O.N.V Kurup was born to O. N. Krishna Kurup and K. Lakshmikutty Amma, on 27 May 1931 at Chavara, Kollam (Quilon) in Kerala. He lost his father when he was eight. His childhood days were spent in Chavara where he attended the government school. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in Economics from SN College, Kollam, he moved to Thiruvananthapuram city (Trivandrum) where he joined Travancore University (now Kerala University) and pursued Master of Arts in Malayalam literature.
O.N.V. was a lecturer at Maharajas College – Ernakulam, University College – Trivandrum, Arts and Science College – Kozhikode, and Brennen College – Thalassery. He joined Government Women's College – Trivandrum as the Head of Malayalam Department. He was also a visiting professor at Calicut University. He retired from service in 1986.
He received the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award, for the year 2007. He is the fifth Jnanpith laureate from Kerala and the second Malayalam poet to win the prestigious award. According to a statement by Bharatiya Jnanpith, the trust which presents the award, Kurup began his career as a "progressive writer and matured into a humanist though he never gave up his commitment to socialist ideology".
He was settled at Vazhuthacaud in Thiruvananthapuram, with his wife Sarojini. His son Rajeev works with the Indian Railways Authority, and daughter Dr.Mayadevi is a noted gynaecologist in aster medcity , cochin . Malayalam playback singer Aparna Rajeev is his granddaughter.
O. N. V.'s first published poem was 'Munnottu' (Forward) which appeared in a local weekly in 1946. His first poetry collection, Porutunna Soundaryam, came out in 1949. He published a book named Dahikunna Panapatram (The Thirsty Chalice) which was a collection of his early poems during 1946–1956.
*Collection of 1500 songs. **Poems for children
In addition to the valuable contributions he had given to the Malayalam literature, he was one of the leading lyricists in Malayalam film/drama/album industry. He was the part of many dramas by Kerala People's Arts Club (KPAC) which has a major remark in the revolutionary movements of Kerala. Kalam Marunnu (1956) was his first film which was also the first film by the famous Malayalam composer G. Devarajan. Since then he has been active in film until date and was honoured with one national award and fourteen state awards (the most by a Malayalee). He has penned about 900 songs in about 232 films and numerous songs for plays and albums. His partnerships with Salil Chowdhury and M. B. Sreenivasan was so popular in Malayalam film industry. He has made many hit songs with popular music directors, including G. Devarajan, V. Dakshiy, M. S. Baburaj, Raveendran, M. K. Arjunan, K. Raghavan, Shyam, Johnson, Mohan Sithara, M. G. Radhakrishnan, S. P. Venkatesh, Ouseppachan, Vidhyadharan and M. Jayachandran.2011 – Padma Vibhushan2007 – Honorary Doctorate (honoris causa) by University of Kerala1998 – Padma Shri
O. N. V. has won numerous awards for his literary works.2015 – Medal of Pushkin (Медаль Пушкина)2011 – Kamala Surayya Award for Dinantham2011 – Thoppil Bhasi Award2010 – COSINE Award2009 – Ramashramam Trust Award2007 – Ezhuthachan Award2007 – Jnanpith Award for his overall contributions to Malayalam literature (Announced on 24 September 2010)2006 – Vallathol Award2003 – Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam Sahitya Award2002 – P. Kunhiraman Nair Award for Ee Purathana Kinnaram1993 – Aasan Prize1990 – Odakkuzhal Award for Mrigaya1982 – Vayalar Award for Uppu *1979-Pandalam Keralavarma Janmasathabdi Smaraka Award(Poetry)1981 – Soviet Land Nehru Award for Uppu<1975 - Kendra Sahitya Academy Award (Malayalam) for Aksharam1971 - Kerala Sahitya Academy Award (Poetry) for Agni SalabhangalNational Film Awards1989 - Best Lyricist – VaishaliKerala State Film Awards
ONV won the Kerala State Film Award for the Best Lyricist fourteen times:2016 – Best Lyricist (Film – Kambhoji)2008 – Best Lyricist (Film – Gulmohar)1990 – Best Lyricist (Film – Radha Madhavam)1989 – Best Lyricist (Film – Oru Sayahnathinte Swapnathil, Purappadu)1988 – Best Lyricist (Film – Vaishali)1987 – Best Lyricist (Film – Manivathoorile Ayiram Sivarathrikal)1986 – Best Lyricist (Film – Nakhashathangal)1984 – Best Lyricist (Film – Aksharangal, Ethiripoove Chuvannapoove)1983 – Best Lyricist (Film – Adaminte Variyellu)1980 – Best Lyricist (Film – Yagam, Ammayum Makkalum)1979 – Best Lyricist (Film – Ulkkadal)1977 – Best Lyricist (Film – Madanolsavam)1976 – Best Lyricist (Film – Survey Kallu)1973 – Best Lyricist (Film – Swapnam)Filmfare Awards2009 – Best Lyricist Award – Pazhassi Raja2011 – Best Lyricist Award – Paattil Ee Pattil – (Pranayam)Asianet Film Awards2001 – Best Lyricist Award -Meghamalhar2002 – Best Lyricist Award -Ente Hridayatinte Udama
ONV has served and headed various office of state and central government organisations. Notably:
- Executive Member, Executive Board of the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi from 1982–86.
- Chairman, Kerala Kalamandalam – the State Akademi of Classical performing Arts(1996).
- Fellow of the Kerala Sahitya Academy in 1999.
He also has been the part of various delegation at international events. Some of the notable among them being:
- Visited USSR as member of an Indian Writers Delegation to participate in the 150th birth anniversary of Leo Tolstoy.
- Represented India in the Struga Poetry Evenings, Yugoslavia (1987)
- Attended CISAC Asian Conference in Singapore(1990).
- Visited USA to participate in FOKANA Conference(1993).
- Visited USA to inaugurate literary seminar in Kerala Centre, New York (1995).
- Presented poems on Beethoven and Mozart in the Department of German, University of Bonn.
- Indian delegate to the CISAC World Conference held in Berlin (1998).
ONV Kurup died on 13 February 2016, due to age-related ailments at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. He was 84. He was cremated with full state honours at Thycaud Santhikavadam crematorium, which was named by him. At the time of his cremation, 84 singers representing the 84 years of his life, led by K. J. Yesudas, paid homage to him by singing his poems and songs. He is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.