Malayalam Language - History - 1607 To 1818

1607 To 1818

By the dawn of the 18th century Malayalam literature was in its full bloom thanks to the contribution of Ezhuthachan, who is looked upon as the father of modern Malayalam. His translation of the Adhyatma Ramayanam and the Bharatam brought about a revolution in the Malayalam language, so much so that it underwent a thorough change in vocabulary and style, freeing itself from the bondage of archaic forms almost akin to Tamil, with a bias towards Sanskrit. It was his works that standardized the language of Kerala. Modern Malayalam has not significantly changed thereafter.

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 was during this period that Christian missionaries made their contribution to Malayalam by compiling dictionaries in the language, translating the Bible into simple prose and translating verses on Biblical themes. Due to these foreigners, a revolution in prose writing was effected, freeing it completely from the bondage of the pedantic Sanskrit style. Books on astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine were written by scholars in Sanskrit.

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.

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