A CASE FOR A WOMENTS LITERARY HISTORY IN MALAYALAM 99
Royal authority has always been a generous patron of arts and literature, providing an atmosphere in which cultural life crucially included literary and artistic activities. Royal ladies were reasonably well-versed in Sanskrit poetry. Manorama Thampuratti ("Her Highness Manorama") is perhaps the first woman writer of Kerala. She wrote Sanskrit in keeping with the poetic style of her S anskrit mentors. Information on Manorama Thampuratti is found in Padya Sahitya Caritram ("History of Poetic Literature") by T.M. Chummar, a literary history text in Malayalam that assigns twenty five pages to the poetesses of Kerala (Chummar 1936: 370-95). Manorama belonged to Kizhakkekovilakom, the royal family of Calicut. In fact the real name of Manorama Thampuratti is unknown. The name by which she is known has emerged from her own literary accomplishments. She was well versed in Bhattoji Diksita's complex seventeenth-century grammatical work, Praudhamanorama, and hence was aptly named Manorama, which literally means "she who pleases the mind." Her Sanskrit verses on her husband are well known. Since the royal family was troubled by the invasion of Haidar Alt and Tippu Sultan, patronage of literature suffered a decline and Manorama's verses were never published in a volume. Yet poet and literary historian Kerala Verma Valiakoyithampuran has paid a glorious tribute to her in a reference that compliments the high degree of enlightenment of the women of Kerala.
vidySvidagdhavanitaj anavallikalko-rudyanami ruchirakeralabhuvibhagam hrdyamanOramanaresvari thante suktir adySpi kOvidamanassu kavamnidunnu.
To the vines of feminine geniuses excelling in scholarship, A garden this lovely land of Kerala has been! Endearing Manorama—the human goddess-—robs the hearts Of wise men with her fascinating verses.
The first known contribution of women to Malayalam literature dates back to the early nineteenth century. It emerged from the royal families. The princesses Kilimanoor Umadevi Thampuratti (1797-1836) and Ambadevi Thampuratti (1802-1837) have been discovered to have each composed one ottamthullal (verse for a popular folk dance of Kerala). They ^Iso composed poems in praise of the life of Lord Vishnu ("Vi§numayacaritam") and Goddess Parvathi ("Parvathi Svayamvaram") respectively. Kuttikunju Thankachi (1820-1904) is described by Ulloor S. Parameswara lyer, author of the huge literary history of Kerala in seven volumes, as the first poetess of Kerala. She was the gifted daughter of the illustrious IrayimmanThampi, who was aphenomenon in classical music and was immortalized by the popular lullaby song of Kerala "OmanathingalkidavO" ("Oh! Are you the dear child of the moon or the beautiful lotus flower?"). Ulloor refers to her "not only as a noble example for the women of Kerala in music and literature but also as an incomparable personality in moral integrity." A close relative of the royal family of Travancore, she was tutored at home by her own father in Malayalam, Tamil, and Sanskrit, and particularly in verse, drama, and music. She is said to have excelled