50 Years Of Sarvavijnanakosam, The First Ever Malayalam Encyclopedia

Sarvavijnanakosam, the first general encyclopedia in the Malayalam language, completes 50 years; its first edition got published in 1972. Sarvavijnanakosam, which translates to “Malayalam Encyclopedia”, had its eighteenth volume published on 18-05-2022. A total of 20 volumes, covering wide areas of knowledge across the world, are expected to get published by the State Institute of Encyclopaedic Publications. So, let’s delve into the history and related aspects of Sarvavinjnakosham.


In 1961, during the chief ministerial tenure of Pattom Thanu Pillai, the Government of Kerala decided to publish an encyclopaedia in Malayalam. They appointed Prof. N. Gopala Pillai as its first Chief Editor. Prof. N.Gopala Pillai was a critic and scholar in Sanskrit and Malayalam. He is well known to have translated Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” and Kumaranaashan’s “Chinthavishtayaya Sita” into Sanskrit. The plan was to publish an encyclopedia in ten volumes. But unfortunately, before they could proceed much along this line, Prof. N. Gopala Pillai passed away in 1969. K. C. Shankara Narayanan, Secretary of Education took over the position for the next year and passed it to Dr. K. M. George.

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50 years of Sarvavinjanakosham, The First Ever Malayalam Encyclopedia

By that time, a great number of information-related books and a few Encyclopaedias had already appeared in Malayalam. The original plan was, thus, revised and the Malayalam Encyclopaedia Committee decided to publish a much lengthier and more comprehensive twenty volumes Encyclopedia. In 1976, the Malayalam Encyclopedia Office, which was functioning under the state government, was made an autonomous institute. The Chief Editor designation was changed to that of Director. In 1987, the Institute was brought under the Cultural Affairs Department.

The administration is controlled by the Director, Secretary, Secretary of Cultural Affairs, Finance Secretary and twelve unofficial members. The Chief Minister and the Cultural Minister are the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, respectively.

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Sarvavijnanakosam is modelled after various internationally acclaimed Encyclopaedias like Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia of Space Science, Encyclopaedia Americana, etc. It seeks to bring the ocean of general knowledge hidden in such books to Malayalis in their mother tongue. Sarvavijnanakosam covers around 32,000 topics and divides the branches of learning into 15 main branches, which in turn are divided into 40 sub-branches. It also aims to improve Malayalam vocabulary and linguistic skills of its readers. It is also their avowed vow to make Malayalam a medium in administration, court proceedings, education, etc.


Sarvavijnanakosam received a national award for the best reference book in 1979. Volume 12 of the encyclopaedia received the Dravidian Linguist Association award for best educational book of 2003. It is the only body in India working as a separate institute for the publication of such encyclopaedias.

The Web Edition of the Sarvavijnanakosam was released in 2008. It contains all articles from volumes 1 to 17. Each volume contains around 1000 – 1500 articles on various topics. (The next two paragraphs contain detailed descriptions of the starting and ending topics of each volume. You can skip them if you’re not an encyclopedia enthusiast!)

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What each volume of Sarvavijnanakosam covers

The first volume, published in 1972 and revised in 2007, contains topics from ‘Aa’ to ‘Amruthavalli’. The second volume, published in 1974 and revised in 2009, contains topics from ‘America’ to ‘Andrezheed’. The third, published in 1976 and revised in 2011, starts with ‘Andrapradesh’ and ‘ ends with ‘India’. The fourth, published in 1978 and revised in 2013, has topics from ‘Indian Antiquiry’ to ‘Rishi’. Topics from ‘A’ to ‘Oustash’ is included in the fifth volume, published in 1979 and revised in 2013. The sixth one, published in 1981 and revised in 2011, has topics from ‘Ka’ to ‘Kanjanaseetha’. This volume has the most informative articles on Kathakali written in Malayalam. The seventh volume, published in 1984 and revised in 2012, has articles from ‘Kancheepuram’ to ‘Krishnadevarayar’. The eighth, published in 1987 and revised in 2014, starts with ‘Krishnan’ and ends with ‘Kongo’. It has a comprehensive article on Kerala.

Articles from ‘Kongo’ to ‘Gandhi’ was included in the ninth volume, published in 1990 and revised in 2012. The tenth, published in 1995 and revised in 2011, contains ‘Gandhiyan Sampathika Vyavasthithi’ to ‘Chitrlipi’. The eleventh, published in 2000, includes articles from ‘Chitralekha’ to ‘Njorichundan Matsyam’. Articles ‘Da’ to ‘Delta’ are included in the twelfth volume, published in 2004. The thirteenth volume, published in 2005, contains articles from ‘Deltaresmi’ till ‘Thennali Raman’. The articles ‘Thenmala’ to ‘Nadhi’ is included in the fourteenth volume, published in 2008. The fifteenth volume, published in 2010, includes articles from ‘Nadeethada Sanskaram’ till ‘Neermathalam’. It was also the first Sarvavijnanakosam with all pages printed in colour. The sixteenth volume, published in 2015, starts with ‘Neervaka’ and ends with ‘Pakkanar Kali’. The seventeenth volume, published in 2022, contains articles from ‘Pak Jalandhi’ to ‘Pothukkadam’.

As you might have noticed from the topics mentioned above, though a global perspective is adopted in the overall selection of subjects, special emphasis is given to topics typically of Indian or Keralite origin.

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The popular other Encyclopaedias in Malayalam are Paristhithi Vinjanakosham (Environmental Encyclopaedia), Samskarikam, Vishwasahithya Vinjanakosham (Encyclopaedia of World Literature), and Parinama Vinjanakosham (Encyclopaedia of Evolution).


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