Monday, November 14, 2011

Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan


Thunjathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan (Malayalam: തുഞ്ചത്തു രാമാനുജന്‍ എഴുത്തച്ഛന്‍, Tuñchattŭ Rāmānujan Eḻuttacchan; also known as തുഞ്ചത്തെഴുത്തച്ഛന്‍, Tuñcatt-Eḻuttacchan) was an Indian poet from around the 16th century, known as the father of the Malayalam language — the principal language of the Indian state of Kerala, spoken by 36 million people in the world. In his era, Vattezhuttu, an old script originally used to write Tamil, was generally used in Kerala to write this language. However, he wrote his Malayalam poems in Arya-ezhuttu, a Grantha-based script originally used to write Sanskrit, so that he could accurately transliterate Sanskrit words into Malayalam. His works became unprecedentedly popular, which popularized the writing system adopted by him, and it is the current Malayalam alphabet.
He was born in Trikkantiyur (തൃക്കണ്ടിയൂര്, Tr̥kkaṇṭiyūr), in the town of Tirur, in Kerala. At that time, it was a part of Vettattnad. His personal name is Ramanujan. Thunchaththu is his “family name”, and Ezhuthachan (schoolmaster) is an honorific title or the last name indicating his caste. His name is transliterated in several ways, including Thunchath Ezhuthachan, Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, and Thunjath Ezhuthachan.
Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan lived in the 19th century, He was born at Trikkantiyur (Trkkantiyur) in the Tirur municipality, Malappuram, Kerala, India. His birthplace is now known as Thunjan Parambu.
According to Arthur Coke Burnell, he was “a low-caste man who goes under the name Tunjatta Eḻuttacchan, a native of Trikkaṇḍiyûr in the present [1874] district of Malabar. He lived in the seventeenth century, but his real name is forgotten; Tunjatta being his ‘house’ or family-name, and Eḻuttacchan (=schoolmaster) indicating his caste”. In 1865, Burnell saw the manuscript of the Bhagavata translated and adapted by Thunchaththu, allegedly copied by his sister, preserved at Puzhakkal in the Chittur taluk, and wrote in his book published in 1874: “The author’s stool, clogs, and staff are preserved in the same place; it thus looks as if Tunjatta Eḻuttaččhan was a sannyâsi of some order.” Some sources[who?] state that he was born into a Chakkala Nair family, held low among Savarna Hindu caste system of Kerala and among the Nair caste. Some apocryphal legends have that Ezhuthachan's father was a Namboodiri. That version is unhistoric. A few sources claim that he was of the Ezhuthachan caste. A. C. Burnell, a noted Indologist, categorically stated that Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan belongs to the Ezhuthachan caste only. He had stated this when he edited an article written by another important scholar, F. W. Ellis, when he published an article in Indian Antiquery in 1878 after the death of linguist Ellis. In that path-breaking article Ellis articulated the evolution of Malayalam ("Malayanma") and other south Indian languages.
Ellis stated:
"A Brahman without a father must be born of an unmarried female of that tribe, whose celibacy ought to have been inviolate: he is considered, therefore, illegitimate, and has scarcely an assignable place in society. Elutt' Achan, or the 'Father of Letters', was a Brahman without a father, and on that account has no patronymic ... The Brahmans envied his genius and are said to have seduced him by the arts of sorcery into the habit of ebriety ... he enriched the Malayalam with the translations, all of which, it is said, he composed under the immediate influence of intoxication."
To which Brunell added the footnote:
"Eluttachchan lived in the 17th century; there is no reason for supposing that he was a Brahman father's illegitimate son; he was certainly an Eluttachchan (or schoolmaster) by caste."
Great Malayalam poet and historian Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer concludes Ezhuthachan as either Chakkala Nair or Vattekattu Nair. Sri K. Balakrishna kurup in his famous book Viswathinte Kanappurangal published by Mathrubhumi printing and publishing company Kozhikode had stated that Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan belongs to Ezhuthachan caste. Prof. T. B. Vijayakumar, a noted scholar and historian who wrote many articles in prestigious journals, like Mathrubhumi Weekly, also stated that Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan belongs to the Ezhuthachan caste.
In nutshell, Ezhuthachan was a Kaniyan by caste and had the title Ezhuthu Asan in relation to his teaching service in Ezhuthupalli. In the pre- and early-British ruling era of Kerala, the Kaniyans (traditional astrologers) were the only class who had undertaken the role of teaching letters, grammar, Sanskrit and literature to non-Brahmin communities. So they were known Ezhuthu Asan (Ezhuthachan in the vernacular) but, later, this professional name was adopted by the descendants of families of non-Brahmin disciples of Thunchat Ezhutahchan as a special caste or class. Most of these people were from the Chakkala Nair and Kadupattan castes.
Census reports from 1870 onwards show the Ezhuthachan caste as low Sudra caste.
Mahakavi Kodungallore Kunhikuttan Thampuran, a titan among poets who singlehandedly translated entire Mahabharatham into Malayalam vernacular within short span, stated in an article in a literary journal, Rasikaranjini (edited by himself) that Thunchath Ezhuthachan belonged to Ezhuthachan Caste only.
Father of Malayalam language

According to Dr. K. N. Ezhuthachan, noted scholar, writer, essayist, poet, only Ramayanam and Bharatham belong to him. Others, usually attributed to him, were not really his. According to Dr Ezhuthachan even Uththara ramayanam is not his. Its composition lacks Ezhuthachan's stamp and genius. There may have been many popular keerthanas, namam or japam by other poets, but it was impossible to find a single house in Kerala without Ezhuthachan's Adhyathmaramayanam during those dark times of war, disease and famine.
There is no doubt about his contribution to the literary level of the common man. Ezhuthachan taught the people to respect and worship the language and the alphabet, a level of culture which is difficult to find even in the modern era. He refined the Malayalam language style and wrote his works for ordinary people, incorporating whatever is good with a strong sense of righteousness and worship. His contribution to the Malayalam language through the Adhyatmaramayanam (a translation of the Ramayana and Mahabharatham (a translation of the Mahabharata) is unparalleled, and his contribution in the cultural level is immense. His chief original works are said to include the:
Keralolpathi
Hari Nama Keerthanam (the song of the holy vame "Hari")
Ganapatistavam
Kilippatu Prasthanam
Devi Mahathmayam
Kerala Natakam
Harihara Sudham
"...[T]he phrase ‘father of language’ is a symbolic reference. Language represents culture. So Ezhuthachan is in fact denoting culture. He shone as a brilliant star above our culture. He renovated the alphabets of heart. We see the light of conscience and moderation in Ezhuthachan. We call him ‘the father of Malayalam language’ because he led the language to a new dimension." — Chattanath Achuthanunni, chair, Thunjan Festival meeting (1998)

The Thunjan Parambu

It was in the Thunjan Parambu that Ezhuthachan modified the Malayalam alphabet and wrote the Hari Nama Keerthanam to popularize the 51-letter alphabet. Even centuries after these events, people from around the state come to take sand from the Thunjan Parambu to use in the initiation of their children to the alphabet. Every year, hundreds of people bring their children to Thunjan Parambu to write their first letters during the Vijayadasami festival which falls in October–November. Children are initiated to the world of letters by masters, teachers or parents by holding their fingers and writing the letters in a plate filled with rice. The letters will also be written in their tongues with a golden ring. They write:
"Anpathoraksharavum oronnithenmozhiyil
Anpodu cherkka Hari Narayanaya Nama" — Hari Nama Keerthanam 14th stanza
There is no controversy that the great teacher was the strongest sponsor of the 51-letter alphabet for Malayalam instead of the 30-letter Vattezhuthu.

2 comments:

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