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Pathinettara Kavikal
(18 ½ Scholars)

The north-central Kerala during the post-Perumaal period was ruled for a long time by the Saamoothiri Rajas of Kozhikode, reaching their zenith during ME 400 - 800 (13th - 17th century AD). One of the most famous among them was Maanavikraman Raja during ME 642 - 50 (1467 - 75), who, apart from his valour, also promoted scholastic pursuits. The renowned Pathinettara Kavikal (18 ½ poets - poets here means scholars) belonged to his royal court, and were scholars of exceptional calibre, and many had received awards ("Kizhi" during Pattathaanam) (Click here for Pattathaanam). All of them except one (Uddanda Saasthrikal was from Kaancheepuram, Tamil Nadu) were Namboothiris. It is not known, however, whether all of them graced the royal court during the same period. These 18 ½ scholars were :
Payyoor Bhattathiris : 9
Thiruvegappura Nambudiris : 5
Mullappilly Bhattathiri : 1
Chennas Nambudiripad : 1
Kaakkasseri Bhattathiri : 1
Uddanda Saasthrikal : 1
Punam Namboodiri : 1 ( ½ - "Arakkavi")

 19 ( 18 ½ )

Payyur Patteris (Bhattathiris)

A few generations of the Bhattathiris of Payyur (Mana) were great poets, scholars and connoisseurs, but nine of them were exceptionally talented and decorated the royal court of the Saamoothiri, making up almost half of the 18 ½ Kavikal. It is believed that one Rishi, his son Parameswaran and seven brothers of Rishi might have constituted the nine. The father during a debate with Uddanda Saasthrikal is said to have made a slip, and refused to accept a second chance offered to him, saying that he never makes a second try and accepted defeat; such was their humility and pride!

The story goes that these brothers had decided that if they were to perform their father's annual Sraadham, each of them had to make a Meemaamsa treatise (Granthham) and show each other. The fifth brother Narayanan was a lazy one, would read the other's works, and start his own only 3 - 4 days before Sraadham, yet his would always be the best. Some of the Meemaamsa Granthhams are apparently available, but no Kaavyams.

The Thiruvegappura Five

It is not definitely known who the five Namboothiris from Thiruvegappura were. One of them could possibly be Narayanan, the Guru of Kaakkasseri Bhattathiri. His Gurus Jathavedass and Ashtamoorthy and his uncles (Aphhan) Raman and Udayan, might have constituted the five. According to Kodungallur Kunjikkuttan Thampuran, he has read a drama / play "Lakshmee Maanavedam" by one of the five, and a "Subhadraaharanam" Kaavyam by one Brahmadathan's son Narayanan, perhaps of Kootallur, though Thiruvegappura location is confusing.

Mullappilly Bhattathiri

None of the works of Mullappilly Bhattathiri have come to light. He is said to have been punished by Maanavikraman Saamoothiripad for writing poems which were demeaning to the royalty. He was asked to collect the "Kizhi" (purse or award) of Pattathaanam after walking in front of all the very eminent and greater scholars, which was quite debasing in itself. Strangely, this very punishment later led him to become the head in his own house.

Chennas Nambudiripad

Narayanan Nambudiripad was born in Medam month of ME 603 (AD 1428) in Chennas Mana of Vanneri near Ponnani in the present Malappuram district. He was also punished for the same reason, but a much stranger sentence; he should not visit the Saamoothiripad until he completes an exhaustive treatise on Thanthram, and he did it. Even to this day there has never been another Granthham to equal his "Thanthra Samuchayam", which has been the reference manual not only for all Thanthram-related matters, but even for Thachu Saasthram (architecture). Another major work of his is "Maanava Vaasthu Lakshanam".

He is said to have had a special talent to create beautiful poems and to express a lot in just a few words. The story goes that while writing Thanthra Samuchayam, Uddanda Saasthrikal visited him at home and offered to write two Slokams (couplets) on any matter specified by Chennas. But after much struggle, he stopped with one-and-a-half Slokams, with much matter uncovered, which Chennas completed with ease, much to Saasthrikal's admiration.

Kaakkasseri Bhattathiri

Malayalees believe that Kaakkasseri Bhattathiri was born as a result of "Thapas" by Namboothiris with the aim of defeating Uddanda Saasthrikal. Like Dronaachaarya, it was Sasthrikal himself who taught him; yet at age 12, he defeated Saasthrikal! Among Kaakkasseri's works, only "Vasumathee-maanavikramam" drama has ben handed down to us.

His name was Damodaran and was from Kaakkasseri Illam of Brahmamkulam in Ponnani Taluk. The Illam does not exist any more and had been merged with Mangalath Bhattathiri's Illam.

Uddanda Saasthrikal

Uddanda Saasthrikal hailed from Laatapuram, east of Kaancheepuram. He came to Kerala with the presumption that he can easily defeat every scholar here. He was mistaken, and accepted it. He developed a liking and even respect for Kerala scholars, and continued to stay here most of his life. His presence and association here certainly enriched the literacy and scholastic levels here.

It was Chennas Nambudiripad who introduced him to Saamoothiripad. Saasthrikal is said to have taught Kaakkasseri Patteri, from whom he had to accept defeat later. Legends galore on his proud and often sarcastic utterances about other scholars, but then he was often the first one to turn around and recognise the superiority of deserving opponents. His surprise at Mookkuthala when a drummer Maaraar completed with ease an instant prayer of Saasthrikal during a pause, his 9-day debate on Vyaakaranam with Narayana Pisharody of the scholarly Thrikkandiyoor family, and how Punam changed Saasthrikal's attitude about Bhaashaakavis (Malayalam poets), are just some of them.

His "Mallikaamaarutham" and "Kokilasandesam" are the best known works. While the former is a treatise in ten sections, like Bhavabhoothi's "Maalathee-Maadhavam", the latter stands just below "Sukasandesam", but better than all other Sandesa Kaavyams.

Punam Namboodiri

He was the "half" Kavi of the group, perhaps owing to his slightly inferior scholastic excellence and aristocracy, and his being a Bhaashaakavi (non-Sanskrit or Malayalam poet). Two of his great works were the "Krishna Gaathha (Krishnappaattu) and "Bhaashaa Raamaayana Chambu", both of which are unparalleled. Anyone who has read his works would not only shun at his being called "half", but would even argue that he desrves to be even "one-and-a-half". The word "Ara" was obviously not used to denote half, but in its other meanings like "Mukhyam" (primary or important) and "Sreshttham" (excellent).

Most Sanskrit scholars used to have an aversion to Bhaashaakavis. Once in a Bhaashaakavitha discussion in the Saamoothiri's court, Uddanda Saasthrikal recited a Slokam which was sarcastic towards such poets. At that time, Punam Namboodiri got up and recited an instantly made Slokam, "Thaaril thanwee kataakshaanchala ..... dharaa hantha! kalpaantha thoye", hearing which , Saasthrikal immediately changed his attitude, and offered his own "Uthareeya-pattu" to Punam, exclaiming "Antha Hanthakku Intha Pattu", for the use of the word Hantha towards the end of the Slokam; he also eulogised Punam as a certificate.

| Article No:6.2.1 | Last update of this article:8th November 2001 |
Sources :
1. "Kerala Sahitya Charitram" Vol. 2 - Rao Sahib, Mahakavi Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer. [Published by : University of Kerala, Thiruvanathapuram] (1979);

2. "Kunjikkuttan Thampuraante Gadya Lekhanangal" - Prof: S K Vasanthan. [Published by : D C Books, Kottayam]

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