Archive for May, 2013

Buddha Purnima at Ajanta: Foundations of Indian Art in Aurangabad, Ellora, Elephanta and Ajanta Buddhist Caves

// May 28th, 2013 // 3 Comments » // Culture and Ecology

A young Buddha in Ajanta.  25 May 2013 Buddha Purnima

A young Buddha in Ajanta. 25 May 2013, Buddha Purnima Day

It was an enlightening experience to be at Ajanta on Buddha Purnima on 25 May 2013.  Anirudh and me were fortunate to visit the fundamental sites of Indian and south east Asian art in Maharashtra this summer, though we were planning for years.  The evolution of Indian sculpture, architecture and painting in the Buddhist rock cut Chaitya and Vihara vestiges and the gradual appropriation of these arts into Hindu Brahmanical mainstream can be seen in these early sites of culture in Asia as some of the caves date back to third century BC.

Ajanta caves from eastern entrance on the morning of Buddha Purnima, 25 May 2013.  Anirudh stepping on to the gateway.  River Waghora has dried up beneath in the late summer.

Ajanta caves from eastern entrance on the morning of Buddha Purnima, 25 May 2013. Anirudh stepping on to the gateway. River Waghora has dried up beneath in the late summer.

Maharashtra and the Deccan was with the Mauryas  at the beginning of the common era and the political patronage helped the spread of Buddhism, its egalitarian and ethical philosophy of peace, non violence and conservation oriented eco-aesthetics.

A Buddha bust in Ellora or Elapura.  Such busts were changed to the Mahes bust in Elephanta near

A Buddha bust in Ellora or Elapura. Such busts were changed to the Mahes bust in Elephanta near Mumbai

Cultural expressions that co-exist with nature and preserve the environment with minimum intervention was the basic tenet of Buddhist cave architecture and visual art.  These monasteries and chapels never altered the geology, topography or hydrology of the region but simply existed in a non violent way amidst the wilderness in tranquility and at ease.

A young neo buddhist monk meditating in an Aurangabad Chaitya Vihara, 24 May 2013.

A young neo buddhist monk meditating in an Aurangabad Chaitya Vihara, 24 May 2013.

The development of Mahayana school liberalized and  popularized the original Teravada austerity and it resulted in gods and goddesses called Boddhisatvas and Devis along with the paraphernalia of Yakashas and Yakshis.

In the dining Vihara of Aurngabad caves.

In the dining Vihara of Aurngabad caves.

This enormous liberalization caused a shift from Buddhism to Brahmanism and with the help of the Tantric School of Vajrayana the Hindu Brahmanical hegemony gradually absorbed Buddhism into its meta referential structure.  The Tathagata himself was assimilated as an avatar of Vishnu and a dynamic Boddhisatva was termed Siva.

With young monks at Aurangabad caves (Kharki is the original name before it was renamed in early 17th century). 24 May 2013.

With young monks at Aurangabad caves (Kharki is the original name , it was renamed in early 17th century). 24 May 2013.

Sleeping Buddha at Ajanta.  Maha Parinibana, 25 May 2013.

Maha Parinibana known in the west as Sleeping Buddha at Ajanta, 25 may 2013, Buddha Purnima.

This gradual takeover and absorption of Buddhism into Hindu Brahmanism is visible and tangible in Ajanta, Aurangabad, Ellora and Elephanta.  Violence and  forced trasformation of Boddhisatva images into Siva and Vishnu or Taradevi into Parvati is clear and concrete here.  Chiseling and modifying the Stupa of Teravada into huge Linga or phallus is also evident.

Before the Stupa in a Chaitya hall or cathedral at Ajanta.  Mark the apse, pillars and other cathedral architecture that was later recovered by European churches.

Before the Stupa in a Chaitya hall or cathedral at Ajanta. Mark the apse, pillars and other cathedral architecture that was later recovered by European churches.

The Linga cult itself was deployed to strategically absorb the Stupa icon ans symbolism in Teravada Buddhism.  While the Stupa is like an egg and womanish the phallus aggressively musculinist and patriarchal.  Brahmanic patriarchy found its ideal icon in this erect and imposing Linga, a cunning reworking of the Stupa.

A squirrel at Ajanta, 25 May 2013 Buddha Purnima

A squirrel at Ajanta, 25 May 2013 Buddha Purnima

At  Ajanta, 25 May 2013

At Ajanta, 25 May 2013

This covetous modifications happened around 8th and 9th century AD during the heyday of Hindu Bhakti surge called Saivism and Vaishnavism.  Many Buddhist and Jain caves were converted to Hindu ones during the intoxicating spell of Bhakti.  The fall of the Mauryans and the newly converted local kings to Brahmanism also contributed in this regression into  primitive phallus cult.

The reminiscent painting in Ajanta.  Most caves were painted and only traces remain after almost two thousand years of their creation, most by skilled monks and Viswakarma artisans.

Apsaras: The reminiscent painting in Ajanta. Most caves were painted and only traces remain after almost two thousand years of their creation, most by skilled monks and Viswakarma artisans.

But fortunately almost all the caves in Ajanta and half the caves in Ellora are still Buddhist, thanks to the great Ambedkarite movement and the neo buddhists.  The Aurangabad caves are also exclusively Buddhist and there is a thriving monastery beneath it were neo buddhists or dalitbahujans play a pivotal role in the present sustenance of the teaching of the compassionate one among the people at the bottom.

Reclining Buddha in Maha Parinibana at Ajanta, 25 May 2013.

Reclining Buddha in Maha Parinibana at Ajanta, 25 May 2013.

Anirudh before Sidharth College Mumbai established by Dr Ambedkar; 26 May 2013.

Anirudh before Sidharth College Mumbai established by Dr Ambedkar; Early morning 6.10am, 26 May 2013.

We also visited Ambedkar University at Aurangabad, Milind College of Law established by Babasaheb in 1951 in Aurangabad, Ambedkar Research Centre, Regional History Museums and libraries inside the campus.  The Mogul legacy that started in 14th century also resulted in monuments like Bibi ka Maqbara, famous as little Taj and Panchaki an old water mill. We reached Aurngabad on May 23, visited Ellora on 24 and went to Ajanta on 25 May.

A Teravada Buddha in Aurangabad caves belonging to BC second century.  Note the Malsya Mudra or fish mark on the base.  Gradually by the 5th century A D this simple and austere formal style gave way to the more elaborate and sophisticated Mahayana style and it was easy for the Hindu Brahmanical forces to absorb such nuanced digression.

A Teravada Buddha in Aurangabad caves belonging to BC second century. Note the Malsya Mudra or fish mark on the base. Gradually by the 5th century A D this simple and austere formal style gave way to the more elaborate and sophisticated Mahayana style and it was easy for the Hindu Brahmanical forces to absorb such nuanced digression.

On 26 May we visited Mumbai and Elephanta island and caves.  A Buddhist Stupa in ruins still exists there.  All the other six caves are now being converted into Saivite ones. This happened in the 8th century. The bloody violence is still visible in the mutilations and erasures done on the sculptural representations.

Buddha Purnima at Aurngabad.  See the entrance to the Railway Station in Chaitya gateway style of Ajanta and full moon climbing at left top; Anirudh also in the frame. 25 May 2013.

Buddha Purnima at Aurangabad. See the entrance to the Railway Station in Chaitya gateway style of Ajanta and full moon climbing in left top; Anirudh also in the frame. 25 May 2013.

We returned on the Kanyakumari Express and reached Kottayam on the morning of 28 May 2013.  The summer was hard with low humidity on the Deccan plateau and high humidity on the Mumbai coast but as working people we get time and space only during the vacation to go and see the real heritage and civilization of the people in India that has become the shared legacy of the world.

The fabric look alike Shamiana painted onto the cut ceiling  at Ajanta.

The fabric look alike Shamiana painted onto the cut ceiling at Ajanta.

The light of Asia, the only light you see amidst the darkness of the phallic violence and the barbarism of caste and Varna, emanates from Ajanta and it blooms in the month of Baisak and particularly on the Buddha Purnima.

Buddha with the begging bowl in his own home town; A trace from an elaborate work at Ajanta.  Flash not allowed. 25 May 2013.

Buddha with the begging bowl in his own home town; A trace from an elaborate work at Ajanta. Flash not allowed. 25 May 2013.

Last Buddha Purnima (2012) was at Tirunavaya in Malabar where the Chaitya Vihara was turned into a Hindu Brahmanical temple after declaring the Buddhists defeated in rhetoric and plucking their tongues out by the henchmen of Brahmanism who were intoxicated by the Bhakti of Vishnu in the 8th century AD according to radical historiographers and counter hegemonic writers from the people in Kerala.

The beauty of the Buddha form that also formed the foundation of ethical aesthetics and sculpture ever after.  The oldest and most enduring ethical and artistic expression that humanity has ever produced.

The beauty of the Buddha form that also formed the foundation of ethical aesthetics and sculpture ever after. The oldest and most enduring ethical and artistic expression that humanity has ever produced radiate from Ajanta and Elapura and Kerala is direct heir of this ethical tradition.

Let the people recognize and reclaim their cultural sites and heritage  through peaceful democratic and cultural politics that was obliterated, mutilated and erased by the Varna centered patriarchal ideology of Brahmanism through the heinous orchestration of phallic violence and lingering symbolic violence in the present.

Aurangabad city from the Buddhist caves.  Bibi ka Maqbara is also seen in distance.

Aurangabad city from the Buddhist caves. Bibi ka Maqbara is also seen in distance.

Let there be light and peace, let the peaceful light of the full moon of Baisak prevail over the peninsula as it prevailed over a millennium from BC third century to 13th century in India.  Our journey to the Deccan was an attempt to relink this ancient cultural connection between Elapura (Ellora now) and Kara Elam or Kerala.

Deconstructing Historiography: M S Jayaprakas and Counter Hegemonic Narratives in Kerala

// May 11th, 2013 // 3 Comments » // Culture and Ecology

Dr M S Jayaprakas 1950-2013. Professor of History and Human Rights Activist who passed away on 10 May 2013 at Alapuzha while addressing a gathering at Carmel Hall.

Dr M S Jayaprakas 1950-2013. Professor of History and Human Rights Activist who passed away on 10 May 2013 at Alapuzha while addressing a gathering at Carmel Hall. Photo from Internet

Prof (Dr) M S Jayaprakas (1950-2013) was an academic and activist who contributed in a liberating way to people’s culture and history in Kerala.  As a teacher and a radical professor of history he enlightened generations of young students on the real but suppressed and erased history of Kerala.  As an author and orator he also illuminated millions of young readers, researchers and listeners on the Buddhist and egalitarian ethical traditions and cultural legacies of Kerala. I remember using his articles in my doctoral dissertation on caste and gender in fictional narratives in post colonial India titled Representing the Margin.

Vatadage or Vattam at Polonaruva, Sri Lanka.  Photo from internet

Vatadage or Vattam at Polonaruva, Sri Lanka. Photo from internet

After many decades of dedicated and democratic teaching and dissemination of empowering counter hegemonic knowledge  he had retired as the Professor and Head of History at D B College Sastamkotta in Kollam district of Kerala.  He has published five books on Kerala history, politics, culture and society.  He has also published 12 erudite research papers on the historic struggles of the people in Kerala against the elite caste Hindu hegemonic culture that is exploiting them in the field of religion, politics and social life.  His critique of caste and cultural elitism is all the more relevant in Kerala in the context of growing Savarna hijacking strategies that monopolize and police the academia and media in a covert and consensual way in tandem with the right wing regime and its appeasing policies towards the monopoly social groups.

Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram Temple, Pattanam.  In Anuradhapuram style and belongs to Teravada stage of early 6-8 th century AD.

Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram Temple, Pattanam. In Anuradhapuram style and belongs to Teravada stage of early 6-8 th century AD.

We can imagine the kind of pressure and antagonism that he has faced while dealing with grave issues of social inequality and caste chauvinism in public service and public funded institution.  Even today those  organic intellectuals from the Avarna or former untouchable social background, who write and speak against the lingering Savarna hegemony and the so called ‘leading fallacy’ of caste Hindus in public life and institutions, face serious threats and pressure from the monopoly groups who dominate the institutional structures through clicks and conspiracies.  The Savarna consensus and hidden agendas are engulfing the academia and media in Kerala at present.  The voicing and recovery of the minor histories and heterologies of the subaltern by Dr M S J gain significance in this alarming anti democratic context of growing social inequality.

Mavelikara Buddha at Buddha Junction Mavelikara, again in Anuradhapura style 7-8th century.

Mavelikara Buddha at Buddha Junction Mavelikara, again in Anuradhapura style 7th or 8th century.

Prof Jayaprakas has provided us some vital critical perspectives and analytical models for the study of culture and history in Kerala especially  in the historic contexts of the Vedic hegemony and Brahmanic internal imperialism.  He has been a consistent critic of caste and its various neo avatars in various walks of life.  He has shown the courage to challenge and resist Savarna or caste Hindu appropriation of public culture and popular institutions in India.  He has also enlightened the people in Kerala on their true Buddhist and Jain heritage and past that was erased by Brahmanical Savarna feudal rule that got established itself through bloody repression and pogroms or religious persecution.  Caste and untouchability itself were inhuman means of this persecution that degraded both the subaltern and the sovereign from the middle ages onwards.

Buddha at Bharanikavu Pallykal near Katanam in Kayamkulam.

Buddha at Bharanikavu Pallykal near Katanam in Kayamkulam.

A few months ago Prof Jayaprakas telephoned me after seeing my web posts on the discovery of the Buddha fragment at Pattanam.  He was also keen in following the new media regarding various modes of resistance against the onslaughts of hegemonic elite culture and neo nationalist propaganda.  Even while he was recovering from a stroke he told me that he would come and visit Pattanam with me in a few weeks in last November.  Unfortunately we lost him at this early age of 63.

Siddha of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism at Kayikara Asan Memorial.

Siddha of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism at Kayikara Asan Memorial.

But it is also a matter of pride that he died on the dais.  He breathed his last while voicing the real and muted history of Kerala.  He was talking about the sidelined history of Tachil Matu Tarakan who was instrumental in the creation of Alapuzha as a major port.  According to media reports he talked about 10 minutes and then collapsed (Matrubhumi daily, 11 May 2013).  He was speaking in the Carmel Hall at Alapuzha around 4pm.  He has also educated the common people through his numerous Malayalam articles in various popular periodicals. It is the task of public academies like the Sahitya Akademi to collect and publish his popular writings at least posthumously.

MSJ, Pen and Ink on Paper by Ajay Sekher.  20*30cm. 11 May 2013 on reading the news of his demise.

MSJ, Pen and Ink on Paper by Ajay Sekher. 20*30cm. 11 May 2013 on reading the news of his demise.

His works include; Sri Narayana Guruvum Samrakshita Viplavavum,

Ezhava Sivan Indian Viplavatinte Vithu,

Matetara Bharatavum Gurudeva Darsanangalum,

A Study on the History of Ezhava in Kerala and

The History of Nivartana Agitation.

A pre-historic menhir locally called Pulachi Kallu near Thrissur.  Took it in 2011 while teaching at Govt College Thrissur.

A pre-historic menhir locally called Pulachi Kallu near Thrissur. Took it in 2011 while teaching at Govt College Thrissur.

It is very important to continue the contemporary critique of caste and Brahmanism that Prof M S Jayaprakas has ethically actualized as a continuation of the Kerala renaissance legacy of anti caste activism as initiated in late 19th century by Narayana Guru himself.  He was also active in human rights organizations.  Though generations of writers and public intellectuals like Sahodaran or Mitavadi continued this caste critique in the first half of 20th century it was abandoned by late 20th century writers from the Avarna social strata.  Lack of publishing opportunities and censoring editorial policies monopolized by the Savarna interests blocked the caste critique of the Avarna in late 20th century that continue even today.  All sorts of obscurantism and elitist patriotic discourses are resurfacing in the guise of neo Nationalism, Neo Gandhism and language oriented cultural elitism; and classical claims of linguistic and cultural groups.  Parochialism and superiority or high cultural claims over language and region are also on the rise all across India and especially in Kerala.

The shrinking Sastamkotta Lake in Kollam, the only fresh water lake in Kerala, highly significant in cultural and natural history of the state.

The shrinking Sastamkotta Lake in Kollam, the only fresh water lake in Kerala, highly significant in cultural and natural history of the region especially in relation to the ethical and democratic culture of Buddhism in Kerala.  Photo from Internet

The ardent cultural politics of the Avarna and the urgent countering of the omnipotent high tech discourses of Neo Hindutva and Moditva are going to be a cultural and political emergency in the present and near future.  Dr M S J has provided us with a basic insight and framework for this counter hegemonic and counter fascist  democratic activism and ethical academics.  There is an urgent need to translate and republish his works and to make it available to the people while the Parivar is aiming to siege Delhi.