Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala

Early Poetry known as ‘Pattu’

The poems that come under the category ‘pattu’ are written in the Tamil script, using Dravidian metres, and contain the metres ethraka and mona. Based on these findings, the right to be considered the first poetry work in Malayalam goes to a composition named Ramacharitham, believed to have been written in the 13th century. The author, Cheeraman, based the story on Yudha Kanda or the Book of War, which is the sixth of the seven kandas (divisions) of Ramayana. The work, on the whole, has 164 stanzas and 1814 couplets. The rule of using the Tamil script and metres like ethraka and mona were later relaxed.

The next important poets of the pattu movement were Malayinkeezhu Madhavan, Vellangalloor Sankaran, and Niranathu Raman.  The trio, who lived in the 16th century, was collectively known as Kannassa Kavikal. Madhavan composed the Malayalam version of Bhagavad Gita. The author says that it was written with the blessing of Lord Krishna of Malayinkeezhu Sri Krishna Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram district. Vellangalloor Sankaran’s work was Bharatha Mala based on Mahabharatha.  Raman hailing from Niranathu near Thiruvalla produced the poetic work Kannassa Ramayanam. This is the first complete Ramayana written in Malayalam. All the three works remain good examples of the gradual fruition of Malayalam poetry.

Another prominent work in the ‘pattu’ movement is Krishna Gadha, written in the 15th century by Cherusseri Namboothiri.  

King Udayavarma was the ruler of Kolathunadu (an area comprising roughly of northern districts of Kerala and parts of Karnataka) from 1446 to 1465. Krishna Gadha was written upon the request of the king and that fact is clearly mentioned in the work. However, to this day, we don’t know the real name of Cherusseri Namboothiri. Another work belonging to this genre is Ramakathappattu, written by Ayyappillai Asan of Avadu Thurai in Kovalam and is believed to have been penned before the 16th century. There is enough evidence to confirm that Ramakathappattu was sung at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram to the accompaniment of the musical instrument ‘chandravalayam’.

Other works of poetry born in the 15th century are Vasudevasthavam, Avatharana Dasakam, Dasavatharacharithram, Chelloor Nadhasthavam, Ramayanakeerthanam, and Bhadrakaleesthavam. After that the poetry format called ‘chambu’, which was the precursor of the manipravala style that would soon followed, came into play. Prominent among the chambus are Ramayanam chambu of the 16th century, believed to have been written by Punam Namboothiri, Naishadham chambu of the 16th century written by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboothiri, Rajaratnavaleeyam, Kodiya Viraham, and Kamadahanam chambu of anonymous authorship written in the 16th century, and three ‘chambus’ Chelloor Nadhodayam, Thenkaila Nadhodayam, and Narayaneeyam, written by Neelakantan Namboothiri in the 17th century. These later became important works in the manipravala category.

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