The third quarter of the nineteenth century bore
witness to the rise of a new school of poets devoted to (1) the
observation of life around them and (2) the use of pure Malayalam.
they aimed at a certain simplicity and directness, preferring
words of Dravidian origin and Sanskrit words that would not sound
strange or harsh.
thus achieved a balanced middle style with a slight bias towards
the Dravidian elements (although "mahan" pseudo-Sanskrit
for Malayalam "makan" does not bear this out.) Euphony
was their watchword. An easy flowing diction that creates no
problem for loud and relaxed recitation, a smooth and even rhythmic
cadence, maximum clarity of meaning and a pervasive sense of
humour and light-heartedness: these qualities were inherited
from the chambus via the writers of the Muktakas (single independent
quatrains making up complete poetic crystals) like Chelapparampu
Nambudiri of a generation earlier.
The major poets of the Venmani school were Venmani Acchan Nambudiri
(1817-1891), Venmani Mahan Nambudiri (1844-1893), Poonthottam
Acchan Nambudiri (1821-1865), Poonthottam Mahan Nambudiri (1857-1896)
and the members of the Kodungalloor Kovilakam. The style of
these poets became quite popular for a while and influenced
even others who were not members of the group like Velutheri
Kesavan Vaidyar (1839-1897) and Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidyan
(1863-1894). The fact that they represented a kind of a moral
decadence is not fully recognized by scholars and critics. The
slight realism they resorted to was meant only to highlight
the down to earth appeal of their erotic exuberance. They were
incapable of moral earnestness or intellectual high seriousness.
There is nothing in their writings that remind us of the central
tradition of Malayalam poetry, beginning in folk poetry and
later Ramacharitam and gradually evolving through the Niranam
poets, Cherusseri, Poonthanam, Ezhuthachan and Kunchan Nambiar.
It is necessary to point out that Nambiar's humour has a basis
in social criticism. The humour of the Venmani poets is an end
in itself; it is an indulgence in the ludicrous and ridiculous
for its own sake. This explains why they could write Ambopadesams
over and over again, in which a grandmother gives instructions
to the granddaughter on the art of courtsanship. Venmani Mahan,
Cochunni Tampuran ,Naduvath Acchan, Oravankara Neelakantan Nambudiri:
each wrote an Ambopadesam on the moder of the old Manipravala
classic Vaisika Tantram. They all invariably resorted to Sanskrit
metres in these works. Another favourite form of poetic exercise
for these poets was to bring together the names of contemporary
poets comparing them to various flowers (as in Kavipushpamala,
by Venmani Mahan), to different characters in Mahabharata (as
in Kavibharatam by Kunjukuttan Tampuran), to characters in Ramayana
(as in the later Kaviramayanam by Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panikkar),
to animals (as in Kavimrigavali by Oduvil Kunjukrishna Menon)
and to birds (as in Kavipakshimala by Koyippalli Paramseswara
The most representative poem of the Venmani school is perhaps
Pooraprabandam which reveals both the strong and the weak points
of the movement. Except for the modernity of the diction and
the finish in versification, it is difficult to see any great
difference between the descriptive passages in Pooraprabandam
and those in the earlier chambus (where also we get realistic
descriptions of local people and market places with a touch
of pointless humour).
The Kodungalloor school was an offshoot of the Venmani School,
but some of the poets like Kunjukuttan Tampuran had a greater
seriousness in their vocation. The best evidence for his commitment
to his vocation in his magnificent translation of the whole
of Vyasa's Mahabharata completed in the course of a few months.
But most of the Kodungalloor poets took poetry for a pastime
and indulged in versification for want of any other form of
entertainment. The neoclassical games of instant poetic composition,
verse-making competition, recitation competition, joint composition
of poems, samasya or riddle completion, writing to prescriptions
and various other kinds of formulaic exercises were their main
concern. They have, no doubt, produced a number of quatrains
in Sanskrit metres which are pleasant to recite aloud but they
give no deep or complex experience to the reader. In their hands
poetry became a skill, a game, a performance without any spiritual
dimension. The various controversies of the time had nothing
to do with the fundamentals of poetic experience or poetic communication.
The squabble over the second syllable rhyme is a good example
to show how superficial they were in their speculations on poetry.
One hand only to look into Kalidasa's Meghadoot (Cloud Messenger)
to realize how the music of poetry was different from the concatenation
of similar consonants in the different lines of a stanza. But
that was perhaps the last breath of the neoclassical trend which
ushered in the Romantic Renaissance at the end of the century.