Archive for Cultural Politics

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

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.