Vayalar literary award for Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri
Eminent Malayalam poet Prof Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri has been selected for the prestigious Vayalar Rama Varma literary award for his collection of poems "Charulatha". Namboodiri was selected for the honour by a three-member jury, comprising writers M Thoams Mathew, K S Ravi Kumar and Venugopalan Nair, the Vayalar Rama Varma Trust office-bearers announced.
Namboodiri''s works are known for their blend of tradition and modernity, the jury noted. An eminent academic, Namboodiri had taught literature in colleges in Kerala for long. He is the recipient of several literary honours, including the awards of Kendra Sahitya Akademi and Kerala Sahithya Akademi.
A scholar of Indian classical and western literature and philosophy, his poems stand out on account of their philosophic depth. Namboodiri was also selected for this year''s Vallathol literary award on October 7.
The Vayalar award was instituted in memory of renowned Malayalam poet and lyricist late Vayalar Rama Varma. It carries a cash prize of Rs 25,000, a citation and a memento.
About Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri
Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri (born 1939) is a famous poet and figure in Malayalam literature.
Vishnunarayanan was born in Seeravally Illam in Thiruvalla. He acquired a Master's degree in English. He was an English teacher at colleges in Kozhikode, Kollam, Pattambi, Ernakulam, Tripunithura, Chittoor and Thiruvananthapuram and also worked in the State Institute of Languages.
Vishnu Naryanan Namboodiri, one of the most famous poets of contemporary Malayalam literature, celebrated his 70th Birthday (Saptati)on 02 Jun this year. Nothing else could be a more appropriate ‘Saptati Pranamam’ to the author of ‘Pranayageethangal’ and a host of other verses who owns a cliché as a ’Poet with a Difference and A friend of Controversies’, whom the Malayalam literature adores so dearly, other than this article on his life and vision.
“ Poetry is something that should create tranquillity in human mind and thereby lead one to ‘Karma’. Anything that evokes mental tumult and agony is not poetry,” says Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri.
When you walk along the pavement of ever busy MG Road in Trivandrum city, if you notice someone clad in greyish khadi kurta and white dhoti, at times adjusting the black rimmed specs which vainly try to mask those radiant eyes, carrying a satchel on his left shoulder, steadying up his thick hair shining white as the Siachen glacier with his right hand, walking slowly on hard chappals with that charming smile to anyone who greets him, then you have not missed him! He is Vishnu Naryanan Namboodiri, one of the widely acclaimed poets of contemporary Malayalam literature; often fondly described as a friend of controversies, though not over his poetry!
Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri hails from a renowned Namboodiri family of Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. Born on 2 June 1939 as the only child of late Vishnu Namboodiri and late Aditi Antharjanam of Sheeravalli Illam, situated on the banks of one of the small rivulets joining Pampa, he had his schooling in the Prince Marthanda Varma High School, Thiruvalla. Having been born and brought up in the traditional Namboodiri atmosphere, his young mind had imbibed Vedic and religious cultures in the childhood itself from his father and grand father. Like other Brahmin boys he had his formal initiation into the Vedic learning at the tender age of eight. But it was his father’s uncle, Dwivedi Vishnu Sharma, an old man who had travelled the length and breadth of India and an acknowledged scholar in Sanskrit and the Vedas in those days, who gave him an in-depth insight into the Vedic Learning. In fact, Vishnu respectfully acknowledges him as his Guru. He had his first lessons in Sanskrit from his grandfather. His distinctly progressive and rational views on social customs and religious boundaries that were prevalent at those times profoundly inspired the young mind, which later on grew in stature and enriched the Malayalam literature with 13 volumes of poetry, three books on literary criticism, four anthologies and three translations.
Vishnu, as he is affectionately called in the literary circles, was a science student in his college days and graduated in Physics from St Berchmans College, Changanacherry in 1958. He studied Hindi as his second Language. One of the most revered English professors of at that time, Prof C A Sheppard Head of English Department had a great liking for Vishnu for his uncanny ability to memorise and recite Vedic and Sanskrit verses in perfection. It was Prof Sheppard who initiated Vishnu into serious learning of English and Western literature. However, after graduation for the next two years Vishnu could not pursue his college education and instead he worked as a science teacher in his alma mater, the Prince Marthanda Varma High School before he joined college again for his post graduation in English literature in 1960. He fondly remembers that it was Prof Sheppard who secured him admission to the postgraduate course in Devagiri College, Calicut. He says with great pride and satisfaction clearly visible in those radiant eyes that it was a great experience and good fortune for him to have been the disciple of Dr Ashramam Sivramasubramanya Iyer in Devagiri College. Dr Iyer had the distinction of being the first Keralite who secured a PhD in English from the University of London. Besides he was a well-known Sanskrit scholar. Vishnu recollects that he was one among the last batch of students that Dr Iyer had in his illustrious career as a teacher spanning over 45 years. World-renowned cartoonist of yester years Cartoonist Shankar was in the first batch of postgraduate students Dr Iyer had and Shri KR Narayanan, former President of India, was another of his students in one of the later batches some time in the middle of his illustrious career. In 1962 Vishnu came out with his postgraduate degree in English literature with flying colours topping the list.
Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri started his professional career as a Lecturer in English in Malabar Christian College, Calicut, just after his post graduation. After a long and distinguished career he retired from government service as Professor and Head of the Department of English, University College, Trivandrum in1994. Apart from teaching in colleges he had also worked as a Research officer at the Kerala State Language Institute, and as the editor of Granthalokam, the famous Malayalam literary magazine, respectively for three years each. Vishnu had also been actively associated with Kerala Sahitya Samithy, Prakrthi Smarakshana Samithi, Kerala Sahitya Akademi and Kerala Kalamandalam in different capacities. After retirement, from 1994 to1997 he voluntarily took up the assignment as the head priest of the Sree Vallabha Temple, Thiruvalla, which was his family right; none-too easy an assignment for a person of his stature.
He is married to Smt Savithri Antharjanam of Mattathu Vedirama Illam, and is blessed with two daughters and three grand children. He resides at Sreevalli, Sastha Gardens, Thycadu, Trivandrum. His gracious presence is a regular feature in most of the social and cultural events in the capital.
Poet with a difference
More than his reputation as a professor of English, Vishnu is much better known for his enormous contributions to Malayalam literature as a poet par excellence. He is the recipient of several awards for his poetry, which include the prestigious Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1979, Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 1994, Odakkuzhal Award in 1983, Asan Prize in 1996, Changampuzha Award in 1989, and Ulloor award in 1992. The Title of Sahitya Kalanidhi and the Akademi Award for total contribution also have been conferred on him. Some of the most acclaimed poems of Vishnu are Swathanthiriathekurichoru Geetham, Bhoomi Geethangal, India Enna Vikaram, Mukham Evide, Aparajitha, Athirthiyilekkoru Yathra, Aranyakam, that inimitable collection of romantic verses Pranaya geethangal and the recently published Parikramam, Ujjainiyile Rappakalukal and Sreevally.
From the very young age Vishnu created his own niche in Malayalam poetry, rather a strange phenomenon for a man who has been teaching English throughout his career. His first poem ‘Varsham Varunnu’ was published in 1961 in Mathrubhoomi, which was the leading Malayalam weekly for more than half a century. Vishnu distinctly stands high compared to other contemporary poets for he writes with lot of sensitiveness, sensibility and commitment to his own vision of human life and its virtues, to what he calls ‘Athmeeyatha’, beautifully synergised with radically modern thought processes. He acknowledges with pride that, while Prof Sheppard initiated him to English literature, it was Dr NV Krishna Warrier, that master craftsman as he calls him, who nurtured his poetry into greater heights of vision on Indian spiritualism, human virtues, commitment to society, significance of travel and pilgrimage and so on. His poetic talents that came to him as gift from his traditional background got refined and revitalised over the years by learning from the lives of Sreenarayana Guru, Kumaran Asan and Vallathol Narayana Menon, and by his long associations with late poets like Edassery Govindan Nair, Vailoppilly Sreedhara Menon, to name a few. The feather touch of spiritualism in his verses that enthrals us is really the outcome of this closeness to those great minds. Then, he also attributes his achievements to his close associations that he has had with a wide spectrum of well-known writers like Mahakavi G, NN Kakkad, Thayatt Shankaran, and KP Sankaran etc who were then part of the elite literary fraternity. Vishnu says that the greatest influence he had in fine-tuning his poetic abilities from outside had been the works of Kalidasa and WB Yeats, the Irish Poet.
Several pages are available on print in various Malayalam magazines and publications describing the poetry of Vishnu Naryanan Namboodiri and its influences on society in general and the literary minds in particular of Kerala. A literary review or criticism of his verses, therefore, will be out of place here and hence is not attempted. However, a brief account of how Vishnu’s poetry becomes so dear to us, the Malayalees can be a pleasant reading to most of us.
Vishnu started his poetic career at a time when Malayalam poetry was intensely watching the noisy emergence of what is called the Ultra-modern poetry with established poets like Ayyappa Panikkar, Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and a band of others taking the lead. But the captivating tone or texture of ultra-modern poetry did not make much of an impact in the matrix of verse making which Vishnu was known for. It never encroached on to the undefined boundaries of ultra-modern poetry marked by a sense of frustration, fear of total annihilation, rejection of one’s own culture and heritage and a loss of self confidence engulfed by a pal of gloom. His poetry always remained a mirror of his firm faith on a progressive mindset, which does not break the outer, but safer, shell of our inherited Indian culture and the human virtues that we have adored for ages. His poetic sensibility is blended with the openness of a wounded mind, which at times helplessly snivel at the erosion of human values and the self-assured willingness to see the brighter side of life and find solace through spiritualism. Probably some of us might get a bit disappointed if we search for aggressive and revolutionary imagery in his verses, which we would find in plenty among the newer generation of Malayalam poets. Surely they are more turbulent and vibrant but a bit subtle for common readers like you and me. Vishnu’s poetry is like a cool, slow stream that flows from the heights of virtuous thoughts emanating from a well-balanced mix of ‘Atmeeyatha’ and reality. It comes to you like a ballet artist, brings a very soothing breeze along, marinates you into comfort and a frame of mental tranquillity and then passes by in its own pace, of course leaving some ripples for you to ponder over. But that comfort and tranquillity of feeling or whatever you may call stay in your subconscious mind forever and pop up time and again to upper senses urging you to reinvent your own self.
‘Ultimately one has one’s own poetic culture and I have mine” he says. He acknowledges with humility that a lot of smoke and dirt mired with castesim and untouchability still exists within his own community. ‘I am indebted to Veda Vyasa and the Vedas for my vision that guides my poetic endeavours. The caste systems are our own creation for protecting our vested interests. For me India is now more than a passion, She is wisdom. What I search for in the depth of the so-called passion is that pearl of wisdom; the wisdom of survival. That leads me to wide travel and Himalayan pilgrimages where I can interact with the soul of India.’ He adds.
Vishnu Narayanan Nampoodiri believes that Poetry is sort of a catalyst, which promotes introspection to know and learn more about oneself. ‘Poetry is a metaphor that emerges from the depth of culture and can be experienced as a beautiful flower. It has to be blended with our greatest gift from God, music. What I am writing does not concern me alone. What I am concerned for is what the readers feel about them. History will discard those creations, which do not create any impact on the readers. That is poetic relevance too’
Dr M. Leelavathy writes ‘genuine poets are those who have the mastery of seeing the virtues of past, present and future. They sow those seeds of wisdom carefully on human mind through crafty imagery. These will neither be eaten away by hogs nor will dry to death as a sapling on the surface of a rock. They will slowly and steadily grow up incarnating the Vedic saying ”Sadaiva” and will bear fruits and spread cool shadows for weary minds. Vishnu Narayanan Nampoodiri’s poetry belongs to this genre’. She continues ‘ though Namboodiri poets like MN Paloor, NN Kakkadu and Vishnu Narayanan draw inspiration from Vedic culture and Indian spirituality, none of them shows the immaturity not to acknowledge the Marxian philosophy of rich and poor syndrome. Vishnu’s poem titled “Karl Marxinte Kuteeram” shows exactly what he stands for’
It will be of interest to readers that the greatest tribute to Vishnu and his poetry came from Mohandas, a college teacher from Kodakara, near Trichur. Having been enchanted by a poem of Vishnu, ‘Yugalaprasadan’, Mohandas started a mission of planting mango trees anywhere and everywhere possible with the help of his friends and students. The project grew in stature and Vishnu himself was invited to grace the occasion of planting the 1000th sapling. Vishnu took the seed of the poem from ‘Aranyaka’ a novel by Bhibhuthibhooshan Bandhopadhyaya and gave it the title ‘Yugalaprasadan’. The extraordinary character of the novel, Yugalaprasadan takes it as his mission to transplant seedlings, which otherwise would have died their natural death, from concrete jungles of urban civilisation to virgin forests and nurture them there to grow into plants and trees. What a great mission indeed! Mohandas took rebirth as Yugalaprasadan in Kerala thus fulfilling the vision of Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri.
Friend Of Controversies
Vishnu Narayanan Nnamdoodiri is often called a friend of controversies. It is a misnomer. He is controversial because of his unflinching stand on the issues that erode social harmony and his relentless urge to record it without any inhibitions on any occasion that comes in his way. You may not find another literary figure in recent times crucified by religious fundamentalists as also by the so called revolutionists so severely in the recent past for no fault of his. In the early Eighties, The Bishops’ Council, Kerala came down heavily on him demanding a ban on his poem “ Adam and God”, prescribed then for the Degree classes. In 1997 as the high priest of Shree Vallabha temple he had to face the wrath of his own community for he went abroad on an assignment to render lectures on Indian philosophy and its virtues. He was accused of committing religious sacrilege for advocating the teaching of rituals and practices to Dalits and other backward classes. Even the leftist parties did not leave him alone. Though he had cast his first ever vote as a young man to the communists, how can they accept a man who often goes on pilgrimages to Himalayas and dared to wear the mantle of a temple priest? What makes Vishnu different is his firm commitment to what he believes right and the tenacity to challenge establishments for the noble cause even if it goes against his own mentor NV Krishna Warrier.
Vishnu has his own political outlook. He wrote and spoke praising the workers who took part in Punnapra –Vayalar struggles. He did not hesitate to criticise the Vimochana Samaram in 1959 and hailed the communist ministry for bringing in the Education and the Land Reform bills. During the period of censorship and emergency he was the editor of Granthalokam. Though the press was under severe scrutiny he ensured that Granthalokam continued to carry its own free views without any reservations and inhibitions.
Another controversy erupted in 1984 when he took the lead role in organising Somayagam in Trivandrum. Hue and cry were raised by many including Kovilan, Thayttu Sankran, and others who accused him of trying to re-establish Brahmin supremacy and caste regime. His answer was that he went to the yagashala with dalits accompanying him. He wrote to Kovilan “My friend, come along with me! Wherever I enter you will also!” It was not over there. Questions were asked how he could sponsor a yagam in which killing of animals was a ritual, which he did not approve of. Pundits insisted, but Vishnu’s stand on the issue was clear. He did not relent, and won over the organisers to have the yagam held without shedding a drop of blood of an innocent animal.
Graver controversy was yet to come. It was in 1997 he went to UK on invitation for a lecture on Indian spirituality. Religious orthodoxy rose against him saying he committed blasphemy by flying over the seas while he was performing the duties of the head priest in the Shree Vallabha temple and wanted him to be removed. It was Shri VGK Menon, President of the Travancore Devaswom Board who put his foot down and saved him.
While in the college as a professor he was the first one to raise a dissent note when others were waging battles for UGC scales and against UGC’s stringent service conditions. He showed immense courage to plead that UGC funds are not for increasing salaries of teachers but they are meant for creating more and more infrastructure facilities for educational institutions. He was Secretary of Vidyabhyasa Suraksha Samithi, organised to redeem the college campuses from party-politics. All these rightly or wrongly branded him as revolutionary within a reactionary shell.
His Philosophy of life
Vishnu Narayanan Nampoodiri has often been wrongly painted as a reactionary for his outlook on life. More than his poetry what makes him a great human being is his progressive outlook, conviction, beliefs and what he practises in life, which unfortunately is forgotten even by the wiser lot. As a young boy during his bramacharya he imbibed poetic sensibility from his traditional upbringing, which often triggered his poetic senses. He believes the Gurukula System of education has more pluses than minuses and is integral, never compartmentalised, as is the present Western education system. During the course of Vedic studies one has to learn thousands of slokas by heart, which included Amarakosa, Sutras and Kavyas. This process of learning helps the students to train their brains verily as a modern day computer or an encyclopaedia. He believes that this traditional learning has never been an obstacle to his intellectual growth but always helped his inner organic growth, as a fence would do for the growth of a garden.
He is a bit sceptic about the manner in which the temple funds are used now. It is not any concern as to who holds the fund, the Govt, trust or anybody else. But temple funds should be used exclusively for educational, cultural, and spiritual purposes. Stringent measures are needed to ensure that funds are not spent for commercial purposes. Temples, churches and mosques all should be dispossessed keeping aside a small chunk for daily poojas and rituals, he says. Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri dreams of a Vedic society where caste system is not known, women are not discriminated against, land is not monopolised, and the discipline of aparigraha (non-possession) is maintained. His practical wisdom is sharp enough to accept that it is a tremendous task for the sociologists and enlightened politicians to achieve this goal.
He discards the theory of Aryan Invasion and proves it by quoting from the Vedas passages in praise of the land from Himalayas to Indian Ocean. Himself a Brahmin, he has crystal clear definition of a Brahmin. Brahminhood is not gifted by birth but gained by the quality of life one leads. He exemplifies this by quoting the Vedic passage ‘Manurbhava Janaya Daivyam Janam’ and Shankracharya’s words on imparting training for Brahminhood ‘Apeta brahmakshatradi Bhedam’. He urges to open sanctums of temples to dalit priests who are spiritually aspirants. If the caste barriers crumble India will have a glorious rebirth. He affirms that Hinduism can never degenerate into fascism and that Hinduism succeeds by its inherent power of wisdom and the bravery of soul. Violence cannot be accepted as recourse.
His vision of the future India is unique. He envisages an India with the steady evolution of a common civil code for all; abolition of all kinds of special privileges; introduction of Sanskrit at the fundamental level of education; ban on liquor, proselytisation and the tourism craze. A paradigm shift is needed from the consumerist Western to the eco-spiritual Eastern culture with prayers, meditation and pilgrimages in place of the orgy of festivals today. His dream may seem utopian, but the sincerity and sensitivity that drive his vision need to be accepted and applauded. Passing his mid Sixties, Vishnu has the rare solace of chatting with Emilios Bouratinos, the Greek philosopher and chewing the cud of their holy tours together in the land of Athena, in love with old stones and old books. Ireland is another source of sweet memories for him. Great cultures are all alike: they are Indian in essence, he says.
This article will be incomplete if a few lines of Sugathakumari, whom Vishnu acknowledges as the best among contemporary poets, from her preface to the captivating 'Pranyageethangal' are not reproduced here. “I invite only those, to these verses of Vishnu, who have shed a few tears in sleepless nights, who have stood in silence with their heart beating in front of unfailing love, who have had the fortune of sipping the honey dew of divine love, who have had extended their soft fingers to touch and rejuvenate the tired fireflies and who have experienced the deep bliss of solitude. May you be blessed and be richer in life by spending a few moments under this chilly shade slowly sipping away the ecstasy and the agony contained in these verses”. Mind You! this was written in 1970. Both Sugathakumari and Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri have gone miles and miles ahead!
Swaathanthryathe-Kurichu Oru Geetham
India Enna Vikaram
Vayalar award - 2010
Vallathol award - 2010
Sahitya Akademi National Award, 1994
Kerala Academy Award
C.V. Kunhiraman literary prize
Keralites have proved their deligence and extra ordinary brillience through out the world. Keralites are well known for their honesty and efficiency in all fields. In the list of Prominent Personalities we have tried to include all famous personalities from Kerala. We are trying to collect the details of the rest. If you have the details of any such personalities, please send to us.