Kumaran Asan, son of Narayanan and Kali Amma,
was born in Kayikara in Trivendrum District
on 12 April 1873. His father was a small merchant
and theirs was a poor family. They were all
Hindus of the Ezhava community. In 1917 Asan
married Bhanumathi Amma of Tharkauduyil family
to which belonged Rao Bahadur Belayudhan and
Dr. Palpu, prominent members of the community.
Kumaran Asan had two sons.
In 1880 he began the study of Malayalam and
Sanskrit in the village primary school. His
uncle Kochu Raman Vaidyan, the village physician,
helped him. The example of this parents made
him studious, music loving, religious and
deeply sympathetic. He continued studies in
Sanskrit schools. Later, he was in the Chamarajendra
Sanskrit College in Bangalore and after that
in a Calcutta college. While in Bangalore,
helped by Dr. Palpu and his wife, Asan studied
English which he continued in Calcutta. Vivekanandas
writings shaped his interpretation of Hinduism,
that religion was social service, helping
Tagores poems inspired Asan to compose
his early romantic poems like Nalini
(1911) and Leela (1914). His spiritual
guide was Sri Narayana Guru, the saint, philosopher
and social reformer. Sri Narayana Guru was
to Asan what Sri Ramakrishna was to Vivekananda,
Deeply religious, he was influenced by the
Puranas. Among the English books, Sir Edwin
Arnolds Light of Asia and
Dr. Mackays Thousand and One Gems
of English Poetry showed their impact
When aged fourteen, he joined as a teacher
in the school where he once studied, but left
soon, being too young for regular appointment.
Then for a time, he taught Sanskrit to the
local people and so came to be known as Asan
(preceptor). When he finished his studies
in Calcutta, he returned and was with Sri
Narayana Guru like a sishya at
a Gurukula. When the Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana
Yogam was started in 1903, Asan became its
Secretary and worked as such till 1919. These
were years of very valuable service by Asan.
The Ezhavas were then unapproachable, with
few privileges of citizens.
Asan started a vigorous campaign in press
and platform against caste discrimination.
In 1909 he secured representation for the
Ezhavas in the Travancore legislative Council
and he was elected a member. He got a school
for his people in his village, got the roads
open for them, as also government schools.
Guided by the Guru, Asam spread the Gurus
teaching and, under the auspices of the S.N.
D.P. Yogam, established temples and mutts
in various parts of Kerala for the special
benefit of his people.
The Advaitashram as always is an example.
The Yogam had its headquarters at Varkala.
In 1920, giving up the secretaryship of the
Yogam, he became manager of the Yogam and
an acknowledged leader of the community.
His crusade for social reform, specially
for the removal of the restrictions on the
underprivileged, continued with intensity.
For this purpose he diverted all his literary
talents, specially his poetic genius.
These talents had been proved by his earlier
compositions like Veena Poovu
(1909). The poem sounded a new fascinating
lyrical note in Malayalam poetry.
Unlike earlier poets, Asan through a trifling
subject, namely, a fallen flower, explains
the philosophy of birth, life and death. Death
is inevitable, but it is not extinction, only
part of a cycle and life is only a fleeting
experience. In Chintavishtayaya Seetha
(Pensive Sita) he surveys various experiences
of worldly life, specially of women, perhaps
of Indian women.
His later poems show a different purpose,
to argue that caste discrimination is meaningless
and tragic. This point is powerfully argued
in Duravastha of 1923. Even earlier,
in Ori Thiyakuttiyute Vicharam
(Thoughts of a Thiya Boy) of 1908 and Simhanadam
of 1919, Asan had shown how caste discriminations
were worrying him. Duravastha
created a sensation.
Another beautiful and stirring poem Chandala-bikshuki
also deals with the same theme and shows how
love has no caste barriers. His last poem
Karuna is considered also as his
best by many, because, apart from its great
poetic charm, it does not suggest so much
social propaganda as the other compositions.
The theme is not a mere social problem, but
the big problem of life.
These poems show also the impact of Buddhism
on Asan. This impact is more clearly seen
in his five volumes of Buddha Charitam
begun as a translation of Light of Asia,
but later developing an individuality of its
own. Of Asans many poems, only the most
important and characteristic ones could be
mentioned here. They show a superb poetic
ability, blending beautifully the realities
of life with social consciousness, philosophy
and emotional strength. His literary talents
are to be seen also in his contributions to
the magazines Vivekodayam and Prathibha which
he edited for some time.
The significance of his work as a social
reformer, scholar and poet has been widely
recognized. Besides membership in the Travancore
Legislative Assembly, he was on the Government
Law Committee and Trivandrum Town Improvement
Committee. He was a member of the Travancore
Poems like Swantantragatha and
Bharatamayuram show his national
spirit. Political freedom, however, seemed
less important to him than social freedom.
Social or caste discrimination was his main
target of attack. In 1922 the Prince of Wales,
visiting India, awarded him the title Mahakavi
along with a gold bangle and a silk shawl,.
He led an ascetic life.
While aged only fifty one years, with many
years of valuable service still before him,
Asan died in a tragic boat accident on 17
January 192(?). Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer has
acclaimed Kumaran Asan as a leader of
his community a pioneer in social reform,
and an acknowledged and authentic poet whose
output is one of the landmarks of Malayalam