(The Melody of Malayalam Language)
The word Gaatha superficially means song. Gaatha and Gaanam are creative works in a language for singing. There is nothing wrong in thinking that these two words originated from the elementary word Gaa meaning to sing. Though Keralites are familiar with and remember the word Gaatha through the poetical work Krishna Gaatha in pauranic Malayalam literature, the tradition of Gaatha is very significant. In northern Kerala Krishna Gaatha is known as Krishna Paattu. Apart from these, many of the Vedic songs and folk songs are also named as Gaatha.
The author of Krishna Gaatha, Cherusseri Namboothiri - is well known to Keralites. It is presumed, hailing from the Namboothiri illam (residence of Namboothiri community) known as Cherusseri or Punam in Kurumbranaatu Taluk in Northern Kerala, he lived there sometime around the year 650 in Malayalam calendar (1450 AD). There arent much details recorded in history about the life of this poet. But if his Krishna Gaatha is studied carefully we cannot ignore the fact that Cherusseri was a poet of deep aesthetic sense. More than that, few lines in the opening stanzas clarify that he was a court poet in the palace of the king Udayavarman, who then ruled the Kolaththiri Dhesam:
Paalaazhi maaruthan paalichchu porunna
Kolathu Nathan Udhayavarman
Aajnaye cholliyaal ajnanaayullava njaan
(When the king who rules the Kolath dhesam commands, the ignorant me pretend to be a talented one )
Doesnt these lines proclaim his position as the court poet? Cherusseri Namboothiris living period has been decided based on the historical record of King Udayavarmans period of reign. Other than Krishna Gaatha, Bhaaratha Gaatha is also considered to be Cherusseris composition. Krishna Gaatha is written in a melodious metre known as manjari. As there are lengthy beautiful descriptions with lavish use of adjectives throughout the poetical work, the composition is quite interesting and enjoyable. Feelings of passion, devotion, humor, and warmth are all discovered in a superior level, singly in natural style and with equal measure. Based on Bhaagavatha Puraana, it is inexplicable as to how well the entire life of Krishna including his attainment of heaven is discussed with so much devotion in this composition. It was not with as much boldness in language, but with gentleness in language that Cherusseri won the heart of Keralites and became the pride of the soil of Kerala.
There is absolutely no doubt that Krishna Gaatha is a Malayalam composition in which we can take pride. But was the origin of Gaatha from Cherusseri? The answer to that are clear in the research study of old scriptures. It is to be assumed that the poets in Kerala had composed stories for musical renderings much before Krishna Gaatha. Isnt the aesthetic description of the heroine in Unnichchirudevi, much before Cherusseri, in Gaatha style? This composition is a mixture of three old styles of metre and beats. The poetic theme is narration of the beauty of the village belle from Thotuvaypulli. Having heard about the beauty of Unnichchirudevi, Devendra reaches the threshold of her house and becomes unconscious seeing the crowd of her admirers who have reached there before him, to have a glimpse of her. That is the narrative part of the composition. This composition must have been compared with Gaatha because of its aesthetic description of passionate love and warmth. In the history of language it is recorded that Keralites considered the metre in Gaatha in a folklore style before Cherusseri. Isnt the metre used by Tamil saints in sthothras (devotional renderings for Gods) which is close to manjari style, an example to prove this factor? If some of the Vadakkan Paattu are studied carefully, this point of similarity to manjari will be clear ?
It is a significant observation that the tradition of continuing the practice of Gaatha style is followed by later generations. Arent the charm and sweetness in the poetic compositions of the great poets Vallaththol and Changambuzha illustrative enough to prove this? Vallaththols Sathya Gaatha and Chakra Gaatha, Kochchunni Thamburans Bhagavatha Gaatha enables to segregate them into this branch. In some of Vallaththols compositions manjari has been referred as maakanda manjari. On the other hand A. R. Rajaraja Varma explains that manjari has been taken from Kakali vruththam (metre) and used as a separate metre. If one understands how Rajaraja Varma explains in his Vuththa Manjari about Kaakali, it is not difficult to know the deviation of
Manjari from Kakali. Kakali vruththam is explained as a composition of two lines of eight groups comprising three syllables and five letters. Of course slight variations are noticeable here and there. In pronunciation some times long letters are shortened and short letters are lengthened, very naturally.
According to A. R. Rajaraja Varmas explanation, if the last two letters in the second line in Slatha kaakali are shortened, the metre that forms is manjari. What we understand by the word Kaakali is sweet melody. It is worth remembering that the sweetness in kaakali does not disappear in manjari.