The Kozhikode Code: Literary Overview of India’s First UNESCO “City of Literature”

Kozhikode which can be referred to as the city of literature now after it bagged the tag by UNESCO, hosts some prominent personalities, exceptional institutions and cultural festivals that stand true to the title.

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
City of Literature

Kozhikode is a city in North Kerala that is home to more than 70 publishing houses, which bring out 400 to 500 books a year, and 545 libraries, which account for tens of thousands of members. Due to its heavily influential connection with literature, the city was awarded UNESCO’s “City of Literature” tag which makes it India’s first city to be on this prestigious list of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) - a programme that promotes cities across the globe that harness creativity along with culture and integrity. 

As the city is known for its writers, poets, literary institutions and libraries, literature and reading are deeply embedded in the daily lives of its citizens here. Let’s revisit some of the notable literary institutions, people and literary festivals that have played a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of the city which got it the tag. 

The People 

The city, which received the title, holds a bunch of personalities who have elaborated on its literary culture and heritage. M. T. Vasudevan Nair is a notable Malayalam film director, screenplay writer, and author known for his modern Malayalam literature, and he is one of the masters of post-Independence Indian literature. Sharing the stage with him is Sir K. V. Krishna Iyer, a notable writer and literature professor.

Mathrubhumi English
Image Courtesy: Mathrubhumi English (Statue of S.K. Pottekkatt on S.M. Street)

Others who hold great significance in uplifting the literary scenario of this Indian city of literature are Gireesh Puthenchery, a renowned Malayalam poet, screenplay writer, and lyricist who was known for his distinctive writing style and referred to as the aristocratic lyricist of Malayalam. Another writer S. K. Pottekkatt is known for his work in “Oru Desathinte Katha," which portrays the life people of Athiranippadam (a town in Kozhikode), spanning 55 years, drawing on history while detailing the story of the place. It won the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award in 1972, and the Jnanpith Award in 1980. Along with this "Oru Theruvinte Katha," "Vishakanyaka," "Naadan Premam," and "London Note Book" are some of his works. Other writers such as Narayanan Nambuthiri Kakkad, Chintha Ravi and Indu Menon also contribute to this culture. 

Following the path to the literary legacy of Kozhikode, the city is also home to some of the noted film directors and writers who have marked significant milestones in the present and history. Adding to the list of legends, working in the film industry who showcased their literary masterpiece are - IV Sasi, Chintha Ravi, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, John Abraham, P. M. Taj, T. Damodaran, Gireesh Puthenchery, Ranjith, Babu Narayanan, A Vincent and so on. 

The Festival 

Kerala Literacy Festival
Image Courtesy: Kerala Literacy Festival

The Kerala Literature Festival stands as Asia`s largest literature festival with over half a million footfall. Nestled along the shores of the Arabian Sea in Kozhikode, the festival was founded in 2016 and is organized by the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, a prominent cultural organization in Kerala. The festival features a wide range of activities, including panel discussions, book readings, author meet-and-greets, workshops, film screenings, and cultural performances. Topics covered range from literature, cinema, politics, and science to environmental issues and social justice. Past festivals have seen participation from literary figures like Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor, Kiran Desai, and many others. This truly makes Kozhikode a place of literary importance. 

The Libraries and Institutions 

Kozhikode Directory
Image Courtesy: Kozhikode Directory

As mentioned earlier, the city has around 545 libraries and 70 publishing houses. Here are some of the notable literary institutions and libraries in Kozhikode. 

Libraries in Kozhikode

S. M. Street Public Library

Located at the heart of Kozhikode, this library is one of the oldest in the city. It has a vast collection of books, periodicals, and manuscripts, serving as a vital resource for students, researchers, and avid readers.

Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS) Library

This library specializes in books and resources related to the culture, traditions, and history of the scheduled castes and tribes in Kerala. It is a significant centre for anthropological and sociological research.

Calicut University Library or C.H. Mohammed Koya Library

Situated within the University of Calicut campus, this library boasts a comprehensive collection of academic and research materials. It serves the students and faculty of the university, as well as external researchers.

Literary Institutions in Kozhikode

Mathrubhumi Publishing House
Image Courtesy:Kozhikode Directory

Mathrubhumi Publishing House

Founded in 1923, Mathrubhumi is one of Kerala's largest and oldest publishing houses. It publishes books, magazines, and newspapers, playing a crucial role in the Malayalam literary scene. During the Quit India movement in 1942, the Mathrubhumi had to abandon the editorial column as the government had imposed a ban on them for publishing a feature on the European soldiers' misbehaviour with women in Kochi. However strong protests against the decision made the Government cancel the order and the publishing house is still up and running.

Kerala Sahitya Akademi

Although based in Thrissur, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi has a significant presence in Kozhikode. It works towards the development and promotion of Malayalam literature through various programs and initiatives.

Malayalam Mission

The Malayalam Mission is a scheme launched by the Government of Kerala to provide an opportunity for Malayalis all over the world to learn their mother tongue. This institution focuses on the preservation and promotion of the Malayalam language. It runs several projects to document and publish Malayalam literary works and conducts language courses and cultural events.

Many such libraries and literary institutions in Kozhikode continue to play a pivotal role in nurturing the region's rich literary heritage, making it a vibrant centre for cultural and intellectual activities in Kerala.

Indian city of literature Kerala Literature Festival Literary Institutions in Kozhikode Malayalam Mission Kerala Sahitya Akademi Mathrubhumi Publishing House Kozhikode libraries in Kozhikode literary institutions and libraries in Kozhikode