Kottarathil Sankunni’s Aithihyamaala in its richness, lucidity and variety is the Malayalam equivalent to Kathasaritsagara, Arabian Nights and Popol Vuh. This compilation of folklore, a perfect counterpoint to Kerala’s history, transports the reader into a fascinating world of kings and chieftains, elephant and mahouts, temples and deities, priests and wizards, nymphs and sirens.
Penned by Kottarathil Sankunni in his inspiring and delightful language, this cherished collection combining a heightened sense of the real and the unreal is considered a classic.
This was never an attempt to fame. Neither was this an attempt at doing something that I always wanted to do. This was an attempt to appease my second son, Mohan, who for actually no fault of his, is not fluent in reading Malayalam. He wanted to read this famous piece of literature, renowned for its majestic characters and vivid and colourful stories. It started as an effort by the mother in me to fuilfil his wish.
However as I got down to business, I slowly started realizing the enormity of the task I had at hand and even more about the importance of the actual work, if it ever got done.
Travellers from overseas and even people from other states have always been very keen in hearing small anecdotes and stories about Kerala and her rich past.
As I dug deeper into the translation, more and more people started approaching me expressing their pleasure and gratitude in making this classic available to them in English.
Today, with this work actually getting rolled out from the press, I must mark my appreciation and thanks to a few people without whom, I would have chucked away the whole act and moved on.
Foremost in the list would be my second son Mohan, who is the prime accused behind the publishing of this book He initially arm twisted me into starting the translation and later on was involved deeply in the editing right through.
Next in line would be Mrs. Thara Menon. What can I say about her. I would have been long lost but for the untiring support and help and time put in by her into the editing of this magnum opus.
I must also thank Mrs. Bhavani Aravindakshan and Mrs. Geetha R Nair, for putting their heart and soul into the project and helping me with the editing. And so also my niece Seethalakshmi and Mrs. Bindu Baiju for the background support extended by them.
I must acknowledge the unrelenting love and support shown by my two daughters-in-law, Vrinda and Deepthi, who have been taking guard at home while I had my nose buried in the books. I must thank my husband, Adv. C Ramachandra Menon, who like in the summers past has been around in twofold — one with his mammoth collection of reference books garnered over the decades and two, with his words of wisdom. And special thanks to my elder son Reghu for the support he has shown in this endeavour, particularly with regard to the animation and caricatures.
Let me point out two big tasks that I had at hand — finding the appropriate words in English for all the tweaky Malayalam words and also doing the research about the relevant period. I cannot thank enough the role played by all in this.
I must also place on record my gratitude to Mathrubhoomi for the support extended by them in the publication and promotion of this classic.
I dedicate this book to my grandchildren — Unnikrishnan and Aditya — and of course to all the people who are unfortunate in not being able to read Malayalam. The world deserves to read the Aithihyamaala.
Legends are a perfect counterpoint to history. With their amplified and exaggerated scale, they combine a heightened sense of romance and drama as opposed to the robotic monotony of history. Legends lend character to the straitjacketed, staid contours of historical documentation.
The dictionary defines a legend as a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical, but unauthenticated; a popular but unfounded belief often embodying popular ideas on natural or social phenomena, etc. Yet, despite their theatrical backdrop and trademark irreverence for scientific canon, they are curiously aligned with historical facts and figures. The evidence is the chronological coincidence of many of the events with his torical details.
Legends are anthropomorphic representations of man’s spiritual and religious fantasies, his pre-occupation with the occult, the mystical. Very often, they antedate history and have proven to be a crucial reference point for the lacunae in pre-historic traces. Legendary lore has been the key source for some of the most brilliant literary creations in the world.
For want of systematic compilation and recording, many of the legends have been lost to posterity. It is in this perspective, that Aithihyamaala, a compilation of the legends of Kerala assumes importance.
Kerala is a land rich in natural and cultural heritage. The vast body of its legendary lore captures the intriguing vestiges of its royal and spiritual past. Under the skilful craftsmanship of its author, the master story teller and versatile scholar Kottarathil Sankunni (1855 AD — 1937 AD), Aithihyamaala, brings alive the rich cultural heritage and colourful lore of this beautiful land. Each story is composed from his own extensive knowledge of Kerala’s history culture and social customs.
Aithihyam means a legend. Mala means a garland. Aithihyamaala pieces together each story with consummate craftsmanship, each piece fitting together in a fluid design.
The Aithihyamaala, almost simplistic in its style of story telling and very child-like in its effusiveness has beguiled many into believing that they are fables for children. The discerning intellect will, however, vouch that each story carries sublime moral and cultural nuances that can be appreciated only by the mature literary palate. Beneath their surface lies a rich legacy of traditional wisdom — the crusted debris of a civilisational devastation caused by colonial vandalism. Many of them are truths based on cosmic and spiritual principles that often blur the lines between the esoteric and the mundane; between the realms of the real and the unreal; between the mortal and the divine - the key aspects of Indian spirituality. A lot of ancient Kerala’s rich heritage in science, astrology, medicine, culture and spirituality, encompassed in these mythological tales and lost to us through despoliation, are now being rediscovered by the modern world, both East and West.
This book is a complete and true translation of the book composed about a century back (The first edition of the original work was brought to light on 9.4.1909). The translator has taken the liberty to omit certain ‘Sanskrit’ couplets during the translation and to address certain personalities by fictitious names for the convenience of easy reading.
This translation is an effort at preserving the wisdom the book contains. The attempt is to pass on its legacy to a generation that is becoming increasingly alienated from Kerala’s literary heritage. It is also hoped to benefit an amateur audience whose literary appreciation of the work may be handicapped by its nineteenth century phraseology and archaisms. In the tightrope-walk between accommodating contemporary tastes and interpreting the original idiom, this translation strives to unravel the mystique of Kerala to those who have been fascinated by the million hues of its antiquity.
I would consider myself successful in my attempt, if my translation of this literary gem, which deserved to be translated much earlier, leads the way to discovering the soul of this history-laden, tradition-rich land that is truly God’s own country.
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