The Kolathiri’s game of chess and the epic poem

It was one hot lazy afternoon in medieval Kolathunad. The summer sun was beating on the countryside, and the Kolathiri’s palace, despite all its pomp and grandeur was bogged down by the Sun’s rays. There was a slight breeze flowing from through the balcony and the windows, which brought a soothing effect to the palace dwellers.

Inside the room adjacent to the balcony, the Queen was trying to put her little one to sleep. At the loggia, the King and his most favourite courtier were immersed in a game of chess.

The King had a sharp sense of astuteness and dexterity, was not adept to losing at this game. So too was his favourite courtier, who also was a good bard, a celebrated one in his country. This day, he almost got the better of his chief. There was just a couple of moves on the board before the rhymester would defeat the Sovereign at his game.

When the King was immersed in his thoughts, how to wedge the impending defeat, he happened to hear the delicate snivel of his prince, whom the queen was trying to put to sleep. The Queen, all this while was watching the board, and the moves of both the players. Maybe, that was why the young prince was still awake, in spite of the rocking of the cradle. Almost when the King was losing his concentration hearing the whimper of the little boy, the Queen started singing a lullaby in faint, traditional Malayalam in a harmonious cadence that was paranormal:

“ഉന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്താളേയുന്ത്”

“Unthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu, nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthaleyunth”

The King lent his ears to the melody. It was something that he had not heard before, and he was trying to decipher the words in it, which looked enigmatic and had a veiled message in it. Once again, the Queen repeated the lines of the lullaby to the little once, giving a concealed glance to the Kolathiri…

“ഉന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്ത് ന്ത് ന്ത് – ന്താളേയുന്ത്”

“Unthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu, nthu nthu nthu- nthu nthu nthu- nthaleyunth”

It struck the King. The intelligent queen, who was actually observing the game of chess, was giving him a cryptic message to make the next move on the board, so that he does not lose to his courtier. The words of the lullaby she was singing had the words “push the soldier forward” and once that was done, the King saved the game and eventually won it.

Impressed by the melody and libretto of the Queens song, the King instantly asked his antagonist in the game, his court poet to compose a poetry in the cadence of the lullaby.

Thus, was the beginning of the Krishnagatha, the greatest mahakavyam composed in Malayalam, by the supreme protagonist of Malayalam literature, the Cherusseri Namboothiri.

“Paalaazhi maaruthan paalichchu porunna Kolathu Nathan Udayavarman Aajnaye cholliyaal ajnanaayullava njaan Praajnaayingane bhaavichchappol”

“When the king who rules the Kolath dhesam commands, the ignorant me pretend to be a talented one”

What began in the earnest at the end of a small game of chess on a lazy summer afternoon between the Kolathiri Udayavarman Tampuran and his celebrated court poet Cherusseri Namboothiri, would go on to become the greatest poem ever written in Malayalam literature. This, composed in the exact melody and tune that the queen sang the lullaby for saving the game of chess for the king, in the pretext of singing for the prince.

The Krishnagatha is a comprehensive depiction and representation of the early days of Sree Krishna Bhagawan, his childhood, plays and pranks. The success and fame of the Krishnagatha was so huge that Cherusseri was soon given the title of Veerasrimkhala by the Kolathiri. A time when Sanskrit was used as the language of poetry and hymns in the royal courts of Parasurama’s land, the use of native Malayalam and its simplicity made the Krishnagatha so hugely popular among the masses. That is one of the reasons, it is recited in its original form even today, centuries after it was first heard.

Cherusseri Namboothiri, the greatest poet to have lived in this blessed land, will be remembered till eternity through the Krishnagatha. We can see the one and only statue of the great poet at the Kerala Folklore Academy (the erstwhile Kolathiri’s palace) at Chirakkal in Kannur, right adjacent to the magnificent chira.

  (Photos clicked at the Folklore Academy in Chirakkal, Kannur and shared through my instagram page)


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