C. V. Raman Pillai (1858— 1922) was an Indian novelist and playwright in Malayalam.

Born of middle class parents on May 19, 1858, Pillai had a traditional Sanskritized education which included lessons in Ayurveda and even magic and Tantra. Kerala’s folklore and Kathakali became an integral part of literary metier. He drew out myriad forgotten episodes from his country’s history and the genius in him wove them into unforgettable epics.

His foray into journalism was pioneering. Gifted alike in English and Malayalam, he was an early builder of Kerala’s Fourth Estate. His sharp and incisive pen brought forth first, The Kerala Patriot, then the ‘ ‘Malayali and finally the Mitabhashi.

Pillai is classed with the greats in Indian literature like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Harinarayan Apte. In the grand epic sweep of his great classics, Marthanda Varma, Dharmaraja and Ramarajabahadur, he is in the class of the great Vyasa. In world literature he ranks with Dostoevsky.

Modern Malayalam drama traces its origins to Pillai’s works. Original Malayalam in prose began with his eleven farces, nine of which were published. They set the tone and paved the way for the Kerala theatre that it is now.

His very first attempt at literary creation, was the first original play in Malayalam. Candramukhivilasam was written in 1884 and was staged for four days successively in 1887 at the Maharaja’s College, Trivandrum. This was also the first staging of a play in Malayalam by educated amateur actors.

In 1885, Martandavarma was published in Madras in 1891. It was an instant hit and editorially hailed by The Hindu of Madras, on December 21, 1891. It continues to be a popular classic even today.

For nearly twenty years from 1891, Pillai did not produce any major literary works. 1909 saw the production of his major comedy, Kurupillakalari. It was in 1913, a year after he quit his job in protest that he wrote his second novel, Dharmaraja, the first of a trilogy, that he conceived on an epic scale. The novel marked him out as a master craftsman in fiction. In 1915 he wrote a social novel, Premamritam which is the first satirical fiction in Malayalam. C.V.’s masterpiece however is Ramarajabahadur, published in 1918 and hailed by outstanding critics as the greatest novel in Malayalam so far.

Pillai died on March 21, 1922.


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