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Kozhikode: India’s First UNESCO City of Literature

Kozhikode, Kerala’s vibrant coastal city, earns the prestigious UNESCO City of Literature title, spotlighting its rich literary heritage and dynamic cultural renaissance led by IAS officer Snehil Kumar Singh.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Kozhikode, a picturesque city in Kerala known for its rich history and vibrant culture, has recently achieved the prestigious title of India’s first UNESCO City of Literature. This recognition celebrates the city’s contributions to Malayalam literature and its dynamic literary community.

Spearheading this cultural renaissance is IAS officer Snehil Kumar Singh, the District Collector of Kozhikode. His dedication and vision have been instrumental in achieving this milestone, further solidifying Kozhikode’s place on the global literary map.

Mayor of Kozhikode Corporation signing the declaration

A HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL MELTING POT

Kozhikode’s literary heritage is deeply rooted in its historical and cultural landscape. Once ruled by the Zamorins from the 12th to the 18th century, the city was known for its openness and liberal attitude towards engagement, dialogue, and cultural exchange. This legacy of inclusivity and intellectual curiosity has shaped Kozhikode into a haven for writers, poets, and scholars.

“Zamorins were always very substantial in terms of entertaining dialogue and cultural exchanges which has led to this beautiful blend of different cultures coming across in Kozhikode. Literature has become that basic chord which is connecting everything,” the officer shared with Indian Masterminds.

The city’s history as a major trading hub, where the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first landed in India in 1498, adds another layer to its rich tapestry. Today, Kozhikode continues to blend its illustrious past with modern developments, offering a unique experience that captivates both locals and visitors alike.

CELEBRATING LITERARY ICONS

The recognition as a UNESCO City of Literature honors the contributions of Kerala’s literary giants who have taken Malayalam literature to new heights. Writers like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Thunjath Ezhuthachan are integral to Kozhikode’s cultural identity. Their works have not only enriched Malayalam literature but have also gained acclaim beyond the state and country.

In Kozhikode, the influence of these literary icons is visible everywhere. Mananchira’s Ansari Park, adorned with sculptures of renowned dramatist KT Muhammad and the beloved goat from Basheer’s famous story “Pathummayude Aadu,” stands as a testament to the city’s literary legacy.

“This is a recognition of very old history and culture of Kozhikode and its relation with Literature. It’s a rare sight to see such cities come up where Literature is celebrated. Across parts of the country, we see some major writers who have done wonders for their region and represented the country globally. Kozhikode provides that center for Kerala as it has seen a lot of famous writers representing Malayalam literature outside the state and even the country!” he stated.

PROMOTING RICH LITERATURE

Under the leadership of Mr. Singh, Kozhikode has embraced its literary heritage with renewed vigor. His efforts to promote the city’s literary culture have been instrumental in securing the UNESCO recognition. His initiatives have focused on enhancing literary infrastructure, organizing events, and fostering a supportive environment for writers and scholars.

One of Mr. Singh’s notable achievements is the successful hosting of the Kerala Literature Festival, one of India’s most celebrated literary events. Held right across the beach, this festival attracts a diverse audience and provides a platform for literary discussions, readings, and performances. The festival’s success has significantly contributed to Kozhikode’s reputation as a literary hub.

“We have a lot of foreigners and domestic tourists coming in because of our rich literature and history,” he shared.

BUILDING A LITERARY INFRASTRUCTURE

With the UNESCO recognition, Kozhikode is set to witness significant developments in its literary infrastructure. Plans are underway to expand libraries, bookstores, and literary circuits, connecting significant landmarks from Thunjath Ezhuthachan’s Tirur to Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s Beypore. Iconic locations such as Mananchira, Tali, and Kuttichira will be transformed into vibrant centers for literary events, fostering a dynamic environment for literary exchange and creativity.

These developments are expected to attract global recognition and promote cultural tourism. As literary enthusiasts from around the world visit Kozhikode, the local economy is poised to flourish. Increased tourism will boost various sectors, including hospitality, retail, and publishing, providing new opportunities for local businesses and artisans.

“We can have collaborations also because once you have a UNESCO City of Literature, it becomes easy to partner with other Cities of Literature, across the world. We will engage with them in terms of exchanging ideas, having events, about their dialogue, culture, writers, and vice versa,” he told Indian Masterminds.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND PRIDE

Kozhikode’s recognition as a UNESCO City of Literature is a matter of immense pride for its residents. The local community’s involvement in literary activities has always been a defining feature of the city. Kozhikode’s culture of open dialogue and intellectual exchange is deeply ingrained, from public readings to literary discussions in the verandahs of homes.

“Merely state sponsoring and recognition doesn’t help. The society needs to appreciate and respect the literary works too. Kerala generally has a habit of reading and dialogue and are very well educated which helps as you can’t become a city of literature if the people living in it are not literate.”

The Kolaya culture, where people engage in conversations outside their houses, has seen a resurgence. The administration’s plans to reignite these cultural practices aim to build on the city’s literary heritage and create a more connected and engaged community.

“We have some iconic spots in the city like the Mananchira square, Tali Shiva Temple, and other locations that will become the center of dialogues. We will also have smaller book clubs and discussion clubs where we would like to engage with the community on that level so that people know that reading is also exciting and can help a person bond, especially among the younger generation who is so inclined to social media these days,” he stated.

GENDER-INCLUSIVE LITERARY INITIATIVES

Kozhikode’s commitment to gender equity is reflected in its gender-inclusive libraries and awareness programs. The city has a dedicated park for research on gender equity and equality, highlighting its progressive approach to social issues. These initiatives create a supportive environment for diverse voices in literature, enriching the city’s cultural landscape.

LOOKING AHEAD

Over the next four years, Kozhikode will host a series of literary and cultural activities to celebrate and promote its newfound status. The designation as a UNESCO City of Literature sets the stage for future growth and international collaboration in the literary arts. Kozhikode envisions attracting writers, scholars, and literary enthusiasts from around the globe, fostering cultural exchange and enriching the city’s cultural tapestry.

This recognition is not just a celebration of Kozhikode’s past contributions to Malayalam literature but also a beacon for its future. As the city continues to evolve, its literary heritage will serve as a foundation for new stories, ideas, and cultural expressions, ensuring that Kozhikode remains a vibrant and dynamic hub for literature and culture.

“It is a great matter of pride not just for Kozhikode but for the entire country.”


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