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Elamkulam P. N. Kunjan Pillai (8 November 1904 – 4 March 1973), known as Elamkulam, was an Indian historian, linguist and academic from southern Kerala, India.[1] He was a pioneering scholar of southern Indian history, Kerala history, in particular. Although only holding academic degrees in Sanskrit and Malayalam, and having no formal training as a historian, Elamkulam is considered one of the pioneers of modern Kerala historiography.[2][3]

Elamkulam P. N. Kunjan Pillai
Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai (south Indian historian) (cropped).jpg
A portrait of Elamkulam P. N. Kunjan Pillai
P. N. Kunjan Pillai

(1904-11-08)8 November 1904
Died4 March 1973(1973-03-04) (aged 68)
Alma materAnnamalai University (Undergraduate Degree)

He was one of the major proponents of the unitary/imperial state model in medieval Kerala history.[4] The Elamkulam model of a highly centralised "empire" (unitary/Imperial state model) in medieval Kerala is now considered not acceptable by south Indian historians. Majority of Elamkulam's works are written in Malayalam, with a few in Tamil and English.[4]

He was well versed in Kannada, Tulu (largest nonliterary South Dravidian language) and Pali (language of the Theravada Buddhist canon) also.[2] He was also considered as one of the top authorities in Vattezhuthu script and Old/Early Malayalam language.[3]

Elamkulam associated himself for some time with Mortimer Wheeler in the excavation works at Harappa, Chandravally, and Brahmagiri.[5] He is also known for informally guiding M. G. S. Narayanan, a research scholar in University of Kerala in early 1970s.[6][3]


Life and careerEdit

Born in Elamkulam village near Kalluvathukkal in Travancore, Kunjan Pillai had his school education at Trivandrum and Quilon. After taking his honours degree in Sanskrit language from Annamalai University, he started his career as a school teacher and later became lecturer in Malayalam at Government Arts College, Trivandrum. Elamkulam retired as the Head of the Department of Malayalam, University College, Trivandrum.[citation needed]

Elamkulam published most his research findings only in his later years.[2] He published more than 20 books, in Malayalam, including one in Tamil and two in English. Some of his theories regarding early Kerala history have been challenged by later researchers in the light of new evidence.[7][8][9][10]

Pillai died on 4 March 1973. Kanjiracode Valiaveettil Bhargavi Amma was his wife. The couple had five children.[citation needed]

Unitary/Imperial state modelEdit

Elamkulam had studied comprehensively Old/Early Malayalam - Vatteluttu inscriptions from the ninth century CE, and with the help of literary texts, claimed they belonged to a single line of kings ("the Kulasekharas") that ruled Kerala from Kodungallur. He had challenged the very foundations of the then existing William Logan-K. P. Padmanabha Menon construction of Kerala history.[11] He proposed a unitary or imperial state model, emphasising centralised administration, for the Kulasekhara kingdom.[12]

The Elamkulam version of historiography had believed that this "Second Chera Empire", or "Kulasekhara Empire" was a highly centralised kingdom. However, critical research in the late 1960s and early 1970s by offered a major corrective to this. Recently (2002), suggestions pointing to the other extreme, that the king at Kodungallur had only a "ritual sovereignty" and the actual political power rested with "a bold and visible Brahmin oligarchy" has emerged.[4]

The nature of the Kodungallur Chera/Kulasekhara state is an ongoing academic debate. While the Elamkulam model of a highly centralised "empire" is considered not acceptable by south Indian historians, the third model (2002) is yet to be endorsed by them.[4]

Selected worksEdit

In MalayalamEdit

  • Unnuneeli Sandesam
  • Koka Sandesam
  • Leelathlakam
  • Chandrolsavam
  • Unnuneeli Sandesam Charithradrishtiyilkoodi
  • Nalachritham Attakkatha
  • Gandhidevan
  • Keralabhashayude Vikasaparinamangal
  • Bhashayum Sahityavum Noottandukalil
  • Sahityamalika
  • 108 Shivalaya Sothram
  • Sahityacharithrasamgraham
  • Keralacharithrathile Iruldanja Edukal
  • Annathe Keralam
  • Chila Kerala Charithra Prasnangal (Part I, II, & III)
  • Janmi samprdayam Keralathil
  • Keralam Anchum Arum Noottandukalil
  • Cherasamrajyam Ompathum Pathum Noottandukalil
  • Samskarathinte Nazhikakkallukal

In EnglishEdit

  • Studies in Kerala History
  • Some Problems in Kerala History

In TamilEdit

  • Pandai Keralam


  1. ^ Official Website of Kerala Government - Kollam Archived 2009-04-26 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Kerala State Gazetteer
  3. ^ a b c A masterpiece in reprint. [1]. The Hindu 15 July 2013
  4. ^ a b c d Veluthat, Kesavan (1 June 2018). "History and historiography in constituting a region: The case of Kerala". Studies in People's History. 5 (1): 13–31. doi:10.1177/2348448918759852. ISSN 2348-4489.
  5. ^ Kerala State Gazetteer
  6. ^ MGS Narayanan (Profile) University of Calicut [2]
  7. ^ Menon, A. Sreedhara (2001). Elamkulam Pillai. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 81-260-1080-0. ISBN 9788126010806.
  8. ^ Elamkulavum Kerala Charithravum, T.H.P. Chentharassery, Prabhath Book House, Trivandrum
  9. ^ Elamkulam Smaranika (2003), Elamkulam Pillai Smaraka Trust, Kalluvathukkal
  10. ^ Grandhalokam Monthly (February 2005), Kerala State Library Council, Trivandrum
  11. ^ A masterpiece in reprint. [3]. The Hindu 15 July 2013
  12. ^ Noburu Karashmia (ed.), A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014