Pally Vana Perumal and Pally Temples in Kerala

// March 11th, 2013 // Culture and Ecology

Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam.  The first installation by Pallybanar in early 16th century.

Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam. The first installation by Pallybanar in early 16th century.

Pallybana Perumal or Pallyvanar was a Chera prince of Kerala.  He lived in late 15th and early 16th century according to researchers.  He was the last defender of Buddhism in Kerala.  When Brahmanism converted most of the Chera kings and royalty and took over the Chaityas and Pagodas, he abdicated his throne to save his ancient Dhamma and retreated to the wetlands around the great Vempanad lake and adjacent Kuttanad.  Kuttanad is also known as the land of Kuttan a local form of the Buddha.

Lion motif of the goddess in Perinjanam Pally temple. On the lamp post towards the north.

Lion motif of the goddess in Perinjanam Pally temple. On the lamp post towards the north.

His name shows his link with the Pally or ancient Buddha Vihara.  He literally ruled over the Pally and became known as the Pally Vana.  He established many Pallys or Chaitya Viharas all around the lake Vembanad.  Perinjanam, Kilirur and Neelamperur are still surviving with his memories.  Perinjanam Pally north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam (Trikana Mathilakam/ Tiru Kunavayil Kottam/Kunava was an ancient Jain and Buddhist cultural centure) is still surviving in a Hinduized way.  It is still called Pallyil Bhagavaty Temple or the Temple of the Goddess in a Pally or Vihara.  It is also memorable that Vanchi the ancient Buddhist university where Manimekhalai received higher education was near Mathilakam and Perinjanam.

Pallyil temple Perinjanam.  On the right the shrine of Vishnu/Krishna facing east.  On the left the main shrine of the goddess facing north.  In Neelamperur too the goddess is facing the north.

Pallyil temple Perinjanam. On the right of the Ana Kottil is the shrine of Vishnu/Krishna facing east. On the left the main shrine of the goddess facing north. In Neelamperur too the goddess is facing the north.

The installations in Perinjanam, Kilirur and Neelamperur are exactly the same.  The mother of the enlightened one Mahamaya or Taradevi is placed in the central shrines.  The Buddha situated in subshrines are now worshiped as Vishnu or Krishna.  Pally is in the name of the temples at Neelamperur and Perinjanam.  While the Neelamperur temple is still called Pally Bhagavati temple, the Perinjanam temple is called Pallyil Bhagavati temple.  The Kilirur temple is popularly known as Kunnummel Bhagavati temple or the temple of the goddess on the hilltop in Kuttanad.  While Kilirur and Neelamperur are towards the south east of the Vembanad lake, Perinjanam temple is towards the north west of the lake and its linked backwaters.

Palyil temple, Perinjanam: A View from the east.

Pallyil temple, Perinjanam: A View from the south gate.

The Pallybanar lived his last years in Neelamperur and his idol was recovered from the temple.  The idol clearly showed the Swastika talisman representing the four noble truths and the eight lotus signs below it, representing the eightfold paths envisioned by the enlightened one.  It is remarkable that the same cross like Swastika engraving and footmarks were recovered from Malayatur hilltop.  The Buddhists traditionally worshiped the footmarks of their gurus as in Sripada of Ceylon.  The Malayatur footprints and Swastika point towards the Buddhist antiquity of Kerala Christians.

The shrine of Krishna at Kilirur temple, Kottayam.  The northern door of this shrine is marked for Buddha.  A Boddhisatva idol in Ardha Padmasana is worshiped today as Krishna.  It was also consecrated by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.

The shrine of Krishna at Kilirur temple, Kottayam. The northern door of this shrine is marked for Buddha. A Boddhisatva idol in Ardha Padmasana is worshiped today as Krishna. It was also consecrated by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.

It is also important that Perinjanam Pallyil temple is ritually related to present Guruvayur temple which was renowned as Koravaiyur in ancient Sangham age.  The annual festival in Guruvayur begins just after the annual festivities in Perinjanam temple.  The ritual of the elephant demolishing the flag post could also be related to the Brahmanical take over and conversion.  There are also connections in relation to the sending of elephants to Guruvayur from Perinjanam.

The Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram temple, Pattanam.  Recovered from the temple pond and placed on the Yakshi platform and worshiped as Naga Yakshi along with other fragments from different idols.

The Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram temple, Pattanam. Recovered from the temple pond and placed on the Yakshi platform and worshiped as Naga Yakshi along with other fragments from different idols.

The Perinjanam Pallyil temple is therefore one of  the most significant centres of Kerala’s cultural history and is still surviving with the Pally affix pointing towards the strong and lingering memory and semiotic markers of Buddhism in popular unconscious, temple worship, local rituals, customs and place names.  All these three temples directly related to Pallybana Perumal and Buddhism in Kerala that have survived many onslaughts and invasions must be preserved and their real history of Buddhism must be made available to the people who were excluded and casted away from their own monuments under the inhuman regime of caste, untouchability  and Brahmanism from the early middle ages onwards.

Reference

Sadasivan, S N.  A Social History of India.  New Delhi: APH, 2000.

Panikassery, Velayudhan.  Kerala Charitratinte Ullarakalileku.  Thrissur, Current, 2012.

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