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Several great scholarly personalities lived in Kerala who contributed highly to the development of the Malayalam literature. Earlier literary activities were mainly done in Sanskrit language since the works in Malayalam were looked down upon by scholars. But there were some who, though were scholars in Sanskrit, contributed to the Malayalam literature also. Kerala varma Valiya koyi Thampuran was one among them. He translated the famous work, 'Abhijnana Sakunthalam' of great Kalidasa into Malayalam. Because of this he came to be known as 'Kerala Kalidasan'.
In erstwhile Malabar district there was a small kingdom known as 'Parappanad' (also called 'Chaliyam'), which was powerful earlier. But later it lost its powers and wealth, and consequently became a target of famous Tippu Sultan by around 1790. Members of Parappanad Palace approached Sri Karthika thirunal Ramavarma, the then Maharaja of Travancore, for getting protection from the attack. The King gave asylum to them and allowed to stay in the Neerazhi Palace at Changanassery permanently. This family prospered slowly and later established a close relation with the Travancore family when Rajaraja Varma, a member of this family married Lakshmi Rani of Travancore Palace. After the death of Lakshmi Rani, in memory of her, a Palace was constructed at Changanassery in 1812, which came to be known as 'Lakshmipuram Palace'. It is to be noted that the famous musician and King Swathy Thirunal was the son of Lakshmi Rani and Rajaraja Varma.
Birth, education and family
Pooram thirunal Devi Amba Thampuratty, a niece of Rajaraja Varma, was the mother of Kerala Varma Koyi Thampuran and Mullapally Narayanan Nambudiri of Thaliparambu the father. Kerala Varma was born in 1845 (on 10th Kumbham 1020, Pooyam star) at the Lakshmipuram Palace.
Kerala varma had his early education at Lakshmipuram Palace itself and by the age of ten he completed the study of Sidharoopam, Amarakosham, Sreeramodandam, Raghuvamsam, etc. Then his uncle took him to Thiruvananthapuram for higher education. Within a period of four years he could master Sanskrit literature by studying various known works such as Kiratharjuneeyam, Magham, Naishadham, Sidhantha kaumudi, Kavalayanandam, various dramas, famous Champu works, etc.
Since the Royal family followed the matriarchal system, family always wanted girl children. Due to this reason, two girls were adapted from Mavelikkara Palace. Kerala varma married Lakshmi Bhai, the elder of these two, later.
This new relationship with the Royal family encouraged him to make use of the facilities available there and got trained in horse riding, different sports and games, use of various weapons including guns. He became an expert in shooting and very often went for hunting. He initiated a cricket club at Thiruvananthapuram.
As the elder member (Valiya Thampuran) of Attingal Lakshmi Bhai was to look after the administration. Kerala varma helped her in this and brought in a control over all aspects related to administration. He served Travancore also as a member of the Law making body (Assembly) for three years. He could extend his advises in the land reform rules. Kerala varma was an expert in identifying stones and jewels. Geography was another area of interest for him. He, with the help of sculptors, made a large sized globe on which the continents and seas were clearly marked. Though he was not an expert in music, he studied playing fiddle, saranghi, veena, etc.. His interest in Kathakali made him write Kathakali songs in Malayalam, Karnataka, Telugu and Tamil.
In the literary field
In Sanskrit literature Kerala varma learned almost everything from the available sources. He initiated the starting of a Sanskrit college at Thiruvananthapuram. He contributed to the college as a lecturer in some of the topics. A. R. Rajaraja varma was his disciple.
As a recognition for the works done by Kerala varma he was awarded the fellowship in the Royal Asiatic Society. Also the Royal Historical Society and the Madras University awarded him with Fellowships. The British Queen granted him with honour of 'Companion of the Star of India' (CSI).
Kerala Varma could handle English as a language and corresponded with senior officers through English. He wrote an introductory remarks in English for Vallathole Narayana Menon's translation od Valmiki Ramayanam.
It was during Kerala Varma's period Malayalam printing became popular. This helped the popularity of Malayalam works also. Kerala Varma helped all literary workers who approached him. He wrote creative criticisms to the works of new comers and thereby encouraged them. His criticism could be considered as the first literary criticisms in Malayalam language. During these period, Kandathil Varghese Mappila started the 'Malayala Manorama'(1890) and Kerala Varma established a cordial relatioship with him.
In 1892 a 'Kavisamajam' was held at Kottayam and which led to the formation of the organization, 'Bhasha poshini sabha'. Kerala Varma was equivocally chosen as the President of the Bhashaposhini Sabha . He also functioned as the editor of a magazine (Bhashaposhini) published by them. Kerala Varma used his knowledge in English literature for the development of Malayalam prose. At the same time Sanskrit scholar in him contributed to the development of Malayalam poem. He was an exponent of Dwitheeyakshara Prasam (using the same letter in the second place of each line in a stanza). Thus the period of Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran was a renaissance period for Malayalam literature.
Kerala Varma had to undergo house imprisonment for about five years. He was sent to Harippat Palace by the then Maharaja of Travancore, Ayiliam Thirunal. Kerala Varma criticised some of the actions of the Maharaja, which led to the imprisonment. Later, when Visakham Thirunal came to power, after Ayiliam Thirunal, Kerala Varma was released. It was after the release that he started concentrating in the literary field. His experience of loneliness, at Harippad Palace made him write the famous 'Mayura Sandesam'. It was a letter in the form of a poem being sent to his wife, who was away at Thiruvananthapuram, through a peacock (Mayuram).
The other famous contribution, the translation of Kalidasan's 'Abhijnana Sakunthalam', also came out during this period (1882). This was the first drama in Malayalam literature, which earned the title 'Kerala Kalidasan' to him.
Kerala Varma's Malyalam works (prose) include Hanumadulbhavam, Druva charitham, Malsya Vallabha Vijayam, Pralamba Vadham, Parasurama Vijayam and Soma vara vritham- Uthara bhagam. His poems are Mayura sandesam, Deiva yogam, Sree Padmanabha Pada Padma Sathakam, Sthuthy Sathakam and some small poems. Keraleeya Bhasha Sakunthalam, Amaruka Sathakam, Anyapadesa Sathakam and Akbar are his translations. In addition to these he has several class texts on Malayalam language, History, Geography, Economics, Health Science, Agriculture and Ethics and moral science. Sanmarga samgraham, Vijnana ranjini, Sanmarga pradeepam, Sanmarga vivaranam, Lokathinte saisavam, etc. are some of them.
End of an active life
Kerala Varma spent his old age contributing to the literature. He had certain problems in his family relationships especially the one with his nephew. The death of the Maharaja, Visakham Thirunal, made him very sorry. Later the death of his wife added to his misery. He concentrated in writing poems which were rhymes worshipping different Gods. In 1914 he met with a car accident and within a few days he died marking an end to a very active period in Malayalam literature.