Kunchan Nambiar

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Kunchan Nambiar
Born c.1705
Died c.1770
Occupation poet, performer

Kalakkathu Kunchan Nambiar(Malayalam: കുഞ്ചൻ നമ്പ്യാർ, kuñcan Nampyār) was an early Malayalam language poet, performer, satirist and the inventor of local art form Ottamtullal.[1] He is often considered as the master of Malayalam satirist poetry.

Kunchan Nambiar spent his early childhood at Killikkurussimangalam, his boyhood at Kudamalur and youth at Ambalappuzha. In 1748 he moved to the court of King Marttanda Varma of Travancore Kingdom and later to the court of his successor Dharma Raja. He had already written several of his works before leaving Aluva. Scholars like Mani Madhava Chakyar have the opinion that he and the Sanskrit poet Rama Pānivāda are the same. ("Pānivāda" means "Nambiar" in Sanskrit).

Nambiar's poetry lacks the high seriousness such as we find in Ezhuthachan. The difference here is significant. The two are complementary. Just as Kilipattu seems to express the total personality of a writer like Ezhuthachan, the Thullal brings out the characteristic features of the personality of Nambiar. Between them they cover the entire spectrum of humanity, the entire gamut of human emotions. No other Kilipattu has come anywhere near Ezhuthachan's Ramayanam and Mahabharatam, no other Thullal composition is ever likely to equal the best of Nambiar's compositions.

Literary career[edit]

The chief contribution of Kunchan Nambiar is the popularization of a performing art known as Tullal. The word literally means "dance", but under this name Nambiar devised a new style of verse narration with a little background music and dance-like swinging movement to wean the people away from the Chakyar Kuttu, which was the art form popular till then.

He used pure Malayalam as opposed to the stylized and Sanskritized Malayalam language of Chakyar Kuttu. He also adopted many elements from Padayani and Kolam Tullal and certain other local folk arts. It is reasonable to assume that he was himself a Tullal performer and writer. The first hand knowledge of the various talas and ragas (and even the practices of drummers) is a pre-requisite for the writing of a Tullal. Each Tullal composition consists of a local Puranic tale retold in simple rhythmic verse, fit for loud recitation before an local audience.

There are three kinds of Tullal distinguished on the basis of the performer's costume and the style of rendering, viz., Ottan, Sitankan and Parayan. Dravidian metres are used throughout although there is a quatrain in a Sanskrit metre. Kunchan Nambiar also developed new metres (for example; Vaytari metres) based on the vocal notation for various talas. The language is predominantly Malayalam with a large admixture of colloquial and dialectal forms. Kunchan Nambiar is often considered as the master of Malayalam satirist poetry. Humour is invariably the dominant mood in his works: other bhavas are brought in for variety and to suit the situation.

One of the oft-quoted lines from his poems are; "Nokkeda nammude margei kidakkunna markada niyangu mari kida saddha!" (in Nambiar's retelling of the ancient Indian epic Mahabharatha, Prince Bhima of the Pandavas tells half-brother monkey god Hanuman to move from his way, by saying "Go lie elsewhere, you obstinate monkey!").

Mizhavu used by Kunchan Nambiar at Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna temple

Poems[edit]

Many of his verses are considered as proverbs of the language.

1. ചെറുപ്പ കാലങ്ങളിലുള്ള ശീലം മറക്കുമോ മനുഷ്യൻ ഉള്ള കാലം (ceṟuppa kālaṅṅaḷiluḷḷa śīlaṃ maṟakkumō manuṣyan uḷḷa kālaṃ)

Translation: Will man, in his lifetime, forget habits from a young age?
Closest English equivalent: Old habits die hard

2. ദീപസ്തംഭം മഹാശ്ചര്യം, നമുക്കും കിട്ടണം പണം (dīpastaṃbhaṃ mahāścaryaṃ namukkuṃ kiṭṭaṇaṃ paṇaṃ)

Translation: The lighthouse is magnificent, we too want money.
Closest English equivalent: When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.

3. മുല്ലപ്പൂമ്പൊടി ഏറ്റു കിടക്കും കല്ലിനും ഉണ്ടാം സൗരഭ്യം (mullappūmpoṭi ēṯṯu kiṭakkuṃ kallinuṃ uṇṭāṃ saurabhyaṃ)

Translation: The stone where the pollen of the jasmine falls also has its fragrance.

In one of his poems, "Kalanillatta Kalam" (roughly translated as 'Time Without Any Death'), Nambiar wonders how life would be if there were no death. He sees homes crowded with ever-shrinking, aged ancestors.

"Tottodiya Pada" is a poem that describes in witty detail how an army retreats from a losing battle.

Extracts from Kunchan Nambiar's poems/writings[edit]

Kunchan Nambiar is believed to have written over forty Tullal composition. Some scholars allot a larger number to his credit. They belong to all the three types: 21 Otttan, 11 Sitankan and 9 Parayan. The most important of Nambiar's Thullals are: Syamantakam, Ghoshayatra, Kiratam, Santanagopalam, Patracaritam, Kartaviryarijunavijayam, Bakavadham, Kalyana Saugandhikam, Hariniswayamvaram, Tripuradahanam and Sabha Pravesam. Nambiar was an extrovert and observed the life around very closely. He was also very critical of the social evils he saw around him. Thus even when the main story is from the Hindu Puranas, he would introduce digressions in plenty and use such occasions to comment on life in his own time. He did not worry about the charge of anachronism. He knew his audience very well: not scholars and poets, but laymen, especially soldiers, barely literates. In one of his works he says:

It is impossible to entertain without laughter
Those soldiers who think they should stay
If it is a comic tale, or else shouldn't leave the place.

He is comparable to Chaucer and Rabelais for his boisterous humour and knowledge of contemporary life. Like them, he too borders on the obsence at times, as a matter of concession to the audience or readers. All classes of people and all professions come in for sharp criticism in his compositions: Nambudiris, Tamil Brahmins, Nayars, courtiers, courtesans. Nambiar is undoubtedly the greatest satirist in Malayalam. An example of how he introduced a satire on contemporary life into a text based on a puranic episode may be found in the following passage from Kartavirarjuna Vijayam. Ravana is speaking to Narada about his own prowess that has reduced other kings to utter misery:

The kingdom of the Gandharaka ruler
Has turned into a mere desert.
The land of the Simhala King
Is now filled with lions and leopards.
The lord of the Chera people
Feeds himself on cheap vegetables.
The Chola King has nothing to eat
Except the maize of low quality
The kings of the Kuru house
Have nothing but jackfruit seeds.
The lord of the land of Kashmir
Is busy eating cucumbers.
The ruler of the Champeya land
Eats only tubers and broken rice.
The Konkan prince is about to die
Thinking of his wives' breasts.

After Ravana reaches Hehaya, his messengers announce that everybody should owe allegiance to him:

Tributes must be paid from time to time;
Half the yield should be given to me.
The whole of pepper yield should be handed over
Coconut, arecanut, mango, jackfruit:
All the trees should be confiscated.
There will be no place in my country
For the pomp of local barons.
Double the seed crop should be given
To me by every houseowner.
The Tamil Brahmins (Pattars) staying here
Should also give one fourth to me.
The Nayars who stay at home
Should take their bows and spears
And stay at the residence of Ravana
And do whatever chores are assigned.
Nayars who drink toddy
Would be beaten up, beware!

References[edit]

  1. ^ Biographicon, 'Kalakkaththu Kunchan Nambiar'

External links[edit]