Mahayana in Malabar: Trikaipata Shrine on Ponnamkod Hillock in Calicut

// December 21st, 2013 // Cultural Politics, Culture and Ecology

Ponnamkod hillock is a laterite mount a few miles south east of Calicut city by the bypass near the new IT Park.  It stands out against the undulating terrain of laterite mounts and skirting wetlands.  This hill is also known as Ponnayamkod hillock.  The affix Pon denoting gold is a clear Amana/Chamana marker.  Ayam means a pond and Ponnayam therefore indicates a golden pond or a sacred pond or tank having Sramana antiquity.  There is an old and huge well in ruin on the eastern slope of the hill.  Malayatur having a sacred foot mark or Sri Pada is called Ponmala.   Sabarimala has a hilltop called Ponnambalamedu.  Ponmudis abound in various parts of Kerala. These place names having Pon affix are important toponyms and linguistic evidences related to Buddhism and Jainism in Kerala.

Relics and ruins on Ponnamkod hill the site of Trikaipata shrine.  Temple committee members among the granite pedestals and bases.

Relics and ruins on Ponnamkod hill the site of Trikaipata shrine. Temple committee members among the granite pedestals and bases.

The temple wreck on Ponnamkod hill was cleared in the early 1990s.  It revealed two huge sanctum sanctorums (just the bases covered in  heaps of red soil) and are under reconstruction now.  The northern shrine is a huge apsidal or Gajaprishta structure. Gajaprishta and rounded Srikovils are relics of the Buddhist Stupa architecture found only in Kerala and Sri Lanka.  The temple is now called Trikaipata Subramanya temple under the Hindu Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti. I visited the place with Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on the morning of 21 Dec 2013.  In 1992 when the site was rediscovered there was a Matrubhumi report connecting it with Buddhism remembers Mr Srinivasan a health official of the corporation.

The huge apsidal (Gajaprishta) base of the northern shrine of Murukan now being rennovated.  It was rediscovered in 1992 beneath a heap of red soil.

The huge apsidal (Gajaprishta) base of the northern shrine of Murukan now being renovated. It was rediscovered in 1992 beneath a heap of red soil. The two idols were also recovered from this pile

Mr Muralidharan a resident and well wisher informed that it was known as Trikalpota shrine in olden days.  The main deity Murukan was called Trikolapan or Trikorapan.  Trikol refers to the sacred staff or Kol/Vel of Velan or Murukan.  It must be also remembered here that Murukan or Andavan was exalted to a Boddhisatva during the heyday of Mahayana in the 6th to 8th centuries in south India.  Kannan, Ayyappan and Murukan were revered as Boddhisatvas in the southern version of Mahayana Buddhism that attracted and incorporated old Sangham worships and deities in to a liberalized new canon.  But unfortunately this liberalization also provided an opportunity to Brahmanism to absorb and appropriate these numerous regional deities and sub deities in a very coveted way.

The two idols lacking limbs and faces obliterated in Trikaipata temple on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut.

The two idols lacking limbs and faces obliterated in Trikaipata temple on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut. Oil black granite and iconographic style make them really old.  Looks more than  1000 years old and related to the Boddhisatva idols of Mahayana Buddhism in south India. Murukan, Kannan and Ayyappan were revered Boddhisatvas till the middle ages.

The change of the name from Trikalpota to Trikaipata is also suspicious and pregnant with meaning.  Kal or foot is a common icon of Buddhism and Jainism as both the groups were worshipers of the foot marks of their sages and gurus.  Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka is the best example.  On the other Kai or hand mark is a distinguished Jain motif.  Thus the shift from Kal to Kai in the place name that happened very recently according to the local elder Mr Muralidharan is again mysterious and conspiratorial.  Some experts who want to erase the Buddhist connection and to flash the Jain marker instead seem to be behind this recent drift in place name.

The main and big idol relic of Muruka at Trikaipata shrine Calicut.  The limbs below the knee and hands are lost.  The neck is also broken.  The face is obliterated. The head gear and ornamented hairdo clearly connects it to the Boddhisatva figures and iconography associated with Mahayana Buddhism in south India.  Murukan or Andavan was a Bala Boddhisatva before being appropriated into the Hindu Saivite pantheon as the son of Siva.

The main and big idol relic of Muruka at Trikaipata shrine Calicut. The limbs below the knees and hands are lost. The neck is also broken. The face is obliterated. The head gear and ornamented hairdo clearly connects it to the Boddhisatva figures and iconography associated with Mahayana Buddhism in south India. Murukan or Andavan was a Bala Boddhisatva before being appropriated into the Hindu Saivite pantheon as the son of Siva.

The two idols of standing deities now installed in the temporary shrine chapel were found near the colossal wreck in broken form.  The main Murukan idol (2 m tall) and the small sub idol (1 m tall) lack hands and limbs below the knee.  But the standing posture and the hand on hip stance (Kati Bandham) prove their Murukan identity.  More over they wear loin clothes and ornaments in true Boddhisatva fashion and therefore are not Tirthankara idols of Jainism that are nude male figures sans any ornaments and clothes.  Unfortunately the faces and eyes are obliterated.  It is clear that the idols have gone through violent attempts of uprooting and mutilation as in the case of Karumady Kuttan of Alapuzha that belongs to the early 7th century Teravada style.

Perum Trikovil Jain temple Calicut, just to the north of Kutichira.  This is the oldest monument in Calicut which has its name from this Kovil as Kovilkod/Koyikod.

Perum Trikovil Jain temple Calicut, just to the north of Kutichira. This is the oldest monument in Calicut which has its name from this Kovil as Kovilkod/Koyikod. Kutichira Amana landscape is only a few miles west of Ponnamkod.

In my telephonic conversations with Dr K Sugatan the eminent heart surgeon and a keen historian of Buddhism in Kerala who authored works like Buddhanum Nanuguruvum and Buddhamatavum Jativyavastitiyum; a few decades ago Mr Teruvatu Raman unraveled a seated idol from his plot within Calicut city and Prof A Ayyappan then the curator of Madras archeological museum identified it as a Buddha and he took it to Madras.  According to Dr K Sugatan that idol must be still in Chennai.  Dr Sugatan also agrees with my observation that the Murukan relic at Ponnamkod could be related to Mahayana Buddhism in Malabar.  Another interesting topographical fact is that Ponnamkod is aerially close to Kutichira in the west that was a Buddhist landscape before the 10th century.  The Jain temple Perum Trikovil from which Calicut got its name Kovilkod/Koyikod/Kozhikod still stands to the north of Kutichira.

Mr Muralidharan the local elder related to Ponnamkod connects the  iconography to Tanjavur style.  In my view they are ancient considering the oily black stone type and iconological nuances.  The black granite idols look more than 1000 years old and are in broken and mutilated form due to weather seasoning and deliberate disfiguring on the face and limbs in particular. The absence of nudity and the absence of diamond mark on the chest (Sri Valsam) prove that they are not Jain idols.  The crown like head gear, elaborate hair tresses and fabric costumes clearly suggest a Boddhisatva icon related to Mahayana Buddhism in south India.  They are also remarkably similar to the Boddhisatva figures in Ellora, Ajanta, Elephanta and Aurangabad.  The idols also show some resemblance to the Tirupati, Palani, Tanjavur and other major shrines in Tamilakam and Andhra that were Mahayana Buddhist shrines before the middle ages.

Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut.  Pon is a clear Sramana place marker.

Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut. Pon is a clear Sramana place marker. The emerging IT Park on the north.

Since the new temple construction is ongoing, the idols that are fragmented will be ritually cremated soon as per Tantric customs.  So it is the duty of the Archeology department of the state to conserve these invaluable treasures of south Indian cultural legacy as soon as the new idols are consecrated.  Most of the ancient granite idols in such ancient temples are so fragmented and ritually thrown into unidentified spots and history is erased and buried everyday in a democratic society in daylight.  The recent resistance against the DTPC move to fix a new hand to Karumady Kuttan at Takazhi is worth remembering here.  Through such affixations the ruling classes are trying to erase the history of mutilation done to stone sculptures by religious fanatics in the early dark middle ages.  The fragmenting and immersion of ancient idols of immense archeological value are also similar crimes against humanity and civilized society.  The departments of culture and archeology must take relevant steps to acquire and conserve the old fragmented idols at Ponnamkod as and when they are ritually cremated.

One Response to “Mahayana in Malabar: Trikaipata Shrine on Ponnamkod Hillock in Calicut”

  1. Ethiran says:

    ശ്രീ രാഘവ വാര്യർ ഇതിനെക്കുറിച്ച് എന്തു പറയുന്നു എന്നറിയാൻ താൽ‌പ്പര്യമുണ്ട്.

Leave a Reply

Enable Google Transliteration.(To type in English, press Ctrl+g)