It is the smallest of the Dravidian languages, dating back to the 10th century.
Malayalam is the baby in the Dravidian family. Itâ€™s an offshoot of Old Tamil, and remained in the latterâ€™s shadows for a long time before it struggled free in the 10th century. But soon after the young Malayalam stepped out on its own, it met with the biggest bully of all â€“ Sanskrit.
Thanks to the endeavors of the Namboodiris, the powerful feudal aristocrats of Kerala, Aryan Sanskrit had almost replaced Malayalam in its own land. The Mani-pravalam or â€˜ruby and coral styleâ€™ was the baby of such a pileup, a style which meant using as many Sanskrit words as possible.
The linguistic result of the two dominions, however, has been a happy one; the orchestral resources of Malayalam have been infinitely enriched.
But while Tamil and Sanskrit took turns in stamping their authority, a third kind of Malayalam evolved and survived â€“ the pure or pucca Malayalam. This was the folk stream of lullabies, wedding songs and dirges, which flowed through the centuries and became the source of Malayalam literature later. It had Christian and Muslim elements too. The Kathakali dance form, which is famous the world over, traces its roots in this folk culture of Kerala.