indian cinema heritage foundation


  • Real Name: Ayyappan Pillai
  • Born: 25/06/1913 (Pallam, Kottayam, Kerala)
  • Died: 26/07/2000
  • Primary Cinema: Malayalam
  • First film: Vellinakshathram (1949)
  • Parents: Karimalil Kesava Pillai, Kalyani Amma
  • Spouse: Parukkutty Amma
  • Grand Children: Ambilikuttan

Abhayadev’s father, Karimalil Kesava Pillai was a well-known poet who had published many of his works in popular publications of the time. The young Abhayadev took to writing poems quite naturally. While at school he was drawn to the Freedom Struggle. He quit studies, wore khadi, which he did till the end of his life, and began learning Hindi. He then travelled throughout the south of the subcontinent propagating Gandhi’s ideals, especially the need to learn Hindi. He changed his name when he joined the Arya Samaj. Afterwards he travelled all over India in connection with the activities of Aryasamaj.


Meanwhile, Abhayadev was writing poetry for some regional publications. When a local drama troupe asked him to write songs for one of their plays, he realized he could try and turn his writing skills into a career. Soon he was writing songs for the most popular drama troupes of the time. He also tried his hand at writing plays. Some of these were performed on stage, but they remain unpublished. Abhayadev penned Navayugam, a play against Divan C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer and his draconian laws. The play was banned when it was first staged.


Sebastian Kunju Bhagavathar, one of the most famous theatre actors of the time, introduced Abhayadev to Kunchacko. In 1949, he debuted as a lyricist for the film Vellinakshatram. His lyrics were set to tune by Paramudas and B.A. Chidambaranath, who also made his Malayalam debut with the film. The movie included 10 songs sung by Gayaka Peethambaram, Cherai Ambujam and Savithri  Alappuzha.


Augustine Joseph, the father of K.J. Yesudas, along with Abhayadev, were responsible for convincing Dakshinamurthy to compose music for the screen. Abhayadev worked with him in his debut film, Nalla Thanka. The duo were responsible for a number of memorable songs in the language, and quickly emerged as one of the most successful music teams in Malayalam. For Dakshinamurthy this was the beginning of a long, fruitful career and a life-long friendship with Abhayadev. From that moment till his passing in 1949, he remained an intimate friend to Abhayadev.


For some time, Malayalam film music was largely dependent on copies of popular Tamil and Hindi tunes. With the advent of Abhayadev in the industry, things changed. His lyrics gave a specifically Malayali touch to film songs, and for the first time Malayali characters onscreen crooned in their own language and their own style. This was perhaps Abhayadev’s signal contribution to Malayalam cinema.


Abhayadev wrote lyrics for around 50 films and dialogues for 25 movies before he gave way to a young group of talented lyricists such as P. Bhaskaran, Vayalar Rama Varma, ONV Kurup and Sreekumaran Thampi. He remains a man who set the trend and opened a new path for this new generation of lyricists. Many music directors and singers made their debut singing his lovely lines. Abhayadev was unmatched in his lullabies, a genre he mastered. He was reputed to be an honest, gentle person ever ready to offer assistance to any who needed it.


Over the course of his career, Abhayadev also wrote the dialogues and lyrics for films from other languages dubbed into Malayalam. A multi-linguist, Abhayadev’s translation of numerous classics into various languages and his Hindi-Malayalam dictionary, which is into its eighth edition, are some of his landmark literary achievements.


Till his death in 2000, Abhayadev was actively involved in the activities of Sahitya Pravarthaka Cooperative Society (SPCS), Hindi Prachar Sabha, and numerous other social and cultural organisations.