Kerala Panini A.R. Rajaraja Varma – ‘His name will live as long as Malayalam survives’.

via V N Gopalakrishnan Nair published on February 14, 2012

The century-old Sarada Mandiram, home of the late A.R. Rajaraja Varma, located at Mavelikara, Kerala has been renovated by Department of Culture, Government of Kerala. The renovation work was completed without affecting the aesthetics or the architectural identity of the structure. Rajaraja Varma had built the house with the royalty from his books. Efforts are on to develop the building as a cultural pilgrimage centre and research centre of global standards. The A.R. Rajaraja Varma Memorial Committee has decided to convene a World Malayalee Convention at Mavelikara. The MPs from Kerala are also planning to present a private Bill in Parliament to get Classic status to Malayalam. Author tries to throw some light into the life and literary activities of Rajaraja Varma.

A.R. Rajaraja Varma (1863-1918), the celebrated poet, critic and grammarian is known as Kerala Panini for his lasting contributions to Malayalam literature. He wrote books on grammar and rhetoric which earned him the title of Kerala Panini and eventually prepared the ground for an enlightened renaissance in Malayalam poetry and literary criticism. He is said to have inaugurated a new era in modern Malayalam poetry. Kerala Panineeyam is considered to be an authoritative work on Malayalam grammar. He was a rare blend of scholarship and creative talent and was the moving spirit behind the great literary renaissance in Kerala. He wrote widely in Sanskrit and Malayalam and his poetic works were influenced by the study of British romantic poets of the 19th century. His essays are fine examples of excellent prose and his name will be remembered as long as Malayalam survives. Ulloor S. Parameshwar Iyer, one of the Kavitryas has stated: “While others embellished the walls of the mansion of Malayalam literature with their paintings and drawings, A.R. Rajaraja Varma worked both on its foundation and dome and made it a long enduring and imposing structure for the benefit of the people of Kerala. His fame rests on this architectural accomplishment and is bound to last forever”.

1850 to 1950 was considered as the Golden period of Malayalam literature. It was during this period that stalwarts like Kerala Varma Valia Koyi Thampuran, A.R. Rajaraja Varma, O. Chandu Menon, C.V. Raman Pillai, Kumaran Asan, Ulloor S. Parameshwar Iyer and Vallathol Narayana Menon lived and produced great literature.

Rajaraja Varma’s important works are Kerala Panineeyam, Bhashabhooshanam, and Vritha Manjari and Sahitya Sahyam. Sabda Sodhini, Pradhama Vyakaranam, Madhyama Vyakaranam and Mani Deepika are the grammar books written by him. English-style punctuation to Malayalam was introduced through Vritha Manjari. Bhanga Vilapam and Malaya Vilasam are his poems. Malaya Vilasam can be considered as the forerunner of Bhavageetham (romantic poem) in Malayalam. He contributed significantly to the growth of prose through his essays and the preface he wrote for Kumaran Asan’s Nalini brings into focus this trend. Prasadamala, was his last work. His major works in Sanskrit are Vitavibhavathi, Angala Samrajyam and Laghu Panineeyam. He has translated some of the titles from Sanskrit into Malayalam which include Bhasha Meghadooth, Bhasha Kumara Sambhavam, Malayala Sakunthalam, Malavikagnimithram, Charudatham and Swapna Vasavadatham.

As a professor in the University College, Kerala he attempted to modernize the process of teaching Malayalam language and literature. Before the age of 16, he wrote Ganeshashtakam and Devimangalam. He had contributed a lot to the structure of Malayalam literature. In Malayalam grammar and structural rules for writing a poetry were first clearly defined and compiled by A.R. Rajaraja Varma and were brought out in three works, Kerala Panineeyam, Vrutha Manjari and Bhasha Bhooshanam. These are the authentic texts which explain everything about the grammar, metres and rhetorics in Malayalam language. Vritha Manjari is a text for the study of Sankrit and Malayalam Vritthas (Meters) whereas Sahithya Sahyam is a study on prose writing which provides guidelines for writing prose.

Rajaraja Varma Koyi Thampuran was born in February 1863 at the Changanachery Lakshmipuram Palace. His mother was Kunjikkavu Thampuratis and father Vasudevan Namboodiri from the Pattial Illam. His mother and uncle Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran had to move to family moved to ‘Ananthapuram’ Palace at Haripad, when he was only two years old and remained there till he was eight years old. There he was happy playing chess with friends and rendering Akshara slokas and even writing poems in free time. Rugmini Varanam and Devi Mangalam are two such works in his early age. Rajaraja Varma was known in the pet name ‘Kochappan’ among relatives and friends. It is said that Rajaraja Varma did not speak at all during his childhood years. He suffered from stuttering and stammering and incoherent speech. He was made to worship at Panachhikat Temple and soon he started showing interest in poetry.
His early education was under Chunakkara Achutha Variar and Sankara Variar. By the age of twelve, he learned arithmetic and some elementary poems in Sanskrit. Then he started learning Kavyas and composing poems under his uncle Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran. During the six years of education, he learned Nyshadham, Manaveda Champu, Sakunthalam, Malathy Madhavam, Kuvalayanandam, Rasa Gangadharam besides Maha Kavyas, dramas and grammar texts.
At the age of twenty he completed matriculation and joined F.A. (First Examination in Arts) and successfully completed it in 1886. Then he joined for B.A and took Chemistry as his optional subject. Though failed in his first attempt, he again appeared for the examination in 1890 and passed. He was the first among the Kerala royals to get a degree from the Madras University.
During this period, he wrote Bhanga Vilapam, Veenashtakam, Meghopalambham, Pithru Pralapam and Sree Padmanabha Panchakam. Pithru Pralapam, as the name indicates is the lament of a father. He was appointed as Inspector of the Sanskrit School in 1980 by the then Maharaja, Sree Moolam Thirunal with an annual honorarium of Rs.200 thereby becoming the first public servant from a Royal family.

He introduced reforms in the curriculum and teaching methods in the school following the Western models which gave a new outlook for the school. He could convert the school into a college during his tenure. Meanwhile he joined for M.A. in Sanskrit at the Presidency College, Madras and completed the examination in first rank. He also won the Munnuswamy Chetty Medal for Sanskrit which was one of the highest educational accolades in Southern India at that time. He also bagged the Ross Gold Medal. As part of the M.A course, he had to prepare a dissertation and the subject chosen was ‘Narayana Bhattathiri and His Works’.
Rajaraja Varma was appointed as the Principal of Sanskrit College in 1894. He has contributed a total of 43 titles to the literature which include 22 Sanskrit and 21 Malayalam works. Later in 1899, he was made the Superintendent of Oriental Studies at the Maharaja’s College, Trivandrum. In 1912 he was promoted as the Professor of Sanskrit and Dravidian Languages. Not only as a great planner and visionary, but even as teacher, he was outstanding.  His students like Sahitya Panchananan P.K. Narayana Pillai and P. Ananthan Pillai have recorded their appreciation of his talent for teaching. Later he was given the charge of the Principal thereby becoming the first non-British Principal of the college.
In 1889 he married Swati Thirunal Mahaprabha Kochu Thampuratti, daughter of Mootha Koyi Thampuran of Mavelikkara Palace. The couple had eight children including five girls and three boys. A biography of Rajaraja Varma in three volumes was written by Raghava Varmaraja and Bhageerathy Amma Thampuran, his children.

In 1908 there occurred among the Malayalam writers an issue related to Dwitheeyakshara Prasam (repeating the second letter in all the four lines in a poem) He was not keen on Dwitheeyakshara Prasam in poems, instead he insisted on the contents and meaning. It was in fact the rejection of neo-classicism and the acceptance of a romantic theory of literature. But his uncle insisted on it and was not even prepared to accept other poems. His differences of opinion with Kerala Varma were not confined to the continued use of the second syllable rhyme.  behind the controversy lay the basis of a new poetics:

Uddhala Charitam is the condensed version of Shakespeare’s Othello written for the children. Prabhandha Samgraham is the compilation of his scholarly speeches. Marmaprakasam and Kanthara Tharakam are literary commentaries on Mayoora Sandhesam and Nalacharitam. Gairvani Vijayam and Devi Dandakam are combined and published as Sahithya Kuthuhalam. Kumaran Asan’s Prarodanam and Prof. Joseph Mundasseri’s Raja Rajante Mattoli are based on the life of Rajaraja Varma’s life.

On 18th June, 1918 Rajaraja Varma passed away at the age of 55 plunging the state into uncontrollable grief. Rajaraja Varma is considered to be the most outstanding grammarian Malayalam has ever produced and his work Kerala Panineeyam has been accepted as a monumental work and his name will be remembered as long as Malayalam survives.

(Author is a Freelance Journalist and Social Activist. He can be contacted on [email protected])

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