Leftists detest the great poet because he left behind Marxism and embraced Hindu universalism
The Jnanpith Award came in Mahakavi Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri’s way rather late, though his name is said to have figured on the list of candidates a few times in the past. The 94-year-old Akkitham (as he is popularly known) is one of the most revered poets of Malayalam literature. In 2007, there was near unanimity on his name among the members of the award selection committee. But Sachithanandan, a staunch Marxist, former Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi and a member of the jury, allegedly played the spoilsport and lobbied for poet ONV Kurup, who was much younger to Akkitham. Finally, the jury selected ONV Kurup for the award. Being a Communist, ONV Kurup was the favoured candidate for the Marxists. For Marxists, Akkitham was a renegade who had deserted the party ideology and joined forces with the ‘class enemy’. If the Marxists had their way, even now Akkitham would not have got the award.
This is not to dispute ONV Kurup’s calibre or greatness as a poet or his contribution to Malayalam literature.
True to their nature, after the announcement of the award, the Communists were quick to draw mileage out of this. One of the first persons to congratulate him was none other than the present Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan.
Born on March 18, 1926 in Kumaranalloor in Palakkad district as the son of Vasudevan Nampoothiri and Parvathy Antharjanam, Akkitham was drawn to revolutionary reform movement initiated by VT Bhattathiripad to end social evils in his Brahmin community. Akkitham wholeheartedly participated in the movement. To learn English education, he cut his tuft and adopted western dress, which was a taboo among Brahmins then.
As a student, he participated in the Congress movement and wanted to contribute to nation-building. He took part in the Quit India movement and other agitations against the British and got arrested. The purpose of his social and political activity was to establish an egalitarian society. He supported casteless marriages, widow remarriage and women education. Endowed with a fertile mind, Akkitham was attracted to socialism and Marxism and worked closely with Communist leader EMS Namboothiripad. The Communist Party twice tried to give him party membership which he declined. By that time, the incisive thinker in him realised the limitations of Communism. He strayed into Indian philosophy, which he found more profound and complete, much to the chagrin of the Marxists. His unending quest brought him close to Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. One of the persons who left a lasting impression on Akkitham was Gandhiji. In one of his poems, he compares him to Krishna and says both have taken birth for ‘dharma sansthapanam’ (re-establishment of dharma).
The biggest criticism of the Communists against Akkitham is that he left his “progressive and revolutionary ideals of his youth days” behind and adopted “regressive ways” such as teaching Vedas and performing yagnas. For them, he was a Brahmin obscurantist who was trying to bring back ‘Manuvaad’. While EMS had lamented that his study of Vedas and rituals in younger age was a waste of time, Akkitham used his knowledge in Vedas as a tool to spiritually uplift people belonging to so-called lower castes who were denied that right and bring about equality. He found himself quite at home with this ‘evolutionary’ idea than phony ‘imported’ revolutionary ideas that thrived on widening fault lines and creating social schisms. Commonality of these ideas brought him close to the Sangh.
Akkitham served as president of Tapasya, a Sangh-inspired platform for promotion of art and literature, for more than seven years. The progressives who enjoyed monopoly over the area of art and literature had to yield space to a group of writers who were proud of their Bharateeya cultural ethos. He wholeheartedly attended functions organised by RSS. An unabashed supporter of the Sangh’s initiatives to bring about social change, Akkitham witnessed how his dream of a casteless society is being realised in real life. In an interview to Mathrubhumi, he says: “I happened to mention Kesavadev’s speech in which he asked to burn Ramayana, during the ninetieth birth anniversary of Balagokulam founder M. A. Krishnan. Today everybody has started reading Ramayana. Ramayana is the soul of India. …I recalled Madhavji (former Sangh pracharak) who attempted to renovate temples and make casteless Brahmins priests of temples. Both were my friends. The crux of my speech was that everyone started reading Ramayana due to the efforts taken by them.”
In the literary and cultural landscape of Kerala which has been vitiated by the vulgar play of ideas of the so-called progressives, Akkitham is like the holy plume of smoke emanating from the yagna kundam, carrying with it the ever enlivening and cleansing fragrance of celestial herbs.