Biography and autobiography reflects the historical period in which the person lived and both contains the history of life. Writing about someone else’s life is biography. These branches of literature began during the 1870s. It is believed that the first autobiography was an account of the details of the lives of Appathadeeri and Vella. Vaikkom Pachumoothattu’s life story published in 1875 and a short autobiography written in English by Vishakam Thirunal Maharaja in 1880 belong to this category. Swadheshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai’s Ente Naadukadathal (1911), Sahitya Panchananan’s Smaranamandalam (1938), E. V. Krishna Pillai’s Jeevitha Smaranakal (1938, 1949), C. Sankaran Nair’s autobiography (1945) were some of the autobiographies in the beginning period. Nehru’s and Tagore’s autobiographies were translated to Malayalam in 1940 and 1947 respectively.
Post-independence many life stories and autobiographies appeared on the scene. Sardar K. M. Panicker’s autobiography was published in four parts between 1952 and 1954. Malayalam autobiography was enriched with the publication of C. Kesavan’s Jeevitha Samaram (1945), Mannathu Padmanabhan’s Ente Jeevitha Smaranakal (1957), K. P. Kesava Menon’s Kazhijakaalam (1958), artist P. J. Cherian’s Ente Kala Jeevitham (1964), Sebastian Kujukunju Bhagavathar’s Oru Nadante Athmakatha (1964), K. V. M’s Athmakatha (1966), EMS’s Atmakathak (1969), A. K. Gopalan’s Ente Jeevitha Katha (1972), Cherukad’s Jeevitha Paatha (1974), Father Joseph Vadakans’ Ente Kuthipum Kithapum (1974), P. Kunji Raman Nair’s Kaviyude Kalpadavukal (1975), Vaikkom Chandrasekharan Nair’s Anubhavangle Nanni (1985), E. Moidu Moulavi’s Moulaviyude Atmakatha (1985), Thikkodiyan’s Arangu Kaanatha Nadan (1991) are some of the most prominent autobiographies in Malayalam literature. Even today Malayalam literature is abounding with biographies and autobiographies.
Now one of the prominent branches of literature, biographies and autobiographes flourished during the 21st century. The first biography in Malayalam is the translation of an Italian work Visudha Thresiyayude Charita Samkshepam (1886) by Marcinos. The work of a Keralite in this field is by Vishakam Thirunal Maharaja’s translation of Monter’s ‘Treasury of Biography’ in two volumes. Valiya Koi Thampuran brought out a concise history containing 107 biographies in 1895. These were all translated from English. Dewan Sir T. Madhava Rayer’s short biography Rama Rayar, Lakshmana Rayar (1893), the biography of Devaji Beemaji, the founder of the newspaper Kerala Mitram, his biography was brought out by the editor of the newspaper A. T. Kunjuni. Parisramathaal Undaya Sambathu or Booker T. Washington’s Biography by K. Parmu Pillai (1904) Karl Marxine Patti by Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai (1912), Buddhacharitham by Thravathu Ammaluamma (1913), Sahithya Pranayinikal by Thomas Paul (1914, 1930) were some of the biographies in the beginning.
A Malayali writing about another Malayali, was considered to be the first biography in Malayalam and is that of P. N. Narayana Pillai’s Chithramezhuthu Koi Thampuran (1913). P. K. Paramesawaran Nair, Kandathil Varghese Mappila, Mahakavi K. P. Kesava Pillai, A. D. Harisarma, P. Anathan Pillai, K. Surendran, Unnikrishnan Nair, Mundassery, M. Bhageerathi Amma Thampuran, E. M. J. Venniyoor, T. M. Chummar, P. Sankara Menon, Prof. P. J. Purushothaman Pillai, Moorkothu Kunjappa, K. P. S. Menon, Dr. K. T. Ramavarma, K. P. Narayana Pisharady and many other eminent writers have made their presence felt in this field.
The field of biography/ autobiography/ pen-portraits literature is very popular in Malayalam. Taking a cue from tradition, the new generation is also very active in the writing of biographies and autobiographies.