Bhoothathankettu or Budhatankettu? The Barrage Built by the Demonised Monks
// September 25th, 2015 // Culture and Ecology
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.