Matrubhumi (Malayalam): Always in the service of the mother land

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee*

Conceived as the mouthpiece of India’s freedom movement, Mathrubhumi (which means mother land in English) is one of the front-runners among the Malayalam newspapers in present times with fourteen editions, including the ones at New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai; its circulation over one million copies. In fact it is presently the second most widely read daily in Kerala after Malayala Monorama.

Mathrubhumi has a long and glorious history. Mathrubhumi was published on 18th of March 1923 — the day before the first anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest for the first time by the British police from Calicut (known presently as Kozhikode) (Calicut). Led by K.P. Kesava Menon, the prominent freedom fighter, as Editor (who was then Secretary of Kerala Congress Committee) and K. Madhavan Nair as Managing Director, Mathrubhumi was to spread the message of the National Movement and fight for the freedom of the country.

The history of Mathrubhumi is synonymous with the history of the state’s freedom movement, and that of Indian National Congress. Before Mathrubhumi came into being, there were four Malayalam News Papers (‘Kerala Patrika’, ‘Kozhikodan Manorama’ , ‘Kerala Sanchari ‘ and ‘Mithavadi ‘) and three English News Papers (‘Champion’, ‘West Coast Reformer ‘and ‘Spectator’), which were being published from Kozhikode. But none of these papers favoured the freedom movement spearheaded by the Congress. Instead, they supported the British Rule.

K.P Kesava Menon, who was then Secretary of Kerala State Congress Committee, realized the urgent need for a pro-freedom movement publication from the Malabar region. And he, along with his confidants like K.Madhavan Nair, Kuroor Neelakandan Nampoothirippad, K. Kesavan Nair and P. Achuthan, resolved to register The Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company Limited with an authorized capital of Rs.1, 00,000/- in 20,000 shares of Rs.5/- each. However, the Company was able to collect an amount of Rs.15, 000/- only. It was registered on 15th of February 1922.

Madhavan Nair became the first Managing Director of the Company. But, months later, he resigned from the position due to personal reasons and K.P Kesava Menon assumed that responsibility.

The first edition of the paper carried a strong message of support for the National Movement and a pledge to unify the un-organized Malayalees. The editorial had an intense patriotic tone; stressing on the need for real freedom from disparity, divisions and distortions. Moreover, it expressed a willingness to stand with the common people. In its news columns it prominently published news about the freedom movement across the country.

It also provided a forum for people writing and fighting for the freedom of the country. Great Poets like Vallathol Narayana Menon often expressed their patriotic feelings through its columns inspiring the freedom fighters. Many patriotic songs, stories and features were popularised among the masses as it were published in its pages.

Built on strong journalistic ethics, a distinctly nationalist outlook and an emphasis on aesthetic layout and design, Mathrubhumi grew fast. Soon its circulation surpassed others. It has not looked back ever since.

Besides raising voice for freedom of the country, it has consistently played crucial roles in social reformation movements such as the ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’ and the ‘Guruvayur Satyagraha’. The day the Vaikom Satyagraha began (April 1, 1924), the Mathrubhumi came out with a harsh and sharp criticism against the social discrimination practiced in Kerala. Moreover, while actively participating in the Satyagraha, K.P Keasava Menon was arrested and sent to the Pujappura Central Jail at Thriuvananthapuram. Eminent personalities like P. Ramunni Menon, K. Kelappan, P. Narayanan Nair, C.H. Kunjappa, V.M Nair and K. A Damodara Menon served as Editors of the paper.

On a number of occasions Mathrubhumi had run into trouble for supporting the National movement. The Madras Government ordered to endow a bail of Rs.2000/- for an editorial piece that appeared on 7th September 1932, which reprobated the British rule. As a result the paper was forced to publish without the editorials until January 11, 1933. It was banned in the Travancore region for nine years for a series of articles it wrote against the dictatorship of Diwan Sir. C.P Ramaswami Iyer.

Mathrubhumi has a great contribution in the nourishment of Malayalee literature. In 1932, it launched ‘Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly’ that nurtured the careers of many titans of Malayalam literature, like Jnanpith laureates G.Sankara Kurup, S.K.Pottakkad, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and M.T Vasudevan Nair. It is still the premier literary magazine in Malayalam, publishing some of the most exciting voices in the poetry and fiction.

In 1940, the Mathrubhumi launched a humorous magazine, Viswaroopam, with Sanjayan (M.R.Nair) as the Editor. Yugaprabhat, a bi-monthly in Hindi, was also published with N.V Krishna Warrier as Editor. These two publications are no longer in print.

In 1979 the Company launched Grihalakshmi, a Women’s magazine and in 1982 Chitrabhumi, a film magazine. The weekly for job prospects Thozilvartha was launched in 1992. After two years, it launched Mathrubhumi Sports Masika. Balabhumi for children came out in 1996 and in 1997 the health magazine in Malayalam, Mathrubhumi ArogyaMasika was published.

Mathrubhumi Books, the publishing house, has already made a mark of its own in Malayalam Publishing industry. The house has published both the fictions and non-fictions of almost all the well known writers in Malayalam.

With time Mathrubhumi kept pace with the development of ICT and forayed into other media other than print. On 5th September, 1997 the Company launched the online edition http://www.mathrubhumi.com for the Malayalees living across the world and in 2005 the internet edition was upgraded as a portal with many channels.

The group has launched FM stations in four major districts of Kerala, namely Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Kannur. It entered the world of television with a significant production house, MBTV (Mathrubhumi Television), which has been producing Serials and Telefilms.

The group organizes annual events such as ‘Mathrubhumi Kalotsavam’ and ‘The Mathrubhumi Film Award Functions’ for the promotion of culture and films.

Mathrubhumi was one of the first Indian media houses to have provided a platform to net-savvy young generation to share their thought and expressions. It has started YUVOG which stands for stands for YOUR VIDEO BLOG. It is a vibrant and dynamic video sharing site of genres like news, feature, entertainment, information, etc.

Moving with the times, but foot firmly entrenched in the traditional journalistic values and Malayalee culture Mathrubhumi is moving ahead.

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