Along with Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy, a writers' delegation met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi last week to press the demand to declare Malayalam as a classical language.
The delegation included poets ONV Kurup, K Satchidanandan and Sugathakumari.
They said later Dr Manmohan Singh had offered to refer the matter to experts. He had observed that Malayalam appeared to have a strong case but this was a matter for experts to decide.
The government of India began the practice of granting recognition as classical language in 2004. Tamil was given classical status that year, Sanskrit in 2005 and Kannada and Telugu in 2008. Since then Kerala has been nursing the grievance that it is the only southern state whose language does not enjoy classical status.
No language of the eastern or western region has received classical status so far. There is no clamour for such recognition there either.
The Centre originally laid down three criteria for granting classical status to a language:
1). It must have high antiquity with texts and recorded history going back more than 1,000 years.
2). It must have a body of ancient literature which has been considered a valuable heritage by generations.
3). It must have a literary tradition that is original and not borrowed from another language.
Later it added a proviso. "The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may be discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or offshoots."
Until recently the Malayalam literary establishment did not claim great antiquity for the language. Thunchath Ezhuthachan, who is considered the Father of the Malayalam language, is believed to have lived in the 16th century.
This, of course, does not mean the language was born in the 16th century. A language evolves gradually over a long period. Ezhuthachan's Adhyatma Ramayanam and Mahabharatam are acclaimed as Malayalam classics. A classic may emerge only after a language had produced considerable volume of literature of a lesser order.
Earlier the literary establishment was eager to highlight Sanskrit's impact on Malayalam and distance it from its Dravidian past. The Kerala Sahitya Akademi's 1993 publication "Malayalam Literary Survey," for instance, points out that, though Dravidian in origin, around 80 per cent of the Malayalam words are taken from Sanskrit.
Scholars are of the view that the modern languages spoken in the southern states have a common proto-Dravidian ancestor but evolved differently over the centuries. The varying degree of impact of Sanskrit was one factor that influenced their development along different paths. Sanskrit made the least impact on Tamil and the most impact on Malayalam.
Some scholars believe that Ilango Adigal, author of Silappadikaram, and Chathanar, author of Manimekalai, which were written in the early part of the Christian era, were natives of Kerala. Both the works are in an old form of Tamil, which was apparently in use in the region in their time. They also contain references which indicate that the region was under Jain and Buddhist influence when they were written.
The difference between the language of these ancient works and modern Malayalam is reflective of the socio-political changes that have occurred since then. The discontinuity between the two may be attributed to the emergence of a new literary establishment with a pro-Sanskrit bias and its attempt to make a break with the Jain-Buddhist past.
Thanks to the proviso to the Centre's criteria for grant of classical status to a language, this discontinuity need not come in the way of Malayalam's claim to be declared as a classical language.
The government and the literary establishment have a selective approach to the past. While seeking to establish the antiquity of the regional language they have shown little interest in reclaiming the rest of the region's culture and history, especially the period before the establishment of the caste system.
The excavations at Pattanam, near Kodungallur, have yielded archaeological evidence to believe it may be the lost port town of Muchiri (Muziris). An expert has identified an Indus Valley motif in the engravings in the Edakkal cave in Wayanad. These are indicative of a rich pre-Sanskrit past.
The state is keen to secure classical status for Malayalam as that will lead to generous Central grants for development of the language. The declaration of Tamil as a classical language was followed by the establishment of the Centre for Excellence in Classical Tamil, which is now working on 10 major literary projects with Central assistance.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 10, 2010.