Date: 06/10/2014

Everything is politicalized in Bharat. Our country, since time immemorial, has produced only TWO (2) great men. Just two; and no more.

Even to remember our great sons of Bharata Mata, we need politics. Have you ever heard the name of Swati Thirunal? He too was great; but does not belong to Nehru or Gandhi family.

Now, Let’s pay a tribute to Kodungallur Kunhikkuttan Thampuran (1864-1913).

K K Thampuran was an institution of multidisciplinary excellence in Grammar, Literature, Philosophy, Logic, Astrology, Aesthetics, Medicine. A prolific writer, he translated the full text of the Mahabharatam from Samskrutam to Malayalam, word by word, and metre by metre in 874 days!

September 18 marked the 150th birth anniversary

It is a testimony to our abominable lack of a sense of history that this occasion has not been celebrated with the seriousness and commitment it deserves, especially as Malayalam was accorded ‘classical’ status recently (declaring any Hindu language as classical is fraught with politics; That’s a different issue of course).

His father, Venmani Achan Namboothirippad, was an eminent poet.

Kunhikuttan Thampuran brought the freshness of everyday Malayalam (which he called pacha malayalam) energized by his rich and imaginative vocabulary, dexterous play of words, and facility with metres and articulation of ideas.

Legends abound about this marathon translation, and many of his poet contemporaries thought it was impossible. Some marvelled at his audacity, while many high-caste scholars ridiculed it. But unfazed by criticism, Thampuran completed the task in less than two years. Like the legendary Vyasa, Thampuran too dictated his Malayalam translation to the scribe after listening to the original verse that was read to him. His translation in lucid and poetic Malayalam influenced generations of writers. For instance, it inspired M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham (The Second Turn)

Though there have been many Mahabharatas in various Hindu languages, Thampuran’s work stands apart because the other versions were reinterpretations, abridgements or retellings. Thampuran’s was the first-ever complete verse-by-verse translation that followed the same metric patterns and order. This earned him the title ‘Keralam Vyasa’. Scholars consider it a marvel for its scholarly command over language and poetics, fidelity to the original and the pace at which it was accomplished. More than versification of the great epic in Malayalam, it was an intense and creative dialogue of a ‘regionalised’ language with the ‘divine’ language and the grand narratives of pan-Indian intellectual tradition.

Today, both these ‘events’ — Thampuran’s 150th birth anniversary and his monumental work of translation — assume new resonances and relevance. While Thampuran personifies the unrelenting pride and progressive roots of Malayalam and its universalist impulses, the epic narrative that he revivified in Malayalam resounds with the moral and ethical dilemmas of our times. The spiritual agonies that the Mahabharata grappled with — the meaning of life, liberation, and most importantly, what constitutes an ethical life — have assumed new forms and trajectories in contemporary Bharat.

What Kunhikkuttan Thampuran stood and worked for all his life needs to be re-read, rediscovered and reinterpreted to interrogate our past, revitalise the present and re-imagine our future.

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