As a poet, he is credited for rendering a novel experience to the literati of Kerala; as a critic he provided new levels of awareness, and as a teacher, his students could not have asked for more. May be, Dr. K. Ayyappa Paniker is more than all these special traits of his, but for Keralites, he is still a refreshing fragrance that lingers in the world of letters.
Studied for his Intermediate at Malabar Christian College in Kozhikode, and for B.A.Honours in English Literature at the University College in Thiruvananthapuram (1951), Dr. Paniker obtained his Master's degree from the University of Kerala. The essays he wrote during this period about P. B. Shelley and T. S. Eliot were published in periodicals like Kaumudi, the Democrat, etc. Dr. Paniker has a Ph.D. degree from the University of Indiana, U.S.A.
Among his higher academic pursuits, Dr. Paniker did a doctoral dissertation on the poetry of Robert Lowell, which was supervised by Prof. Robert E. Gross. During 1981-82, he did a postdoctoral research at the Yale University and at the Harvard University. This was the period that Dr. Paniker made the best use of by getting acquainted with internationally renowned poets and also visited many universities in U.S.A.
Dr. Paniker's penchant for poetry materialized at the age of 16, when he penned his first poem, which was published in the Mathrubhoomi Weekly. His interest in poetry grew with time and started to flourish while studying for the Intermediate. It was his Malayalam tutor at the Malabar Christian College, Mr. Surya Munshi, who sensed the passion for poetry in Dr. Paniker and encouraged him to write poems and articles. A collection of his poems written during 1944 - 45 and titled Panineerpoovu was published in 1947 for which, the foreword was written by Mr. C. S. Subramanian Potti. Reckoned as one who heralded modernism in the literary domain of Kerala, Dr. Paniker is a towering influence in the intellectual and cultural life of Keralites. His works and approach to subjects had a significant bearing on the creative expressions rendered through theatre or literary works of upcoming playwrights. Dr.Paniker's study of comparative literature, brought to light far-reaching changes that took place in Malayalam literature through contacts with English literature. This he relates to the socio-political factors and also to English education.
Dr. Paniker has visited countries in the west, and other parts of the world mostly in connection with his literary pursuits. These visits enabled him to gain tremendous experience in understanding the life and socio-cultural fabric of the people outside his own.
Institutions, which were fortunate to have his services as a teacher, include the C. M. S. College in Kottayam (1951-52) the Mahatma Gandhi College in Thiruvananthapuram (1952), the University College in Thiruvananthapuram (1952-1965) and the Institute of English, University of Kerala (1965-74).
Dr. Paniker went on to become Reader in English, at the Institute of English under University of Kerala (1974-80), and later served as Dean of Faculty of Arts in the University of Kerala (1980-90). He was also selected as National Lecturer by the University Grants Commission, and gave lectures in the universities of Gorakhpur, Kolhapur, Karnataka and Bangalore. He was the Chief Editor for Medieval Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi during 1990-94, and also Chief Editor, Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Rev. Ed.) of Sahitya Akademi in 1998.
During his career as a teacher, Dr. Paniker supervised more than two-dozen Ph.D dissertations on British, American and Indian literature, and literary theory. It was indeed a rewarding experience for students and research scholars to have associated with Dr. Paniker, whose scholarly traits helped them to realize their academic objectives.
Dr. Paniker's noted works in Malayalam include poetry collections like Ayyappapanikerude Teranjedutha Kavitakal, Cartoon Kavitakalum Maharaja Kathakalum, Gotrayanam, Pookkathirikkan Enikkavatille, Panineerpoovu. Some of his Malayalam poems are Kurushethram, Pakalukal Rathrikal, Loka Malayalee, Swapnam Kollikal, Oru Katha etc.
He has also done translations in Malayalam, which include Ayyappapanikerude Vivarthanangal, Chidanandadas Gupta, Guru Nanak, Mayakovskiyude Kavitakal, and Poochayum Shakespearum. Among the notable edited works in English, Dr. Paniker has to his credit 20th Century Malayalam Literature Vol-1, Contemporary Indian Fiction in English, Kumaranasan: The Man and the Poet, Medieval Indian Literature, New Frontier: The Hero in Post-War Fiction, Robert Lowell Society Papers, and A Pride of Poets. His repertoire of edited works in Malayalam includes Gaveshana Pratibha, Kerala Kavita, Loka Katha, Tagorum Keralavum and Vishwa Sahitya Mala.
With unique contributions to different avenues of literature both within and outside the country, Dr. Paniker was honoured with many prestigious awards and recognitions like the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Poetry in 1975, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Criticism in 1984, Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for Poetry in 1984, Mahakavi Ulloor Award for Poetry in 1990, Kabir Samman during the period 1996-97, International Man of the Year (IBC, Cambridge, UK) in 1997, and the prestigious Padmasree award and the coveted Vallathol Award in 2004.
Among his fellowships include Associate Instructorship at Indiana University (1970-71), ACLS Fellowship (Postdoctoral) at Yale and Harvard (1980-81), Birla Research Fellowship (1994-96), and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi fellowship in 2002.