|Native name||തുഞ്ചത്ത് രാമാനുജൻ|
|Born||Trikkantiyur, Tirur, Malappuram|
|Died||Thekke Gramam, Chittur, Palakkad|
Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan (Malayalam: തുഞ്ചത്ത് രാമാനുജൻ എഴുത്തച്ഛൻ, Tuñcattŭ Rāmānujan Eḻuttacchan) was a Malayalam devotional poet and linguist from around the 16th century. Today he is known as the father of Malayalam language – the principal language of the Indian state Kerala and the union territory of Lakshadweep – and its literature.
Ezhuthachan was born in Trikkantiyur, near the present day Tirur municipality. After the birth of his daughter, Ezhuthachan became a monk and wandered throughout southern India before finally building his monastery at modern day Chittoor, Palghat.
Ezhuthachan's contribution to the Malayalam language is widely considered as unparalleled. He brought massive changes and standardisation in the language through his works. He translated the two Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, to Malayalam for the common man with the mingling of the Sanskrit and Dravidian languages.
According to historians and linguists, Ezhuthachan refined the "style" of Malayalam language and it was during his period that Malayalam literature attained its "individuality" and Malayalam became a "fully fledged" independent language. He also brought the language to the level of the non-Brahmins's understanding. Ezhuthachan used Malayalam language to challenge the prevailing social conditions. He is known for using his literary works as a powerful tool against the rule of privileged. Ezhuthachan is also considered as a significant voice of the Bhakti movement in Kerala.
The highest literary honour instituted by the Kerala Government is known as the "Ezhuthachan Award".
Birth and life
Ezhuthachan is generally believed to be lived c. 16th century. Though poet – turned historian – Ulloor S Parameshwara Iyer has surmised that he was born in 1495 AD and lived up to 1575 AD, other scholars are not sure about it. Backed by painstaking research, C. Radhakrishnan argued that Ezhuthachan’s age must have been between 1475 and 1550 AD. It is however generally accepted that he lived in the sixteenth century.
Ezhuthachan was born at Trikkantiyur, near the modern-day municipal town of Tirur, in Malappuram. His precise birthplace is now known as Thunchan Parambu. His parent's names are not known clearly and there is some confusion about Ezhuthachan's actual name as well. After completing his education he got married but embraced "sanyasa" after the birth of a daughter. Leaving house he travelled to various places in Andhra and Tamil Nadu and learnt Telugu and Tamil. Some scholars surmise that his Ramayana and Mahabharata were adopted from the Telugu versions of these Sanskrit epics.
It is believed that Ezhuthachan on his way back from a pilgrimage to Tamil Nadu had a stopover at Chittur (in Palghat) and settled down at Thekke Gramam near Anikkode with his disciples. A monastery, then called "Ramananda ashrama" and now known as the Chittur Gurumadhom, was constructed by him on a piece of land donated by the Nair barons of the area. In this village he founded a Rama temple as well as a Siva temple. Ezhuthachan lived for nearly four decades at the monastery, writing his masterpieces (such as Adhyatma Ramayanam and Sri Mahabharatam). In his monastery, he trained a group of famous disciples, such as Suryanarayanan Ezhuthachan, Karunakaran Ezhuthachan, Devan Ezhuthachan and Gopalan Ezhuthachan. Suryanarayanan's Skandapuranam, Karunakaran's Shivaratri Mahatmyam and Devan's Vijnana Ratna and Vedantasaram are still considered as gems of religious literature in Malayalam.
The madhom is flanked by temples of Rama and Siva and the street has an array of Agraharas (where the twelve Brahmin families migrated along with Ezhuthachan live). At the madhom, some of the instruments used by Ezhuthachan are still preserved. A Sri Chakra and a few idols worshipped by him, the stylus, the wooden slippers, and a few old manuscripts are exhibited for visitors. Ezhuthachan's samadhi is also situated there.
Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of famous Narayaneeyam, was a friend of Ezhuthachan. It is said that when he sought the advice of Ezhuthachan about how to start his intended book, he gave him a cryptic advice to "start with fish", meaning to start with Matsya avatara - the fish avatar of god Vishnu. Bhattathiri understood the enigmatic message and started composing his poem in the Guruvayur Temple.
Caste of Ezhuthachan
According to Arthur Coke Burnell, the famous 19th century Sanskrit scholar, Ezhuthachan was a low - caste man. "His real name is forgotten; Thunchaththu being his house/family-name, and Ezhuthachan indicating his caste". In 1865, Burnell discovered the manuscript of Devi Bhagavatam allegedly translated and adapted from Sanskrit by Ezhuthachan, allegedly copied by his sister, preserved at Puzhakkal in the Chittur taluk
"Ezhuthachan was Brahman-without-a-father and on that account has no patronymic. The difficulties with which he had in consequence to struggle gave him an energy of character which it is probable he would not have possessed had his cast been without blemish. The Brahmins envied his genius and learning and are said to have seduced him by the arts of sorcery into the habit of ebriety, wishing to overshadow the mental powers which they feared. The poet, however, triumphed on his habits, though he could not abandom them, and in revenge against those whom he considered the cause of his debasement, he opposed himself openly to the prejudices and the intolerance of the Brahmans. The mode of vengeance he chose was the exaltation of Malayalam, declaring it his intention to raise this inferior dialect of Tamil to an equality with Sanskrit. In the prosecution of this purpose he enriched the Malayalam with the translations, all of which, it is said, he composed under the immediate influence of intoxication."
Burnell agreed with Ellis, saying that "Ezhuthachan [sic] lived in the 17th century; there is no reason for supposing that he was a Brahmin father's illegitimate son; he was certainly an Ezhuthachan (or schoolmaster) by caste."
Other sources consider him as a Kaniyar by caste. This community of traditional astrologers were well versed in Sanskrit and Malayalam. During the middle ages, when people, other than Brahmins, were denied of the right for learning Sanskrit, only the Kaniyar community had been traditionally enjoying the privilege for accessing and acquiring knowledge in Sanskrit, through their hereditary system of pedagogy. They were learned people and had knowledge in astrology, mathematics, mythology, the Vedas and Ayurveda. They were generally assigned as preceptors of martial art and literacy. In addition to the common title Panicker, the members of Kaniyar from the South Travancore and Malabar region were known as, Aasaan/Ezhuthu Aasans/Ezhuthachans (Father of Letters) respectively, by virtue of their traditional avocational function as village school masters to non-Brahmin pupils.
Ezhuthachan - although he lived around 16th century AD - is considered as the father of Malayalam language and Malayalam literature. No original compositions are attributed to Ezhuthachan. However, his contribution to the Malayalam language through Adhyatma Ramayanam is considered unparalleled.
Adhyatma Ramayanam, written in Kilippattu style, is considered as a landmark of Malayalam literature. Ezhuthachan used different Dravidian metres in the cantos of his poems: "Keka" for Bala Kanda and Aranya Kanda; "Kakali" for Ayodhya, Kishkindha and Yuddha Kanda; and "Kalakanchi" for Sundara Kanda. Throughout the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, Adhyatma Ramayanam is still recited - as a religious practice - in Hindu homes in Kerala. According to critic K. Ayyappa Panicker, those who see Adhyatma Ramayanam merely as a devotional work "belittle" Ezhuthachan.
Adhyatma Ramayanam, his other major work Sri Mahabharatam (translation of Hindu epic poem Mahabharata), and shorter pieces Irupathinalu Vrittam and Harinama Kirtanam mark the confluence of Sanskrit and Dravidian linguistic streams. However, there is no unanimity of opinion among the scholars about the authorship of certain other works generally attributed to him (such as Devi Bhagavatam).
Adhyatma Ramayanam is also a spiritual text that gave momentum to the Bhakti cult in Kerala. Ezhuthachan, along with Poonthanam Nambuthiri, was one of the prominent Bhakti devotional poets in Kerala.
Thunchan Parambu - the legendary location of Ezhuthachan's ancestral home - is now a Hindu pilgrimage centre. People from around Kerala come to take sand from the Thunchan Parambu to use in the initiation of their children to the alphabet (a Hindu ceremony). Every year, hundreds of people bring their children to Thunchan Parambu to write their first letters during the Vijayadasami (Dussehra) which falls in the months of October–November. Children are initiated into the "world of letters" by masters, teachers or parents by holding their fingers and writing the letters in a plate filled with rice. The letters will also be written on their tongues with a golden ring.
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