Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan - Father of Malayalam, guardian of a culture

16 Aug 2020 14:15:55

Article.2_1  H

The Bhakti cult made Malayalam language richer and modern. Its socio-cultural influence among natives of Kerala was so deep, that it remains equally powerful through the last nearly five centuries. Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan's epic translations into local dialect in 'kilipaatt' form along with other poets belonging to the same cult, brought a self-respect to a community that would have otherwise been trapped into a cultural mess at the cost of semantic religion’s influence. Today, every Malayalam speaking Hindu home and temple accommodates this literature as an inseparably sacred spiritual piece. Ezhuthachan’s 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' kilipaatt shows the language could set a strong base for socio-cultural revaluation and spiritualism more popular among natives. Generations kept changing hands in this culture, more vigorously when its greatness was convinced since the 1980s. That was how 'Karkitaka' Maasam (Karkitaka month) became 'Ramayana Maassam', the month Ezhuthachan is specially revered and remembered.
Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan was known as the 'Father of Malayalam language and literature.' In Malayalam the word 'Thunchan' means the youngest, though he was one of the eldest among vernacular poets who had made the Bhakti cult popular among people of the region. 'Ezhuthachan' means 'Father of writing.' He was born in 1495 in a place near Thrikandiyoor Shiva Temple, Tirur Taluka of Malappuram district, Kerala. The year of his death was marked 1575 AD.
The Malayalam version of the 'Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipaatt' triggered a spiritual revolution across the Malayalam speaking region as laymen could access epic reading for their spiritual contentment in their local dialect. The impact of the revolution still continues as the generation continues to pass on the custom of reading the entire Adhyatma Ramayanam' over a month at every Hindu home as well as in every temple. In a way, he had made great contributions to the language and in building the Bhakti cult among people of all sects, cutting across castes within Hindus. The centuries-long Bhakti cult gained new momentum after he made 'Kilipaatt' (Parrot song), a new genre in the language, which is still popular.
He translated Ramayana into pure Malayalam 'kilipaatt' form and made it adaptive to the spiritual needs of people by carefully employing suitable Sanskrit sounds that carried power to influence nature. The translation and interpretation of 'Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipaatt' made Malayalam speaking locals familiar with the epic and closer to Ramayana stories and chanting. No other book ever written in Malayalam could be a better seller than 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' kilipaatt of Ezhuthachan.
More than four and half centuries have been over after his lifetime, he still occupies the tallest position in the literary gallery of Malayalam language, which was made modern and completely independent through the translation of the 'Adhyatama Ramayanam Kilipaatt'. All his works were in the genre of 'killipaatt'. Through the Malayalam version of the 'Adhyatama Ramayanam' he narrates the story of Vatmiki and Ramayan in a style of parrot singing. The poet requests a parrot to sing a song that narrates the story through the famous line in the book: ''Sree Rama Namam Paadi Vanna Payinkili Penne Sreerama Charitham Nee Cholleedu Madiyathe'' (dear bird that came chanting Sree Rama’s name! narrate me the tale of Rama without hesitation)
Similarly, no other literary figure in Kerala had contributed so richly to the native language to gain a dignified position among the Dravidian language than Ezhuthachan had done. Nearly a century ago Cherusseri Namboothiri had written 'Krishnagatha', the first complete Malayalam literary piece opening way for effective poetic communication. This inspired many other litterateurs of later centuries.
Ezhuthachan’s literary works known for magical sound effect, all of which eventually became spiritual texts for the Malayali speaking community, depicted the evaluation of the language that started from Cherusseri. Besides 'Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipaatt', 'Mahabharatam Kilipaatt' is another major epic translation work of Ezhuthachan in the 'Kilipaatt' genre. His other works included 'Uttara Ramayanam', 'Shathamukha Ramayanam', 'Bhaghavatham Kilipaatt', 'HariNaamaKeethanam', 'Kaivalya Neethi', 'Bhramanda Puranam', 'ShivaPuranam', 'DeviMaahathmyam' etc.
By accommodating the influence of both Sanskrit and Tamil in his book, especially in Adhyatma Ramayanam kilipaatt' Ezhuthachan could set a firm base for the local language and make it a respectable modern language, while retaining the spiritual influence of Sanskrit sounds in all his epic verses. He had a deep insight into the spiritual force of Sanskrit sounds, which had power to induce even nature, and tried successfully to bring the benefit of this to his native readers too. He had taken care of this in his 'Kilipaatt' through setting sounds accordingly so that it could retain the same spiritual power that Sanskrit delivered through epic verses. He made all his literary pieces equivalent of divine verses while translating it into the modern language.
Though there are many versions of Ramayanam in many regional languages written by spiritual scholars, 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' had in it an extraordinary spiritual power, by virtue of its amazing juxtaposition of words and overall structure. Episodes in the epic history of Lord Rama were linked with divine spirit and elucidated to make it a perfect holy text for laymen. Ezhuthachan was deeply attracted to the spiritual embodiment of the episodes in the 'Adhyatma Ramayanam'. In the Malayalam translation, Ezhuthchan retained the same spiritual vivacity through maintaining a unique sound craft.
For instance, Ezhuthachan used a technique of having beejakshara (seed of resonance) of 'ra' 'ma' 'ya' 'na' in all the couplets in 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' translation. That ensured a sacred utterance of each couplet with one of the four sounds, thereby naturally fetching a power of chanting a mantra. At the same time, he had a vision that poorly educated readers might make oversight distortion of sounds so that the wrong chanting would become sinful. Thus, he deliberately altered the flow of such metrical technique in the couplets at certain places to save the chanters from the burden of accidental slip-up in utterances.
Ezhuthachan was considered no less than an incarnation of God for many convincing reasons. Not much was known about his childhood; nor about his Sanskrit learning other than some anecdotal assumptions concluded by some literary historians in later years. There were many myths behind Ezhuthachan’s life. Nothing was documented about his age and biography, except his legendary translation works and other literary contributions to the Bhakti Movement of Kerala. These works reflected the classical culture of Kerala and carried the fragrance of the soil.
Historians and researchers tried coin available evidence of the era of 15th and 16th Century to draw an unsuspicious conclusion about his life. It was on the basis of such a conclusion, a legendary Malayalam poet, Ulloor S Parameshwara Iyer, said Ezhuthachan lived between 1495 and 1575 AD. No historian or researcher has ever dissented with this finding. In fact, evidence of other literary figures who contributed to the spiritual movement of the middle age also supported this finding. All works of Ezhuthachan were not only superior grade literary pieces, but also of religious mantras typical of the predominant local Hindu culture. The volume of work that he had finished after learning Sanskrit and relearning the depth of native Malayalam for translation from Sanskrit, was much more than anyone in his or her could ever do.
It seemed, Ezhuthachan was sent to save a community, which would have been trapped in the missions of semantic religions brought in from abroad. There were many reasons to rightly believe so. Many poets and philosophers of the land also could find in him a holy power, mainly because of the immensity of his work that he completed during his lifetime and style of his creations. He had understood the spiritual necessities of his natives, who could neither access learning of Vedas and Upanishads nor learn any scripture so easily in those days. He was deeply attracted towards the Sanskrit version of the 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' written by an unknown sage, a native of Karnataka. He knew a translation would be helpful for laymen to learn epic and puranas.
Ezhuthachan was not a Brahmin. Though he belonged to a lower caste, he was highly revered as a holy man by Brahmins after his works of epic translations. The elite Brahmins often sought his advice as a literary scholar with sound knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindu mythology. When Melppathoor Narayana Bhattathiri fell sick of paralysis, he sent someone to seek the advice of Ezhuthachan to learn what to do for a recovery through spiritual means. In reply, Ezhuthachan delivered a message with a suggestion to go for a 'serving' of (deal with) Matsya.
Apparently that sounded strange, especially that it was a message to a Brahmin. However, what he meant was to work on Matsyaavatar of the lord Vishnu and subsequent avatars until Krishna. The message had gone well with Melppathoor and he could comprehend with a spiritual spark within him what Ezhuthachan meant by it. That was one of the sources Melppathoor got for engaging himself into writing of the legendary Narayaneeyam, which contained 100 deshakas in Sanskrit. That was another major contribution to the Bhakti Movement of the entire southern hemisphere of India after Ezhuthachan’s Adyaatma Ramayanam Malayalam Version. All the Shloka of the Narayaneeyam were written by Melppathoor while being in meditation at Guruvayoor Temple.
The Malayalam month of 'Karkidakam' passes through days of famine and heavy rains. There is a veil of darkness everywhere, also deep in the minds of people. Natives live in anxiety and see only uncertainty around them during the rainy month. A way out of their agony has been only through a bhajan. For more than four centuries, spiritually highly enlightened native Hindus used to read the entire Adyatama Ramayanam 'Kilipaatt' over the month. The practice was not so popular until the early 1980s.
In 1982, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had its meeting in Kerala attended by seers like Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Vishweshwara Theertha, VHP leaders like Karan Singh and delegates of many socio-cultural organizations. VHP called for people of Kerala to observe 'Karkidakam' as 'Ramayana Masam' (Ramayana month) and read the full epic at every Hindu home over the rainy month. Today, every Malayali Hindu does it at home, be it in Kerala or anywhere in the world they have settled, carrying with them a copy of the epic. 'Karkidakam' is known popularly as 'Ramayana Masam' in every vernacular calendar and the 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' has become the largest selling Malayalam literary book every year.
Revered by Sanskrit scholars and elite Brahmins of the era, the lower caste-born Ezhuthachan’s works and popular acceptance of all his literary pieces among people of all sections with high respect stood as a towering example of how Brahmin supremacy was misconstrued in the history of Kerala.
- Udaykumar K. V
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