in the courts of kings. The famous Patinettarakavikal (eithteen and a half poets) flourished in the court of Manavikrama, the Zamorin of Calicut. Punam Nambudiri was one of the celebrated poets of the court. He is well known for his Ramayana Champu. The ruler of Cochin, Kesa Varama Varma, also patronized Niranam poets (Mahisa Mangalam) who wrote Naishadham, Rajaratna valeeyam and other champus.
The beginning of the 17th century saw the resurgence of the Bhakti cult all over Kerala. The Bhakti cult found its supreme literary expression in the works of Thunchath Ezhuthachan and Puntanam Nambudiri. Ezhuthachan, father of Malayalam language, flourished in the beginning of the 17th century. Two epic poems, the Adhyattna Ramayanam andMahabharatham, and two other works, Irupathinalu Vrittam, and Harinama Kinhanam represent a landmark in the evolution of Malayalam language and literature and they are considered as the greatest classics in Malayalam. They were composed in the form of Kilipattu (Parrot songs). Melpattur Narayana Bhattatiri, the author of the famous devotional Narayaneeyam,a\so lived during the period. Another popular poet of Bhakti poetry was Puntanam Namboothiri who was a great devotee of Lord Krishna of Guruvayoor. His works, Sri Krishna Karnamrtam, Gnanappana and Santhanagopalam, have won for him immortal fame as a great devotional poet.
A new branch of literature known as Kathakali songs appeared in the middle of the 17th century. The earlier art forms such as Koodiattam, Kolamthullal, Padayani, Velakali, etc., influenced the evolution of Kathakali. Jayadeva's Geethagovmdam also influenced Kathakali a
lot. Manaveda, the Zamorin of Calicut, produced Krishnanattam in Sanskrit. A prince of Kottarakara composed Attakatha in Malayalam based on the story of the Ramayana for presentation on the stage. It is called Ramanattam. Kottayam Thampuran is also a pioneer in Attakatha literature. Nalacharitam written by Unnayi Warrier is the greatest of the Kathakali works in Malayalam literature. Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja), and Aswathi Tirunal Ilaya Tampuran composed Attakathas and enriched the Kathakali literature. Irayimmen Thampi composed three famous Attakathas: Kichakavadham, Uttaraswayamvaram and Dekshayagam.
Kunchan Nambiar and Ramapurath Warrier:
Kunchan Nambiar and Ramapurath Warrier contributed much to the efflorescence of Malayalam language. Both of them enjoyed the patronage of Marthanda Varma and Dharma Raja. Tullal works gave Kunchan Nambiar an immortal place in the Malayalam language. His sense of humour and satire secured for him an abiding place in the hearts of all Malayalees. He composed many literary works, which also expose and attack the social evils that prevailed in Kerala. His sense of justice agitated against corruption, favouritism, bureaucratic arrongance, etc. He drew his themes from the puranas, but the characters of Ottanthullal were given traits of the character of Keralities. He is the founder of the very popular and vigorous solo-dance called Ottamthullal. Ramapurathu Warrier, the pioneer of Vanchipattu, enriched Malayalam literature. His work Kuchelavritham, written on the occasion of the boat journey in the company of King Marthanda Varma from Alleppey to Trivandrum, describes the grinding poverty of Kuchela and the bountiful generosity of Lord Krishna
A number of Carmelite Missionaries prepared grammatical works, dictionaries and literary works both in prose and poetry which constituted the foundation of modern Mulayalam language and
Literature. Anjelo Francis, a Carmalite missionary, is considered by many to be the first Malayalam grammarian. Catholic missionaries compiled grammatical works and dictionaries. ArnosPatri, a German missionary, wrote a grammar and dictionary in Malayalam. Father Clement published a Malayalam dictionary for the foreign missionaries to study the language. Robert Drummond and F. Spring compiled works on Malayalam Grammar. Benjamin Bailey published several books in Malayalam. Dr. Hermann Gundert of the Basel German Evangelical Mission contributed his famous Dictionary and many Malayalam works on history, theology, grammar, etc. Rev. Richard Collins and many others contributed to the enrichment of the Malayalam language.
Swathi Tirunal, the Raja of Travancore in the 19th century, was a great poet and musical composer. Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran, popularly known as Kerala Kalidasa, wrote the famous translation of Sakuntalam. His Mayura Sandesam is one of the best known poems written in a highly ornamental style. A.R. Raja Raja Varma made lasting contributions .to Malayalam literature, and inaugurated a new era in modern Malayalam poetry. He is known as 'Kerala Panini'. He rote Kerala Paniniyam, Bhasha Bhushanam, Vritha Manjari, Sahitya Sahyam, etc. His famous translation of Kumara Sambhava maintains the standard of the original work.
Kunjikuttan Thampuran, venerated as Kerala Vyasa, translated the Mahabharata into Malayalam. During the period of the late 19th and early 20th century, Malayalam literature was enriched by • Mahakavyas written by Kochunni Thampuran K. C. Kesava Pillai, Pantalam Kerala Varma, Vadakkunmkur Raja, Vallathol, Ulloor, etc. The period of the brilliant trio, Kumaran Asan, vallathol and Ulloor marks the golden age of Malayalam poetry by virtue of their rich and valuable contributions. Asan's Vinapuvu won for him immortal fame as a great poet or Mahakavi. Asan established romanticism in Malayalam with all its richness and beauty. His other works are Nalini, Leela, Karuna, Sri Budhacharitam, Prarodanatn, Chandala Bhikshuki, etc. His poetry was characterised by revolutionary social content against casteism, exquisite beauty, unique flights of imagination, and noble ideas. He liberated Malayalam poetry from the shackles of traditionalism and visualised a new order of society based on individual equality.
Vallathol was a poet of Indian nationalism and freedom. His valuable contributions are Chitrayogam, Sahitya Manjari, Badhiravilapam, Kochusita Achchanum Makalum.&tc.Helransiated Valmiki Ramayanam andRigveda into Malayalam. He earned worldwide fame by reviving the art form of Kathakali.
Ulloor's important works are Umakeralam, Kerala Sahitya Charitram, Karnabhushanam, Pingala, etc. He wrote in a highly ornamental style both in poetry and in prose, emphasing moral and ethical values. The period also witnessed the literary contributions of Kuttipurath Kesavan Nair, Nalappat Narayana Menon, etc.
Changapuzha Krishna Pillai and Edappalli Raghavan Pillai were the two gifted poets of modern Malayalam literature and they created a new trend by writing in simple and beautiful Malayalam. They were poets of melancholy. They drew inspiration from the fleeting moments of life and sang without any mental reservation. The minds of the youth were inspired by the sweet melody of their verses and romantic feelings.
Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup was another gifted poet of the modern period. His poetry was characterized by spiritualism and materialism. His work Odakkuuzhal earned him immortal fame. His works are noted for their charm of description of the beauty of nature. He got Gnana Peetham Award in 1966.
Malayalam literature was also enriched by a new generation of poets like K. K. Raja, Balamani Amma, Kunjiraman Nair, etc. The new generation of poets like Vayalar, P. Bhaskaran, O.N.V. Kurup, etc., have further enriched the language and literature of Malayalam.
Kundalatha by T.M. Appu Nedugadi is the first novel in Malayalam. Indulekaha of O. Chandu Menon is considered as the first novel par excellence, depicting the feudal society of Kerala and the change that took place due to the influence of western learning. His Sarada is another novel that illustrates the feudal set up in Kerala.
C. V.RamanPillai's historical novels are Marthanda Varma, Rama Raja Bahadur and Dharma Raja. The other important historical novels are Appan Thampuran's Bhutarayar, Ambadi Narayana Poduval's Kerala Putran, Kappana Kridshna Menon's Cheraman Perumal, K.M. Panicker's Kerala Simham, etc. The progressive and revolutionary ideas of the modern age brought forth a new era in Malayalam fiction. Some of the prominent novelists and short-story writers of the modern period are Takazhi Siva Sankara Pillai, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, P. Kesava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey, S.K. Pottakat, P.C. Kuttikrishnan, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, etc. Takazhi's Randu Edangazhi, Chemmeen, etc.,opened a new era in the history of Malayalam novel. Kesavadev's Pappu, Odayilninnu, Branthalayam, etc. opened a new era in the history of Malayalam novel.
The history of Malayalam drama began in 1880, when Kerala Varma translated Abhijana Sakuntalam which came to be acted in a masterly manner. Kalyaninatakam of Kochunni Thampuran, Chandrika of Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Lakshmi Kalyanam of K.C. Kesavapillai, Ebraikutty of Kandathil Varghese Mappila, etc.,are some of the important dramatic works in Malayalam language during the period. Since the drama began to portray the social life of the people, it developed as a branch of Malayalam literature. In this connection, V.T. Bhattatiripad's Adukkalayilninnu Arangathekku, M.P. Bhattatiripad's Ritumati, K. Damodarn's Pattabakki, etc. inaugurated a new era in Malayalam drama.
N.Krishna Pillai opened anew chapter in the history of Malayalam literature and he is called the pioneer in modern Malayalam drama. Characters in his drama reveal the innermost recesses of the human heart and the firmness of human relationships. The progressive social dramas of Thoppil Bhasi have made their impact on the political thinking of the state. N. N. Pillai's new experiments have evoked popular interest. The political and social dramas influenced the cultural life of the people.
Literary criticism on modern lines originated in Malayalam since the days of A.Raja Raja Varma with his long preface to the
Nalacharitham and the brief foreword to Asan's Natini. Sahitya Panchanan P.K. Narayana Pillai wrote criticisms in the western style on the works of Ezhuthachan, Cherusseri, Unnayi Warrier etc. K.Ramakrishna Pillai, D. Padmanabhan Unni, etc., made their contributions to this branch of Malayalam literature. Kesari A. Balakrishna Pillai, evaluated contemporary literary works by applying western standards. M.P. Paul, who mastered western literary technique, gave leadership to progressive trends in Malayalam literature. The most outstanding celebrities in the field of literary criticism are Joseph Mundasseri, and Kuttikrishna Marar. Mundasseri inaugurated a new technique of literary criticism by synthesizing eastern and western literary tenets. He succeeded in holding aloft the banner of progressive literature. Kuttikrishna Marar was another distinguished representative of the literary heritage. He developed a style of sharpness and elegance in literary criticism. Dr. P.K. Narayana Pillai, Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai and Suranad Kunjan Pillai are recent scholars known for popularising literary research as a serious phase of criticism. Dr. K.M.George, SukumarAzhikode etc. have made substantial contributions to this branch of Malayalam literature.
Dr. Gundert's Malayala Bhasha Vyakaranam is the first comprehensive grammatical work in Malayalam. A.R. Raja Raja Varma's Kerala Paniniyam is the authoritative work on grammar in Malayalam language. Dr Gundert earned immortal fame as the first lexicographer in Malayalam. Srikanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai, R.Narayana Panicker, C. Madhavan Pillai, etc., published dictionaries in Malayalam. The University of Kerala published a comprehensive lexicon under the editorship of Suranad Kunjan Pillai.
The Kerala Sahitya Charitram of Uloor in five volumes is the most monumental work on the history of Malayalam language and literature. Scholars like Dr. Thomas, A.R. Raja Raja Varma, Dr. Godavarma, Prof. Elamkulam P. N. Kunjan Pillai and others made original contributions to the study of the history of the language.