'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, January 12, 2007

'Mali' - A Tribute

Well before I turned ten (and long before I could read English with any comfort), I was quite intimately familiar with the following:

- Norse sagas of Odin, Thor etc. and legends of Beowulf and Grendel, Siegfried and so on.
- Celtic legends of Finn, Cu Chulainn, the Druids etc...
- Egyptian myths surrounding Osiris, Seth ...
- The Olympian Gods and their (mis)adventures
- The labours of Hercules, the wrath of Achilles ...
- The 'Matter of France' - Charlemaigne and his knights, Roland, Oliver, Roger and Angelica,...
- King Arthur and his Round Table - and the quest for the Holy Grail
- Aztec legends surrounding the ceremonial ball game of Tlachtli
- The Peruvian Deluge Myth - in which a llama saves the world.

Incredible though it may seem, all the above (and a hell of a lot more) were gathered from the very same source - 'Balakathamalika' ('A Garland of Children's Tales'), a single volume condensation of world mythology in (very simple) Malayalam. The compiler was late Madhavan Nair, better known by his pen-name, 'Mali'. '-Malika' was first published in the late 1970's and reissued nearly a generation later under a new title 'Aitihyalokam' ('The World of Legends').

While talking about '-Malika', I am also reminded of Kottarathil Sankunni's 'Aitihyamala', a great compendium of Keralan myths and legends. This much earlier work (1920's) continues to enjoy immense popularity in Kerala and every year a new edition comes out. Of course, it must be mentioned here that Sankunni was not writing for children (and I would say some portions of 'Aitihyamala' had better not be read by primary schoolers). On the other hand, Mali was almost exclusively a (very prolific) children's writer. He neatly retold the Ramayana and Mahabharata (and much else) and also wrote several original stories and novellas for children (including adventures of a desi superhero 'Sarvajit'); for a few years in the late 1970's, he also ran a children's magazine, 'Malika'.

Mali's Indian Mythology retellings continue to be (deservedly) popular and his original stories for children, albeit not of the highest quality, still have their readers. However, 'Balakathamalika', by far his most unique achievement (and arguably his single greatest contribution), has languished in near obscurity. Indeed, the change of its name to 'Aitihyalokam' appears to have been a rather sad attempt to attract attention, perhaps 'reflecting' the popularity of Sankunni's masterpiece.

To give a telling instance of the impact Mali had: I remember remarking, when I first read the story of Rip Van Winkle in English (sometime in high school): "Hey, this story is rather like that of Visu (which I had read in a retelling by Mali)!". I must be among a real handful of Indians who heard of the Japanese Visu before the American Rip!

Note: For non-Mallu children, Mali wrote the script (in English) of the Amar Chitra Katha Volume on Valmiki. He also wrote 'adult' works on Classical Music and also a Kathakali script (Aattakkatha) 'Karnashapatham'.


  • At 6:56 AM, Blogger multisubj yb said…

  • At 3:08 PM, Blogger nj_homeowner said…

    Are you Ramavarma from Chalakkudi? if so, I remember you from Madras, I used to be in the same hostel as Sabu. The name's Anish, of 94 Civil.

    I found this blog while searching for balakatha malika. I have wondered the same thing - I had a copy of the book (should still be in my bookshelf in India) and I have read it many times over in my childhood. As you mentioned, thanks to this one book, my grasp on Arthurian legends is quite deep and story details so painfully vivid - painfuly because I am forever prevented from enjoying another hollywood period movie without identifying the inaccuracies every few minutes.

    Given that the stories are so very detailed and probably one of the most true to the originals in this compedium, I wonder how Maali did his research in the pre-internet era. I have to bow before his detail-rich stories.

    I should to have one copy of the book, although I think one of the borrowers managed to lose a few pages from the end, it should be in reasonably good shape. Do you know who published it? Might they have some copy somehere, that can be scanned and made into electronic format?

    A treasure like this book cannot be allowed to go out of print or lost. I think we should take lead in getting atleast this book into electronic format somehow.

    if you are indeed ramavarma, feel free to contact me at anishmal@g**


  • At 4:54 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    hi anish,

    i do remember you. of course you guessed right. it is the same ramavarma. and it is very nice to meet you again. from your profile, i guess you are now in new jersey :)

    originally, balakathamalika was an spcs publication. it had been reissued under the name aithihyalokam - i remember seeing a copy in current books, thrissur, a few years back (i am totally not sure if the two titles are identical; it might just be that aithihyalokam is a subset of the old malika).

    one more piece of info that might be useful. i came to know very recently that mali's son, madhav mohan is now a management expert and has his own website. you could try to get in touch with him in case you are looking for further info on mali and his works.

    wish you the best.

  • At 4:51 AM, Blogger AG said…

    Hey, thanks a lot for the info about Mr. Madhav Mohan. I was searching for Balakathamalika on web and reached your blog. I contacted the office of Mr. Mohan and managed to get a xerox copy of the book. Thanks a lot ! (I am not telling enough. But I was really searching for it for my kids)


  • At 2:52 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks geetha for visiting.
    and i am happy this article gave you some useful info.

  • At 7:53 AM, Blogger Nizar Balan said…



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