Poetry most probably took its first steps as folk songs in the minds of ordinary people as they busied themselves with their daily toils and household chores. However, we do not know for sure when this happened because no one has succeeded till date in calculating the exact age of ancient ballads that were popular in Malayalam. Such folk songs were passed down for many generations in the oral tradition and were written down only decades or centuries after they were composed. As such, even the oldest ballads that we have managed to salvage may not be representative of the earliest songs in style or content. They may not help us fully to study the evolution of language through different periods of time.
Historians mainly rely on two sources to understand the origin of Malayalam poetry : pattu and manipravalam.