Archive for September, 2015

Dalava Kulam Massacre: Caste Killing in 19th Century Kerala

// September 28th, 2015 // 1 Comment » // Cultural Politics

Dalava Kulam bus stand near the eastern gateway of the temple at Vaikam; the location of the old pond where the bodies of the massacred protesters where thrown into in early 19th century.

Dalava Kulam bus stand near the eastern gateway of the temple at Vaikam; the location of the old pond where the bodies of the massacred protesters where thrown into in early 19th century. Some local people are remembering while others lack any sense of memory related to the place. Commonsense works on erasure.

Dalava means Divan or chief minister in the former princely states of Travancore and Kochi that formed the south and mid Kerala till independence and Indian union formation in mid 20th century. Kulam means a huge pond or temple tank.  The tank of the Dalava or Dalava Kulam is in Vaikam in northern part of Kottayam district in Kerala. The temple town on the eastern banks of the lake Vembanad and part of Kuttanad is renowned for the Vaikam Struggle or Satyagraha of 1924 – 25 that was 604 days long.

Local people pointing out some of the old blocks that was once part of the gateway to the pond at the site of Dalava Kulam in Vaikam; the place of the early 19th century massacre by Kunju Kutti Pilla and his militia of Travancore.

Local people pointing out some of the old blocks  once part of the gateway to the pond at the site of Dalava Kulam in Vaikam; the place of the early 19th century massacre carried out by Kunju Kutti Pilla and his militia of Travancore.

The Vaikam struggle was for the basic human rights including the freedom of movement of the Avarna or outcastes of Hinduism. The Avarnas including the current Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes were prohibited from the early middle ages onward to walk the roads surrounding the temple. This was part of the untouchability practice enforced on the people as part of the Varna caste system of Brahmanical Hinduism that was established between the 8th and 12th century in Kerala. Till the middle ages the people were mostly Buddhists in mid and south Kerala. Most of the current big temples in Kerala including Vaikam were originally Mahayana shrines and Buddhist Viharas, nunneries and monasteries.  Archaeological, iconographic, architectural and linguistic evidences are there to prove this hegemonic appropriation by covetous Brahmanism.

Vatta Kovil or Vattadage or rounded sanctorum at Vaikam; exactly like a well rounded Stupa. Vattams and Mukal Vattams or apsidal or Gajaprishta style are reminiscent of Buddhist Stupa and Chaitya architecture. Vattams are abundant in Kerala and Ceylon.

Vatta Kovil or Vattadage or rounded sanctum at Vaikam; exactly like a well rounded Stupa. Vattams and Mukkaal Vattams or apsidal or Gajaprishta (elephant butt)  style are reminiscent of Buddhist Stupa and Chaitya architecture. Vattams are abundant in Kerala and Ceylon. Also mark the Aal Vilaku or Bo tree lamp, another key Buddhist icon.

The enforcers of Varna and caste untouchability feared that if Avarnas; the original Buddhists and makers of the temples are allowed to congregate near the Hinduized shrines they might recapture their holy Pallys or shrines. The numerical strength of the Avarna or the dalit bahujan is still a threat to Hindu Nationalism and its key spokesmen.  So the caste Hindus protected their modified shrines from Avarna people the original owners and makers of the Buddhist Pallys.  That is why the custom of closing the public roads, especially around the temples came into existence in Kerala by the middle ages.  Ayyankali was asked to dismount from his bullock cart at Vaikam and to ply the long route for the untouchables.  Narayana Guru and Kumaran Asan were asked to go back with their Cycle Rickshaw there.  Muloor has written a poem about this insane caste worshipers who blocked the way of the prophet of Kerala renaissance who delivered them all from the dark ages of Varna.  These were early 20th century developments.  But the resistance began much earlier from socially aware Avarna young men.

Panachikal Bhagavati at Vaikam temple. The Naga worship and sacred grove relics are also reminiscent of Buddhism and its conservationist ethical culture in Kerala. Kavu or sacred grove itself is named after Kanyakavu the Buddhist nun, who nurtured the grove and sheltered the snakes, reptiles, birds and other animals as a practice of compassion and Maitri.

Panachikal Devi at Vaikam temple. The Naga worship and sacred grove relics are also reminiscent of Buddhism and its conservationist ethical culture in Kerala. Kavu or sacred grove itself is named after Kanyakavu/Kanyastri the Buddhist nun, who nurtured the grove and sheltered the snakes, reptiles, birds and other animals as an everyday practice of compassion, Mudita and Maitri.

In early19th century in 1806 a group of 200 Avarna youth organized themselves and declared their public intention to enter the temple roads and to enter the temple for worship.  They belonged to the Ezhava community and were from the north eastern regions of Vaikam. As they had made their intention public the news had reached the Travancore capital in Trivandrum.  Velu Tampy (1765–1809) was the Dalava (1802-1809) or Dewan/Divan of that period and Avittam Tirunal Balarama Varma (1782 – 7 Nov 1810) was the King (1798 to 1810).

Elephant image is a key icon of the Buddha as Gajotama or Vinayaka as he is represented by Asoka at Dhauli.  Lotus petal motifs on altar and lamp posts are also relics of Buddhist iconography. Dhamma Simhas and Gajas; ethical lions and elephants are everywhere in Kerala temples, especially at the baseline of altars and sanctums.  Pic from Panachikal Kavu at Vaikam temple.

Elephant image is a key icon of the Buddha as Gajotama or Vinayaka as he is represented by Asoka at Dhauli. Lotus petal motifs on altar and lamp posts are also relics of Buddhist iconography. Dhamma Simhas and Gajas; ethical lions and elephants are everywhere in Kerala temples, especially at the baseline of altars and sanctums. Pic from Panachikal Kavu at Vaikam temple.

Tampy was an Idaprabhu or petty baron or Nair feudal lord from Kalkulam in Nagerkovil  and as a subservient Sudra he was an anti Avarna in his policies and moves. It was he who terminated the Ezhava warriors in Travancore forces following Martanda Varma (1706 – 7 July 1758 and reigned 1729-58)  the fierce founder of Travancore. He was also the one to slash down the pay of the militia in general that caused the Nair militia mutiny. Tampy also executed the leader of the mutineers; Kollam Krishna Pilla  by tearing his body using two elephants.  Avittam Tirunal Balarama Varma was a minion and puppet in the hands of the usurping Brahman minister-priest called Jayantan Nampootiri from Calicut who assumed powers after plotting against and poisoning to death Rajah Kesavadasar (1745-1799) the brilliant Dalava of Travancore who successfully defended it against Mysore invasion and materialized the economic development and modernization of the state through envisioning and making possible the port city of Alapuzha.

Vaikam temple, a view from east. 27 Sept 2015.

Vaikam temple, a view from east. 27 Sept 2015.

Tampy used the news of Ezhava youth defying the caste codes to teach the Avarna a lethal lesson in turn. He ordered the massacre of the Avarna who enter the temple road.  It was successfully conveyed to the state militia at Vaikam by his close associates and subordinates like Kunju Kutti Pilla and Vaikam Papanava Pilla.  All the 200 young men who were peacefully walking towards the temple in procession for worhsip from the east were brutally confronted, beaten and butchered down by the Nair brigade led by Kunju Kutti Pilla.  The Ezhava youth were unarmed and they were ruthlessly killed then and there before the eastern gateway of the temple.  The bodies were thrown into the Kulam or tank/pond nearby on the north eastern side of the temple compound and pushed down into the slush and mud. From then on the Kulam or pond came to be known as Dalava Kulam the brutal pond of Velu Tampy Dalava who has ordered this gruesome massacre at Vaikam at the wake of 19th century in 1806.

Dalava Kulam Massacre. Miniature by Ajay Sekher in Mixed Media on Paper 2015. 15*15cm

Dalava Kulam Massacre. Miniature by Ajay Sekher in Mixed Media on Paper 2015. 15*15cm

This hoary episode of brutal massacre by the Nair brigade of Travancore led by Kunju Kutti Pilla, Papanava Pilla and Kutira Pakky under the officiating order of Velu Tampy Dalava became notorious in Kerala history as Dalava Kulam massacre.  This was the key historic incident that led to the Vaikam struggle of 1924 under the leadership of T K Madhavan and the visionary guidance of Narayana Guru himself.  Periyor E V R from Tamilakam came to join the struggle inspired by the secular and rational teachings of Nanuguru. Gandhiji was in Vaikam to talk to the Nambootiri of Indanturuty Mana and other Brahmanic high priests. Gandhiji, the Congress and caste Hindu leaders like Mannam came together to organize a “Savarna Jadha” as a grand finale for the official  “success” of the “Satyagraha.”

A Scull from Dalava Kulam that eats up the gate keeper: A sculpture installed at Vaikam by Sujit S N. Author of the essay Ajay Sekher before the work

A Scull from Dalava Kulam that eats up the gate keeper: A sculpture installed at Vaikam by Sujit K S. Author of the essay Ajay Sekher before the work, Sept 2015.

It can also be remembered that it was after this massacre at the beginning of 19th century that Arattupuzha Velayudha Panikar (1825 – Jan 1874) from Kayamkulam, a pioneer of social reform and anti caste protest in Kerala, another brave Ezhava crusader against Brahmanism and untouchability; came in disguise to Vaikam temple as a “Vesha Brahman” in Pandit Ayyothi Thasar’s words, with the sacred thread and observed the Tantric practices and successfully escaped from there through the lake Vembanad on his row boat and consecrated the first temple for the Avarna in his village Arattupzha in mid 19th century.  He was brutally killed by cheat by the henchmen of caste Hindu slavery while he was fast asleep on his boat that was anchored in Kayamkulam Kayal.

The Dalava Kulam is now a private bus stand and local people are forgetful of their own history.  It is high time that the enlightened citizens and local bodies create an apt memorial for this great anti caste struggle that is the forerunner of the Vaikam struggle and commemorate the brave martyrs of Dalava Kulam massacre in a fitting tribute.  There is also an urgent need to textualize and recreate the episode through visual and other artistic narratives.  T K Madhavan’s Desabhimani daily had published a local ballad on the unsung heroes of Vaikam Dalava Kulam massacre who laid down their lives for the greater liberty of the people from caste Brahmansim in 1924. Dalitbandhu N K Jose has published a book on Dalavakulam massacre in 2006. Such new histories and representations are required to check the booming of Hindutva discourses and the spread of Brahmanical and Varna-caste values and patriarchal norms in society and polity.

Bhoothathankettu or Budhatankettu? The Barrage Built by the Demonised Monks

// September 25th, 2015 // 2 Comments » // Culture and Ecology

Bhoothathankettu barrage across Periyar near Kotamangalam in Ernakulam district of Kerala

Bhoothathankettu barrage across Periyar near Kotamangalam in Ernakulam district of Kerala

Bhoothathankettu or Putatankettu is a modern barrage regulating the river Periyar near Kotamangalam at the edge of the eastern forests of Ernakulam district in Kerala. Tattekad and Kuttanpuzha the riverine forest of Kuttan are towards the east of this landmark. Just below the present barrage, down stream there is another ancient structure that could be a natural rocky formation that was slightly altered through human intervention in the ancient times.

Kuttanpuzha or the riverine forest of Kuttan or Putan towards the north east of Putatankettu reservoir.

Kuttanpuzha or the riverine forest of Kuttan or Putan towards the north east of Putatankettu reservoir. A view from Putatankettu reservoir.

It is said to have been built by the Bhootams or demons and ghosts. Bhootam also means the past and more specifically about the Buddhist past of Kerala. There is a currently prevalent myth that the demons of the forest made this in a single night so that the nearby Trikariyur temple is submerged. Trikariyur is notorious for the hunger strike and sit in done by Brahmans to chase away the Buddhists according to Keralolpaty and Keralamahatmyam two 17th century Brahmanic texts that boast about the chasing away of Buddhists from Kerala temples by Brahman priestocracy through bloody conquests like cutting of the tongue and banishing them as demons with a genocidal claim that they have argued with them and defeated them in the verbal duel.

Old Bhoothathankettu or the ancient natural formation just below the current dam, that was enhanced by Buddhist monks in BC 3rd century.

Old Bhoothathankettu or the ancient natural formation just below the current dam, that could have been enhanced by Buddhist monks in BC 3rd century.

According to the hegemonic myth Siva the present deity of Trikariyur tricked the demons who were building the dam at night with a rooster’s call and they fled away thinking that it was dawn. If you analyze this Saiva myth it is clear that the Bhootams or Pootams or Putar or Buddhar were cheated and chased away by Saivites and their Brahman priestocracy and the Trikariyur shrine was converted to a Hindu Brahmanical temple. According to Hindu legend it is Parasurama the Brahman high priest with an axe who beheaded his own mother on his Father’s command was the one who did the Brahmanical reconsecration in Trikariyur. He is worshiped in an estern shrine facing west. Local historians have argued that he is Paramara Parasurama a Brahman conqueror of the 9th century who massacred the Buddhists and captured the upper Periyar valley and reconsecrated all the Buddhist shrines into Hindu ones.

Trikariyur temple eastern gateway, Bhimadasan in forefront. Parasuraman is said to have done the reconsecration of this ancient Buddhist shrine. The hunger strike by Brahmans to chase away Buddhists is also notorious.

Trikariyur temple eastern gateway, Bhimadasan in forefront. Parasuraman is said to have done the reconsecration of this ancient Buddhist shrine. The hunger strike by Brahmans to chase away Buddhists is also notorious.

It must be remembered that the Periyar valley and Perar (now Bharatapuzha) valley the two major river valleys in Kerala were irrigated through a series of canal and dam systems designed and materialized by the Buddhist missionaries of Asoka in the BC 3rd century. They were the first monks to introduce the plough in South India as well. They were the first civilizational force to impart letters and ethics among the people; the Brahmi script and Dhamma of the enlightened one. They were also the first artisans, engineers and architects who made Stupas and inscribed Asokan pillars and instituted the legacy of art and architecture in South India.

Ancient idols of Tara and Mahamaya now put in an outer shrine marked as Yakshi at Trikariyur temple. Parasurama the Brahman with the axe is also worshiped in a subshrine.

Ancient idols of Tara and Mahamaya now put in an outer shrine marked as Yakshi at Trikariyur temple. Parasurama the Brahman with the axe is also worshiped in a subshrine. Local historians argue that it was a Paramara Parasurama a fierce conquering Brahman with axe and other killing weapons who conquered Trikariyur in 9th century AD.

As they made huge constructions in no time they were demonised as monsters and ghosts by usurping Brahmanism later in the early middle ages; from sixth to eighth century onwards.  The nuns were also demonised as Papinis or evil women and there are place names like Papinivattam and Papinikavu in Kerala. Papinivattam is near Matilakam and the mouth of river Periyar, while Papinikavu is on the southern bank of Perar near Tavanur.

Malabar Grey Hornbill at Putatankettu, early Aug 2015

Malabar Grey Hornbill at Putatankettu, early Aug 2015

Thus it is clear that the old Bhoothathankettu was a natural barrage enhanced by the minimalist intervention of Buddhist monks that irrigated the upper Periyar valley and the Bhoothams are demonised Buddhist monks. In April 1790 this ancient structure was breached by Vaikam Padmanabha Pillai and Kunji Kutty Pillai two militia men of Travancore princely state under the direct command of Rajah Kesavadasan the brilliant Divan of Travancore who controlled the Travancore Lanes or Nedum Kotta protecting the northern frontier of Travancore and Kochi from Mysore invasion; to create flash floods in Periyar and thereby  prevented Tipu Sultan and his army from crossing it downstream at Aluva.

Parsurama or the Brahman high priest with an axe also said to be Paramara Parasurama the 9th century conqueror is worshiped now in Trikariyur temple near Kotamangalam.

Parasurama or the Brahman high priest with an axe also said to be Paramara Parasurama the 9th century conqueror is worshiped now in Trikariyur temple near Kotamangalam.

So it is better to term the barrage as Putatankettu or the Buddhist barrage.  It can also be remembered that similar check dams and bunds were constructed in all the rivers in Kerala by the early Asokan missionaries to make agriculture and paddy cultivation prevalent in Kerala.  The paddyfield cultivation and irrigation canal systems are the same through out the Indian coast from Maharashtra down the Konkan coast to Kerala and then up the Coromandal coast to Odisha and Bengal and even to Myanmar and Thailand; stretching far east up to Korea and Japan.

Chera Malai (now Chela Mala) east of Putatankettu was the summer palace and inn of Cheras during the Sangham age on a trade route connecting Muziris with Pandya lands in the east.  Ilanko Adikal who wrote Silapatikaram rested here on his shuttling between Chera and Pandia lands.

Chera Malai (now Chela Mala) south  east of Putatankettu was the summer palace and inn of Cheras during the Sangham age on a trade route connecting Muziris with Pandya lands in the east. Ilanko Adikal who wrote Silapatikaram rested here during his journeys between Chera and Pandya lands.

It must also be remembered here that numerous old temples and shrines in Kerala are called Bhudatans’ shrines as they were originally built by Putars or Buddhist monks.  The ancient Anapalla or elephant belly citadels or huge compound walls of many old temples are also called Bhudatankettu since they were also originally Buddhist constructions.  All these archeological and linguistic evidences prove the Buddhist past or Bhootam of Kerala.

Chakra Mudi (now Chokra Mudi) the third highest peak in Anamalais that was a landmark on which the Dhamma Chakra was enshrined between Pallyvasal and Bodhi Medu on way to Bodhinayakanur in the Tamil country

Chakra Mudi (now Chokra Mudi) the third highest peak in Anamalais that was a landmark on which the Dhamma Chakra was enshrined between Pallyvasal and Bodhi Medu on way to Bodhinayakanur in the Tamil country

Moreover the ancient forests lying east of the barrage is also called Kuttanpuzha the riperian forest of Kuttan or Putan. The forest ranges that thrives in the north east and west are subsequently called Ayyanpuzha the riverine forest of Ayyan or Putan again.  The dam was also on a cultural and trade route along the Periyar that connected Vanchi or ancient Muziris on the west coast with the Pandya land and Kanchi and Poohar on the eastern coast.

Bodhi Medu and Bodhinayakanur beneath in Pandya land

Bodhi Medu and Bodhinayakanur beneath in Pandya land. Photo from internet

Manimekhalai the the Buddhist nun and the heroine of Chatanar’s great Tamil epic of the same name is said to have plied this route and rested at Malayatur that was a thriving Amana cultural centre in the early common era.  Ilanko Adikal the author of Chilapatikaram another Tamil epic of the Sangham age is said to have taken asylum in the summer palace and inn of the Cheras on Chera Malai (now Chela Mala) on the southern bank of river Periyar facing Tattekad on the north.

Bodhi Medu ghat road now. It was part of an ancient trade-cultural route connecting Pandya and Chera lands across the western ghats. Beneath in the Tamil planes it is Bodhinayakanur (now altered as Bodinaykannur).

Bodhi Medu ghat road now. It was part of an ancient trade-cultural route connecting Pandya and Chera lands across the western ghats. Beneath in the Tamil planes it is Bodhinayakanur (now altered as Bodinaykannur).

The trade route climbed up the Neriyamangalam pass and entered Munnar through Pallyvasal. Passing through the base of Chakara Mudi (now distorted as Chokra Mudi) the third high peak in the Anamalais reached Anayirankal and Boddhi Medu and then descended down to Boddhinayakanur into the Pandian lands in the Tamilakam planes.  It is also important to know that Ana or elephant was a universal image of the Buddha. Asoka represented the enlightened one as an exquisite elephant or Gajotama coming out of the solid rock at Dhauli near Kalinga war site in Bhubaneswar.  Anamalais and Anayirankal and Anakara and so many other places invoking the elephant on the western ghats have this historic signification as well.