The Romanitc Movement

The great renaissance that started in Malayalam literature towards the end of the 19th century found its most effective spokesmen in two great novelists and three poets. The two novelists were O.Chandu Menon of Malabar and C.V.Raman Pillai of Travancore. C.V.Raman Pillai was eleven years junior to Chandu Menon.

Both benefited from English education, but consistent with their respective gifts and temperaments, they achieved near perfection in what they tried to do. Their high position as supreme masters of the novel remains unchallenged till date. Chandu Menon is the greatest novelist in Malayalam, and C.V.Raman Pillai's Ramaraja Bahadur is the greatest novel. Chandu Menon's attention was focused on contemporary social reality and through it he discovered the eternal springs of human character. C.V.Raman Pillai used history as a means of unfolding the intricacies of human life, both on the socio-political plane and on the psychological plane. It is difficult to say whether he ever tried to explore history as a means of redemption. But it would be wrong to say that he does not concern himself with social reality: he does speculate on the role of leadership in society, on the fortunes of families through generations and on the conflict between character and destiny.

C.V.Raman Pillai's major contribution to fiction consists of Martanda Varma (published 1891), Dharmaraja (1893), Premamritam (started in 1915) and Ramaraja Bahadur (1918-20). Martanda Varma is a very early work, written under the direct influence of Walter Scott's Waverley novels, especially Ivanhoe. The history of Travancore (earlier Venad) -strictly speaking, the formationof the State of Travancore and its teething troubles - had caught and captured C.V.Raman Pillai's imagination from his student days and it continued to be a haunting obsession for an entire lifetime. Centring around the love affair or Ananthapadmanabhan and Parukkutty, the entire political conspiracy of Pappu Tampi and the Eight Nayar Houses against young Martanda Varma, the rightful heir to the throne on the matrilineal model, is hatched, unravelled, and foiled by the clever machinations of the prince and his able supporters. And yet outside of the involutions of the plot, the reader gets very little from the work. Most of the characters are either types or unfinished studies: the exception is Subhadra, that flickering wick of love and loyalty beaming through the solid darkness of intrigue and treachery enveloping the main plot. History appears here as a fairy tale where our wiling suspension of disbelief is the author's chief asset. The author himself makes it clear in the preface that he was writing historical romance. But the style is adequate, the narration is bold, and the plot is ingenious.
The work shows, even as Kerala Varmas Akbar tries to demonstrate, that the style for a novel of epic dimensions is a combination of Sanskritized diction, repeated rhetorical flourishes and heavy dramatic juxtapositions. The colloquial or contemporary language might be judiciously used for certain characters in certain scenes, but must inevitably merge in the larger sweep and must swell the chorus for the final effect. This principle is kept up in C.V.Raman Pillai's maturer novels also Dharmaraja, published twenty two years later, reveals what a big stride the author had taken during the interval. This is an unusual gap, but the glory is that C.V.Raman Pillai was able to bridge it and now with redoubled vigour and heightened imaginative power he ransacks the archives of Travancore history. Raja Kesava Das and the royal family, whose fortunes he consciously chose to espouse, recede into the background; even the nominal love story of Meenakshi and Kesavan Unnithan pale into relative insignificance. The psychology of revenge and personal ambition and the ultimate triumph of moral power are the things that neo come into the foreground. It is the tragedy of the Kazhakkoottam House- high tragedy overtaking the scion of that "family of the unflinching heart" - that holds the attention of the novelist as well as the readers.
Ramaraja Bahadur, C.V.Raman Pillai's masterpiece, is conceived on an epic style: the little love story of Savitri and Trivikraman cannot loom very large on this cyclorama of history where the clash of wits and the crash of arms overwhelm the readers. If there is an epic for the people of Kerala, it is perhaps Ramaraja Bahadur. The high seriousness of the work is unmistakable. What is at stake in Tippu's invasion and the battle that follows is the fate of millions, not of just a king or a royal family. But within the nerve centre of this conflict of historical forces, there is the delicate situation of the two Kesavas: Kesava Pillai Dewanji and Kesavan Unnithan. The resolution of this two-fold war on the domestic front stirred up by Unnithan's jealousy and war on the country's frontier - is brought about at one stroke at the end. The inscrutable destiny of man - of both the individual and the masses - is the central theme of Ramaraja Bahadur; the structure of the plot, the skill in characterization, the narrative and descriptive skill: all these are merely the means to the ultimate end of unravelling this mystery. Ramaraja Bahadur has attempted this more successfully than any other Malayalam novel written so far. Its imitators succumbed to an easy and total collapse because of their failure to understand this essential feature of C.V's art