Understanding Manipravalam

Songs used for the art form Kathakali are generally composed in Manipravalam.

Ajay Parasuraman

This next post is about a form of kriti not everyone would be familiar with. It’s called manipravalam.

Manipravalam, lit. ‘Ruby-Coral’, signifies the merger of two languages, traditionally Tamil and Sanksrit. This form of using two different languages in the same composition was prevalent in the Vaishnavite literature of Tamil Nadu. To read about manipravalam would partly be to read about the origin of a language. Early composers of manipravalam literature, having realized that certain Sanskrit sounds could not be represented by the available letters in Tamil, decided to merge the two languages and thus, Malayalam as a language was born. However, the current form of Malayalam took shape centuries later.

Many recently developed works of literature have mentioned that the earliest form of manipravalam was a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit. I’d like to highlight that this fact is not true.

In Kerala, the earliest form of manipravalam literature can be seen in a work titled ‘Vaisika Tantram’ (lit. ‘The Treatise of the Courtesan’). Why I’d mentioned that traditionally manipravalam was Tamil and Sanskrit is, once the two languages had blended to form Malayalam, people started composing kritis in a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit and labelled these compositions as manipravalam. So, currently, any form of literature/composition with more than one language is termed manipravalam. Note that I’ve said ‘more than one’ rather than ‘two’ because owing to ambitious literary pursuits by several writers over the centuries, people started composing with more than two languages. Most of the popular composers — Thyagaraja, Dikshitar etc — have composed kritis in more than two languages, usually among Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu or Malayalam (rare).

Let me try and make a better understanding about what a manipravalam is by examining a kriti. I’d learnt this song about 6 years back. This happens to be a composition by Muthuswamy Dikshitar in the ragam ‘Sree’ and is set to Adi Talam. The lyric of the song is as follows:

Shri Abhayamba
Ninnu Chinthinchina Vaarika
Chinthai Kavalai ellaam theerum amma

Hey abhayakare vare ishwari krupathonu
endanai rakshikka ithu nalla samayam amma

Nı atyadbhuta subhaguna mulu vini nıve dikkani nera nammiti

Nırajakshi nijarupasakshi nityananda guruguha katakshi rakshi

The first two words, viz. ‘Shri Abhayamba’  are in Sanskrit, the next three, viz. Ninnu Chinthinchina Vaariki, are in Telugu, while the rest of the Pallavi, Chinthai Kavalai ellaam theerum amma, is in Tamil. Dikshitar goes on to alternate between the three languages in the anupallavi while in the charanam he uses only Telugu. The kriti ends in a Madhyama kaalam in Sanskrit with Dikshitar’s mudra (stamp) ‘guruguha’. This kriti is a beautiful example of how each of the languages is used just the right amount and one doesn’t feel a sense of one language overbearing the other in the composition. The important feature of this composition is that, even though three different languages have been used, the intended meaning has been kept.

You can listen to a rendition of this song by Shri. Vijay Shiva at the end of this article.

Other compositions in this ‘language’ are:

1. Taruni Njan Endhu Cheyvu in the ragam Dwijavanthi. This happens to be a Padam (song used for Kathakali) by Swati Tirunal which has the languages Malayalam and Sanskrit infused in the composition
2. Jalaja Bandhu in the ragam Surutti. This also happens to be a Padam by Swati Tirunal and has Malayalam and Sanskrit blended in the kriti.

To end on a lighter note, there is a famous song in the 1991 Priyadarshan-Mohanlal-Revathi movie Kilukkam called Ooty Pattanam which is comprised of lyrics which frequently alternate between Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. In light of this article, wonder if Ooty Pattanam was lyricist Bichu Thirumala‘s attempt at a Manipravalam! Click here to watch that song, its fun.

That’s it for this post! I hope to be back sooner next time. Until then! 🙂

Ajay Parasuraman says:

Hi Ganesh,

Mil Sur Mera Tumhara — was created to highlight the different linguistic communities (and instill national pride, too). — can definitely be called manipravalam!


Ganesh says:

Good 1! Nice explanation of Manipravalam! I wonder whether “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” can be called a Manipravalam or not. 🙂