Ramayana has had many local versions. In Kerala the first organized version can be traced back to the fourteenth century with Rama Katha written in Paattu style. The poet who wrote this work is unknown. The style of work is known as Paattu Reethi. The hero of this version is Cheeramma, A mythical hero.
The features of Paattu Reethi are :
Words used must be Dravidium, meaning indigenous Malayalam without any inclusion of Sanskrit words. This style was intended to protect the local Malayalam from invasions of other neighboring languages.
First letter prasam. First letter repeated in Yadukamonaprasam.
Meter is that of Folk songs.
This does not contain the whole story of Ramayana. It only describes the war. This is considered to be the most ancient work on Ramayana in Kerala.
The next version is Ramakathapaattubhashaparimalam by Ayaappilli Asan. The Malayalam that is used is not that of Manipravalam. It is similar to Tamil. Though the complete story of Ramayana is given in this, prominence is given to the war. And half of the book is devoted to the war.
The next is Torave Ramayanam written by Narahari which has similarities to Kannada. Fifty percent of the book is again devoted to the war. In this simple folk songs are used to tell the story of Ramayana.
In the fifteenth century Kannasa Ramayanam came in to exsistence. Three brothers from the Kannasa family known as Niranam Kavikal were the authors of this book – Madhava Pannikar, Shankara Panikar and Rama Panikkar. The authorship of Kannasa Ramayanam is attributed to Rama Panikkar.
Here the language is a blend of Sanskrit and local language. It follows the pattern of Valmiki Ramayana. The Bhakti element is predominant. The most significant factor of this work is the poetic beauty of the language used.
In the fifteenth century Chanpu Ramayana was written. The Language was a mixture of Sanskrit and local [Predashika] language,Malayalam. Punam Namboothiri is the authoe of this book. The specialty of this work is that it is a mixture of prose and poetry. This work is distanced from Vlmiki Ramayana. Valmiki Ramayana becomes only a reference point. This has more affinity to Sanskrit. The language used in this work is called Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. At this point of time there was a good deal of bad uses of Malayalam and Sanskrit a grammar book describing the rules was written called the Leelathilakam. Though the author of this book is unknown. The definition of Kavya [poetry] was that it should be written in Sanskrit amd the plot should be a famous one like that of Ramayana or Mahabharatha.
From 1575-1650 there lived a poet in Kerala, Tunchat Ezhuthachan, who is considered to the father of the Malayalam literature who wrote Adyatama Ramayanam. Those were part of the Bhakti movement that prevailed in different part of India at that time. Before Adyatma Ramayanam was written there was a period in Malayalam literature hen the Manipravalam language was used to write tales of women known as Achi Charitham Prominance was given to describing the body parts of the female body and erotic love. The heroines of these poems were all prostitutes such as Unniachi, Unniyadi. Most of these poems were written as addressing this women and using Vipralambha Sringaram. The bhakti movement itself came as a protest to this indulgence in erotic love and gave prominence to the emotion of Bhakti [devotion]
Tunchat Ezhuthachan said about his Ramayana “I am writing this for the ordinary Malyali or read daily. So the language while it was poetic and full of Sanskrit words was simple, direct and accessible to people at large.
The specialty of Adyatma Ramayana is that story telling is done through a parrot [kili]. The meter is known as ‘kilipattu'. The bird is a critical part of the story telling. As the parrot is considered to the constant campaign of the chaste women, a waiting women, a women waiting for life [ Sapta Subha Sakti] the need to tell the story through the parrot becomes clear. That the parrot can also mimic the voice also becomes an indicator as to why the parrot is used as the story teller. Parot also imitates love sounds.
This Ramayana is very different from the Valmiki Ramayana because in this Rama is not treated as a human being, but a God. The main emotion is Bhakti and the poetic language was given it's literary landscape- the structure of the language, the expansion of the alphabet etc.
After this, came the Kerala Varma Ramayana.
Twentieth Century saw the retelling of Ramayana. The first such work was Kumaran Asans” Chinthavishtayaya Sita” [ Ameditatie Sita]. This can be called the new interpretation of the Ramayana, where Sita is questioning Rama's action as a king and as a husband. However, the mode of questioning remains very much within permissive limits. This poem is written from Sita's point of View. It also reflects the renaissance movement in Indian literature when women began questioning the order of things in the partriarchy which till then existed. The pain of women began to be reflected in works of sant poets Bhina Bohai. This long poem reflects the angst of women in a dignified manner.
Between 1930 and 1940 Kuttikrishna Marar wrote on Valmiki's Ramayana criticizing Rama. It contains a rational critique of Rama. In an essay he systematically destroy Rama's image. Many arguments were raised against Rama. Sita too was a praja and she was not allowed the basic right of defending herself and the accusations against her. Rama in denying her failed as a king. Arguments raised in favour of kingship and duty to people meaningless. Love to father and brother again facile. Warlike weapons carried to the forest, so destruction and war was always therein this agenda always.
The next work to question Ramayana was “Kanchana Seetha” [ Golden Seetha], a play by C.N Sreekantan Nair wherein Rama's love for father, brother, his subjects and even his one wife policy are all severely criticized.
The ultimate question that faces us in Ramayana is who should we support- Rama who is a part of power or Sita who is a part of Avastha or being.