The Telegraph
Friday , May 24 , 2013
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Classical crown for Malayalam

New Delhi, May 23: Kerala has had its way, finally.

The Union cabinet today announced it was conferring “Classical Language” status on Malayalam, nearly a year after a linguistic panel had rejected the state’s claim to the tag.

Three south Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu and Kannada — already enjoy the status. The cabinet’s decision means Malayalam, the language spoken by residents of Kerala, becomes the fifth in the country to wear the linguistic crown, the other being Sanskrit.

The nod came after another committee, formed in December, agreed that the language fulfilled at least two of the three conditions for the label.

The proposal for the classical tag had been initiated by the previous Left government. The state had submitted a four-volume dossier, which was prepared by a group of eminent Malayalam writers and experts and had a foreword by Jnanpith Award-winning poet O.N.V. Kurup.

In June last year, however, the earlier panel, set up under the ambit of the Sahitya Kala Akademi, had rejected the Kerala government’s claim for classical status for Malayalam.

The committee noted that Malayalam did not fulfil the main criterion of antiquity. According to rules, a language can be accorded the status only if it is 1,500 to 2,000 years old.

The Akademi’s report had also trashed the claim that Malayalam was a sister language of Tamil. “It is wrong to say that Tamil and Malayalam developed as sister languages from Proto South Dravidian. The relation between Tamil and Malayalam is like that of a parent and an offshoot,” professor Krishnamurti, a member of the panel, said in his report.

The rejection had led to an uproar in Kerala’s literary circles and Congress chief minister Oommen Chandy was forced to pursue the matter with the Union government.

In December, the Centre set up the second committee which also had three nominees from the Kerala government. This committee agreed that Malayalam fulfilled the other two conditions for the classical tag: that a language “must have a body of ancient literature/texts that have been considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers” and that the “literary tradition has to be original”.

Based on this committee’s positive reaction, the culture ministry under Chandresh Kumari Katoch moved a cabinet note on May 16.

The nod means several benefits, including two international awards for eminent scholars every year, a centre of excellence for studies in the language and funds for varsities to set up chairs in Malayalam.