Kumaran Asan was awarded the title Mahakavi (great poet), by Madras University in 1922. When the evils of caste system had cast its shadow over Kerala, the force of Asan's words gave impetus and strength to the Reformation Movement in Kerala. The poet's role in holding a mirror to the divided, hypocritical, caste-centric society of Kerala, during the time, was pivotal. His literature questioned the social norms, which had kept the lower caste Hindus' freedom severely restricted. Although, from an affluent family, due to his own lower caste origins, he was well aware of the challenges and threats that the caste system posed. His writing not only influenced literary and cultural enlightenment in Kerala but also paved way to him leading movements resisting the caste system alongside other radical social reformers demanding the abolition of the caste system.
Asan was one of the Modern Triumvirate Poets of Kerala alongside Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer. He inspired the Romantic period in Malayalam literature. His poem Veenapoov (The Fallen flower) read on O's podcast is one of his most recited poems in Malayalam, as well as a classic in Malayalm literature. In this poem, Asan, in literal terms explores the stages in the life of a flower while perhaps also metaphorically hinting at the stages in the human life.
Lines from another one of his poems Nalini is often used as an idiomatic expression in Malayalam language.
Love is the essence of all things on planet Earth
The spirit of love is the only truth here
The enchanting union of everything on Earth
is inimitable love!
———[Translated by Professor Venugopal T. S.]
These lines are also generously quoted as an effective rhetorical device by politicians, life coaches and speakers in general.
At 51, on 16 January 1924, Asan died in a boat accident when the boat, he was on, capsized in River Pallana. Kerala still mourns his premature death.
You can listen to Asan's Veenapoov (Fallen Flower) read by Amb T. P. Sreenivasan on O's podcast