History of Media in Kerala

In June 1847 witnessed the primordial birth pangs of Malayalam journalism as eight cyclostyled sheets in demy octavo size were churned out from a press at Illikkunnu near Thalassery. The mast-head proudly announced the new-comer’s name as Rajyasamacharam. Reading matter was spread across the pages with neither columns nor cross-heads to break the monotony.

Neither the mast-head nor the print-line of the Rajyasamacharam featured its editor’s name; nor was the publication priced. The credit for this pioneering venture goes to Dr.Herman Gundert, the renowned western scholar. Dr.Gundart was then the motivating spirit behind the German Based Mission Society. As the opening statement in the first issue emphasised, the reading matter was devoted to religion. By the time it ceased publication at the end of 1850, forty-two issues had seen the light of day.

GUNDIn October 1847 Gundert started another publication called Paschimodayam. Like its predecessor the Paschimodayam, this too was cyclostyled but it carried articles on geography, history, natural science and astrology. It had a formal editor in F.Muller. The annual subscription was one rupee. There was a change in size and format – the Paschimodayam appeared in royal octavo garb. It continued publication till around mid-1851.

Journals and periodicals in Malayalam were first started by missionaries, in most cases for propagating religion. Their contribution to the development of Malayalam prose and journalism, however, has been considerable.

The scene now shifts to central Travancore from where early in 1848, the first printed magazine in the Malayalam language – the Jnananikshepam – hit the news stands. This eight-page magazine was printed at the C.M.S. Press operating from Kottayam in 1821. Arch Deacon Koshy and the Reverend George Mathen were behind this new publication which served alike the cause of propagation of religion and the dissemination of knowledge. Obviously as a result of this diversification of the reading fare it was well-circulated among the Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities.

Another periodical, Kottayam-based, made its appearance around this time. It was the Vidyasamgraham brought out under the auspices of the Kottayam college. This magazine started publication in 1864 and went on till 1867.

Beginning of Newspapers

Attempts were underway in the meantime to start a “newspaper”. Ironically, the first of this genre to be published from Kerala was in the English language. A pioneering foursome embarked upon a publication entitled the Western Star from Cochin in 1860. Charles Lawson, who had left England after completing his studies, took over as the paper’s editor. This was Lawson’s maiden essay into journalism. The assignment obviously stood him in good stead when he migrated to Madras to launch the Madras Mail in later years.

Four years later in 1864 a Malayalam edition of the Western Star started publication from Cochin under the banner Paschimataraka. The paper was edited by T.J. Paily in the first instance and later by Kalloor Oommen Philippose Asan. Yet another paper, the Keralapataka, made its appearance from Cochin in 1870. In course of time these two publications merged to form the Paschimataraka-Keralapataka. Under the able stewardship of Ommen Phillipose Asan, this merged publication mounted attacks on the peccadilloes of the bureaucracy of the day and is seen to have survived right up to 1886.

The Western Star continued from Cochin for a long time. In due course there were changes in ownership as well as location of the paper. The publication base was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram. Thereafter its appearance was irregular.

In 1867 two papers were started from Kottayam. One was in Malayalam and was titled Santishtavadi; the other the Travancore Herald, was in English; both were printed from the C.M.S. Press. The Santishtavadi was outspoken in its criticism of the powers that be, and soon fell foul of the Travancore Government which ordered its closure. Thus, quite unwittingly, the Santishtavadi created history in Malayalam journalism by becoming the first martyr to the cause of freedom of the press.

The next in the line of Malayalam papers was the Satyanadakahalam which started publication modestly as a fortnightly from Kunammavu in October 1876. It was published under the auspices of the Italian Carmelite Mission, with the Rev.Fr.Candidus designated as its first editor. This 16 page fortnightly featured a wide range of topics in its columns, from international affairs to local news and from Government pronouncements and court proceedings to mission news. The publishing centre was once shifted to Varappuzha and then to Ernakulam. The latter occasion coincided with a diminution of its name to plain Satyanadam.

Illustrated Weeklies

Successive changes in the Satyanadom’s periodicity followed. From 1900 it was issued thrice a month. Four years later it was converted into a weekly. In 1926 a change in format was introduced and the Satyanadom joined the early ranks of ‘illustrated weeklies’. The fortunes of Kerala’s oldest existing newspaper underwent a change characteristic of the times in 1970 when it merged with the Kerala Times and started issuing as the latter’s Sunday edition. During the course of its independent existence over slightly less than a century theSatyanadom had made notable contribution’s to Malayalam literature and in the socio-political fields.
In the three decades since the Rajasamacharam made its first appearance though a good number of publications followed they were in the main characterized by a high rate of infant mortality. Besides, they were not “newspapers” in the strict sense of the word; their emphasis was more on literary and religious topics as distinct from hard news as we understand it today. Their periodicity was yet another factor which detracted from their intrinsic relevance and importance as newspapers.

The Keralam (1866), the Malayalamitram, the Tiruvathancore Abhimani, the Kerala Deepakam (all 1878) and the Keralachandrika fall in this category of pioneering precursors. Also, the Keralopakari published from Malabar, which had the distinction of being the first printed magazine issuing from this area. Incidentally, the Keralopakari was printed from the Basel Mission Press located at Mangalore. Most of these early journals were fired with the zeal of Christian Missionaries.

The Royal Wrath

It fell to a Gujarathi’s lot to launch the first systematic “newspaper” in Malayalam. Devji Bhimji started a printing press at Cochin in 1865 under the name of the Keralamitram Press. In running the press Devji Bhimji had to face heavy odds. There was the obvious disadvantage of embarking upon a hitherto uncharted course. But more discouraging was the unhelpful attitude of the authorities. In an unprovoked gesture the police authorities slapped an order on Devji Bhimji requiring him to submit all matter meant for printing for the prior scrutiny and approval of the authorities. On his preferring an appeal seeking reconsideration of this blanket order the authorities retaliated by forcing closure of the establishment.

Devji Bhimji was not daunted. He approached the Divan on at least six occasions for a redressal of his grievances. But the Divan was averse to rescinding the censorship orders. In exasperation Devji Bhimji now turned to the British Resident, Henry Neville, for justice. His perseverance paid at last after almost a year of forced closure of the press when the British resident prevailed upon the authorities to withdraw their orders.

Devji Bhimji was not a new-comer to journalism. He had co-sponsored the English Western Star in 1860 and the Malayalam Paschimataraka in 1864. At the time of starting his press Devji Bhimji had wound up his interests in these two publications. But one should assume that his experiences in this field were happy for he was already toying with the idea of starting a paper on his own. This blossomed into reality with the launching, on New Year’s day of 1881, of the Keralamitram.

In a number of respects the Keralamitram can be hailed as the first “newspaper” in the Malayalam language. In the initial stages the paper was issued thrice a month; later on it was published as a weekly. The paper provided a wide range of reading fare, which by contemporary accounts maintained an exceptionally high standard. There was a marked tilt in favour of featuring news. Due weight was also given for language and literature, criticism and articles on general topics of public welfare.

kandaThe Keralamitram was fortunate in that it had as its first editor none other than Kandathil Varghese Mappilai who later founded the Malayala manorama. With Kandathil Varghese Mappila’s flair for journalism and Devji Bhimji’s acumen as an entrepreneur it is no wonder that the new publication made a lasting impact on Malayalam journalism. As an aside, Devji Bhimji also tried his hand at running a Marathi magazine entitled Keralakokil from Cochin. On his death in 1894 theKeralamitram was run tolerably well for quite a number of years under the stewardship of an adopted son.

Growth in Malabar

The pattern of development and growth of journalism in the Malabar area was more or less similar in nature, with the difference that journalistic ventures were less profuse. An English weekly entitled the West Coast Spectator started publication in 1879 from Kozhikode. The weekly was printed by Vakil Poovadan Raman from the Spectator Press. It was edited by an Englishman, Dr.Keys. In later years the weekly was rechristened the Malabar Spectator and was quite popular locally.
A significant development was the publication in 1884 of the Keralapatrika weekly from Kozhikode. The idea of a weekly was conceived by Chengulathu Kunhirama Menon, possibly after attending a conference of the Indian National Association held at Calcutta in 1884. Kunhirama Menon himself claimed that the Keralapatrika was the first “newspaper” in Malayalam in the Malabar district. It was printed from the Vidyavilasom Press and had the active backing of a number of prominent personalities of the day.

The Keralapatrika was essentially a pace-setter in Malayalam journalism. Chengulathu Kunhirama Menon wielded a powerful pen. To him freedom of speech and expression was a sacrosanct article of faith. The press was a vehicle for educating, uplifting and cleansing the public and the administration. He scanned the corridors of power for graft, irresponsibility and callousness and came down heavily on the erring. It is recorded that the Maharaja of Travancore was so impressed by the crusading spirit of the Keralapatrika that he subscribed for 200 copies for distribution among the officials of his administration.

Chengulathu Kunhirama Menon is sometimes called the “father of Malayalam Journalism”. His weekly featured news on international affairs, politics and other public occurrences. Literature and literacy criticism received their due share in the Keralapatrika‘s columns. An instance has been recorded where the Keralavarma Valiyakoyi Thampuran took exception to the severe criticism of some of his literary works in the columns of the weekly. The Valiyakoyi Thampuran hit back by ordering cancellation of the subscriptions for the government officials of Travancore.

Running a newspaper, especially in the regional Malayalam language, was a difficult task. The elite preferred English and would not like to be seen browsing through a Malayalam newspaper. Advertisement support for the press was then practically an unknown factor. Powerful patronage, especially from royalty, could ill be spurned in the desperate bid to keep the paper going. But when it came to principles the father of Malayalam journalism was not one to countenance compromise.

The management of the Keralapatrika changed hands in 1938 some time after the death of Kunhirama Menon. Among the editors of this period were Sanjayan and Koyippalli Parameswara Kurup. After independence the paper was shifted to Ernakulam. Publication was suspended after a few years.

kesariThe Spectator Press of Kozhikode came out in 1886 with a Malayalam periodical entitled the Kerala Sanchari. It was edited by Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar, otherwise well-known by his pen-name “Kesari“. The sharp humour and witticism characteristic of the new periodical mark a turning point in our journalism.

Typical was the paper’s approach to officialdom, lashing out with humorous jibes and ill-concealed wrath at the high-handed and complimenting and encouraging the just. Moorkoth Kumaran was associated with the periodical for some time in 1897 as its editor. The Kerala Sanchari later on merged with his Mitavadi published from Thalasserry.

In Travencore

The year 1886 stands out in the history of Malayalam journalism it saw the birth of the Malayali from Thiruvananthapuram. This new recruit to the ranks of periodicals was the official organ of the Malayalee Social Reforms League. In Pettayil Raman Pillai Asan the new magazine found an able editor. In due course his mantle fell on C.V.Raman Pillai, yet another literary giant. Though the sheet anchor of the Malayali was social reforms, it spear-headed the crusade for political and civil rights with equal zest.

The Malayali was especially critical of the administration in Travancore. The critical posture assumed such an alarming gradient that the sponsors of the paper feared official retaliation. In a pre-emptive move the publishing centre was thereupon shifted to Thangasseri, near Kollam. This was a British enclave where the writ of the Travancore regime did not hold good. For a short period in 1911 the Malayali came out as a daily newspaper.

The political atmosphere had in the meanwhile become tense. The struggle for responsible government had been launched and was gaining in tempo. At this critical stage the Malayaliwas shifted back to Thiruvananthapuram to enable the paper to play a more positive and immediate role in the struggle. M.R. Warrier took over editorial responsibility. The paper was now issued as a daily. In no time its popularity and circulation sky-rocketted.

Reprisal was not long in coming. Intimidation was the first weapon deployed. The editor was set upon by goondas in broad day-light and manhandled. Such sporadic instances of personal violence only helped to stee the determination of those working behind the Malayali. The onslaught against the government was further escalated through its columns. A stage came when the government threw caution: to the winds and prohibited publication of the paper. The press and offices were locked and sealed.

For the time being the political movement for responsible government in Travancore was deprived of a strong prop. Nevertheless the conscience of the people was roused and the movement gathered strength and inspiration from within itself. The Malayali was forced to hibernate till independence was attained, when it re-started publication from Thiruvananthapuram as a daily. Proprietorial control of the paper then passed on to the Nair Service Society and the centre of publication was moved to Changanacherry. The Malayaliceased publication about a decade ago.

The second oldest newspaper in Malayalm-the Deepika-was launched from Kottayam in 1887 under the banner Nasrani Deepika. Its periodicity underwent a number of changes over the years to emerge finally in 1938 as a full-fledged daily. This change in periodicity also coincided with an abbreviation of its name to the present Deepika.

Malayala Manorama

The Malayala manorama started publication from Kottayam in 1890, initially as a weekly. The paper was floated by a joint stock company, perhaps for the first time in India. Its first editor was Kandathil Varghese Mappilai who brought with him the rich experience of his previous association with the Keralamitram of Cochin. In the beginning, the weekly was predominantly literary. Its transition to a newspaper of general interest followed quickly. Its rise to a formidable institution with weighty contributions to the social, economic, political and cultural life of Kerala was meteoric.

The paper was converted into a daily in 1928. In many instances the Malayala manorama actually gave the lead to mass movements of the period.
In the wake of the political movement swept Travancore with the fury of a hurricane, the authorities were perturbed at the growing influence of the Malayala manorama. In a dramatic move the Government confiscated the paper in September 1938. The editor was sent to jail. An unpopular rigime whose base was fast eroding under the impact of the people’s urge for responsible government struck at the very roots of democracy and in the process gained a pyrrhic victory.
The resurrection of the daily phenomenal in the sense that with a short period both soared to lofty heights in popularity, circulation and repute.

A near namesake, the Manorama, was floated in 1891 from Kozhikode under the auspices of the Kerala Mahajana Sabha. This fortnightly was a self-styled vehicle of reforms in the socio-political field and had the backing of members of the Zamorins, family and other prominent personalities. Leading writers of the day contributed to the columns of the fortnightly which maintained a high literary standard. After undergoing many vicissitudes involving change of ownership and editors the Manorama finally folded in 1940 under the impact of newsprint shortage.

The last decade of the nineteenth century was uneventful for Malayalam journalism in the sense that no ‘newspaper’ other than those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs commenced publication during this period. But this decade, nevertheless, accounted for a memorable crop of literary magazines. One was the Sujananandini started in 1892 from Kollam. Kandathil Varghese Mappilai and others joined hands to launch the Bhashaposhini in 1897 as the official organ of the Bhashaposhini Sabha. The same year the publication ofSaraswathi from Tellicherry under the able editorship of Moorkoth Kumaran.


swadesPerhaps the one event of the pre-1914 period that deeply stirred the feelings of the people of Kerala and roused their political consciousness was the deportation of K.Ramakrishna Pillai, editor of the Swadeshabhimani published from Thiruvananthapuram. The Swadeshabhimani was started in 1905 from a suburb of the State’s capital. Ramakrishna Pillai was inducted as its editor of a number of other publications, including the Keraladarpanam, the Malayali, the Keralan, the Sarada and the Vidyarthi and had already made a mark as a brilliant columnist and literary critic.

Within a few months Ramakrishna Pillai acquired ownership of the press and shifted his base of operations to Thiruvananthapuram. He drew his powerful pen to expose the true nature of palace politics and the corruption and favouritism rampant in the corridors of power. Ramakrishna Pillai was singularly devoid of the craze for power, position or wealth. In order to buttress his attacks on the corrupt ramparts of power, he got himself elected to the Travancore Assembly from Neyyattinkara.

The Dewan, P.Rajagopalachari, sensed the inherent danger in having this opponent at such close quarters. His ingenious mind contrived a royal proclamation stipulating that legislators should permanently reside in their constituencies. Ramakrishna Pillai, resident at Thiruvananthapuram, was unseated on this technical count. The attacks on the Dewan and the regime thenceforth become move devastating. The Swadeshabhimani ran a series of articles which further precipitated matters. The Dewan reversed his tactics, alternatively threatening and cajoling the dauntless editor, but of no avail.

A royal proclamation was issued on September 26, 1910, deporting Ramakrishna Pillai from Travancore and confiscating his press and paper-a martyrdom for a righteous journalist in the service of his countrymen. The educated and politically conscious section of the people were against at this high-handed and undemocratic measure. Ramakrishna Pillai was thenceforth known and revered by the alias “Swadeshabhimani”.

The deported editor selected Kunnamkulam in Cochin State as the launching pad for his next journalistic venture. This was the Atmaposhini. TheSwadeshabhimani edited this organ for two years till 1915. Incidentally, Ramakrishna Pillai was the author of a biography on Karl Marx, the first one to appear in any Indian language, and was hence a pioneer Indian to be inspired by socialist consciousness. He also authored a book on journalism, the first of its kind in Malayalam. The Swadeshabhimani died in exile at Kannur in 1928.

The appearance of the Mitavadi from Tellicherry in 1907 marks the next important milestone in the history of the press in Kerala. Moorkoth Kumran, who had already tried his hand successfully at other journalistic ventures, occupied the editorial chair. The Mitavadi gained in stature within a short period as a formidable press organ in the Malabar area. Literature and current affairs were its main forte. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan’s famous poem, Veena Poovu was first published in the Mitavadi. In 1913, C.K.Krishnan acquired ownership of the paper and started publishing it as a magazine from Kozhikode.

The Mitavadi was in the fore-front of the movement for social reforms and the uplift of the weaker sections of society. But in its approach to the national struggle for independence the magazine adopted an off-beat posture, aligning itself with the British and opposing the national movement. In the treatment of news the magazine showed a keen awareness of the relevant and the indispensable. The Mitavadi actually published a daily news sheet featuring the latest news from the war front during the first world war. The curtains were finally rung down on this memorable publication on the eve of the second world war.

Kerala Kaumudi

The origins of the Kerala Kaumudi, one among the leading newspapers of present day Kerala, can be traced back to 1911. Its founder C.V.Kunhuraman was a multi-faceted personality-a poet, a brilliant prose writer, historian, journalist, politician, all combined together. So boundless was his energy and so all-encompassing his ability that even while editing the Kerala Kaumudi he contributed leaders to other press organs. The paper initially started publication from Mayyanad. Later, it was shifted to Kollam and then to Thiruvananthapuram. It was converted into a full-fledged daily in 1940.

T.K.Madhavan who rose to prominence as general secretary of the S.N.D.P. yogam started publication of the Desabhimani in 1915. [This is not to be confused with the Desabhimani of today, the official organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)] The Desabhimani rendered Yeoman service in pin-pointing the grievances, political and social, of the Ezhava community and seeking redressal. With the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi to a position of front-rank leadership of the Congress, political activity in Kerala felt a new spur. This was the period when the national movement had become more broad-based with the involvement of the masses.

Madhavan was drawn into the vortex of the movement and soon became an important leader of the Congress. Through the columns of the Desabhimani he waged a relentless war against injustice, inequality and untouchability and for the cause of independence. The apogee of his reputation and influence as a journalist came with the famous satyagraha at the Vaikom temple. The Desabhimani’s contributions to the agitation for temple entry and to the non-co operation movement were considerable indeed.

K.Ayyappan was yet another social reformer who wielded a powerful pen and commanded a powerful vehicle of expression. This was the Sahodaran published from Cherayi in 1917. Ayyappan encouraged rationalist thought and the socialist doctrine. In the movement for responsible government, for temple entry and for inter-caste marriage the Sahodaran was always in the fore-front. This periodical, which made substantial contribution to the renaissance of Kerala, ceased publication in 1956.

Ayyappan took keen interest in the welfare of the workings classes. Through his writings he encouraged the building up of labour movements. In fact, in 1933, he launched a publication, the Velakkaran, modeled along the British Daily Worker and devoted in the main to the labour movement. He was also associated with two other publications-the Yuktivadiand the Stree. As a regular columnist of the Mitavadi and the Kerala Kaumudi his writings helped to create and mould enlightened public opinion.

The Samadarshi which commenced publication from Thiruvananthapuram in 1918 was a powerful and popular vehicle of public opinion. A.Balakrishna Pillai joined the paper in 1923 as editor. He revetted his attention on the corrupt and high-handed bureaucracy of Travancore. The devastating criticism in the Samadarshi went down well with the reading public who clamoured for more. But the authorities were displeased and the owner of the paper was faced with difficulties. It is said that the notorious Travancore Newspaper Regulations of 1926 were an offshoot of Balakrishna Pillai’s incisive criticisms. The management of the paper was not prepared to invite official displeasure and Balakrishna Pillai had to resign in 1926. TheSamadarshi went on, taking care not to rub the authorities on the wrong side and in the wake of a fast dropping circulation folded in the late forties.

In the series of infamous moves plotted by the government of Travancore against the institution of a free press the newspaper regulation of 1926 deserves special mention as much for its stringency as for the opposition it generated among the reading public. The regulation was promulgated by Dewan Watts. The intense activity in the journalistic field, sparked off in the wake of nationalistic fervour, political consciousness and the growing clamour for responsible government, was inexorably driving the princely regime on the defensive. It was high time the press was gagged and muzzled, so the Dewan reasoned.

The regulation was draconian measure requiring newspapers to take out licenses and deposit a security as token of their bonafides. Criticism of any member of the Travancore royal family, the Travancore government or the British king emperor would entail forfeiture of the security and cancellation of the licence. A fresh licence would be issued at the discretion of the authorities, but would require a further substantial sum as security. A second cancellation of the licence would be fatal to the publication. Possession of copies of publications whose licences were suspended was a punishable offence.

Newspaper regulations

A.Balakrishana Pillai, who had earlier been eased out of editorial responsibility of the Samadarshi, had in the meanwhile launched a new periodical entitled Prabhodakan. Within six month of its appearance, this periodical was banned by the government of Travancore. Balakrishna Pillai now started the Kesari, later to become famous in the annuals of Malayalam journalism. Scathing criticism of the authorities was taken up with an added zeal in the columns of the new publication. With their misdeeds exposed to public gaze the Dewan and his cohorts were put in a tight corner. The newspaper regulations of 1926 took shape against this backdrop.

Public reaction was instantaneous. A huge public meeting was organized at Thiruvnanthapuram. Legislators, editors and leaders participated in the protest meeting. Resolutions were passed denouncing the new measure. The legislators decided to sponsor a resolution at the next meeting of the Assembly opposing the regulations and if necessary reject the budget and tender their resignations. Never before had a governmental proclamation evoked such widespread indignation and determination.

A delegation of journalists waited on the Regent Maharani to convey their protest. But they were directed to the Dewan. Swarad editor A.K.Pillai led the deputation to the Dewan who, it must be conceded, gave them a patient hearing. But the Dewan could not give them any assurance to assuage their apprehensions. The deputation came back disappointed. June 26, 1926, the day the new newspaper regulations took effect, was observed as a day of mourning by the people of Thiruvananthapuram. Within days an unrelenting government invoked the punitive provisions of the regulations on three newspapers.

The struggle was then carried on in the legislature. A legislator attempted to introduce a bill seeking withdrawal of the regulations. The Dewan refused permission to introduce the bill. A motion was then sponsored at the budget session demanding that the regulations be revoked. But by a clever manipulation of the votes of official and nominated representatives the motion was thrown out. As a measure of individual protest, Barrister A.K.Pillai resigned from the legislature.
The authorities now felt that the tide of opposition had been effectively stemmed. But the Kesari was recalcitrant. Though the government had frustrated the spontaneous public clamour to withdraw the newspaper regulations, Balakrishna Pillai did not concede defeat. His writings acquired a hitherto unknown sharpness and crusading fervour. He sought to mobilise public opinion against the government and its repressive measures. Sensing that the situation would get out of their hands if such strong dissent was permitted the authorities clamped a ban order on the Kesari.

The Kesari was shortlived. But its impact on public opinion and on the development of Malayalam journalism was tremendous, and out of proportion to its longevity. To Balakrishna Pillai the press was not only a vehicle to project news; it was also a forum for educating the public by disseminating knowledge and encouraging free thought and open discussion. In keeping with this view the Kesari gave equal prominence to news and to novels, short stories, book reviews and science notes in its columns. In this respect it marked a point of departure in Malayalam journalism. With the Kesari banned, Balakrishna Pillai bid good-bye to his chosen profession.

The Malayalarajyam made a triumphant entry into Malayalam journalism in 1929, featuring in its columns API and Reuter despatches and news pictures fed by foreign photo agencies. It was published from Kollam. An organized network for the distribution of this daily was soon built up. The paper even operated a bus service of its own to keep the distribution channels well-oiled. Modern printing equipments helped to give the new daily a modern appearance in lay-out and content. In fact the Malayalarajyam was the first Malayalam daily to go in for a rotary press. The illustrated Malayalarajyam Weekly was a prestigious publication of the times.

The daily was edited by K.G.Sankar, who was forced to resign from the Malayali over a controversial editorial criticising the Travancore government. He continued his pro-nationalist stance in the Malayalarajyam. A number of leading writers of the day were persuaded to contribute regular columns. In a short span of time the Malayalarajyam became well-known and read as Kerala’s leading nationalist daily. But with Sankar relinquishing control on ill-health, the daily fell on bad days. Its nationalistic posture swimming against the tide often proves fatal, and this colourful daily became defunct in the late sixties.

It was a strange alchemy where dissent and acquiescence proved equally fatal. The Kesari personified the strong voice of dissent. It stood for the freedom of the press, for the freedom of expression. It went down well with the reading public. Its popularity with the public increased in direct proportion to its outspoken views. But this very popularity alienated it from the authorities. Their antagonism increased in direct proportion to the paper’s increasing popularity. In the showdown the Kesari succumbed. At the other end of the spectrum there was the Malayalarajyam which at a certain stage of its brilliant career inspired by nationalism, turned tables and acquiesced. In the resultant alienation from the mainstream of public opinion, this meteor crashlanded into oblivion.

In the Malabar area the tempo of the political struggle in the early decades of the twentieth century was quicker than socio-economic reform movements. Political activity in this area was imparted with a new dimension with the outbreak of the first world war and the spread of Home Rule ideas. The All Kerala Political Conference held at Ottapalam in April 1921 marked the beginning of the move for a united Kerala which became a reality in terms of law thirty-five years later. At the time of this conference the Gandhian movement of non-co operation was in full swing and had a tremendous impact on Kerala.

The non-co operation movement was particularly strong in Malabar where the Mappillas were agitated over the Khilafat issue. It was the course of the non-cooperation and Khilafat movements that Kerala witnessed what was probably the most tragic episode in its freedom struggle, namely the Mappila Rebellion or, has been increasingly called, the Malabar Rebellion of 1921.

Following the suppression of the Malabar Rebellion and until almost the end of the thirties the purely political struggle for freedom was on a low key. However, the spirit of the people was kept at high tide through the organizational activities of the Congress. There was, in addition, considerable journalistic activity of a political nature. This was best illustrated by the starting of the nationalist newspaper, the Mathrubhumi, from Kozhikode in 1923.


Kozhikode was then the publishing base of four Malayalam and three English periodicals. In the gloom that followed the suppression of the Malabar Rebellion and the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement a psychosis of fear seemed to have enveloped these press organs. They were not prepared to publish any item even covertly supporting the national movement or faintly critical of the British administration. What is more, even local printing presses shied at printing statements or pamphlets by Congress leaders.

With the avenues of communication thus effectively throttled prominent Congress leaders thought of the next best alternative-to start a press and a publication of their own, whatever the consequences. This entailed the raising of capital and mobilising a band of dedicated workers. The enthusiasm of the times was such that these initial requirements were met with ease. A limited company was floated and the Mathrubhumi started issuing on March 18, 1923, thrice a week, with K.P.Kesava Menon as its editor.

The baptism by fire for the Mathrubhumi came soon with the Vaikom Satyagraha. The demand was for the grant of right of passage to the untouchables along approach roads to the temple. The moving spirit of the satyagraha was Shri.T.K.Madhavan, himself a redoubtable journalist. In the forefront of the enlightened leaders of the forward communities who actively participated in the struggle was K.P.Kesava Menon. The Mathrubhumi too, was in the thick of the fight, as it was in every phase of the national struggle.

At the peak of the civil disobedience movement, in April 1930, the Mathrubhumi started issuing as a daily. As practically the only source of information for the people of Malabar about the developments in the national movements, its circulation base was gradually extended to the remote villages. But close on the heels of this increase in circulation and influence came official harassment. Following a critical leader on the incarceration of a political worker without trial, the government swooped down on the paper demanding a security of Rs.2000. The Mathrubhmi furnished the security in the interests of continued publication, but as a measure of silent protest left its editorial columns blank for months to come.

An article by Sanjayan, the well-known humourist, criticized the high-handedness of British army personnel at Cochin. This provoked the Madras government and banned the daily altogether. A state-wide agitation ensued demanding withdrawal of the punitive ban order. The government had no choice but to withdraw the order. Likewise, the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, refused entry to the paper in the State. The Dewan was not one to accommodate public reaction. The Mathrubhumi had to stay out, and made a triumphant re-entry nine years later in 1947.

kpkDespite periodical harassment by the authorities the growth of the Mathrubhumi as a powerful organ of the press was impressive indeed. It came out in 1932 with a weekly. In 1962 the paper branched out into a sister edition from Cochin. It had a number of stalwarts occupying the editorial chair. It ranks today as one of the fore-most dailies of the Indian press.

Another significant Kozhikode-based paper of this period was the Al-ameen which first started publication in 1924 and began issuing as a daily in 1930. The paper was started by Mohammed Abdul Rahiman Sahib, the Congress leader. The pro-nationalist stance of the paper infuriated the authorities. On more than one occasion the Al-ameen was discontinued as a result of action by the authorities. One such closure followed the publication of an editorial exhorting non-cooperation with the war efforts of Britain.

The Prabhatham started publication from Shoranur with E.M.S. Namboodiripad as its editor, and was the organ of the newly-formed Congress Socialist Party. Its license was suspended following refusal to furnish security to government consequent on the publication of a poem on Bhagat Sing’s martyrdom. The license was restored later. The paper was shifted to Kozhikode in 1938, but did not survive for long.

The Deenabandu was yet another paper which owed its origin to the national struggle. It commenced publication as a weekly in 1941 from Thrissur. The weekly was edited by V.R.Krishnan Ezhuthachan. The Deenabandu was trial-blazer in the sense that it was one of the first periodicals published from Cochin State which supported the national movement. The national sentiment was on the ascendancy. The Deenabandu made rapid strides in circulation, beating even the dailies based at Cochin. But it had to pay a heavy price for its nationalist moorings. Its editor and his staff were sent to jail within a few days of the launching of the Quit India Movement. Its publication was banned.

The Deenabandu resumed publication in 1944 on the release of its editor and other staff from jail. But its travails were by no means over. In the elections held in 1945 the Government freezed newsprint supply. The weekly went into an enforced hibernation for eighteen weeks. On resuming publication the Deenabandu was converted into a daily. That the new daily continued to displease the authorities is evidenced by the fact that following an election case the editor and one of its correspondents were stripped of franchise rights for five years.

The Deenabandu had also to face stiff opposition at the hands of the royal regime in Travancore. The paper was officially banned from this area. But the enterprising workers of the paper smuggled copies to Travancore through underground channels located in the British enclaves of Thangassery and Anchuthengu. The ban was lifted only after independence. After a splendid innings spread over 21 years the Deenabandu finally succumbed to financial difficulties and ceased publication in 1962.

Committed Journalism

The nationalist phase was a fertile period for Malayalam journalism. Newspapers sprang up in quick succession, often to go under with equal speed. The Lokamanyan (from Thrissur) the Swarad (from Kollam), the Yuvabharatham (from Palakkad), the Kerala Kesari (from Thrissur) and the Bhajebharatam are some of the more prominent. Most of these publications could not survive owing to financial difficulties and in some cases following repression by the authorities.
The decade preceding independence was a period of consolidation and growth for the press in Kerala. Sporadic flings at journalism, though not entirely unknown, became rare. What was previously a buyer’s market for news was gradually reversing into a seller’s market. An element of competition started surfacing, though in a rudimentary form. Survival demanded not only adequate resources but a planned, entrepreneurial approach. Journalism was becoming increasingly politically-oriented a natural offshoot was committed journalism.

The Chandrika, started out in 1934 from Thalassery as a weekly. This organ of the Muslim League blossomed into a daily in 1939 and was shifted to Kozhikode. The publishers later branched out into a weekly also. The Desabhimani, currently the organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), began publication on a modest scale from Kozhikode in 1942 as a weekly. It was converted into a daily in 1946. The government of Madras banned the paper in 1948; publication was resumed in 1951. A sister edition was launched from Cochin in 1968. Other publications are the Desabhimani Weekly and the Chintha, a political weekly.
In the Travancore area the Communist Party started its own publication, the Janayugam. From modest beginnings this party organ made rapid strides. Today a sister edition from Kozhikode. The Janayugam Weekly, the Cinerama fortnightly and the Balayugam monthly are other creditable sister publications. All these publications terminated publication due to many reasons. Yet another organ, the Navajeevan, was launched into existence from Thrissur, with Joseph Mundassery as its editor. In the late sixties the paper was shifted to Kozhikode, but did not survive for long.

The Arch Bishop of Ernakulam brought out the Malabar Mail from Ernakulam in 1936. This daily fell foul of the authorities and was denied entry into Travancore during the agitation for responsible government. The Powraprabha issuing from Kottayam in the late thirties wielded considerable influence in the Travancore area. Its publishing base was successively shifted first to Mavelikkara and then to Kottayam, with C.M.Stephen as its editor. This daily became defunct after a decade or so.

The Powradhwani was yet another Kottayam-based paper. Started in 1939 by K.M. Chacko this daily was always in the thick of the struggle for responsible government and commanded considerable readership. After independence Chacko floated another daily from Thiruvananthapuram entitled Powrakahalam. But this was short-lived. The Powradhwaniitself stopped publication in 1955. The Keralabhushanam was launched from Kottayam in 1944 by K.K.Kuruvilla.
The Prabhatam started out as a weekly from Kollam in 1944, but was soon converted into a daily. This pro-nationalist daily had a life-span of about two decades. The same year saw the birth of the Express from Thrissur. The paper was edited by K.Krishnan and with its pronounced nationalist and socialist views gained extensive circulation in Cochin State.

The National War Front co-sponsored a daily entitled Powrasakhi from Kozhikode at the height of the second world war in 1944. The aim was to mobilize support for the war efforts. After the war it came out as a regular newspaper, with B.C.Varghese, Varghese Kalathil and K.A.Damodara Menon occupying the editorial chair on successive occasions. This daily bowed out in 1956. Among other notable newspapers were the Kaumudi, the Kerala Kesari, the Bharati, the Bharata Patrika and the Bharata Kesari (all published from Thiruvananthapuram) and the Daily News issuing from Kottayam.

The role of the press as a powerful instrument of social change found acceptance with a considerable section of the intellectuals during the national struggle for independence. This was a role complementary to that of educating the public. The result was a rich crop of periodicals sponsored by individuals in some cases, and by movements and organizations in others. Despite the sectional approach of most of these periodicals the fact remains that they played a decisive role in awakening the masses from conservatism and orthodoxy and pushing through social reform measures.

Social Reformation

The Namboodiri Yogakshema Sabha sponsored two notable publications, the Yogakshemam and the Unni Namboodiri. The Namboodiri community was steeped in conservatism and living in lofty isolation from the mainstream of life of the times. V.T.Bhatadiripad, among others, wielded his powerful pen to break this isolation and rid his community of conservatism. These two publications rendered yeoman service in the cause of social reform. The stalwarts the Namboodiri community contributed to the political movement drew their basic inspiration from these periodicals.

The Vivekodayam was the official organ of the SNDP and was edited by Mahakavi Kumaran Asan. It ceased publication after a number of years but was revived in 1967 as a magazine and published from Irinjalakkuda. The Atmavidyakahalam edited by Vagbhadananda Guru from Kozhikode in the late thirties was yet another weekly noted for its sharp attacks against superstitions and conventions. It was also a powerful organ of nationalist sentiment.

Among other notable puiblications: The Nair of Kainikkara Govinda Pillai, the Sujathanandini of Ryru Nambiar, the Mitabhashi of C.V.Raman Pillai, the Subhashini of C.P.Govinda Pillai, the Nair of Malloor Govinda Pillai, the Malabari of V.C.Balakrishna Paniker, the Aikya Keralam of R.M.Palat, the Ramanujam run jointly by Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon and Kuttippurathu Kesavan Nair, the Rasika Ranjini co-sponsored by Kunhikuttan Thampuran and Appan Tampuran and the Kavana Kaumudi jointly edited by Pandalam Kerala Varma and P.V.Krishna Warrier.

The Nair Service Society floated a magazine entitled Service in 1920. Its main concern was social reforms. At the same time the magazine carried on a sustained propaganda against anachronistic social conventions and injustices like untouchability. In 1927 the magazine was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram and began issuing as a tri-weekly. A dynamic editorial policy helped to popularize the new weekly. Besides the emphasis on social reforms, the Service lent solid support to the nurturing of the national spirit. Unfortunately, the weekly had to cease publication in 1934 following financial difficulties.

The press in Kerala may be said to have come of age as independence dawned. It was a far cry from the cyclostyled sheets of 1847 to the full fledged dailies of 1947 increasingly harnessing modern techniques of editing and production. Growth was no longer haphazard, it was deliberately planned. The aim now was to consolidate with a view to reaching out to an extended readership in a field which was becoming highly competitive.

Kerala has a sober and responsible press whose comment and performance is restrained and well-reasoned.