Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Mahakavi Vallathol

K. P. S. Menon

A Cosmopolitan Poet

Vallathol is universally acknowledged as the man who rescued Kathakali from oblivion. He is also known and acknowledged as a Mahakavi, a great poet. But there was another side to him. He was a cosmopolitan to his finger-tips.

Vallathol was a patriot, but his patriotism was not of the kind which Dr. Johnson called “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” He was no politician, though he adored Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhiji was more than a politician. In his noble poem, “My Master”, Vallathol has described Gandhiji as a compound of Jesus Christ’s self-sacrifice, Sree Krishna’s righteousness, Gautama Buddha’s non-violence, Sankaracharya’s intellect, Harischandra’s truthfulness and Mohammad’s integrity.

It was at the Vaikom Satyagraha that Vallathol met Gandhiji first. Gandhiji asked him whether he had taken to spinning. He said no.

“Why not?” asked Gandhiji.

“Because a poet lives in a world of his own, the world of imagination. Not for him manual work. It is through his writings that he influences the people.”

“Tagore said so to me, too”, said Gandhiji gently. “Do you believe in Khadi?” asked Gandhiji.

“Not only in Khadi, but in everyone of your teachings”, said Vallathol. And Vallathol’s poem, “Bapuji”, dealing with the last hours of Mahatma Gandhi and his funeral, is excruciating in its pathos.

Vallathol was a socialist, not in any dogmatic sense but in the sense that he had a social sense. He observed the discards of society and used his gift of poetry as an instrument for healing them. In his poem, “The Purest of the Pure”, he showed how bizarre could be the working of the evil of untouchability which had crept into Hindu society. A house is on fire; its inmates run hither and thither and rush to draw water from a well to put out the fire; but the high-caste owner of the well prevents them on the ground that at their touch the well might get polluted.

Vallathol’s vision penetrated beyond the borders of India. His travels to Europe, when he was in his ’Sixties, gave a new dimension to his vision; and his fervent nationalism gave way to a benign internationalism.

Vallathol was distressed by the inequality, injustice and oppression in the wor1d, which reached their climax; or had their Nemesis, in the two world wars. He took an interest in the World Peace Movement and attended its first session at Warsaw in 1950; and he visited Moscow in 1951 as a member of a Peace Mission. His visit to Moscow created a profound impression, and had an abiding influence, on him. He also visited a number of other European countries with a Kathakali troupe from Kalamandalam.

A tall lanky man in his ’Seventies, an out-and-out “native” in his manners and mannerisms, completely deaf (Vallathol lost his hearing at the age of 30 and has written a poem called “Badhira Vilapam” or “Lament of the Deaf”, reminiscent of Milton’s poem on his blindness), Vallathol was somewhat of a phenomenon wherever he went. At the Peace Conference in Warsaw, he electrified his audience by reciting his poem, “Song of the Peasant.” This has been translated into some three dozen languages. At the commemoration meeting on the occasion of the centenary of Vallathol’s birth, a representative of each of these States read the translation of Vallathol’s poem in his own language.

It was, so to say, a proletarian song, but it was proletarianism with a difference. It was a typical Indian compound in which vehemence and non-violence, proletarianism and patriotism, were equally mixed. The essence of patriotism is pride in one’s own country and faith in its mission. In his “Song of the Peasants” this element is harmonious1y blended with burning indignation at the lot of the peasant. For example:

To weave one’s live1ihood out of other people’s woes,
To erect lofty arches with others’ bones,
To build a flight of steps to heaven with others’ corpses,
This, the land of Ahimsa, will never permit.

This tusker, that is India, breaks its fetters,
Not to run amuck, trampling the world under foot,
But to lift up with its devoted trunk
The suffering kindred trapped in pits.

With all his fervent nationalism and internationalism, Vallathol remained at heart a Keralite. He was not afraid to be, or behave like, a simple Keralite even while entertaining sophisticated foreigers. When a delegation of Russian writers, headed by Surkov, came to India, one place which they were anxious to see was Kalamandalam in Cheruthuruthi, which was established by Vallathol as a centre for the development of our indigenous arts and culture. Vallathol received them in his loin cloth and gave them a typically Keralite reception. The food he served, too, was Keralite. It consisted of tender coconuts, sugarcane juice, fried bananas, gingelly cakes and other delicacies, and was typically Keralite in character. Nothing pleased, or would have pleased, the Russians better.

“Let our minds thrill with pride at the name of India”, said Vallathol, “but let our blood course through our veins at the sound of Kerala.” Charity begins at home. So, to Vallathol, did poetry. But it did not end there. His poetry embraced all mankind so much so that the premier poet of Kerala has also an honoured place among universal poets. As Harindranath Chattopadhyaya said:

Immortals come but rarely to earth,
And he was one of the Immortal Band.

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