Komarakam: The Land of the Oracle
// July 29th, 2012 // Culture and Ecology
Komaram or Velichapad is an oracle in Kerala. Komarams have their ritual origin in the ancient Dravidian and Sangham ages of South India. There are plenty of place names associated with these ancient oracles all around the ancient Tamil country or the ancient Tamilakam. Kanya Komari the cape of the peninsula, Komaranallur in Kottayam and Palakkad districts and Komarakam on the eastern banks of the Vembanad lake are a few remaining place names associated with the ancient oracles.
Another etymological possibility is associated with Komaran or Kumaran the ancient Dravidian deity of Murukan who was elevated to a Boddhisatva in the Chamana period. Along with Ayyappan and Kannan, Murukan or Andavan was also considered as an Avalokiteswara Boddhistva. Later all these Avalokiteswaras got absorbed into Brahmanical Hinduism after the wreck of Buddhism. The places mentioned could also be associated with Komaran or Kumaran as well.
Though the pronunciations are slightly changed in the Sanskritization process in writing in particular, in speech people still use the ancient original form that is meaningful and culturally significant. It is a typical instance of people’s culture resisting the Sanskritized high culture and its Savarna worldview. By refusing to speak the edicts of chastised varieties of language they subvert elitism in their daily life.
The Bahujans still say Komarakam in their daily reference to the place and not Kumarakam or Kumarakom in the Sanskritized Savarna fashion. It is notable that places like Chengalam, Kutayampadi, Kutamalur, Komaranallur etc. surround Komarakam. Chengalam has close affiliations with Changam and Chamana culture as in Chingavanam or Changanassery.
Places having strong Buddhist cultural pasts like Kilirur and Neelamperur are also found in the periphery of the Vembanad wetland ecosystem. Kuttanad that lies at sea level was the last abode of Buddhism in Kerala. People call it the land of Kuttan or Buddhan himself. The 8th century granite Buddha of Karumady called Karumady Kuttan testifies the regional form of address. Place names in Thrissur like Kuttanellur and Kuttankulangara are also associated with the localized version of the Buddha.
Kutayampadi and Kutamalur are associated with the spherical globe like Chaityas of Buddhism that gave importance to the ritual umbrellas and spherical urns and pagodas as metaphorical symbols of the enlightened one. A place name in Kottayam like Muttambalam can provide an analogy here (a worshiping place like an eggshell, literally). There are plenty of wrecks and vandalized Buddhist sacred groves and Sangharamas in Kutamalur. They are surviving as Sarpa Kavus and sacred groves on the banks of the northern branch of river Meenachil .
Kumaranallur could be a post 9th century Brahmanical modification of Komaranallur. It is also remarkable that the pre Brahmanical rituals and cultural expressions like Pallyodams (sacred snake-boats related to the Pally) and Garudan Parawa (a ritual performance that celebrates a bird) are still surviving, though in Hinduized fashion. Garudan Parawa closely resembling the Annam Kettu in the Padayani rituals of Neelamperur in the south, is a reminiscence of the Buddhist performance celebrating the Annam or Swans and Storks that were sacred in Buddhism. The compassionate won is said to have saved the life of a swan in his childhood. Swans and storks are still worshiped in Japan, Korea and the far east.
Komarakam with its rich cultural and natural history and biodiversity must be protected from the heavy influx and concentration of tourists and commercial interests; and must be made part of a greater eco-cultural circuit involving the historic places around it. The conservationist and ethical traditions of Buddhism could provide a prudent perspective for developing these cultural locations all around the lake Vembanad. Komarakam, Chengalam, Kutamaloor, Kilirur and Neelamperur could become the Nalanda and Takshasila of Kerala and could be developed in the manner of those ancient Buddhist cultural centres in the north now being revived under a pan-Asian initiative led by Prof Amartya Sen.