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....

Nationalism in Malayalam Literature

N. N. Pillai


The dawn of the 20th century witnessed dark clouds of discontent gathering in the political horizon of India. Indian National Congress had already attracted the attention of the intelligentsia all over the country. The sufferings caused by the first World War and the magic of Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal brought the issue of political dependence and colonial exploitation closer to the frame of mind of the common people, irrespective of region and religion. Yes, they were brought closer and imme­diately relevant to the common man, but relevance had to be brought home to him. He was poor, illiterate and unaware of the world around him, though his native intelligence and love for the mother-land were acknowledgedly unparalleled. One link was missing between the call of the time and response of the people. This most important link had to be provided through making them conscious of their plight as also their might. While political leaders and reformers strived to bring about this awareness through educating the people, the writers instilled in the minds of the people the emotional urge for liberation from foreign rule and charged them with the determination to act. Literature of the ’Twenties and ’Thirties in Indian languages gave expression to the spirit of renaissance which pulsed through the veins of the nation. Malayalam literature of that era is noted for poems which roused the spirit of nationalism with a deeper meaning as well as nationa­lism which stirred the patriotic sentiments.

The finest expression of his renaissance and nationalism are found in the works of the great poet, Mahakavi Vallathol, who was born 110 years ago and died at the age of 79, and who, by general consensus, was the national poet in Malayalam. Perhaps no other name comes anywhere near Vallathol’s in the context of nationalism in Malayalam literature either in the ’Twenties and ’thirties or any other period, though glimpses of such sentiments are available in the writings of some of his contemporaries. One of the earliest Malayalam novels, Indulekha, by Chandu Menon, for example, has its hero a young man who championed the ideals of Indian National Congress which came into being just two years before the novel was written. There were poets in whose volu­minous works a few stanzas can be discovered which showed their concern for the cause of freedom and integrity of the country. But, in the case of Vallathol, the love of the mother-land, its freedom and all that was glorious in India’s tradition and culture, was a commitment and not a passing sentiment. His poems, especially the lyrics, brought him much closer to the people than any of his contemporaries.

As a critic had described, Vallathol was three poets rolled into one–the classicist, the nationalist and the progressivist.

Nationalism, for Vallathol, began at home. Though politically divided into three parts at that time. Kerala was just one integrated entity for him.

The poet who started his career with a translation of a number of puranasinto Malayalam and ended with the translation of Rig Veda, no wonder, fostered the national concept based on our common cultural heritage. He drew inspiration both from our glorious past and the grass roots of our rural society. That is why Vallathol’s poems gave the cultural nourishment so badly needed for a people poised to rediscover and recapture their lost identity and at the same time created the unquenchable thirst for social justice with the spontaneity and supreme sensitivity rarely seen elsewhere Nationalism in its true sense should com­prehend not only the political aspects but also the spiritual and cultural spheres of a country and Vallathol’s nationalism should be understood in that larger perspective.

Emphasis on Unity

Most of the earlier poems included in the first four volumes of Sahitya Manjari, the eleven volume collection of the lyrics of the poet, echo his reverential tributes to the Arsha Samskara. These poems contribute a great deal to the appreciation by the common people of the oneness of this country and the values that had come down to the people, wherever they lived. It is on this strong foundation of pride in our heritage that he built the edifice of the contemporary India with all its human problems including dependence, poverty, casteism and exploitation. Another poet who had turned to promote love and reverence to our heritage during this period was Mahakavi Ulloor. His Karnabhooshanam Pingala and Chitrasalacontained glorious descriptions of great deeds of great people of India.

Vallathol was inspired by the national movement even before the advent of Mahatma Gandhi, his preceptor, on Indian political sscene. His poems on Dadabbai Naoroji and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak were the outpourings of a heart which pulsed with the heart of India. The poet blamed himself in a poem titled “Ingratitude” written in 1920, for not being able to contribute to the achieving of freedom of the mother-land.

While describing the dance of Krishna, on the thousand hoods of the mighty Kalia, the poet does not miss the opportunity to warn:

“O you world-conquering evil
However high you lift and spread your hooded head
One tiny little foot of this land of Karma
Is enough to trample it down and humble it.”

In one of his longer poems “Disciple and Son,” which carries all the characteristic graces of Vallathol’s poetry, a scene of confrontation between Lord Shiva’s disciple Parasurama and son Ganapathy, has been described. Parasurama, who forces his entry into the chamber of Shiva, defying the gatekeeper Ganapathy, receives a blow from the Lord’s son. Parasurama returns the blow and breaks one of the tusks of Ganapathy. In Parasurama Vallathol portrays a man of steel, Mother India was waiting for, a man who could not brook any delay and would not take any humiliation at anyone’s hands. This was because, says Vallathol, “the ancestral blood of Indians was not accustomed to take humiliation even at the hands of God.”

On Gandhi

In 1926 appeared two poems which were the curtain-raisers on his immortal piece on Mahatma Gandhi which appeared a year later. In these poems, Vallathol eulogised the greatness of non-violence as a form of struggle and introduced Gandhiji as the hope that had dawned in the east.

In a poem which exhorts people to do away with compla­cency, the poet says:

For whose darshanare our great preceptors, doing tapasya.
There you hear the distant footsteps of that Goddess of liberty
Your ears, that are polluted by listening to the commands of the oppressors
Purify yourselves, hearing that sweet sound of golden jingles
Have you swept off all the rubbish to burn?
Have you laid the carpet woven of equality, non-violence, Shamaand Dama?
Have you kept ready the oil of love?
To light the lamp in front of the Goddess?
Have you cleaned the flowers of your heart
To offer at the lotus-feet of the Mother?
Unpardonable, it is unpardonable.
The delay, the unpardonable delay.

Then came the well-known poem on Gandhiji. “Ente Gurunathan” (“My Preceptor”):

For him the world is the home
Even the plants and worms are his kith and kin
Sacrifice his achievement, humility his greatness
Spiritual force incarnate, my Preceptor.

Thus begins the poem The poet describes Gandhiji as a compound of Jesus Christ’s capacity for sacrifice, Krishna’s zeal for righteousness, Buddha’s devotion to non-violence, Shankaracharya’s intellectual grandeur, Harischandra’s truthfulness and Mohammad’s integrity.

Simultaneously, while articulating the national ideals before the people through the beauty and warmth of great poetry, Vallathol inspired thousands of young men and women through his stirring patriotic songs to plunge into the struggle for freedom. Old freedom-fighters of Kerala recall how they marched in hundreds toparticipate in Civil Disobedience movement and courted arrest, singing Vallathol’s famous sung. “Pora, Pora ....” To quote a few lines from that inspiring song:

Not enough, not enough–higher and higher, day by day
Let the holy flag of the divine land of Bharat rise
May this flag of glory flutter at the threshold of every house
Prom hutments to lovely mansions
Dancing in joy and waving radiant colours galore
May they beckon the liberation we have sought for long
Here with fervour, we dedicate our lives
May you be pleased to raise this heavenward.

Vallathol’s poem lent the most effective emotional support not only to the struggle for political freedom but also for the economic and constructive programmes of Gandhiji, Charkha, the spinning wheel, symbolised Vishnu’s divine disc meant for slashing the neck of injustice and exploitation. “Turn away poverty by turning the wheel of Charkha”,he said.

Vallathol could not think of nationalism devoid of secularism and deep-rooted humanism. He had advanced the cause of the downtrodden, she peasant and the industrial worker. He was the first poet to raise voice for liberating the peasants from the exploitation of the landlords as far as 1917. He wrote about the capitalists who squeezed the life blood out of the workers.

Vallathol denounced untouchability and casteism realising the importance of the emancipation of those sections of society in the awakening and liberation of the country. In this area of national concern the contribution of Mahakavi Kumaran Asan was also very significant. In 1922 appeared two khanda-kavyasof Kumaran Asan. Duravasthaand Chandala Bhikshuki which dealt with the theme of untouchability through moving human stories. The warning given by Asan, “Change your rules, or they will change you,” continued to inspire reformers and revolutionaries alike.

Religious harmony was another theme of Vallathol’s several poems. Vallathol introduced episodes from the life of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed in his poems. For him religious harmony was an integral part of nationalism and he knew how the British rulers were playing up communal disharmony to delay independence.

To sum up, the ’Twenties and ’Thirties were the most prolific period in the history of Malayalam literature as regards nationalism.

The impact was both immediate and long lasting. Immediately these poems brought about encouraging results on the awareness and attitudes of people and inspired them to act in the longer interest of the country and the society.

Do such literature outlive their topicality and survive the period of their immediate relevance is a question often asked. Here is the answer to that question given by Vallathol himself. “Such poems will not die if they have poetry in them and if the content is valid”, said Vallathol. No greater testimony is needed to the poetic quality than the fact that several of them live even today on the lips and minds of the people. Regarding the content, the problems handled by Vallathol, Asan and Ulloor continue to exist, though in different form and therefore the poems have not lost their validity altogether. The great poets deserve our gratitude.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: