The Sacred Grove in Tozhuvanur: Metamorphosis of Siddha into Durga
// March 26th, 2013 // Culture and Ecology
Tozhuvanur means the land of the Tozhuvan or the one who is in the Pranama posture. There are place names in south Kerala after the mysterious Tozhuvan as Tozhuvankod and Tozhuvankonam. In the Malapuram district in Malabar there is a place called Tozhuvaanur a few miles north of Valanchery.
This ancient sacred grove is situated near Kavumpuram on NH 47 between Valanchery and Kanjipura. Kavumpuram literally means the periphery of the sacred shrine as Kutipuram is the periphery of the Kuti or Kottam or Vattam (a Jain or Buddhist shrine).
Kavu is a sacred grove in Kerala named after the Kanya Kavu or the Buddhist nun as Buddhist nuns planted and nurtured the culture of Sangharamas or sacred gardens and groves in Kerala through their literacy, healthcare and conservationist missionary work as the ecological and ethical base of their mission or the Sangha. It was Sangha Mitra the daughter of Asoka and a leading nun who carried the layered cutting of the Boddhi tree from Gaya to Sri Lanka and planted and nurtured it in Anuradhapura.
It is clear from the place name Kavumpuram that the place housed a big Kavu or sacred shrine grove from the ancient times onwards. Now a Durga temple or Bhagavati temple is situated amidst this ancient grove with numerous old world plants. This is also counted among the most sacred group of 108 Durga shrines in Kerala.
In the stone lamp post or Kalvilaku before the shrine that faces south, there is a bass relief of the Tozhuvan or a human figure in Pranama at its base. This is very similar to the Tozhuvan or Siddha idol of Kayikara south of Varkala that is associated with the Vajrayana school of Buddhism in Kerala. It is clear that this place got the name from this Siddha figure in Pranama and this ancient shrine grove was a Tantric Buddhist shrine at some moment in the past, most probably up to the early middle ages.
It is also interesting to note that Tozhuvankod temple near Trivandrum belongs to an Avarna Kalari household. They were the Kalari Gurukals (martial arts masters) of the infamous Ettuveetars (Ettuveetil Pillais) who were ruthlessly annihilated by Marthanda Varma in the 18th century in Travancore. Tozhuvankod literally means the cornering land strip of the Tozhuvan. It is the family temple of an Ezhava Kalari household. It is also vital to note that there was no caste or religious restriction in the access to the temple from ancient times onwards. The lack of caste untouchability and inclusion of all and the practice of health care and self defense prove the Buddhist connection and antiquity. I am thankful to my friends Srilal and Stanley to point out this after reading my early draft.
There is a banyan on the north eastern corner of the grove above the current temple and a Pipal towards the south beneath. The idol is said to be self incarnate or Swayam Bhu. As in Kadampuzha or Chamravattam there is a pit in its place. It is evident that the original installation or the early Buddhist idol was removed and a subsidiary escorting goddess was substituted later in the middle ages . There is also a legend about Vilwamangalam Swamiyar checking the power and grace of this grove. So it is clear that the shrine was originally Sramana and was later appropriated by Brahmanic Hinduism by removing the main idol and raising the sub deity into prominence.
In Kadampuzha it was Sankara who did the re-installation according to legend. In Chamravattam it is said to be a Sambara Maharshi and in Tozhuvanur it could be Vilwamangalam. This kind of metamorphosis or disguise or forced formal transformations have occurred in plenty of ancient sacred places in Kerala including the Andalur Kavu in Talassery, Kallil temple near Perumbavur and Paruvassery Pallyara near Vadakanchery. The sacred grove at Tozhuvanur still has rare and medicinal plants and shrubs and needs protection from the local people and the temple goers. This ancient treasure house of natural and cultural history can tell us a lot about our society and its ancient foundations.