Manipravalam (Macaronic) was a literary style used in medieval liturgical texts in South India, which used an admixture of Tamil and Sanskrit. Manipravalam is termed a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil. Tamil language was the language of the region, part of Tamilakam, at the time of Manipravalam's genesis and use and its introduction caused a significant transition of Malayalam from Tamil in Kerala. Mani-pravalam literally means ruby-coral, where Mani means ruby in Tamil while Pravalam means Coral in Sanskrit. Malayalam is referred to as ruby and Sanskrit as coral. This was prevalent in Vaishnavite religious literature in Tamil Nadu and literary works in Kerala.
Since Tamil Vatteluttu did not have characters to represent some Sanskrit sounds, letters from the Grantha script were used to represent them. Native words and grammatical endings were written using Vatteluttu, and Sanskrit words were written using Grantha. Essentially, it was a hybrid script composed of Vatteluttu and the Grantha script.
A parallel literary tradition existed during the period that derived inspiration from the Tamil poetic tradition, known by the name pattu. Leelathilakam, a work on grammar and rhetoric, written in the last quarter of the 14th century in Kerala, discusses the relationship between Manipravalam and Pattu as poetic forms. It lays special emphasis on the types of words that blend harmoniously. It points out that the rules of Sanskrit prosody should be followed in Manipravalam poetry. This particular school of poetry was patronized by the upper classes, especially the Nambudiris. The composition of this dialect also reflects the way Aryan and Dravidian cultures were moving towards a synthesis.
Dramatic performances given in Koothambalams, known by the names of Koothu and Koodiyattam, often used Sanskrit and Malayalam. In Koodiyattom, the clown (vidooshaka) is allowed to use Malayalam while the hero recites slokas in Sanskrit. Tholan, a legendary court poet in the period of the Kulasekhara kings, is believed to have started this practice. The language of Kramadeepikas and Attaprakarams, which lay down the rules and regulations for these dramatic performances, is considerably influenced by the composite literary dialect of Manipravalam. Various hagiographies on the life of the Vaishnava saint Ramanuja were in manipravalam.
Effect on the history of the Malayalam script
It is suggested that the advent of the Manipravalam style, where letters of the Grantha script coexisted with the traditional Vatteluttu letters, made it easier for people in Kerala to accept a Grantha-based script Ārya eḻuttŭ, and paved the way for the introduction of the new writing system. Eventually Vaṭṭeḻuttŭ was almost completely supplanted by Ārya eḻuttŭ, that is, the modern Malayalam script.
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After about AD 1500, translations from Sanskrit did appear, and unassimilated words began to flood literary Tamil; eventually a hybrid idiom (manipravalam) mixing Sanskrit and Tamil words, and Sanskrit words with Tamil inflections, was devised
- Manipravalam The Information & Public Relations Department, Government of Kerala.
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Malayalam is closely related to the languages of Tamil and Sanskrit. The language started as a variant of Tamil that was spoken in regions of Kerala. A significant transition from Tamil happened with the introduction of a form of literature called Mani pravalam which freely mixed words from Sanskrit into the language. Most words in traditional Malayalam has its roots in either Tamil or Sanskrit. Due to its lineage to both Sanskrit and Tamil, the Malayalam alphabet has the largest number of letters among the Indian languages.
- Menon, T. K. Krishna (1990). A Primer of Malayalam Literature. Asian Educational Services. p. 9. ISBN 978-81-206-0603-6.
In Lilatilakam, a very old work on Malayalam grammar, it is shown that Manipravalam is a combination of Malayalam and Sanskrit. The work then says that Tamil there means Malayalam. Tamil was a generic term for all Dravida languages in remote times
- Ke Rāmacandr̲an Nāyar (1971). Early Manipravalam: a study. Anjali. Foreign Language Study. pp.78
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