Thunjathe Ezhuthachan - the greatest "orchestrator" of Malayalam
Why is Ezhuthachan considered the father of Malayalam language?
There may have been many keerthanas or namam or japam, but it was impossible to find a single house in Kerala without a copy of his Adhyathmaramayanam in the olden days. There is no doubt about his contribution to the literary level of the common man. The great teacher taught the people to respect and worship the language and the alphabet. He refined the Malayalam language style and wrote his works for ordinary people, incorporating whatever is good with a strong sense of righteousness and worship. Ezhuthachan's style came to dominate Malayalam and his works enjoyed popularity in every nook and corner of Kerala. There may have been scholars and poets before or after him, but his contribution to the language through the Adhyatmaramayanam and SriMahabharatham is unparalleled, and his contribution at the cultural level is immense.
About the alphabet system in Kerala:
Just before Ezhuthachanís time, this was the situation in Kerala:
1. The 30 letter Vattezhuthu was taught as the Malayalam alphabet by the various Kalaries or schools to the common people.
2. Alphabets which are equivalent to those in Sanskrit (Granthakshara, called Arya Ezhuthu) were learned by scholars and those interested in Sanskrit works.
3. As the influence of Sanskrit in Malayalam increased, Vattezhuthu was used commonly to write Sanskrit words and other derivations, though distorted. The names of parts of Vedas like samhita, ashtakam, varggam, anuvakom were written as changatha, attam, vakkom, anam respectively, in Vattezhuthu. What was written was not exactly what was read. Works may also have been written in this way.
4. Vattezhuthu was used with interposition of letters of the Granthakshara to denote essential Sanskrit phonetics. (Eg. - In important Decrees or Shasanas.)
5. Works needing essential Sanskrit phonetics written using Grantha, remained inaccessible to the common man who, at the most, knew only Vattezhuthu.
It is easy to visualize the glaring inadequacies.
What Ezhuthachan did -
To establish an alphabet system which is equivalent to Sanskrit, instead of the 30 letter script of Malayalam (Vattezhuthu), Ezhuthachan took the best from the existing sets with Granthakshara as the base, and modified them. Common derivations were formed. Ezhuthachan must have thought it auspicious and total for the alphabet set to have 51 characters (See Harinamakeerthanam). "Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namah" is also 51 according to the system of counting with alphabets. This method of initiating children to the alphabets was also begun by Ezhuthachan according to Prof. K. P. Narayana Pisharody. The new alphabet set had Ra and zha as parishishtam. (Malayalam does not have words which begin with these characters, but these alphabets are essential in the language.) It was not sufficient to form just an alphabet set, as it will not be accepted in all places easily. Most probably there were different views at that time. The most practical way was to establish the set by a Keerthanam, so that it will be standardized everywhere.
It was in Thunjan Parambu that Ezhuthachan modified the Malayalam alphabets and wrote the Harinamakeerthanam to popularize them. Even after centuries people from various parts of the state come to take sand from Thunjan Parambu to initiate their children to the alphabet. Every year, hundreds of people bring their children to write their first alphabets during the Vijayadasami festival, to Thunjan Parambu.
Anpodu cherkka Hari Narayanaya Nama"
- Harinamakeerthanam 14th stanza
Vattezhuthu continued to be taught in various places as the Malayalam alphabet till the British regulations relating to registration of bonds and deeds eventually led to its disappearance. But there can be no difference of opinion that the great teacher was the strongest sponsor of the 51 letter alphabet for Malayalam instead of the 30 letter Vattezhuthu.