Archive for Cultural Politics

Garudan Paravai and Tookkam: Bird Masquerade and Claw Hanging in Kerala

// April 24th, 2016 // 1 Comment » // Cultural Politics

Garudan Paravai at Pallypuratu Kavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016.

Garudan Paravai at Pallypuratu Kavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016.

When summer becomes unbearable during the month of Meenam or Metam that comes during April-May season, the ancient Kavus or sacred-grove shrines of mid and south Kerala; now turned into Brahmanical Hindu temples all around the lake Vembanad perform the Paravai and Tookkam, now widely called the Garudan Paravai and Garudan Tookkam. It is traditionally performed in the Kavus of Kottayam, Ernakulam and Alapuzha districts. It is a ritualistic performance in the form of a bird masquerade in which performers are embellishised in the makeup and costumes that resemble a bird with beaks and small stylised wings and dance and perform to the powerful rhythms of the Chenda or the traditional Kerala drum. They also entertain the spectators by picking up the currency and coins from the ground. Their fast gyrating movement is equal to the flight of the birds. This vibrant and powerful performance is on the decline now.

Paravis coming and performing on the Chadu or cart. Pallypuratu Kavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016

Paravai coming and performing on the Chadu or cart. Pallypuratu Kavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016

In the past in an associated ritual the performers were ritually mutilated with a metal claw at the lower end of their backbone and hanged partially on that claw from a high pole set on a cart that is pulled into the shrine in a procession and also pulled around the sanctum sanctorum thrice. It is also performed during the month of Kumbham and Makaram in some shrines during the days of Bharani or Pataamudayam. Earlier in Kavus like Manarkadu Kavu, Perur Kavu, Pallypuratu Kavu etc. near Kottayam bullock carts and hand drawn carts called Chadu were used to pull the performers on the pole to the shrines. Now pic up vans or mini lorries are used as the cart.

Vadayar Atuvela or river spectacle a form of Kettukazhcha on a boat near Vaikam having Buddhist carnival genealogies

Vadayar Atuvela or river spectacle a form of Kettukazhcha on a boat near Vaikam having Buddhist carnival genealogies

At Vadayar Ilamkavu south of Vaikam the performers are hanged in a huge country boat around a ritualistic spectacle called Kettukazhcha a pagoda like wooden architectural structure. The whole performance is also called Aatuvela or the performance in the river. This provides parallels with the Kaala Vela and Pooram spectacles of north that constructs the bull effigies and the horse effigies of the southern Kettukazhacha rituals. The Paravai image also closely resembles the Annam (swan) Kettu in Neelamperur Pally shrine which was a Buddhist Pally or Vihara till a few centuries ago. It is also worth observing that in the Kaala Vela or bull spectacles in Malapuram the cherub figures that we see in Ajanta and Ellora are also seen even today on both sides of the main deity.

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Paravai and Tookkam ritual performance is distributed all along the rim of lake Vembanad and is culturally located in the former mid Kuttanad region, the land of Kuttan or Putan a rustic term for the Buddha. It is also performed in association with the full moon nights connected to Chitra Paurnami and Vaisakha Paurnami having key calendar connections with the birth and life events of the enlightened one. In Kottayam Manarkadu and Pallypuratu Kavus hosted hundreds of performers in the past. It is normally staged after midnight. During the day of Pataamudayam, the tenth sunrise after Vishnu Sankramanam, daytime performance processions called Kumbodam or Kumbha Kutam and Kavadi were also popular.

Kumbodam and Kavadi processions in Tamil Nadu. Photo from internet

Kumbodam and Kavadi processions in Tamil Nadu. Photo from internet

As the name shows Kavadi is a miniature representation of the Kavu itself with an arched horse shoe like Ajanta Chaitya Vatayana motif. Kumbham and Kutam are both miniature motifs and key icons resembling the Stupa’s global or spherical structure. Both these processions are of Buddhist origin when we analyse the semiotics and cultural significations. But after the middle ages ritual mutilations also crept into this Kumbodam tradition in the form of Sulam Kutu or body piercing using metallic little lancers as a result of Hinduization and its violent sado-masochist Himsa cults in the frenzy of Bhakti. Now the ritual is dwindling. In earlier days it was mostly the Avarna who were the performers in Paravai, Tookkam and Kumbodam. Velan, Viswakarma and Ezhava performers were there in Kottayam.

gyrating flight of the Paravai at Pallypuratukavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016

gyrating flight of the Paravai at Pallypuratukavu, Kottayam, 24 Apl 2016

Since the Tookkam was barbaric and was misused by the caste Hindu hegemonic forces as a ritual re-enacting the symbolic submission and ritualistic mutilation of the Avarna before the Hinduized deity, especially Kali in violent and bloody form; it was banned in places like Ilavoor in the north of Ernakulam. Most of these Kali temples are altered Mahamaya sacred grove shrines or Kavus of Buddhism, violently taken over and modified into Hindu Kali temples.

It began with the Kavu capture or Kavu Teendal at Kodungallur and spread into the various interiors of Kerala after the 9th century conquest of the Kodungallur Kavu by the Hindutva hooligans or Sudra and Chandala Komarams who were given temporary license to do the damage to the ethical Buddhist civilization by Brahmanism and its oligarchies, the priestly-militia nexus in power. Sahodaran Ayyappan the pioneering social revolutionary of renaissance and poet has composed the song “O Dont go to the Bharani… O Brothers…” in early 20th century to check the Hinduization of the Avarna Bahujans in Kerala and to remind them of this cultural internal imperialism or Hindu colonialism of Brahmanism.

Annam Kettu or Pakki Kolam at Pally shrine, Neelamperur having clear Buddhist history, founded by Pallyvanar

Annam Kettu or Pakki Kolam at Pally shrine, Neelamperur having clear Buddhist history, founded by Pallyvanar in 17th century

The ancient Kavus were originally sacred groves or Sangha Aramas in the Buddhist period at least from BC third century when Asokan missionaries, the nuns and monks came and spread the letters and ethics among the people of Tamilakam to the middle ages when Hindu Brahmanism and its hooligan henchmen captured and converted these Kavus into Kali worshiping bloody ritualistic dens. The Aswati Kavu Teendal or ritual encroachment of the Kavu at Kodungallur still re-enacts this violent and bloody takeover in which nuns where raped and turned into Devdasis and monks where executed in unimaginable barbarism. They also demolished and removed the idols of the Buddha and his mother Mahamaya and her sacred-grove shrines were violently converted into Kali worshiping temples of ritual sacrifices and violent bloody cults. This was how Hindu Brahmanism was established through bloody pogroms and genocides of the Buddhists and Jains in Kerala by its subservient and moronic henchmen who were co-opted as the last and fourth Varna the Sudara in Kerala. Because of the brute hegemonic power of violent Hinduization some of the Chandala or Avarna Komarams or oracles are also following the Hindu style Kali worship and bloody ritual cults.
After this bloody takeover the priestly-militia nexus in power created the story of Kali killing the demonised other or the Buddhist in the figure of Darika the Asura. Demonisation precedes pogroms. Sri Lanka was demonised in Hindu epics like the Ramayana as it was a Buddhist country. According to the Hindu legend, Kali’s blood thirst was not satisfied by this covetous killing and then the greater lord Vishnu sent his vehicle the Garuda a huge eagle and it presented its blood so that Kali was quenched. This ridiculous and absurd story of a blood sucking Kali Mata is a cunning articulation of the demonization and then extermination of the south Indian Buddhists by the henchmen of Brahmanism and then the ritualistic re-enactment of the holocaust and the bloody pogrom in the yearly festivities at the shrine as a re-establishment of the caste Hindu order and hegemony over the Avarna or the former Buddhists.DSCN7608
The makeup, costume and performance legacies of Parava also place it along the Annam Kettu or bird effigy spectacle, part of the ritual spectacles in Kerala like Kala Kettu and Kutira Kettu in various ancients Kavus. Kettukazhcha tradition is clearly Buddhist and it articulates the agricultural and rural gusto and carnival co-operative community will of the village society. This is not ritualistically or aesthetically or visually akin to the kind of violent performances related to Kali cult as in Teeyaattu or violent and bloody cults and rituals in Padayani, both performed by the caste Hindu militia clans in high contrast.

Only the Annam Kettu (bird effigy) ritual and form of Neelamperur Pally shrine that was consecrated after Mahamaya and the Buddha by Pallyvanar the last Buddhist Chera prince from Kodungallur is resembling the figure of the Parava. It is clearly not an eagle but a stork or swan like figure. The close association of the Parava figure to the Swan figure in Nalacharitam Kathakali is remarkable and significant. In costumes or Udutukettu also the Parava closely resembles the Kathakali style of swollen and fleeted white cotton attire. It is clear that it is not related to the Teeyaattu or Padayani wild forms but related to a much subtle and nuanced Mudra based stylistics and semiotic system like Kathakali that has its origin in the Attam tradition originally belonging to the Buddhist visual performance culture that was later Hinduised post the middle ages.

More of a swan than an eagle and closely resembles the Hamsa or swan of Kathakali having Buddhist lineages. Photo from internet.

More of a swan than an eagle and closely resembles the Hamsa or swan of Kathakali having Buddhist lineages. Photo from internet.

Its field and habitus well within the Vembanad lake rim and its aesthetic and performance style and legacies clearly connect it to the land of Kuttan or Putan, the Kavu or sacred-grove shrine conservationist culture related to the nuns and Mahamaya; and to the greater ethical and egalitarian culture of Buddhism in Kerala. It also fits well into the carnival spectacle or Kettukazhcha tradition of Buddhism as closely re-enacted even today in Vadayar Aatuvela; and also proclaims its key affiliations with the highly stylised semiotic discourse of Kathakali that has its roots in the symbolic or Mudra based aesthetic and semiotic cultural discourses of Buddhism in Kerala.
ajay sekher, 24 April 2016

Buddha as Elephant: Dhauligiri to Dindikal and the Mystery of Ganes

// January 2nd, 2016 // No Comments » // Cultural Politics

Dhauligiri elephant by Asoka done in BC 3rd century on the banks of Daya river in Bhubaneswar. The first artistic depiction of the Buddha as Gajotama or the exquisite elephant.  Feb 2015

Dhauligiri elephant by Asoka done in BC 3rd century on the banks of Daya river in Bhubaneswar. The first artistic depiction of the Buddha as Gajotama or the exquisite elephant. Feb 2015

Asoka represented the enlightened one as an exquisite elephant or Gajotama at Dhauligiri near the Kalinga war site by the river Daya near Bhubaneswar in Odisha.  This BC 3rd century rock cut idol is one of the earliest archaeological representations of the Buddha that is still surviving and is one of the earliest examples of Indian art, sculpture and architectural expressions.  The Gajotama is also called Ganapati, Ganes or Vinayaka.

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.

Elaphant at Panachikal Kavu inside Vaikam shrine. 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.

The Buddha is imagined as the exquisite elephant because in the dream of Mahamaya he entered the body of his mother Mahamaya in the form of an elephant. The dream of Mahamaya also tells us about the elephants giving her a bath while she was pregnant that became the Gajalakshmi in Hindu pagan appropriation.  The Buddha is called Ganes or Ganapati as he was the leader of the Gana or democratic sects or Sangha.  He is called Vinayaka as he is the master of Vinaya (the very first Pitaka), the rules of ethics that form the base of the democratic Sangha. It is also remarkable that even in those Asian countries where the elephant is absent Buddha is worshiped in the form of elephant as in Korea and Japan in the Mahayana shrines we find a lot of elephant forms and figures.

Buddha as Dhamma Gaja or Gajotama the exquisite elephant in a Mahayana Buddhist shrine in Japan. In Korea and Japan where there are no natural elephants the Buddha is worshiped in the elephant form too.

Buddha as Dhamma Gaja or Gajotama the exquisite elephant in a Mahayana Buddhist shrine in Japan. In Korea and Japan where there are no natural elephants the Buddha is worshiped in the elephant form too.

It was a hegemonic embrace and appropriation from the part of the Hindu Saivite violent forces to assimilate the image of the Vinayaka as a child of Siva through narrative strategies and iconographic alterations after the 6th and 7th centuries AD in the north and after the 8th century in South India. It is very much like the Pasupata Saivites in the north who came to existence in the 5th or 6th century AD, claiming that the BC 1500 image of the Padmasana Yogi of Indus valley is Siva in the form of Pasupati.  In Tamilakam Appar and Sambandha Moorty who converted from Jainism to Saivism in the 8th century claimed that Siva was the chairman of the first Sangha or Chankam that was existing in BC 5th century or before. Such bogus claims are also part of such hegemonic Hindu Brahmanical appropriations.

T Murali's painting on the Hindu hegemonic appropriation of the Buddhist Ganes.

T Murali’s painting on the Hindu hegemonic appropriation of the Buddhist Ganes.

The compassion, conservation and Maitri of the enlightened one are also exemplified in the icons from the natural world. From fish to fig and bull to lion, the exquisite animal motifs and natural imagery represent the Buddha in myriad organic ways. He is also called the Sakya Simha and his voice of ethics is termed as the Simha Nada, the roar of the lion or the voice of ethics and justice that cant be undone or deconstructed. The conservationist spirit of Buddhism and the Mauryan spirit of universal conservation that spread throughout the peninsula during Asokan age are also epitomized in the animal motifs and icons of early Buddhism.

Lion capital of Asoka. The Mauryan emperor depicted Sakya Simha as roaring lion with four heads to represent the universal value of his ethical teaching the Dhamma.

Lion capital of Asoka. The Mauryan emperor depicted Sakya Simha as a roaring lion with four heads to represent the universal value of his ethical teaching the Dhamma.

I was fortunate enough to stay and study in Bhubaneswar in February 2015 while doing the UGC Refresher Course in History and Literature at  Utkal University. I visited the Diamond Triangle of Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri Mahaviharas.  I could also go to Dhauligiri on the suburbs of Bhubaneswar to admire the World Peace Stupa made by the Japanese monks in 1970s and the elephant idol and Brahmi inscriptions on Dhamma created by Asoka in BC 3rd century. It is one of the earliest edicts in the world where an emperor proclaims the virtues of ethics and views his subjects as humans and equal; as equal as his own offspring.  The pagan Chandasoka became a Dhammasoka through these ethical edicts and the practice of the higher ethics, non violence or Ahimsa.

Author Ajay Sekher at Dhauligiri by the Asokan elephant emerging out of the rock; Feb 2015

Author Ajay Sekher at Dhauligiri by the Asokan elephant emerging out of the rock; Feb 2015

When I visited the Gandhigram Rural University in Dindikal or Dindigul in Tamil Nadu recently in Dec 2015 to inaugurate and deliver a keynote at the National Seminar on Short Fiction on “C Ayyappan’s Short Fiction with Special Reference to Ayyothee Thasar and Poykayil Appachan” I could see a similar idol of Ganes now worshiped as Swayambhu Ganes or self incarnate Ganes at the margins of the campus in the lap of Sirumalai by a small stream.

Self incarnate or Swayambhu Ganes at GRU campus Dindikal; exactly like Dhauligiri Ganes emerging from the rock.

Cothing and garlands/ sandal paste marks mask the Self incarnate or Swayambhu Ganes at GRU campus Dindikal; exactly like Dhauligiri Ganes emerging from the rock. Dec 2015

This is a rough and course idol of Gajapati shaped out of a granite boulder by the stream, five feet tall. The Boddhi tree and Naga idols also testify the Buddhist antiquity of the region. The Kal or rock image in the place name Dindikal is also a Chamana marker. The ancient rock temple on top of the Kallu or rock fort of Dindikal city was originally a Chamana Pally and only after the 8th century was turned into a Saivite and Vaishnavite one. Later it was taken over by the Mysore rulers and then it went to the British.

Swayambhu Ganes or self incarnate Ganapati at GRU Dindikal in Tamil Nadu, similar to the Dhauligiri elephant of Asoka, having Buddhist antiquity. Dec 2015

Swayambhu Ganes or self incarnate Ganapati at GRU Dindikal in Tamil Nadu, similar to the Dhauligiri elephant of Asoka, having Buddhist antiquity. Dec 2015

The Swayambhu or self incarnate Ganes is clearly an ancient Teravada or early Buddhist Gajotama or Vinayaka, the master of Vinaya. The self incarnate status itself testify the existence of this idol prior to the Brahmanical Saivite takeover. Now the Hindu Saivites and their Brahman priests are using a lot of silk robes and ornaments to cover the idol completely so that the elephant emerging out of the rock is less visible. But it has the remarkable similarity with the Dhauligiri elephant of Asoka.  It is also important to note that such Swayambhu or self incarnate Ganapatis are abundant in many parts of South India that are clearly pre Hindu and Brahmanic and are part of the ethical and cultural discursive geography and aesthetic genealogies of early Buddhism and the Asokan legacy in the peninsula.

Apsidal or Gajaprishta shrine and the Gajotama the full size elephant, both carved out of monoliths at Mamallapuram site called Five Chariots. Aug 2015

Apsidal or Gajaprishta shrine and the Gajotama the full size elephant, both carved out of monoliths at Mamallapuram site called Five Chariots. Aug 2015

ajay sekher