Malayalam University sheds colonial hangover at its first convocation

KOCHI: As its first batch of students received their degree certificates recently, the Thunchath Ezhuthachan University aka Malayalam University held its head high singing Keralamennu Kettaalo, Thilakkanam Chora Namukku Njarambukalil. The unique platform of education launched in Malappuram in 2012, to encourage Malayalam studies among the State’s youth, had 98 students passing out in its first batch across ten post-graduation courses. What’s more, they did not ape the much popular colonial convocation ceremonies! The participants turned up wearing neryathu over traditional attire at the event, the theme of which was ‘culture of Kerala.’

Convocation in Neryathu

K Jayakumar, Vice Chancellor of Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, says, “Contrary to the general convocation costume of gown and cap, we decided to make it simpler and more native. Accordingly, students adorned a long, neatly pleated neryathu. Guests also wore similar attire.”

Professor Sreenathan of the Linguistics Department says, “The reason for the themed event was to revive local identities and to bring about a sense of belonging. This is our way of giving a salutation to the Malayalam language. The dress code used was an open declaration to shed the burden of the colonial hangover and get back to the cultural ethos. This will definitely redefine the academic scenario in our state.”

Everything with a Malayalam touch

Everything on the campus is Malayala mayam, unlike other campuses, say the students at the University. Neethu Krishna, a student of linguistics, says, “Our priority was Malayalam, when we took up the courses. We also have competitions based on students’ proficiency in the language. The convocation was also unique in the way it adapted to our tradition.”

With the ambience of the college reflecting a love for the Malayalam language, one wonders if they also converse in hardcore Malayalam. Shibu Thomas, a student of Creative Writing, giggles, when asked this question, “I guess that would be too artificial. Who does that in today’s age? Just imagine yourself asking your mom, Mathaave, kurach vellam tharu…'”

That said, they do dialect surveys and unique studies about the language that have brought in many interesting facts to the fore. Professor Sreenathan says, “The survey that we did in Malappuram revealed that there is actually a word for ‘switch’ in Malayalam, which is ngekki, widely used in the district. We found many more of such words in usage. The ambit of words that one could find out during the survey was amazing.”

Taking the language to a global space

The need for such a University arose when there was a realization that Malayalam language has to be globally placed. “We have made sure that the studies are not confined to Malayalam language and literature, as we have other courses such as Master of Communication in Journalism and others,” says Professor Roshni Swapna of the Literary Studies Department.

She adds that the work for creating a detailed Malayalam online dictionary has already started. “The dearth of information on the language online led us through the digitization process. This would further lead to taking the language to a global space.”

A translation project has also been kicked off, which will draw on local creativity. Roshni says that Malayalam is more than just a language. “More often than not, Malayalam is pushed to the background by the people from the state, while other cultures come to the forefront. Malayalam should be a window through which we see the world and its philosophies, along with its historical significance. If we understand our language and its literary richness, we can understand any culture,” she concludes.