Thunchathu Ezhuthachan

Malayalam literature passed though a tremendous process of development in the 15th and 16th centuries. Cherusseri's Krishnagatha bore witness to the evolution of modern Malayalam language as a proper medium for serious poetic communication.

Alongside there flourished numerous Sanskrit poets who were very active during this period. The greatest of them was Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam. The Manipravala poets were no less active, as is shown by a series of Chambus and Kavyas and single quatrains produced in the period, the greatest monument of which is perhaps the Naishadham Chambu. But the most significant development of the time took place in the field of Malayalam poetry.
Thunchattu Ezhuthachan, the greatest Malayalam poet of all time, wrote his two great epics Adhyatma Ramayanam and Srimahabharatam and two shorter pieces, Irupattinalu Vrittam and Harinama Kirtanam and thereby revolutionized Malayalam language and literature at once. He is rightly regarded as the maker of modern Malayalam and the father of Malayalam poetry. The study of Malayalam should properly begin with the acquisition of the skill to read Ezhuthachan's Ramayanam with fluency. It was in his works that the Sanskrit and Dravidian streams in our language as well as literature achieved a proper synthesis.
The evolution of modern Malayalam becomes complete with his judicious fusion of the disparate elements. In his diction there is no violation of euphony. Ezhuthachan's mind and ear went together in the selection and ordering of phonological and morophological units. The Kilippattu form he adopted in Ramayanam and Bharatam may be a pointer to his recognition of importance of the sound effect in poetry. It enable him to combine fluency with elegance, spontaneity with complexity, naturalness with depth of meaning and simplicity with high seriousness. His choice of classcial Dravidian metres in preference to both the classical Aryan metres and the Dravidian-based folk metres reveals his concern for striking a balance in most of his endeavours . Ezhuthachan is the greatest spokesman of the Bhakti movement in Malayalam but he is more than a writer of devotional hymns. It is possible to think of him primarily as a poet imbued with a sense of mission, but not willing to fritter away his energies on negative projects like castigating any section or community.
Ezhuthachan is the greatest synthesizer Kerala has ever seen. A non-Brahmin himself, who studied the Vedas and Upanishads without prior priestly sanction, he was yet devoted to the real Brahmins and always revealed a sublime sense of humility. Critics have sometimes, in their over enthusiasm and admiration for the poet, pointed out that whenever he has to mention Rama or Krishna, he goes into raptures and produces a string of the Lord's names. If this is shown as an inability on the part of the poet to decide what is proper and what is improper in a given situation, it would only mean denigrating Ezuthachan as a poet. Ezhuthachan is a master of auchitya or the quality of propriety in writing. It could easily be seen that the intrusion of his personal bhakti is not at the expense of aesthetic propriety. The very fact that he close Adhyatma Ramayana and not Valmiki Ramayana as his model, shows that devotional effusions are automatically justified in his telling of the story of Rama. Bhakti becomes the Sthayibhava and it would have been improper if he narrated the story merely as an account of events without any transcendental significance.
That Ezhuthachan is not a mere translator is granted by all critics and scholars. In fact he follows the earlier Kerala writers in freely elaborating or condensing the original as he thinks proper. The celebration of this freedom gained in poetic creation is what enlivens and ennobles the hymns interspersed in his works. There seems to be another superstition among some critics that his Bharatam is more poetic than his Ramayanam. This again arises from the misconception that devotion is an anachronism in poetry. In Ezhuthachan's time there was no dissociation of religious sensibility and devotion and spirituality could always go together. His Bharatam is a later work, a more nature work but its artistic greatness does not depend on the exclusion of bhakti in it. As a matter of fact his Bharatam is as much imbued with religious devotion as his Ramayanam. The differences are perfectly consistent with the change of subject matter and the period of composition. The bhaktivadi critics who praise Ramayanam purely as a devotional work are unconsciously belittling Ezhuthachan. His greatness as a poet consists in the appropriateness of the form he chose and the language he used for what he wanted to present to the people of his time as well as of later times.
The transition from Cherusseri to Ezhuthachan marks the triumph of modernism over medievalism. This is very much in evidence in the self restraint with which Ezhuthachan resorts to the use of figures of speech. There is an urbanity and refinement in his portrayal of Ravana and Duryodhana. He was able to achieve the perfect integration of the literacy and the spiritual; one was not scarificed for the sake of the other, for the new, that would spoil both. This liberalism enabled Ezhuthachan to excel his predecessors in the presentation of the different rasas and bhavas. Some passages will illustrate this wonderful versatility. Here is Gandhari's lament on the battlefield of Kurukshetra:

"My child, my son, Duryodhana!
Why have you thrown away
Your golden crown and jewels
And the pomp and pride of the king of the Gods
And all the show of splendour and prowess
Thus deserting me and your dear father'
All so suddenly? My heart breaks at this sight.

Are you, who used to lie in a silken bed,
Now lying lifeless in a pool of blood?
Maruti in great anger has smashed
Your leg and killed you thus.
I cannot bear to see this, alas!"
So Gandhari ran and fell and rolled round
Then fainted and woke up and again
Cried in great grief and began to say.....

He is most eloquent when he comes to praise Rama or Krishan. The visual power of the following description of Krishna in the thick of the battle is indeed marvellous:
The colourful peacock feathers fixed in a row
And brought together and tied up on the top
With the heavy tresses so like dark clouds,
The jewelled diadem with its glitter and glow,
The dangling little curls on the forehead,
The tiny particles of dust on them,
The tilak too moist with sweat,
The beauty of the brows that keep moving
To create, protect and destroy and world,
The eyes that reflect the changing sentiments
With pity and compassion for the lowly and
Anger towards the cruel and the wily,
Love for the lovely, wonder at the squabble,
Laughter for the stupid, terror for the foes,
The cheeks that reflect the jewelled ear-rings,
The lotus face, the nose with, beads of sweat,
The glowing smile and the lovely lips,
Garlands swaying on the breast
Made of tulsi and lotus and and tender leaves,
Strings of rubies and Kaustubha jewel
Around the neck, the whip in hand
The breast smeared with kumkum,
The bright yellow clothes, the anklets,
The twin lotus feet, as in my heart,
So saw I clearly in the chariot to my joy.

The choice of the metres in each of the six cantos of Adhyatma Ramayana is itself an unmistakable indication of Ezhuthachan's native sense of the cultural moorings of his people: Keka for Balakandam, Kakali for Ayodhya, Keka again for Aranya followed by Kakali for Kishkindha, with a sudden change over to Kalakanchi in Sundarakanda and return to Kakali for the Yudhakanda. The changes in the tempo are clearly marked in these variations. The purely narrative portions have an even flow which is never allowed to drag. The slow-motion unfolding of beauty at close quarters is often rendered in appropriate metrical pattern as in the leisurely description of the childhood of Rama and his three brothers. Hanuman's leap to Lanka and his dangerous pranks there, are rendered in passage marked by a quicker tempo. The intimacy one feels in reading Ezhuthachan is accounted for by the efficient handling of the linguistic resources.
With his absolute sincerity, his adept skill in the use of language, his total dedication to poetry and religion, his disarming humility, Ezhuthachan was able to create and establish once and for all a language, a literature, a culture and a people. In later times, whenever there was a deviation or distortion in the cultural trend, the return to the central native tradition was facilitated by a true recognition and fresh realization of what Ezhuthachan had done and had stood for. He is thus a magnificent symbol or a great cultural monument.