The earliest written record of Malayalam
is the Vazhappalli inscription (ca. 830 AD). The early literature of Malayalam
had a three fold development:
Classical songs known as Pattuu
of the Tamil tradition generally representing the Bhakti movement.
Manipravalam of the Sanskrit
tradition, which permitted a generous interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam and in
general describing the sensuous aspects of life.
The folk song rich in native elements
Malayalam poetry to the present day
testifies to the fusion in varying degrees of the three different strands. The oldest
examples of Pattu and Maniprvalam respectively are Ramacharitam
and Vaishikatantram, both of the twelveth century.
The earliest extant prose work in the
language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautaliyam (12th century) on
Chanakya's Arthasastra. Malayalam prose of different periods exhibit influence of
different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrits, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Arabi, Persian,
Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Modern literature in Malayalam is rich
especially in poetry and novel, including works of four winners of the Jnanapeedam award
(G. Sankara Kurup, the poet; S.K. Pottakkadu, Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai and M. T.
Vasudevan Nair, the novelists) and those of
many who have won national awards.
Oral literature in Malayalam is also
quite considerable. The hundreds of
folk songs collected and being published include lullabies, the peasants songs, songs of
the hunter, the fisherman and the boatman, songs sung by the children and the adults
during games and plays, devotional songs related to religious functions and rituals, songs
restricted to specific religious groups and castes, songs narrating the chivalrous acts of
the brave and also songs which retell the stories in the epics with adaptations or
distortions that are of special appeal to the masses.
Such popular poems continue to assume the grab of contemporary language with all
its local, communal and logical colourings.