Books That Talk About Kerala’s Past, Myths, And Legends

Books are storehouses of stories, myths, and legends. Literature has often functioned as a stepping stone by depicting and exploring society. It also serves as a magical door that transports historians into the past, enabling them to revive the many myths and legends that had been erased like memories of the past generations. The history of a state or nation is, no doubt, rooted in its literature. Books and novels, especially, stand the test of time. Kerala’s customs and traditions largely evolved from the land’s myths and legends and have set a precedent for the novel culture and the writers who want to immortalize their experiences of God’s Own country. 

Following are some of the most renowned books that have been translated into multiple languages. When read, these works give an insight into the land of Kerala, its society, and lifestyle decades ago, serving as one of the most reliable links we share with our traditional past. 

‘Folklore of Kerala’ by KN Panikkar

Books That Talk About Kerala's Past, Myths, And Legends

Kavalam Narayana Panicker was an Indian dramatist. He published the book, Folklore of Kerala,’ in 1991. The book gives an insight into the coastal beauty of India and attempts to dissect the cultural trends and customs that have assimilated into the state due to its constant communication with the outside world. The folk tradition is depicted in colorful shades that fascinate the reader. This historical, geographical, and cultural outlook is explored in this work, providing ample evidence for the introduction and roots of Kerala’s art forms, religion, oral literature as well music, and theatre.

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‘Khasakkinte Ithihasam’ by O.V Vijayan

Books That Talk About Kerala's Past, Myths, And Legends

O.V Vijayan was an Indian author and cartoonist who played a major role in the literary movement of Modern Malayalam literature. ‘Khasakkinte Ithihasam’ was published in 1968-69 and follows the story of a fictional village of Khasak located in Palakkad district. It is described as a path-breaking novel ahead of its time because it combines surrealism with magical realism while incorporating it into the normal lives of the villagers of Khasak. The village, its secrets, the myths, legends, and folktales embedded in the land is revealed to the reader in layers as it undertakes a metaphorical journey to the inside, much like the protagonist, Ravi. 

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‘Kerala, a Journey in Time Malabar’ by George Abraham Pottamkulam

Kerala, a Journey in Time Malabar’ was Published in 2021. Through this book, Pottamkulam rediscovers and compiles layers of Kerala history that got buried during the 21st century. The stories of Kerala come together to create a mosaic of cultural heritage that paints a colorful picture of diverse Kerala. The language, and all that is unique to Kerala, are explained through snippets and stories, marking a trail for the readers to tread upon. It also shows how and why the British tried to conquer Kerala. 

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‘Oru Desathinte Katha’ by SK Pottekadu

Books That Talk About Kerala's Past, Myths, And Legends

Pottekkat is one of the most revered Malayalam novelists of Kerala. ‘Oru Desathinte Katha,’ written in 1971, follows the story of Sreedharan as he wades through his life in British India. The scenery, story, and songs of Athiranippadam fill the pages, along with history, broken dreams and nostalgia. The lost stories of Kerala and its native lands come to life as the protagonist grapples with internal and external struggles. Pottekkat’s novel serves as his autobiography and expresses the belief in safeguarding one’s homeland and respecting it as if it were the cherished forefathers.

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‘Kaalam’ by MT Vasudevan Nair 

MT Vasudevan Nair, also known as MT, is an Indian author, screenplay writer, and film director. The story’s background is set during the early 1960s amidst the backdrop of land reforms and poverty in Kerala. The protagonist, Sethu Madhavan, undertakes a journey across time, or ‘Kaalam’ – as said in Malayalam. His personal life is affected by the people around him and the relationships he shares with them. Hence, various scenes and nuanced dialogues explore the backdrop of Kerala, its religious heritage, and its traditional culture. It is all placed amongst the increasing tensions of the fragmented matrilineal tarwaad system of the Nairs, along with contract marriages and the feudal system. Realizing that time is the only immortal thing leaves him to become one with nature. 

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‘Aithihyamala by Kottarathil Sankunni

Books That Talk About Kerala's Past, Myths, And Legends

Aithihyamala meaning the Garland of Legends was written by Kottarathil Sankunni, who began collecting material for these stories during the early 20th century. The story attempts to provide meaning to the legends and myths that are unique to Kerala, like yakshis, cruel feudal lords, tantric experts, the relationship of elephants with mahotsav, the art form Kalari and so much more. The book is divided into eight parts and is home to the century-old forgotten tales related to all walks of life– including famous people, events, and narratives that don’t exclude kings, chieftains, temples, mythical creatures, stories of jealousy and rivalry, which then gradually became adages and bedtime stories for young children. 

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‘Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu’ by Vaikom Basheer 

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer is known for creating strides in Malayalam Literature. He has a well-known persona for his stories depicting society, including communal riots and the evils of the caste system. He wrote this short novel in 1951, which revolves around two lovers and one of their mothers who gloat about the past in which their family had an elephant. The past glory that slowly breaks down into segments focuses on the present shortcomings and the inability of the present generation to accept them. It depicts the Muslim community and the structure of the society using humor and satire. 

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‘Ivory Throne’ by Manu. S. Pillai 

Books That Talk About Kerala's Past, Myths, And Legends

Kerala was one of the states whose royal life had a great effect on the lives of people. The chronicles and legends of the royal family were popular topics of gossip. In 2015, Manu S. Pillai attempted, through this book, to trace the progression and the political rivalry amongst the royal family of the 15th  century, which marked Vasco Da Gama’s entry into Kerala. This historical book follows major events, including the fight for Indian independence alongside the conspiracies, black magic, and all that occurs behind the hidden realms of the Travancore royal house. 

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‘Indulekha’ by O Chandu Menon

This coming-of-age novel, written by Chandu Menon in 1880, was one of the pioneering books which talked about the role of women in a Nair society. The story revolves around a beautiful, well-educated lady of the Nair Tharvad who is still made to follow the unequal norms set by the Nair men of the society. The novel is credited as the first major novel in the Malayalam language, and set in motion the genre of novels written in Malayalam. The evils of society, which was unfair and confounded in false myths, are explored in this book’s intriguing narrative about the 19th-century Nair society.

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The fascinating realm of Kerala’s past, myths, and legends comes alive through the enchanting pages of these books. These literary treasures offer a gateway to exploring Kerala’s rich cultural heritage, providing insights into its historical events, ancient traditions, and mythical tales. Through these books, readers can delve into the depths of Kerala’s vibrant past, gaining a deeper understanding of its diverse communities, rituals, and folklore. What are you waiting for? Unravel the mysteries and wonders that Kerala’s past, myths, and legends hold.

Shivani Sarat
Content writer and creator. Author of 'Black Daises', a poetry anthology.

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