Kesari Balakrishna Pillai

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Kesari Balakrishna Pillai (1889–1960), was a Malayalam writer, art and literary critic, journalist, thinker and visionary.

Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, who was known by the name of the newspaper he ran, "Kesari". He was also a literary critic, essayist and translated literary works form French and other languages to Malayalam in order to give guidance to other writers. Kesari is the most influential figure in modern Kerala's intellectual life. M.N. Vijayan has compiled many of Kesari's works with the title "Kesariyude Lokangal".[1] He was a mentor of many writers. The Trivandrum Kesari Memorial Hall is named after Balakrishna Pillai. When Travancore rulers banned "Kesari", he left Trivandrum and the rest of his life was spent at Paravoor.

Family and early life[edit]

Kesari was born in 1889, his parents being Akathoot Damodaran Kartha and Parvathy Amma. Pillai belonged to the Pulickal Mele Veedu family of Thampanoor, Trivandrum.[2]

His father was a scholar of some repute. Later his father divorced his mother. Pillai had his primary education in Trivandrum and Quilon. He took his B.A in history from Maharaja's College, Trivandrum with distinction. He taught in Women's College, Trivandrum and Trivandrum Maharaja's College for some time. Kesari took his law degree while working. As he was not very successful as a lawyer, he took up journalism career.[3] He died on 18 December 1960.

Contribution to literature, studies of art[edit]

Pillai contributed to Malayalam literary criticism through his innovative, interdisciplinary approach, and his writings on art, particularly painting, are regarded as masterpieces.[4][5] He was a source of inspiration for writers such as Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, S. K. Pottekkatt, Vaikom Muhammed Bashir, Kesava Dev and others.[6] Balakrishna Pillai wrote extensively on movements in contemporary European literature. He advocated the use of the other disciplines like sociology and psychology in literary criticism. He helped to transform the Kerala Society with his "Futuristic" visions about a "New World". Pillai helped young writers to familiarise with German, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Greek and American literature. He translated Mauppasant, Balzac, Freud, Darwin etc. He wrote articles about Socialist views and Marxist principles.[7] He prepared the youth to step over the barriers of language, nations, and religion and created a new style of life.[8]

Progressive Arts and Letters Movement[edit]

By the 1930s the "Jeevat Sahitya Prasthanam" was inaugurated in Malayalam literature by a group of Marxist ideologists and some progressive writers including Pillai, Mundassery and M. P. Paul. Progressive writers tried to give new direction to Malayalam literature. In an era of Western literary and cultural paradigms, they emphasized on the importance of Prose fiction in Malayalam and also advocated for realism in literature. Jeevat Sahitya Prasthanam was later known as "Purogamana Sahitya Prasthanam". (Progressive Association for Arts and Letters).,[9][10]

Alternative methods of history[edit]

Pillai has helped to solve many puzzles of ancient history.[11] Though many of his theories were rejected during his times by academic intellectuals, his findings about the connection between the present day inhabitants of India with that of Western Asia is acknowledged by the modern History. Though the first Harappan excavations were done during the 1920s, only by the later part of the century, convincing evidences about Aryans migrating to India from Iran and nearby places emerged. However, with his penetrating analyzes, Kesari was able to present this theory decades earlier.

Notable personalities like E.M.S and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai admitted later that they failed to fully understand Kesari's writing on History when he was alive and acknowledged that they could understand it only decades later. Many other notable personalities thought Kesari was "eccentric" partly because it was too incomprehensible for them to take, and also because he used unconventional methods for understanding history. P. Govinda Pillai commented that Kesari, who otherwise traversed through the blistering spheres of modern thoughts, often aberrated into frivolous anarchism and childishly immature illusions.[12] Academic scholars often failed to take note that, when he actually tried to explore the pre-historical times, there were not enough archaeological evidences unearthed as it is the case today, which could help to throw light on the subject. Some of the modern historians[who?] points out today that, though one has to be careful while taking clues from myths, historians can not totally ignore the indications given by the myths and legends.

Pillai emphasized the importance of using alternative methods to understand pre-historic times and pointed out that comparable legends and myths obtaining in the regions concerned are more useful than archaeological, epigraphical, and literary sources.

Pillai said that ‘Yudhishtira' in Hindu mythology is same as Sumerian ‘Udultur' or identifying ‘Prachinabarhis' of the Puranas with ‘Erystheus' of the Greek legend; he is convinced that ‘Cakshusha Manu' is the same as Greek Danaus of Argos and Utnapishtim of Babylon. For him, the "protohistoric Olympiad era can be identified with the Kali or Agasthya era" and "Hercules was the Narasimha incarnation of Vishnu." If the chronology of all civilisations in the Old World had the same basis, their historical geography, too, rested on the same foundations. So also, in speaking about the "protohistoric" states, the author believes that the ancestors of "the Greeks and the Romans, of the Indians and Persians, of the Chinese and Tibetans, and of the Malays and Polynesians" were the same. Dvaraka was the same as Athens, Kosala was Kish, Mithila was Corinth, and Magadha was Nineveh.

Journalism[edit]

Pillai first worked as an editor of "Samadarshi" and later started his own journal "Prabodhakan" by collecting fund from in and out of India. When "Prabodhakan" was banned, A. Balakrishna Pillai founded and published "Kesari" which was an important weekly discussing politics and literature. Through the columns of "Kesari", he fought against the formidable autocracy of the Dewan of the erstwhile princely State of Travancore. "Kesari" also was banned by government because of his unrelenting criticisms against the misdeeds of Government.[13]

Published books[edit]

  • Kesariyude Lokangal - Edited by M.N. Vijayan.
  • Navalokam (The New World)
  • Outlines of the Proto-Historic Chronology of Western Asia.
  • Sankethika Nirupanangal Sahitya Nirupanangal
  • Rupamanjari.

E.M.S Namboodiripad and Pillai[edit]

Kesari was considered to be one of the visionaries of Progressive Movement of Arts and Letters of Kerala. However, later serious difference of opinion emerged between full-time Communist Party activists and other personalities, namely Kesari and Joseph Mundassery. In this context, E. M. S. Namboodiripad called Kesari as "Petit-Bourgeois intellectual", which later he corrected. It was Prof. T.P.Sukumaran who wrote letter to Namboodiripad requesting to re-consider his views about Kesari and his intellectual positions. Namboodiripad replied back saying he has to once again read old writings before stating anything on that subject. Later Namboodiripad publicly acknowledged the failure of Communist Party leadership in Kerala in rightly understanding the greatness of Kesari. Namboodiripad also acknowledged some of the earlier misconceptions of Communist Party with respect to Progressive Literature and Arts movement.

50th anniversary of death[edit]

The government of Kerala proposed to erect a statue of Pillai in Thiruvananthapuram to mark the 50th anniversary of his death,[14] but this was not completed by the anniversary.

A seminar took place at the Kesari Memorial Hall on the anniversary, and two books were published to mark it: Kesari A Balakrishna Pillai - Karmaveeryathinte Sooryasobha, and a collection of his writings, compiled by M. N. Vijayan.[15][16] Another seminar, entitled Kesariyude Lokam, was organised by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi in Trissur.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Hindu : Kerala News : M.N. Vijayan passes away
  2. ^ The Hindu : Thampanoor tales
  3. ^ The Encyclopaedia Of Indian Literature. By Amaresh Datta. Volume 1.
  4. ^ The Hindu : Kerala / Kochi News : C. J. Thomas remembered
  5. ^ http://www.mattersofart.net/bookreview3.html
  6. ^ Welcome to Frontline : Vol. 28 :: No. 25
  7. ^ http://dspace.vidyanidhi.org.in:8080/dspace/bitstream/2009/3792/7/KER-1985-037-6.pdf
  8. ^ http://www.kerala.gov.in/keralcaljan05/p40-41.pdf | Malayalam Criticism: The Trend Setters. Thumpaman Thomas
  9. ^ Welcome to Frontline : Vol. 28 :: No. 25
  10. ^ "Joseph Mundasseri" by P.P. Raveendran, Page 24 & 25, Sahitya Academy, 2002.
  11. ^ The Hindu : Arts / Books : Historical geography of western Asia
  12. ^ http://pgovindapillai.info/ArticleFiles/43dde5d2-77dc-1449-13d7-00005d55fb0cnv%20krishna%20varier.pdf
  13. ^ Western Influence on Malayalam Language and Literature by K.M. George. Page 191, Sahitya Academi.
  14. ^ http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/kerala/article621195.ece | The Hindu, 8 September 2010
  15. ^ http://expressbuzz.com/cities/thiruvananthapuram/kesari-balakrishna-pillai-remembered/232527.html
  16. ^ The Hindu : NATIONAL / KERALA : Modern Kerala owes much to Kesari: VS
  17. ^ The Hindu : Kerala / Thrissur News : ‘Kesari gave new identity to Malayalam literature'

Further reading[edit]

  • "Kesari Balakrishna Pillai" by K. M. George, Sahitya Akademi,1990.
  • "Kesari A Balakrishna Pillai - Karmaveeryathinte Sooryasobha" by Information and Public Relations Department

Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar was another Malayalam writer who was known by the pseudonym "Kesari".