Malayalam literature is one of the four dominant languages in South India. Other three are Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Malayalam literature comprises those literary works written in Malayalam, a South-Dravidian language spoken in the Indian State of Kerala.
The earliest known literary work in Malayalam languages is Rama Charitam, an epic poem written in the early or late 13th century. In the subsequent centuries, besides a popular pattu (song) literature, the manipravalam poetry also flourished. This manipravalam (‘ruby coral’) style mainly consisted of erotic poetry in an admixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Then came such works as campus and Sandesh kavya in which prose and poetry were intermingled.
Later, poets such as Cherusseri presented poetry on religious topics. Ezhuthachan, one of the major contributors in the Bhakti movement, is known to be the Father of Malayalam Literature. His poems are classified under the genre of Kilipattu.
For the first 600 years, Malayalam literature was in a preliminary and formative stage. During this period, Malayalam literature consisted mainly of songs and ballads. The most prominent among them were songs praising the goddesses of the land and harvest, ballads of brave warriors, songs regarding the work of a particular caste and songs for entertainment. Bhadrakali pattu, thottam pattu, mavaratham pattu, shasthang pattu, Krishi pattu, pada pattu, sarpa pattu, etc. were some of the major sub-genres. These names were not used historically, but are named in later times to describe the song genres of that time.
Ramacharitham is a collection of poems written at the end of the preliminary stage in the evolution of Malayalam literature. It is the oldest Malayalam book available. This volume contains 1,814 poems, based on the episodes of the Ramayana. It was written by a poet with the pen-name Cheeramakavi, who, according to Parameswar lyar, was Sree Veerarama Varman, a king of Travancore between 1195 to 1208. However, other experts like K.M. George, P.V. Krishnam Nair claim that the origins of the book can be found in North Kerala. They cite the use of certain words in the book and also the fact that the manuscript of the book was recovered from Neeleshwaram in North Kerala, Some other experts consider it a Tamil literary piece. A. R. Rajaraja Varma, who widely contributed to the development of Malayalam grammar, is of the opinion that Malayalam originated from ancient Tamil. Rev. Hermann Gundert, who compiled the first dictionary of the Malayalam language shows Ramacharitham as the specimen of the old style of the Malayalam language.
The field of Malayalam writers includes a number of people from various disciples and periods. Here are some notable figures from the 19th century onwards :
- Allegories: Rev. P. Chandran, Rev. K. Koshy, etc.
- Plays: A.T. Rama Varma, Kalloor Umman Philipose, K.C. Wadhyar, etc.
- Stories: A.T. Rama Varma, A.K. Koshy, V.K. Nayanar, etc.
- Novels: Rev. Joseph Peet, Richard Collins, O. Chandumenon, P.K. Ammanan Raja, C. Chathu Nair, C.V. Raman Pillai, K. Padu Menion, Joseph Mooliye, C.K. Nair, etc.
- Apologues: K.K. Nair or Pilo Paul, Thatha Kanaram, etc.
- Poetry: Arnos Poattun, Kunchan Nambiar, K.C. Mappillai, Kesava Pillai, Kumaran Asan, Parameswara year, V.N. Menon, etc.
- Modern Romantics: E.R. Pillai, C.K. Pillai, P.K. Nair, V.G. Kurup, P.N. Nair, M.P. Appan, Bodheswaran, etc.
- Other modern poets: G.S. Kurup, V.S. Menon, E.G. Nair, N.V. Krishna Warrier, T. Karunakaran, V. Ramavarma, P. Balan, S. Nambuthrippad, M. Govindam, A. Ayyappan, etc.
- Art Criticism: Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar (author of the NatyaKalpadruma theatrical study).