N. Kumaran Ashan (1873–1924), also known as Mahakavi Kumaran Asan (the prefix Mahakavi, awarded by Madras University in 1922, means "great poet" and the suffix Asan means "scholar" or "teacher"), was one of the triumvirate poets of Kerala, South India. He was also a philosopher, a social reformer and a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru.
Kumaran Asan initiated a revolution in Malayalam poetry in the first quarter of the 20th century, transforming it from the metaphysical to the lyrical. Deep moral and spiritual commitment is evident in Asan's poetry. His works are an eloquent testimony of poetic concentration and dramatic contextualisation.
Asan was born in a merchant family belonging to the Ezhava community in April 1873 in Kayikkara village, Chirayinkeezhu taluk, north of Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala, south India. Named Kumaran, he was the second son in a family of nine children. His father, Narayanan Perungudi, was well versed in Malayalam and Tamil.His mother, Kaali. Asan inherited his taste for Kathakali and classical music. Kumaru trained in mathematics and Sanskrit for which he had a passion. Even though through his father's efforts, he got a job as a primary school teacher and an accountant to a wholesaler at the age of 14, he quit the job two years later to pursue higher studies in Sanskrit. He undertook a studentship in poetry under Manamboor Govindan Asan. He wished to learn Yoga and Tantra and worked as an apprentice in a Muruga temple at Vakkom. He composed a few devotional songs for the benefit of regular worshippers at this temple.
In 1917 Asan married Bhanumathiamma, the daughter of Thachakudy Kumaran – younger brother of Padmanabhan Palpu's father. . Bhanumathiamma, who was an active social worker, later remarried after Asan's death and died in 1975.
Kumaran became a disciple of Narayana Guru.
Some of the earlier works of the poet were Subramanya Sathakam and Sankara Sathakam, wherein Asan voiced his devotional aspirations. His short poem Veena Poovu (fallen flower) is a literary classic. It paved the way for a new movement in Malayalam literature. His elegy Prarodanam mourns the death of his contemporary and friend A. R. Raja Raja Varma, the famous grammarian. His Khanda Kavyas (poems) like Nalini, Leela, Karuna and Chandaalabhikshuki won critical acclaim as well as popularity. In Chintaavishtayaaya Seetha (Seetha Lost in Thought or The Meditations of Sita) he displays his poetic artistry, while in Duravastha, he patiently and skilfully tears down the barriers created by feudalism, orthodoxy and casteism and consummates the dictum of the Guru, "One Caste, One Religion, One God for man".
He wrote the epic poem Buddha Charitha for which he got inspiration from Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia. While in Duravastha, he revealed his revolutionary zeal for fighting caste distinctions; a few other poetic works had a distinct Hindu/Buddhist slant.
He died aged 51 as a result of a boat accident in January 1924 while travelling to Kollam from a function in Alappuzha. The boat capsized at Pallana and all on board drowned, except a priest. Kumaranasan was the only poet in Malayalam who became mahakavi without writing a mahakavyam.
- Sthothrakrithikal (1901)
- This is a collection of poems. The poems published in this volume are longer than those published in Manimaala.
- Saundaryalahari (1901)
- Asan scripted this epoch-making poem in 1907 during his sojourn in Jain Medu, Palakkad. A highly philosophical poem, 'Veena Poovu' is an allegory of the transience of the mortal world, which is depicted through the description of the varied stages in the life of a flower. Asan describes in such detail about its probable past and the position it held. It is an intense sarcasm on people on high powers/positions finally losing all those. The first word Ha, and the last word Kashtam of the entire poem is often considered as a symbolism of him calling the world outside "Ha! kashtam".
- Oru Simhaprasavam (1909)
- Nalini (Subtitle: Allengkil Oru Sneham) (1911)
- Leela (1914)
- A deep love story in which Leela leaves madanan, her lover and returns to find him in forest in a pathetic condition. She thus realises the fundamental fact 'Mamsanibhadamalla ragam' (Love is not an artefact of flesh)
- Sribuddhacharitham (1915)
- This is an epic poem (perhaps Kumaran Asan's longest work), written in couplets and divided into five parts.
- Baalaraamaayanam (1916)
- This is a shorter epic poem consisting of 267 verses. Most of these verses are couplets, with the exception of the last three quatrains. There are, therefore, 540 lines in all.
- Graamavrikshattile Kuyil (1918)
- Prarodanam (1919)
- Chintaavishtayaaya Sita (1919)
- Pushpavaadi (1922)
- Duravasthha (1922)
- Chandaalabhikshuki (1922)
- This poem, divided into four parts and consisting of couplets, describes an untouchable beggar-woman" (also the name of the poem) who approaches Lord Ananda near Sravasti.
- Karuna (1923)
- Manimaala (1924)
- This is a collection of short poems.
- Vanamaala (1925)
- This is a larger collection of poems of varying length.
Kumaran Asan also wrote many other poems. Some of these poems are listed in the book Asante Padyakrthikal under the name "Mattu Krthikal" (Other Works):
- Sariyaaya Parishkaranam
- Pravaasakaalaththu Naattile Ormakal
- This is another collection of poems that come from various letters Kumaran Asan wrote over the course of several years. None of the poems were longer than thirty-two lines.
- Koottu Kavitha
The other poems are lesser known. Only a few of them have names:
- Oru Kathth
- This is another one of Asan's letter-poems.
- Randu Aasamsaapadyangal
- Asan Smaraka Kavitha Puraskaram
- Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University
- Vallathol Narayana Menon
- Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer
- Pandalam Kerala Varma
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- Das, Sisir Kumar, ed. (2006). "The Narratives of Suffering: Caste and the Underprivileged". A History of Indian Literature 1911-1956: Struggle for Freedom: Triumph and Tragedy (Reprinted ed.). Sahitya Akademi. pp. 306–308. ISBN 978-81-7201-798-9.
- Natarajan, Nalini. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. pp. 183–185. ISBN 0-313-28778-3. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Tharamangalam, Joseph (1981). Agrarian Class Conflict: The Political Mobilization of Agricultural Labourers in Kuttanad, South India. The University of British Columbia. p. 38. ISBN 0-7748-0126-3.
- Paul, G.S. (21 December 2007). "The Hindu : Friday Review Thiruvananthapuram / Dance : Visual poetry". Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2011.