Malayalam Literature

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Malayalam Literature


the literature of the Malayali people, who live in the state of Kerala, India, and speak Malayalam.

The early Malayalam literary school (pacca Malayalam), which flourished from the tenth to the 12th century, is represented by folk legends, ballads, and songs. As a result of the long political domination of Tamil feudal lords, Tamil literature strongly influenced Malayalam literature. This influence, as well as the influence of Sanskrit works, gave rise to the Tamil and Sanskrit schools in early medieval Malayalam literature. Important works of the Tamil school include the 13th-century epic poem Biography of Rama, attributed to Chiraman, and the anthology Poems of Kannassan. The Sanskrit school is represented by sandesa kavya “message poems” and campu works in verse and prose. The language and style of these schools are discussed in the medieval treatise on grammar Lilatilakam (14th century).

Classical Malayalam literature, which flourished from the 15th to the 17th century, reflects the ideology of the bhakti religious reform movement. Outstanding examples are the Song of Krishna (15th century) by Cerusseri Namputiri from the Malabar Coast and the Spiritual Ramayana and the heroic epic Bharatam (Malayalam Mahabharata) by Tuncattu Ezuttacchan (16th century), a religious reformer and the founder of the modern Malayalam written language. Kuncan Nampyar (born 1705) created the tullal genre, a libretto for theatrical performances.

With the rise of national consciousness and the growing influence of journalism in the late 19th century, Malayalam literature revived. Works of this period include the short stories by Kerala Varma Valiokoil Tambiran (1845-1915) and the novel Indulekha (1888) by O. Cantu Menon (1847-99). Kumaran Asan (1873-1924), Ullor Parameswara Iyer (1877-1949), and Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958) made an important contribution to the revival of poetry. The upsurge in the liberation movement of the peoples of India in the 1930’s promoted the democratization of modern Malayalam literature and the strengthening of critical realism, for example, the short stories and novels of J. Mundasseri (born 1904), P. Kesava Dev (born 1905), V. Muhammad Basheer (born 1910), S. K. Pottekad (born 1913), and especially Takazi Sivasankara Pillai (born 1914). One of Pillai’s latest works, Steps of the Staircase (1966), portrays the social life of Kerala from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. In 1966 the poetry collection The Flute (1950) by G. Sankara Kurup (born 1901) was named as “the best work of the multilingual Indian literature in the period from 1920 to 1958” and awarded the Sri Prize. The Association of Progressive Writers of Kerala was founded in 1942.


Istoriia indiiskikh literatur. Moscow, 1964. (Translation from English.)
George, K. M. Literatura malaialam. Moscow, 1972. (Translation from English.)
Makarenko, V. A. “Literatura malaialam.” Indiia, 1972, no. 4.
Paul, M. P. Novel sakhitiam. Kottayam, 1953.
Parameshvaran Nayiar, P. K. Malaiala sakhitia charitram. Delhi, 1958.
Contemporary Indian Literature, 1965, no. 1.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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