Pallykanam and Pullykanam: Western Ghats and an Eco-cultural Crisis

// June 23rd, 2013 // Culture and Ecology

Pallykanam grasslands in Vagaman.  May 2013.  Anirudh walking through the grassland.  Also called Punjar Motta resonating the egg like top and the Stupa that once adorned the top.

Pallykanam grasslands in Vagaman. May 2013. Anirudh walking through the grassland top. Also called Punjar Motta resonating the egg like top and the Stupa that once adorned the top. The toponyms clearly suggest a Buddhist past.

Pallykanam means the Kanam of the Pally.  Pally is a Buddha Vihara and Kanam is a wooded hilltop.  Pallykanam is in the Vagaman mountains; high up on the Western Ghats near the border of the current Iduki and Kottayam districts in Kerala.  Now the place name is changed into Pullykanam to erase the Buddhist past by covetous Savarna Hindu forces who captured it in the middle ages or in the early modern era by exterminating the fugitive Amana monks who had fled to the mountain peaks escaping persecution in the planes.

The current Boddhi tree at Pallykanam top.  A Cholayal a kin of the fig in grassland sholas related to the rhododendrons.  A Pipal was here till a years ago according to local people.  The Tamils traditionally bowed before the fig.

The current Boddhi tree at Pallykanam top. A Cholayal a kin of the fig in grassland sholas related to the rhododendrons. A Pipal was here till a few years ago according to local people. The Tamils traditionally bowed before the fig. The same Cholayal is seen at Mangaladevi peak near the ancient shrine of Kannaki. Mark the blue decorations related to Tamil neo buddhist semiology.

There is a dominant tendency to change all the places with Pally affix into either Pilly or Pully that is gaining momentum in Kerala with increased discourses of Hinduization that desire to erase all linguistic and eco-cultural evidences of Buddhism from the soil.  Talapally is now called Talapilly, Varandarapally as Varandarapilly, Palapally is now twisted as Palapilly.  Similarly Kolapally near Shornur is changed into Kolapully.  Pallykanam is thus established now as Pullykanam in the same hegemonic shift of a single vowel.

A brooding presence of hegemonic surveilance and death: A Black Eagle combing the canopies for its prey down the Pallykanam peak below the DC School.

A brooding presence of hegemonic surveillance and death: A Black Eagle combing the canopies for its prey down the Pallykanam peak below the DC School.

The absurdity is that there are no such words as Pilly or Pully in any lexicon of Malayalam. The Savarna scholars may introduce it in near future after citing the increased use of the Pilly or Pully or Vally affix.  For erasing the past and to mutilate the collective memory of the people the Brahmanical Savarna forces  in public institutions and private media are introducing new meaningless words into local parlance in a hegemonic and centralized way with a totalitarian agenda.  A new branch of radical social linguistics is required for the study of such abuses of language for the purposes of local power and the sustenance of hegemony.

At the feet of the fig at Pallykanam.  The current Cholayal or Shola fig a close cousin of Shola growing rhododendron has covered the ancient granite idol into its organic embrace.  Photo: Anirudh Raman, early May 2013.

At the feet of the fig at Pallykanam. The current Cholayal or Shola fig a close cousin of Shola growing rhododendron has covered the ancient granite idol into its organic embrace. Photo: Anirudh Raman, early May 2013.

Pallykanam was with the Punjar kings (a Pandya clan in exile) for  the last few centuries.  It was their temporary abode as they crossed the western ghats to reach Punjar from Madurai.   So the grassland sholas at the western frontier of the Kanam is also called Punjar Motta (egg like grassland top).  The word Motta is a metaphoric expression for the  Stupa.  Mottambalam in Kottayam houses the Gautamapuram temple that housed a Stupa and Chaitya Vihara during the early middle ages.  Moreover, the place name of Kottayam is also derived from Kottam and its Ayam meaning the pond of the Kottam or Vattam (the circular Stupa like Sanctum in a Chaitya Vihara).

Part of the ancient granite idol covered by the fig roots at Pallykanam top.  Now it is termed as Siva and his phallus the Linga and Iduki Kshetra Samiti is going to build two huge concrete temples for Siva and Krishna on this eco-culturally sensitive zone.

Part of the ancient granite idol covered by the fig roots at Pallykanam top. Now it is termed as Siva and his colossal phallus the Linga and Iduki Kshetra Samiti is going to build two huge concrete temples and crisscrossing roads for Siva and Krishna on this eco-culturally sensitive zone.

I visited Pallykanam with Anirudh Raman in early May 2013. The tea plantation workers told us that there was a Pipal or fig tree on the eastern slope of the Pallykanam top and there was an obscure granite idol below.  The Tamil people who work in the estates traditionally worshiped this outcasted deity and they do it even today.  A Christian plantation worker Mrs Leelama Joseph stated that the Tamil people still go and bow before the deity and the fig tree.  The worshiping of the Boddhi tree and the ancient granite idol that is now covered under the roots of the current tree prove the Buddhist ancestry of the place and its name.

A rare butterfly at Pallykanam grassland peak. Early May 2013.

A rare butterfly at Pallykanam grassland peak. Early May 2013.

A few years ago the huge Pipal fell in storm and it was replaced by a typical shola tree akin to the fig that can survive on that altitude and rough weather at around 1000m above sea level.  Moreover the presence of Kutikanam (the well-wooded hilltop with a Kuti or Kottam or Vattam) in the south, Kavukulam in the east and Panjaseela Medu (now distorted as Panjali Medu) again in the south near Kutikanam; prove  the Buddhist legacy.

A Lark singing on the Punjar Motta or Pallykanam peak, early May 2013.

A Lark singing on the Punjar Motta or Pallykanam peak, early May 2013.

It is intelligible to identify these mountain shrines as part of the early eight sacred Viharas on the Western Ghats described in the ancient Tamil text Tiruvilayatal. It is also interesting to note that the highest peak in Vagaman mountains is still called Murugan Mudi.  Murugan like Ayyappan and Kannan, was a Boddhisatva in south Indian or Tamilaka Mahayana Buddhism.  These Mahayana Boddhisatvas were absorbed as gods and god-sons in the violent Saivite and Vaishnavite Hindu Bhakti cults in the early middle ages.

The grassland sholas of Pallykanam from where the major rivers of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta originate including the rivers Meenachil and Manimala.  This wooded grasland top once housed the Pally or Chaitya Vihara and hence the name Pallykanam wihich turned into Pullykanam by the enemies of the people and their true history.

The grassland sholas of Pallykanam from where the major rivers of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta originate including the rivers Meenachil and Manimala. This wooded grasland top once housed the Pally or Chaitya Vihara and hence the name Pallykanam which is  turned into Pullykanam by the enemies of the people and their true history. The whole of high rnage can be seen from here at around 1000m above sea level.  A view to the east.  The current fig covering the stone is also seen on the eastern slope of this wooded grassland.

It must be remembered that western ghats or Malakutam was the abode of the Buddhist and Jain monks till the 10th centuryAD.  In the Tamil text Tiruvilayatal (The Sacred Vihara or Mission) it is descried in the chapter or Patala called “Anayeyta” that there were eight prominent mountain monasteries and eight thousand monks altogether in them in the early 8th century.  This is also cross-confirmed by the accounts of the Chinese Buddhist travelers who visited south India in search of their zen master Boddhi Dharma”s nativity in ancient Tamilakam.

Local plantation workers at Pallykanam in Vagaman who told us that the Tamil people still go to the fig and bow before it and they are still guarding the site.

Local plantation workers at Pallykanam in Vagaman who told us that the Tamil people still go to the fig and bow before it and they are still guarding the site.

The eight Buddhist mountain Viharas (lamasery) on the Western Ghats were Anjana Malai (Karimalai/Sabarimala), Govardhana Malai, Kunjara Malai, Yamakuta Malai, Vinda Malai, Krauncha Malai and Trikuta Malai according to Tiruvilayatal.  Anjana Malai or Karimalai is identified as Sabarimala by the rationalist writer Srini Pattatanam in his book Sabarimala: Viswasavum Yadhardhyavum (Calicut; Progress, 2007).  In A Social History of India, S N Sadasivan has identified the Kumaly mountain and Vannatipara that houses Mangalamadantai Kottam or Mangaladevi temple as Vinda Malai.

Anirudh Raman at Pallykanam in Vagaman, early May 2013.

Anirudh Raman at Pallykanam in Vagaman, early May 2013.

Now the Pallykanam peak or Punjar Motta is with the Iduki Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti and this Hindu temple builders’ and developers’ outfit is going to build a new concrete Siva and Krishna temple on this historic Buddhist site by making roads through the pristine grassland and shola the source of drinking water for the planes.  The ancient Buddha granite idol is now termed as that of Siva and is abrogated as a Hindu idol.  This shift in the name of the deity is also in tandem with the change in place name from Pallykanam to Pullykanam and completes the Hindu hegemonic appropriation of the location and place.

Pallykanam Buddha. Acrylic on Canvas 2013 by Ajay Sekher, composed at Vagaman Asa Sadan. Thanks to Mr Ajit Murikan for his cultural hospitality.

Pallykanam Buddha. Acrylic on Canvas 2013 by Ajay Sekher, composed at Vagaman Asa Sadan. Thanks to Mr Ajit Muriken for his cultural hospitality.

The Savarna or caste Hindu worldview that operates both in uppercaste Hindu and Syrian Christian social fields endorses and consolidates this hegemonic appropriation of the place which is politically, culturally and ecologically catastrophic.  The destruction of grassland tops for new temples here in the model of Sabarimala is going to be an environmental disaster as Pallykanam and Vagaman grasslands are the origin of river Meenachil and some tributaries of Manimalayar the life blood of mid Kerala.

The new granite lamp post erected by the Hindu temple builders at Punjar Motta.  The ecologically fragile grassland top will turn into a disaster soon.

The new granite lamp post erected by the Hindu temple builders at Punjar Motta. The ecologically fragile grassland top will turn into a disaster soon.

We must learn from the Himalayan crisis (Utarakhand) of monsoon 2013 and check the increasing activities on the Western Ghats.  Gadgil recommendations are also being discarded by the political leadership and powerful lobbies who are the major landholders in Kerala part of the Western Ghats.  Hindu temple industry in the manner of Sabarimala or Guruvayur are proving to be eco-cultural disasters.  The PTR and protected forests and mountains and river Pampa is in threat because of Sabarimala that pollutes the whole Pampa river basin and Kuttanad upto Alapuzha in particular.  Guruvayur and other Savarna centres pollute the wetlands and water bodies around in unimaginable rates and leaps.  Human excreta from this temple township is pumped into the neighboring backwaters and Kol fields were cultivation is done.

In all these Hindu Savarna temples the money of the Bahujan masses are being exploited by the Brahmanic priesthood of Mel and Kizh Santis and their Padaja menial slaves co-opted as Sudra; and the land, water and air are being rendered irredeemably toxic.  Sixty to Seventy Lakh Rupees are given as capitation to become a Kizh Santi (lower division priest) at Sabarimala each season.  There are around fifty to sixty such Kizh Santis there mediating between the common man and god (originally a denier of god, i e, Gautama Buddha); Mel Santis and Tantry in addition.  The unaccounted income of theTantry for a pilgrim season equals that of lesser Ambanis.

People and their elected political servants must rethink about Hindu temple oriented commercial boom and pilgrim industry in Kerala and India and save the high ranges from an eco-cultural crisis that are essential for the sustenance of life.  Some of the Hindu centres have degraded into real estate mafia malls, suicidal retreats and sex, drug and human trafficking underworlds as in Guruvayur. The pomp and ignorance of the Savarna middle classes and the ignorant and co-opted Avarna masses who imitate their caste lords in true religious faith make things more culturally and religiously complex.  A concerted effort from the educated youth and ethical political leadership  is required to save Kerala from this eco-cultural landslide.

One Response to “Pallykanam and Pullykanam: Western Ghats and an Eco-cultural Crisis”

  1. Interesting read, i have been to Vagaman but never knew the buddhist connection. Now i will visit these hills in a new light. Thanks for sharing

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