Biography of Ayyappa Paniker
Dr. K. Ayyappa Paniker, sometimes spelt "Ayyappa Panicker" was an influential Malayalam poet, literary critic, and an academic and a scholar in modern and post-modern literary theories as well as ancient Indian aesthetics and literary traditions. He was one of the pioneers of modernism in Malayalam poetry, where his seminal works like Kurukshethram (1960), considered a turning point in Malayalam poetry, Ayyappapanikkarude Krithikal and Chintha and several essays were an important influence on the playwrights of his generation.
In an academic career which ran in consonance with his literary one, and spanned four decades, he taught in various colleges and universities before retiring as the Director, Institute of English, University of Kerala. He published over 25 works, translated several important work to Malayalam, including Guru Granth Sahib and a book in French; as a scholarly editor he produced numerous anthologies on Indian literature, he was the chief editor of the Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literary Encyclopaedia. Another important work by him Indian Narratology, published by IGNCA, was the first of its kind to study various forms of the art of narration, in Indian literature, starting with Vedic and oral literature to Buddhist and contemporary literature.
Early Life and Education
Paniker (his preferred spelling) was born in Kavalam near Alappuzha to E. Naryanan Namboodiri, a Namboodiri Brahmin of Periyamana Illam, and M. Meenakshiamma. Fourth of the eight children, six of them girls, he grew up without any paternal affection, while his mother died when he was 12 years old, this early anguish and solitude deeply reflected in his poetry, which he started writing when he was in high school.
The Kavalam village, was also home to people like, K. M. Panikkar, historian and administrator, and playwright and poet, Kavalam Narayana Panicker, his cousin. He published his first poem at the age of 16, published in the Mathrubhoomi Weekly. He did his Intermediate at Malabar Christian College, Kozhikode, and B.A. Honours in English Literature from the University College, Thiruvananthapuram in 1951, thereafter he received his Master's degree from the University of Kerala.
Paniker took his doctorate from Indiana University with a doctoral dissertation on the poetry of Robert Lowell, supervised by Prof. Robert E. Gross, subsequently he did post-doctoral research in Yale and Harvard University (1981–82).
Paniker joined CMS College, Kottayam as a lecturer of English in 1951, after working there for a year, he joined the Mahatma Gandhi College, Thiruvananthapuram. He started teaching at the University College, in Thiruvananthapuram in 1952, and did so till 1965. At this point, he became a Professor at the Institute of English and Head of the department in University of Kerala (1965–74). In 1974, he became Reader in English, at the Institute of English under University of Kerala, a post he held till 1980, when became Dean of Faculty of Arts in the University of Kerala, he retired in 1990.
Through his long career he lectured in many national and international universities, including around 25 universities in US, where came across poets James Dickey, John Hollander, Czeslaw Milosz and Allen Ginsberg.
Awards and Recognition
Paniker was a recipient of a number of honours including the Padma Shri, Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for poetry and criticism, Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry, 2005 Saraswati Samman for his collection of writings Ayyappa Panikerude Krithikal, Distinguished Teacher award, Mahakavi Ulloor award for poetry, Kabir Samman, International man of the year (IBC, Cambridge, UK), Indira Gandhi memorial fellowship with lead to the book, Indian Narratology published by IGNCA, Gangadhar Meher National award for poetry, Asan prize and Jana Sanskriti award (Abu Dhabi), Vayalar award, and Vallathol award.
He died in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) on 23 August 2006 at the age of 76 and was survived by his wife and two children. He was cremated the following day in his native village, Kavalam, in a plot he had set apart twelve years ago for the purpose, on the western side of his traditional family house, Olickal tharavad. The house finds reference in several of his works, especially in his poem ‘Kavalam’ in the anthology Pathumanippookkal.
Ayyapa Foundation was formed in 2006 in Thiruvananthapuram, to promote his work and Malayalam poetry. The January 2007 issue of journal Samyukta, was dedicated entirely to him, it contained 10 critical essays on him and his work, besides three collections of his verse in English translation, one of which, Poetry at Midnight published for the first time. It also contained a 36-page bibliography of his oeuvre. In September, 2009, Dr Sitakant Mahapatra delivered the 'Ayyappa Paniker commemorative speech 2009 at Thiruvananthapuram.
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Ayyappa Paniker Poems
Passage To America
On the day of the feast death had its celebration the teevees and the movies told us the same story
Four gallant horses galloped forth. One was white, one was black, one was red, one was brown.
The squares at least don't remain squares and taut linking loops
White clouds may never rain! They only float across the sky lazily! Dark clouds rain giving wetness to the ground Thunder thrills the earth.
Isn'T That Shameful For Us?
Everyday at night in the kitchen a little food
Stop writing about rivers! Rivers bring in flood waters and drown the towns. The long-awaited rains
It was the end of Kaikottikali* and the beginning of Bharatanatyam for Bhagavathykunjamma. Legs close, yet apart, must be bent. Not that way, this way, not this way, that way…
Every Dog Has His Night
The drawing room in his house is filled with animals. Animals cast in bronze, steel and brass. Trained to remain quiet, they turned to quite a noisy racket last night.
While men keep going to Delphi To learn about the hidden future, I should have been a hill By the roadside covered with snow.
What happened? To the land of Oedipus tragedy is nothing new. Do the gods of the Olympus still thirst for war?
The Vision Of The Seasons
The winter is humming something: Is it for nothing? Does she say that spring will never Come again?
Here lies the body of Mister Paniker who at the end of his panicking days agreed to lie still for a while.
Upon My Walls
Look at the picture my hands have drawn on my walls: why do you stare? Look carefully, you fool! Nerves that stretch from the navel and the eyes thirst and burn in the brain;
The Twilight Hour Keeps Playing On The S...
The twilight hour keeps playing on the santoori, O honey bride of Greece, tell me now your tale of love! Olive branches sway and swing in the breeze That reaches here, blowing across the Mediterranean,
Passage To America
On the day of the feast
death had its celebration
the teevees and the movies
told us the same story
death in the morning death in the evening
death in the cellar death in the alley
death on the highway the boy returning from the rally
death in the cornfield the girl going to the grocer's