Moving Notes : Tribute befitting a legend
I received an invitation from Raman Unni, secretary of Thunchan memorial, Thirur, Kerala, to participate in the Annual Thunchan Festival. He asked me...
I received an invitation from Raman Unni, secretary of Thunchan memorial, Thirur, Kerala, to participate in the Annual Thunchan Festival. He asked me to present a paper on the changing modes of modernity and tradition in Telugu literature at a seminar being conducted in collaboration with the Central Sahitya Akademi. He was generous enough to suggest that I should stay there for the entire festival (held for five days), though the seminar was only for two days.
Thirur is a small town in the district of Mallapuram, 45 kilometers away from Kozhikode (Calicut). The narrow national highway starting from Kozikode passes through the ghats, crosses the valleys, pierces through the coconut and areca orchids and runs over the backwaters. Thirur was like a summer hill resort where time seemed to be running slow. The Thunchan Memorial situated in the suburbs was also lapped in the coconut orchards. Surrounded by a compound wall of red stone it was a group of red tile-roofed houses.
Once we entered the Memorial, we found ourselves in front of a rocky mandap in which there was a huge statue of a parrot along with a huge thatched-leaf book and a ghantam made of metal. The building in front of the statue houses the auditorium. People of all ages, reading newspapers in the lounge area appear totally indifferent to the pace of time. In the notice board, some of the books written by the guests attending the festival were exhibited. Later, I learnt that the people attending to various duties in the office and the other establishments all around were not employees. They were all writers and readers who took up the responsibilities voluntarily.
There was a canteen beside the auditorium. There were some cozy cottages meant for the guests. A museum introducing culture and literature of Kerala was also there. A huge library beside it was provides a lot of literature that can aid advanced research activities. The coconut orchard in between had an outdoor auditorium. A place called Saraswathi Mandir containing a huge tree with a pavement and a small lake was considered the heart of the Memorial. It had become customary that the children were taken there for Aksharabhyasa.
Thunchan Ezuthajuan, born in the 16th century in Thirur, is acknowledged as the father of Malayalam language and literature. He transformed the mundane language suitable for literature and wrote The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha in the people's language. His memorial was instituted around six decades ago, but began to work properly only after MT Vasudevan Nair, the doyen of Malayali Literature and the Jnanapeeth Awardee, took over, following which the five-day long yearly festivals have been were designed as the biggest events of Malayali culture and literature.
During the mornings of the first four days of the festival, people of all ages gather at the memorial to recite poetry of Thunchan reverentially followed by Thunchan memorial lecture and seminars. On the final day, the palm leaf-books and the ghantam of Thunchan would be carried in a procession. It would be followed by a poets' meet of all Indian languages. Essay writing and elocution competitions for students and entertainment programmes with traditional and folk arts of India during evenings are also held.
The memorial lecture this year was delivered by Sitakant Mahapatra, the doyen of Oriya literature. The other speakers include Dr Harischandra Thorat, R Basanth, retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala , M Lilavathi, Kaleswram Raj, KJ Poulos, P Gouridasan Nair and RB Srikumar probed into the political crimes. Mukundarama Rao, a noted poet represented the Telugu literature this year in the Poet's Meet.
Thunchan Memorial has become the nerve centre of the literature and culture of Kerala. They have been conducting book fairs during the festivals. There were nearly 50 book shops in the fair this year. Most of them were exclusively for Malayalam literature though some English books were also there. I was thrilled to find the enthusiasm of the book lovers of that place. The central Sahithya Akademi had a stall and they had to summon their office nearby to send more books as the books that they brought to the fair was exhausted by the second day itself. Most of the classics from those of Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett, from Homer to T.S. Eliot, and from Jonathan Swift to Marquez were there in Malayali translation.
It is amazing to find everyone from the stature of MT Vasudevan Nair to a teenage writer getting passionately involved in conducting the festival. It is mere coincidence that I visited Thunchan memorial a week after visiting the Kuvempu memorial at Kuppalli. But as a person belonging to Telugu literature I cannot help being introspective.
What art, literature, science and songs In the creation's cosmic dance? To drink what light is man athirst What is his dream? And what conquest?
(The writer, son of renowned litterateur Madhurantakam Rajaram, is well-known author)