The Niranam Poets

While the Manipravala poetry flourished as a diversion from the mainstream, the tradition set up by Cheeraman of Ramacharitam and the more enlightened among the anonymous folk poets was resumed and replenished by three writers commonly referred to as Niranam poets. The Bhakti school was thus revived, and in the place of the excessive sensuality and eroticism of the Manipravala poets, the seriousness of the poetic vocation was reasserted by them.

It is believed that they all belonged to the same Kannassa family and that Madhava Panikkar and Sankara Panikkar were the unless of Rama Panikkar, the youngest of the three. They lived between 1350 and 450 A.D. and made valuable contribution to the Pattu school. Madhava Panikkar wrote a condensed Malayalam translation of Bhagavad Gita, aperhaps the first ever translation of that classic into any modern Indian language. Sankara Panikkars's main work is Bharatamala, a masterly condensation of Mahabharatam, is also the first major work of its kind in Malayalam. The greatest of the three is of course Rama Panikkar, the author of Ramayanam, Bhartam, Bhagavatam and Sivarathri Mahatmyam. Kannassa Ramayanam and Kannassa Bharatam are the most important of these Niranam works. Rama Panikkar's Ramayanam is an important link between Cheeraman's Ramacharitam, Ayyappilli Asan's Ramakathappattu and Ezhuthachan's Adhytma Ramayanam. They bear eloquent testimony to the continuing popularity of the Ramayana story in Kerala. Together they constitute the strong bulwark of the Bhakti movement which enabled the Malayalis to withstand and resist the onslaught of foreign cultures. The Dravidianization of Aryan mythology and philosophy was their joint achievement, coming in the wake of the heroic effort of Sankaracharya, who wrote only in Sanskrit. The central native tradition of Malayalam poetry has its most significant watershed in the works of the Niranam poets. Their success led to the gradual replacement of the Manipravala cult of worldliness and sensual revelry by an indigenous poetics of high seriousness. One step forward from the Niranam poets will take us to Cherusseri and his Krishnagatha; two steps together will land us in the company of Kerala's greatest poet Thunchathu Ezhuthachan. The centrality of Niranam Rama Panikkar is of vital concern to any conscientious literary historian of Malayalam. The subordination of the descriptive and the narrative elements to the controlling theme is a feature of Rama Panikkar's poetic style. The killing of Thataka in the Balakanda of Kannassa Ramayanam is disposed of in one verse which helps to preserve the dramatic tension of the action.

Came she like a gigantic blue cloud,
shouting with frightening fury,
Wearing garlands of blood-dripping intestines
bearing her crescent-white tusks,
But the leader of mankind woke up to anger
and smashing her magic witchcraft
With arrows shot, saluted the rishi
and killer her at his command.

Lakshman's furious threat to Tara when Sugriva failed to expedite the quest for Sita is another eloquent example:

Tara, your husband does not consider
what is good and what is bad without delay.
He had said, with the approach of summer
he would search for Devi without fail.
We waited so long upon that word
and then he has forgotten all that
Blind and stupid with drunkenness,
knowing neither day or night.

Ulloor has said that Rama Panikkar holds the same position in Malayalam literature that Spenser does in English literature. His command over complex rhythms, his attention to sensuous, concrete details, his power of phrasing and perfect control over mythological material seem to lend support to this view.