N. Kumaran Asan (1873-1924) also known as Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, (the prefix Mahakavi awarded by Madras University in the year 1922 means "great poet" and the suffix Asan meaning scholar or teacher) was one of the triumvirate poets of Kerala. He was also a philosopher and a social reformer. More than that he was one of honoured disciple of Sree Narayana Guru.
Kumaran Asan initiated a revolution in Malayalam poetry in the first quarter of the 20th century, transforming it from the metaphysical to the lyrical. Deep moral and spiritual commitment is evident in Asan's poetry. His works are an eloquent testimony of poetic concentration and dramatic contextualization.
Asan was born in a merchant family belonging to the Ezhava community in April 1873 in Kayikkara village, Chirayinkeezhu taluk, north of Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala, south India. Named Kumaru He was the second son in a family of nine children. His father, Narayanan Perungudi, was well versed in Malayalam and Tamil. Asan inherited his taste for Kathakali and classical music. Kumaru trained in mathematics and Sanskrit for which he had a passion. Even though through his father's efforts, he got a job as a primary school teacher and an accountant to a wholesaler at the age of 14, he quit the job two years later to pursue higher studies in Sanskrit. He undertook a studentship in poetry under Manamboor Govindan Asan. He wished to learn Yoga and Tantra and worked as an apprentice in a Muruga temple at Vakkom. It is said that the Muse of Poetry blessed him during this time. He composed a few devotional songs for the benefit of regular worshippers at this temple. In 1917 Asan married Bhanumathi Amma of Tharkauduyil family to which belonged Rao Bahadur Belayudhan and Dr.P.Palpu, prominent members of the community. Kumaran Asan had two sons
Kumaran was dogged by ill-health all through his early life. When he was eighteen, Sree Narayana Guru visited his house at the request of his father. Kumaran was bedridden at that time. The great saint suggested that Kumaran should stay with him and become his disciple. The little boy found the invitation irresistible. Thus began a new phase of life for the young lad.
Kumaran’s meeting with Sree Narayana Guru can be compared to the meeting of Naren with Sri Ramakrishna. While Naren became a full fledged Swami, Kumaran continued as a lay disciple of Narayana Guru and made substantial contributions in the fields of poetry, literature and social renaissance.
Swamy took the fledgling devotee under his care and in 1895 Kumaran was sent to Bangalore for 3 years for higher studies in Sanskrit, at the Sree Chamarajendra Sanskrit College. He specialized in Tarka sastra. He could not take the final exam. Leaving Bangalore he came to Madras and after a brief stay, left for Calcutta to join the Sanskrit College. His teacher was Mahamahopadhyaya Kamakhya Nath who encouraged the poetic gift of his student and prophesised that he would one day become a famous poet.
Gurudev's aim was to create an organization which would bring together people who wanted to be such good men. Such an organization was open to all regardless of caste or religion. In Gurudev's vision. Such an organization, open to all, would ridicule the caste differences, blunt the harshness of class conflict and gradually demolish the caste barriers. It was with the aim of fostering an awareness and unity and to spread the ideals that Gurudev decided to launch Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam. Thus was established SNDP with Gurudev's blessings. The Yogam came into being on January 7, 1903 ( 1078). Kumaran Ashan was the Yogam's first General Secretary.
Some of the earlier works of the poet were Subramanya Sathakam and Sankara Sathakam, wherein Asan voiced his devotional aspirations. His short poem Veena Poovu (fallen flower) is a literary classic. It paved the way for a new movement in Malayalam literature. His elegy Prarodanam mourns the death of his contemporary and friend A. R. Rajaraja Varma, the famous grammarian. His Khanda Kavyas (poems) like Nalini, Leela, Karuna and Chandaalabhikshuki won critical acclaim as well as popularity. In Chintaavishtayaaya Seetha (Seetha Lost in Thought) he displays his poetic artistry, while in Duravastha, he patiently and skillfully tears down the barriers created by feudalism, orthodoxy and casteism and consummates the dictum of the Guru, “One Caste, One Religion, One God for man”.
He wrote the epic poem Buddha Charitha for which he got inspiration from Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia. While in Duravastha, he revealed his revolutionary zeal for fighting caste distinctions; a few other poetic works had a distinct Hindu/Buddhist slant.
He also wrote "The Meditations of Sita".(Chinthavishtyaya sita)
The Mahakavi lived for fifty years. His life was tragically cut short by a boat accident in January 1924 while travelling from Kollam to Alappuzha to attend a function as the chief guest. The boat capsized at Pallana. But the trail he blazed in the literary and social firmament of Kerala is an inspiration for any student of contemporary history.