Friday, 28 December 2012

Language and Literature in 18th Century and Genius of Kuriakose Elias Chavara




The missionaries did a pioneering and exemplary work in Kerala with their substantial contributions to Malayalam language.  There are many notable individuals. Benjamin Baily translated books from English to Malayalam like ‘Upanishadhwakayanam’ ‘Bharathiya Theerthadakan.’ Clodius Bukanan translated Bible into Malayalam in1811. In 1818 Benjamin Baily gave a better translation of the Bible.

Dr. Gundert, a Basal Missionary considered Malayalam language as his mother tongue. His was a life dedicated to Malayalam language a visible expression of which is the 24 books he wrote in Malayalam. Notable ones include Pazhamcholmala (1850, Keralapazhama (1852)etc.

Story and Novel
The written language deeply influenced and refined the life and culture of the people during that time. It was Benjamin Baily who introduced  stories in Malayalam in the poetic language. He translated it from English to Malayalam like Randattinkuttikal, Bharathiya Theerthadakan etc. John Burnian, Arch Decon K. Koshy and Gundert have also made contributions in this field.

In 1858 Rev. Joseph Peet translated the novel of Mrs. Catherin, known as ‘Fulmoni Ennum Koruna Ennum Peraya Rendu Sthrikalude Kadha’ Some important novels which has evergreen status in Malayalam literature came up during this time like Pullelikkunju, in 1892, Kunthalatha in 1887 and Induleka in 1889.

Malayalam Drama
It was western missionaries who were instrumental in introducing and nurturing Malayalam Drama. The Keralites too jumped in making vital contributions to take it forward. The natives who took great interest in Malayalam drama are Nidherickal Mani Kathanar, Kandathil Varghese Mappilla, Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thamburan and C. V. Raman Pilla.

Grammar Books
The first grammar book in Malayalam was written by a missionary named Rev. Joseph Peet in 1841. It was his book that was taught in schools and colleges. In 1851 and 1860 Herman Gundert wrote Malayalam Bhasha Vyakaram. Rev. Geroge Mattam wrote the Malayalam grammar in 1863.

Dictionary
The first Malayalam - English dictionary was published in 1846. It was Rev. Richard Colins who wrote the first Malayalam-Malayalam dictionary in 1860.

Development of Science and History
The developments in language and increasing number of educational instiutions contributed to the development of science and history. In 1830 Chemistry began to be taught in Kottayam College. Scientific knowledge was helpful in eradicating Superstitions.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara was a literary genius. His contributions can be divided into two categories namely literary (poetic) writings and spiritual writings.  The literary writings include Compunction of Heart (Atmanutapam), Dirge (Parvam/Pana) and Martyrdom of Anastasia. The Meditation Colloquies (Dhyanasallapangal) and other short mediations come under the spiritual writings.

Compunction of Heart (Atmanutapam)
Written in epic (Mahakavyam) style, Compunction of Heart (Atmanutapam) is the most significant work of Kurikoose Elias Chavara. The original manuscript contains 143 pages with 3000 metric verses, running into 4023 lines. Divided into 12 cantons and following various poetic meters, the book treats life of Jesus from birth to ascension into heaven and life of Mary from ascension of Jesus to assumption of Mary into heaven. What makes the book stand out is the self-reflection of Chavara Kuriakose which has been beautifully introven in the work.

Dirge (Parvam/Pana)
Keeping in mind the custom of relatives and friends keeping vigil around the dead body of a family member, Dirge was written in order to sing loud on occasion like this. It has 1162 verses. Rather than emphasizing on the suffering in purgatory, our attitude towards the dead is given importance. The poem reflects the Catholic faith in communion of saints that is the communion among triumphant Church in heaven, Church suffering in purgatory and the militant Church on earth. In order to inspire the listeners to be kind towards the dead, the poem contains ten parables.

Martyrdom of Anastasia
The story of St. Anastasia who suffered martyrdom under Emperor Valerian has been written in beautiful poetic form. It is a minor epic. (Khandakavyam) It is written in boat song (vancipatt) style in order to move the listeners to action and sacrifice. This poem is said to be written during the time when the unity of Church in Kerala was challenged after the arrival of the bishop Roccos and gave the message to persist in faith in spite of sufferings, persecutions and even death.

Meditation Colloquies (Dhyanasallapangal)
The contemplative dimension and God-experience of Kuriakose Elias Chavara can be seen in full bloom in Meditation Colloquies. It was a sort of spiritual diary which he wrote between 1866 and 1868. The book is a standing testimony to the fact that Chavara was a master of spirituality and attained highest levels of mystical experience.

The other books of Kuriakose Elias Chavara include Dhyanakuripukal (Points for Meditation/Retreat), Prayers Chavara used to recite and Forty hour Adoration.

Printing Press at Mannanam
Being fully aware of the changes that books could make in bringing about substantial changes in the society ,Kuriakose Elias established printing press at Mannanam in 1844. It was the first Syro-Malabar Catholic Press in Kerala.  It published many spiritual books for deepening the religious life of the people. Jnana Piyusham was the first book to be published from Mannanam press in 1846.  Nasrani Deepika the first Malayalam daily was printed from this press in 1887.

Thus Chavara’s literary contribution to Malayalam is immense and it is rather sad that it has not been seriously taken note by the literary fraternity in Kerala.





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