Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala

Architects of Malayalam Poetry

Kannassan Poets
Known as Niranam poets, the Kannassan poets include Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar. It is believed that all of them hailed from Niranam, a hamlet near Thiruvalla Taluk at Pathanamthitta district. Members of the same family, they lived between AD 1350 and AD1450. Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar were uncles of Rama Panikkar. Kannappa Panikkar, the father of Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar, was known as Kannassan. But modern day -  researchers dispute that Niranam poets are of the same family. They argue that the Kannassan poets belonged to different regions. They contend that Madhava Panikkar who composed Bhasha Bhagavad Gita belonged to Malayinkeezhu, Sankara Panikkar, author of Bharatha Mala hailed from Vellangallur, and Rama Panikkar who wrote Ramayanam, Bhagavatham, Bharatham, Sivarathri Mahatmyam was from Niranam.

No gainsaying, the Kannassan poets occupied a place of pride above Ezhuthachan in Kerala. It is even believed that in poetic compositions, Ezhuthachan had borrowed from Kannassan poets.

‘Kannassan Parambu’ near Thiruvalla is supposed to be the birthplace of Rama Panikkar.

Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan
Ezhuthachan was a leading light of Bhakthi movement in Kerala who enjoyed the status of ‘Acharya’ (Guru) in Malayalam. He is also honored as the father of the Malayalam language. Literary historians include him in the category of ancient triumvirate poets. Ezhuthachan is the originator of ‘Kilipattu’ movement in Kerala.

It is generally believed that Ezhuthachan was born near the Thrikantiyoor Siva Temple by the side of the Ponnani river, Malappuram district. Unfortunately, there is no record to prove his parentage or the period during which he lived. However 6th century is accepted by scholars as the period of his life.

Even though we do not know his real name, Ezhuthachan himself had mentioned about an elder brother named Raman. So, some researchers maintain that as his elder brother was Raman, it was only natural that the younger one came to be known as Ramanujan.

Ezhuthachan’s Works: It is generally considered that the main works of Ezhuthachan are Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipattu, Mahabharatham Kilipattu, Irupathinaalu Vritham, Harinamakeerthanam, Chinta Ratnam and Uthara Ramayanam. Among his works, only Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipattu and Mahabharatham Kilipattu received much acceptance and appreciation. Though Bhagavatham Kilipattu is in the name of Ezhuthachan, most research scholars dispute it.

Thunchan Gurumadhom: A memorial in the name of Thunchathu Ezhuthachan situated at Chittoor in Palakkad district. According to Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, Ezhuthachan had visited holy places twice in his lifetime, and on his second visit he established the monastery. The ‘Madhom’ situated close to the Bharathapuzha river is supposed to have been built in AD 1554 (729ME). But there is little evidence to prove that the ‘Madhom’ was built by Ezhuthachan. The Acharya had trained disciples there and three of them followed his path. They were Karunakaran Ezhuthachan, Soorya Narayanan Ezhuthachan and Devan Gopalan Ezhuthachan. However, scholars differ, and going by the ‘Madhom records’ they establish that the ‘Madho’ was in fact established by Soorya Narayanan Ezhuthachan. The ‘Madhom’ is flanked by temples of Rama and Siva and agraharams of Brahmins.

A story has it that Ezhuthachan died in his house at Thrikantiyoor and as per his wish his disciple Soorya Narayanan established the ‘Gurumadhom’. It is believed that Soorya Narayanan collected the Acharya’s methiyadi (wooden slippers), yoga dandu (stick/rod), Bhagavatham, Bhasma sanchi (cloth bag or pouch for keeping sacred ash) and a few manuscripts from Ezhuthachan’s daughter or daughter-in-law. This story finds mention in Logan’s Malabar Manual. In a fire that broke out in 1868 the manuscripts, books and a major portion of the ‘Madhom’ were destroyed. However, the wooden slippers, yoga stick/rod and narayam (stylus) belonging to Ezhuthachan were retrieved. The ‘Madhom’ was later renovated by Bheenathu Gurudasan Koppu Menon of Chittoor in 1893. Ezhuthachan’s Samadhi (death), Shradham (solemn offerings to the departed) and Ramanujan Jayanti are observed at the ‘Madhom’. In the Rama temple, “Navarathri vilakku” is celebrated and “Ratholsavam” held in the Malayalam month of Meenam. The first date of the vilakku is referred to as “Ezhuthachan Vilakku”.

Malayalam poet, author of Krishna Gatha, a landmark in Malayalam literature, the real name or the period during which he lived is not clear. He adorned the court of Udaya Varma Raja of Kollathunadu in the 15th century. Cherusserry Illam (ancestral home) was situated in today’s Vadakara. Scholars say that it was under the instructions of Udaya Varma Raja that Cherusserry wrote Krishna Gatha, a long poem of epic dimensions. Described as the first Mahakavya (epic poem) in Malayalam, Cherusserry is considered one among the triumvirate poets of Kerala. Besides, Krishna Gatha, Cherusserry is supposed to have penned Bharatham. It is also known as ‘Bharatha Gatha’. While some dispute it as the work contains a lot of mistakes, others opine that it was written in his childhood days.

Poonthanam Namboothiri
A poet and ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, Poonthanam was a contemporary of Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri. Remembered for his magnum opus Jnanapana, it is believed that Poonthanam was born at Nenmeni ashram of Perinthalmanna at Malappuram district. Poonthanam is the real name of his ‘illam’ (ancestral home). Besides Jnanapana, Poonthanam composed Bhasha Karnamrutham, Santhangagopalam Paana, Parthasarathi Sthavam, Narayana Keerthanam, Dwadasakshara Keerthanam, Dasavathara Sthothrams, Ghana Sanghom and several others. Though there are many legends connecting Poonthanam with Melpathur and the Guruvayur Temple, the stories are not vindicated for lack of credible evidence.

Kunchan Nambiar
Poet, satirist and performer, Kunchan Nambiar is considered the originator of ‘thullal’ (a verse - narration with a little background music and dance-like swinging movement), a popular artform of Kerala. Considered a poet of the masses, however, there is no evidence regarding his parents and the period during which he lived. He is believed to have been born at Kalakathu Veedu at Kilikurissi Mangalam at Palakkad district. It is also believed that his father was a Namboothiri of Kidanganoor Kallampally Illam (ancestral home)  and mother, a nangiar. The name ‘Kunjan’ may have become ‘Kunchan’. It is also assumed that after primary education, he left Killikurissi Mangalam with his father and stayed at Ambalapuzha. Nambiar’s works tell us that he learnt ‘Kalari’ (martial art form of Kerala), Sanskrit from Mathoor Panickar, the army chief of Ambalapuzha king, Dronaballi Naicker and Nannikod Unni Ravi Kurup. He also studied astrology, literature and grammar. Legend has it that Nambiar began his career playing the ‘mizhavu’ (a musical drum used during such performances as Kutiyattam, Chakyarkoothu) under Chakyars. A story goes that once during a chakyarkoothu performance, Nambiar dozed off in between. An angry Chakyar ridiculed Nambiar in public. Hurt, as a mark of protest, the next day, Nambiar presented ‘thullal’ on stage challenging Chakyar.

Sources indicate that Nambiar initially accepted the patronage of Amabalpuzha Deva Narayanan, and later became a dependant under the Travancore kings. According to researchers, he stayed in Thiruvananthapuram for seventeen years and died of rabies.

Pleased with Nambiar’s performance, the king presented Nambiar with ‘Veera Srinkala’ and ‘Randekalum Koppum (i.e daily allowance of rice and curries etc). Such an order is contained in the royal proclamations of the period.

Kunchan Nambiar is credited with having composed many devotional themes for ‘thullal’ interspersed with humour and satire. A contemporary of Unnayi Warrier and Ramapurathu Warrier, he composed Sree Krishna Stothram, Manipravalam Kilipattu, Panchatanthram Kilipattu, Nalacharitham Kilipattu, Bhagavad doothu and Sivapuranam Kilipattu.

Ramapurathu Warrier
With just one poem, Kuchelavritham Vanchipattu, Ramapurathu Warrier attained the status of a great poet in Malayalam. He was a dependant of Marthanda Varma Raja.

Ramapurathu Warrier was born at Ramapuram of Meenachal Taluk, Kottayam district. According to Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, his real name was Sankaran and he was born to Padmanabhan Namboothiri of Poonam Illam and Parvathy Warrier of Anakkara Village in 1703 (678 ME, Kumbham 02). After completing his primary education he learnt Sanskrit from Unnayi Warrier at Irinjalakkuda. He had a talent for literature and music. He was also a scholar in astrology. There are legends that describe him as adept at garland-making.

Ramapurathu Warrier lived a life of abject poverty. It was a time when the Vadakumkur royal family stayed at Vellalapally. Warrier was a dependent of Ravi Varma Raja, who belonged to the Vadakumkur family. He would accompany the Raja to Vaikkom Temple, and worship the deity, Vaikkathappan. In 1750 (925 ME), Vadakumkur came under Travancore rule.  Marthanda Varma Raja of Travancore would sit for bhajan at Vaikkom Temple for days together. With the help of Ravi Varma Raja, Warrier met Marthanda Varma and submitted some Sanskrit slokas to him. One of the slokas described him as Kuchela, and the king was compared to Lord Krishna. Pleased with it, the Raja instructed Ramapurathu to convert the Kuchela interpretation to Vanchipattu style. While returning to the palace in Thiruvananthapuram, the Raja allowed Ramapurathu Warrier to travel in his royal snake boat. During the voyage, Warrier recited the Kuchelavritham Vanchipattu that he had composed.

Marthanda Varma Raja allowed Warrier to stay in Thiruvananthapuram for some time. The Raja ordered Warrier to translate Gita Govindam. Prior to the order he presented Warrier with a beautiful house and many gifts at Vechoor. Warrier later returned to Ramapurathu and spent the rest of his life there.

No doubt, it was ‘uchelavritham Vanchipattu that brought fame to Ramapurathu Warrier.  He translated  ‘Gita Govindam’ to Malayalam under the title Bhasha Ashtapadi. His other works included a Sanskrit interpretation of Amarakosham and Naishadom Thiruvathirapaattu. The introductory sloka of ‘Laghubhasha’ mentions that it was composed at the behest of Vadakumkur  Raja Ravi Varma.

It is believed that Ramapurathu Warrier breathed his last at Ramapuram in 1753 (928 ME).

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