Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan

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Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan
Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan.jpg
A modern depiction of Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan
Born Trikkantiyur, Tirur, Malabar
Died Thekke Gramam, Chittur, Palakkad
Language Malayalam

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 of Kerala and the union territory of Lakshadweep – and its literature.[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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' 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 the privileged.[5] Ezhuthachan is also considered as a significant voice of the Bhakti movement in Kerala.[6]

Ezhuthachan's other major contribution has been in establishing an (51 character) alphabet system equivalent to Sanskrit instead of Vattezhuthu, the 30-letter script of Malayalam.[7]

The highest literary honour instituted by the Kerala Government is known as the "Ezhuthachan Award".[8]

Birth and life[edit]

Ezhuthachan is generally believed to be lived c. 16th century.[9] Though poet – turned – historian Ulloor S Parameshwara Iyer has surmised that he was born in 1495 AD and lived upto 1575, 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.[10]

Ezhuthachan was born at Trikkantiyur, near the modern-day municipal town of Tirur, in south Malabar. 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.[11] Though born in an under-privileged class (a low caste belonging to the "sudra" varna) of the social hierarchy of the times, Ezhuthachan had mastered the Veda and the Upanishads.[12]

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. [13]

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).[14] 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. [15] Ezhuthachan's samadhi is also situated there.[16]

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 advise 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.[17]

The present day entrance to Thunchan Parambu in Trikkantiyur

Caste of Ezhuthachan[edit]

According to Nair Service Society, Ezhuthachan was one of the prominent personalities who belonged to the Nair community. Meanwhile, the Akhila Kerala Ezhuthachan Samajam, the organisation that represents the Ezhuthachan community, has come forward with an objection, saying that Thunchath Ezhuthachan was not ‘Nair’, and that he belonged to the ‘Ezhuthachan’ community.[18]

According to Jack Goody, Ezhuthachan was a Nair of a lower sub-caste [19]

Cultural contributions[edit]

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.[20] 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.[21][22] 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.[23]

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.[24] 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).[25]

Adhyatma Ramayanam is also a spiritual text that gave momentum to the Bhakti cult in Kerala. [26] Ezhuthachan, along with Poonthanam Nambuthiri, was one of the prominent Bhakti devotional poets in Kerala.

Thunchan Parambu[edit]

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.

Cultural depictions[edit]

  • Theekkadal Kadannu Thirumadhuram (2004) by C. Radhakrishnan: a novel written by C. Radhakrishnan that sketched Ezhuthachan’s life and journeyed through the emotions he must have gone through. The take-off point for Radhakrishnan’s research was the tale of Ezhuthachan he heard as a child from his grandparents.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). "Malayalam" Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 2014: (Dallas, Texas) Web. 29 Sep. 2014.
  2. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  3. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  4. ^ G. PRABHAKARAN Ezhuthachan’s abode needs a prop CHITTUR (PALAKKAD), October 19, 2013 The Hindu [1]
  5. ^ Ezhuthachan's contributions recalled. THRISSUR, March 21, 2011 The Hindu [2]
  6. ^ Ezhuthachan gave voice to the voiceless: Azhikode THRISSUR, July 27, 2010 The Hindu
  7. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  8. ^ M.K. Sanoo wins Ezhuthachan Award Kochi, November 2, 2013 The Hindu
  9. ^ "Thunchathu Ezhuthachan". Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Kerala. Retrieved 29 October 2009. 
  10. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  11. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  12. ^ G. PRABHAKARAN. Thunchath Ezhuthachan's memorial starved of funds CHITTUR (PALAKKAD), June 14, 2011 The Hindu
  13. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  14. ^ G. PRABHAKARAN. Thunchath Ezhuthachan's memorial starved of funds CHITTUR (PALAKKAD), June 14, 2011 The Hindu
  15. ^ G. PRABHAKARAN Ezhuthachan’s abode needs a prop CHITTUR (PALAKKAD), October 19, 2013 The Hindu [3]
  16. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  17. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  18. ^ Aravind KS. Casteing a Shadow on the Legacy of Ezhuthachan The New Indian Express 9 September 2014
  19. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=B9SUyI-3tRwC&pg=PA134&dq=famous+Nayars&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwinq_q-9ZjKAhUIQiYKHaYSCSQQ6AEIPDAG#v=onepage&q=famous%20Nayars&f=false
  20. ^ Selected Works of Dr. Ezhuthachan (Volume I & II). KN Ezhuthachan Kerala Sahithya Akademi, Thrissur.
  21. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  22. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  23. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  24. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  25. ^ Ezhuthachan - Father of literary tradition in Malayalam Jul 5, 2003 The Times of India
  26. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu
  27. ^ K. SANTHOSH. "When Malayalam found its feet" THRISSUR, July 17, 2014 The Hindu