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Exploring the World of Malayalam Literature by stepping in the chronology of the region

Malayalam literature is the entity of literary works in South India's Malayalam dialect. The evolution of literature written in Malayalam can be split into three distinct periods - Old Malayalam (Early Period), Middle Malayalam and Modern Malayalam (Modern Period) 

Old Malayalam (Early Period)

This period was dominated by folk songs and ballads that had indigenous origins. Folk songs are Malayalam's earliest known literary genres. They were simply verbal songs. Some noteworthy folk song ballads were the Vadakkan Pattukal (Northern songs) of North Malabar and the Thekkan Pattukal (Southern songs) of Southern Travancore. Some of the first Mappila songs (Muslim tunes) were traditional folk ballads as well. Malayalam literature remained in its early stages for the first 600 years of the Malayalam calendar. Malayalam literature at the time was primarily composed of many different musical styles (Pattu). Songs glorifying the goddesses of the region, folk songs of courageous soldiers, songs about the work of a single community, and songs designed purely for amusement were all prevalent. A significant literary piece from this time period was the Ramacharitam written by a poet who went by the pen name, Cheeramakavi. The Ramacharitam was a collection of poems and tales about the Yuddha Kandha of the Ramayana which recounted the events of the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana of Lanka. 

Middle Malayalam

This period majorly revolved around the Manipravalam literary style and the Niranam poets. Manipravalam's writings include Sandesa Kavyas and Champus. The former, based on Kalidasa's Meghaduta, are "message poems" with 2 sections: the first explaining the conditions under which the message should be sent and the path it should take, and the 2nd specifying the female character and the true message. The Unnunili Sandesam, the greatest earliest surviving literary work in this style, was most likely composed in the 14th century, but the legacy of this form of poem has paved its way into the modern era as well. Champus are intricate masterpieces that alternate between verse and prose verses to address a specific motif. While Manipravala poetry thrived as a deflection from the common literary traditions, the practices established by Cheeraman of Ramacharitam and the more informed among the unidentified folk poets was restarted and renewed by three authors known as Niranam composers: Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar, and Rama Panikkar. The Bhakti movement had an impact on them. The Bhakti movement was thus resurrected, and in the position of the Manipravalam poets' extreme eroticism and sensuality, they established the sincerity of the poetic profession. It is presumed that they were all part of the same Kannassa family, and that Rama Panikkar was the nephew of both Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar.

Modern Period

  • Prose literature: The usage of prose gained importance in the nineteenth century with the rise of Christian missionaries in the region. The creation of school textbooks led to the rapid advancement of the process. Moreover, the spread of European literature prompted efforts at Western-style writings. Oyyarathu Chandu Menon's Indulekha, which depicts the impact of Western values on a conservative Hindu family, was published in Malayalam in 1889. Modern Malayalam literature emerged around the turn of the twentieth century, inspired by Western writing styles. Other literary forms that thrived during this time period were literary criticism and fictional literature.


  • Poetry: Prior to independence, poets composing in multiple native tongues fueled the nationalist movement. Vallattol Narayana Menon was an exceptional Malayalam spokesperson. He transcribed Sanskrit creations and authored numerous poems based on Sanskrit frameworks before turning to nationalistic verses. Many of his creations are religious in nature and often demonstrate a compassionate comprehension of other people's beliefs. In his later life, he, like many relatively young poets, focused on social justice. After independence, there was a transition toward modernism and postmodernism. Warrier and Ayyappa Paniker are two renowned names when it comes to Malayalam poetry in this era.

  • Drama: C.V. Raman Pillai's melodramas authored in the emulation of Shakespeare and Molière in the first quarter of the 21st century marked the beginning of the contemporary drama. However, recent advancements in drama emerged in the 1930s, advocating progressive change through theater productions. N. Krishna Pillai and Pulimana Parameswaran Pillai's dramas ushered in a new era with profound theater performances that dealt with serious issues. Later writers such as Narendra Prasad, Balachandran, and C.N. Srinath used postmodernist facets in their work.


Q1. Who is popularly known as the Father of Modern Malayalam literature? 

Thunchathu Ezhuthachchan is regarded as the Father of Modern Malayalam literature, having written extensive literary works that touch upon the history of Malayalam literature. 

Q2. Which is the first ever literary piece in Malayalam literature? 

The earliest surviving literary piece written in Malayalam is the Ramacharitram authored by Cheeramakavi. This piece of literature recounts the Yuddha Kanda of the Ramayana written by Valmiki.