Posts tagged ‘Malayalam’

Musings from Kochi-III

The complex alphabets

If you were to Google for “the toughest Indian language”, the instant pop-up on the screen would invariably be Malayalam. With fifty-six letters and many ligatures (combination of two letters), Malayalam is easily the language with the largest number of alphabets and words formed with some of these are a near impossible for a non-native to pronounce. Try uttering ‘Mazha’(rain), that almost everyday weather occurrence in Kerala or ‘Thengya’ (coconut) that indispensable ingredient in every Malayali dish, you would get a sample of what a tongue-twister of a language Malayalam is!  You might find ‘Elluppamaaya’ such a hard word to sound out, but it just means “easy’ in the language.  And when hungry, you may want to say ‘Viśakkunnu’ signalling time for the meal but might end up uttering ‘Viyarkkunnu’ meaning that you are sweating profusely, a physical condition soon after having a sumptuous Malayali feast. But sweat you definitely will pronouncing ‘Vazhappazham‘, a gorgeous word for the humble banana while trying to utter ‘Khizhakku’, meaning east, your tongue might take a flight northwards. Your few brothers would collectively be called ‘Sahodarangal’ but each one needs to be addressed according to their order of precedence. Thus the one elder to you is a ‘Chettan’ and the other younger, a ‘Aniyen‘ though many refer to them as ‘Moothadu‘ and ‘Elayadu‘, meaning the matured and the tender. Overwhelmed by the burgeoning complexity of the language, you may just want to give up attempting to dabble with the tongue and might decide to say so in colloquial Malayalam…’Ennikku Vyya‘! 

Yet it is the tough Malayalam which produces a vast body of literature across genres and the ratio of its readership to the native speakers is indeed the highest among all Indian languages. When the numbers of books published is very impressive, it is its circulation and the sheer volume of their sales that reflect the standing of Malayalam as a very vibrant literary language. This status is only further confirmed by the top of the chart readership for Malayalam newspapers and magazines among all regional languages and the trend shows no signs of abetting even in the digital era. The literary movement is only strengthened by a strong network of libraries in Kerala, both small and big, that ensures deep penetration of all published works in the language. It’s no accident that the writers in the language have been the recipients of many prestigious international awards and of course, a large number of Gyanpeeth award winners are Malayalis!

Translations of Paulo Coulho in Malayalam

Three distinct aspects can be discerned to have contributed to this pre-eminent status of Malayalam as a literary language par excellence. First, it is the religious literature of high poetical and philosophical merit produced in the language that contributed to it’s early growth. The ‘Adhyathma Ramayanam‘ by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan written in a bird song format called the “Kilipattu” is considered a classic and continues to be a highly revered and narrated epic text. To that the works of sages like Poonthanam, inculcating a strong devotional fervour, popularised the poetic language among the masses. Also, the early translation of Bible, incidentally by two Hindus,  Chathu Menon and Vaidyanatha Iyer, did further carry the written language to a wider audience. Second, the reform movements and the new political ideas that came from the West unleashed an epoch literary activity and an avalanche of classical works in the language came into existence. The contributions of the Great Trio – Kumaran Asan, Ullur Parameswara Iyer, and Vallathol Narayana Menon, gave the language a literary tradition and a modern outlook that helped it to absorb and assimilate fresh ideas. The later writers could build on this grand foundation and develop the language that’s capable of communicating highly complex social and political thoughts with ease. Third, Malayalam has been the language in which all the major international works got translated early on. Not merely of Marx, Tolstoy, Shakespeare or other internationally acclaimed writers but also the works of many lesser known African and Latin American authors were made available in Malayalam, enriching the literary pool and variety of the language. French novelist Patrick Modiano for instance, who won the Nobel Prize for his book, ‘In the cafe of the lost youth’ was translated into Malayalam six months before it was translated to English! About a hundred plus works in other languages are translated into Malayalam every year and there would hardly be a Nobel laureate in literature or a Booker prize winner whose work is not published in Malayalam! 

And as the Malayali diaspora spreads its wings across the globe, the appetite for the language in its various literary and cultural forms is only bound to grow and thrive. So the next time you meet a Malayali, along with asking her ‘Nadu Evideyya’ do also check out ‘Enndha Vayikene?’ meaning “ What are you currently reading?”

Yours

Narayanan  

Also read: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2022/04/11/musings-from-kochi-1/

May 1, 2022 at 1:39 am 16 comments

Classical languages, political agendas

Semozhi Aana Tamizhmozhiyam” blazes off the A R Rahman theme number composed to celebrate the conferment of classical status to Tamil. This ancient south Indian language, is now placed in equal extolled pedestal with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. A recent conference showcasing the antiquity, refinement and maturing of the language in the cultural, social, political and religious backdrops of its evolution was held in the city of Coimbatore. The conference captured the essential richness of language’s heritage and its vast literary traditions while scholars debated, dissected and endlessly devoured the sweetness of the innumerable works created in it. As the theme music played on every lips and reverberated on every hearts, Connoisseurs and commoners alike basked upon the fathomless beauty and glory of their tongue to their soul’s content.

To be called classical, a language should satisfy a set of most exacting criteria to which only a handful of the world’s languages qualify. First, it should be ancient, even dating back to antiquity and second, it should have an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own and not as an offshoot of another one. Thirdly, it should possess a vast and extremely rich ancient literature that is unique to it conforming to complex grammatical and literary patterns. And Tamil lives up to each of these benchmarks in ample measure and much beyond. The earliest stone inscriptions in the language dates back to 300 BC and judging by the maturity of the language used therein, it can be safely  said that its existence preceded these inscriptions by at least a thousand years. The language arose purely as an independent tradition not influenced by any other language streams and its literary repertoire is indescribably vast and rich. From the Tollkappiyam,  the Thirukkural and the Manimekalli to the modern works, Tamil literature exhibits a profound subtlety, complexity  and immense variety with underplaying universality in its themes. These characteristics make it all the more suitable to be called a classical language.

While Tamil flourished over the last few millenniums, another Indian classical language also achieved great literary advancement in the very same geographical region of southern India. Right from the beginning of the first century AD, Sanskrit achieved remarkable progress and made immeasurable contributions towards enriching the philosophy, culture, literature and music of the region through the works of the likes of Sayana, Vedanta Desika and Govinda Dikshita. Also, all the three proponents of the three main Indian philosophical streams of Dvaita, Visistadvaita and Advaita, namely Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya and Adi Sankara have their great volumes of work composed in Sanskrit language and all of them flourished in South India. Their commentaries or Bhashyas on Vedas and Upanishads are today the treasure chest of great Indian heritage as they stand unparalleled, both for the beauty of their compositions as well as for their profound philosophical thoughts. This contribution of the Sanskrit language in South India also extended to fields like mathematics, astrology and astronomy as the works of the stature of Baskaracharya illustrate.

When two great languages vibrantly thrive in close proximity, it’s but natural that they influence and get influenced by one another resulting in the evolution of a composite and highly refined literary traditions that paved the way for the emergence of the most sublime philosophical ideas expressed in flawless language. The Shivaite and Vaishnavite literature propagated by the Nayanars and Alwars   stand testimony to this confluence of thoughts. What is more, the origin and development of the language of Malayalam is the result of this happy and joyous inter-mingling of two great classical languages.

But when political considerations overtake historical truths, when narrow chauvinistic agendas indulge in mindless glorification of the one to the suppression and strangulation of the other, what we get is a truncated and often disfigured replica of an otherwise glorious past. The misplaced enthusiasm of some of the so-called custodians of the Tamil language and their intolerance to an equally vibrant Sanskrit literary tradition has caused immense agony to a large section who pride in their composite and highly refined cultural traditions.

“The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth, from whatever source it is heard” wrote Thiruvalluvar, the great Tamil poet (Tirukkural – 423) and the hardcore Tamil enthusiasts would do well to revisit his works before they indulge in rampant denouncements of the other classical traditions to which they also are the rightful heirs.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. To view the A R Rahman theme song click at the link given below

June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm 9 comments


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