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Panayannar Kavu: The Sacred Grove by the Pampa near Parumala and Niranam

// October 30th, 2017 // No Comments » // Cultural Politics, Culture and Ecology

Panayannar Kavu  sacred grove by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar; 29 Oct 2017.

Panayan means the serpent king and Panachi means the serpent queen. Panachikad for example, near Kottayam is the forest of the serpent queen. Panachikal Kavu is within the Vaikom shrine.  Panayannar Kavu literally means the sacred grove of the serpent king the Panayan or Panayannar as he is addressed with reverence.  This grove is on the southern banks of river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar at the margins of Patanamtitta and Alapuzha districts in Kuttanad region the land of Kuttan or the little Buddha. 

Sapta Kanya or Sapta Mata idols in Panayannar Kavu. The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyamata denoting the Buddhist nun. Similar idols are in Kilirur another seat of Buddhism consecrated by Pallyvanar in 16th century after Perinjanam and before Nilanperur.

Now it is a Kali temple but it is clear from the name and the surviving diverse vegetation that it was an ancient Sangha Arama or Buddhist sacred grove by the Pampa before the early middle ages.  The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyastree the Buddhist nun.  As it was the nuns and monks who nurtured the medicinal natural grove around their shrines.  The Kavu culture in Kerala is a reminiscence of the conservationist culture that originated with the Asokan missionaries in BC third century.

A female figure in Panayannar Kavu upholding a lamp with Lamba Karna or long pierced ear lobes typical of the Kerala Buddhist tradition.

Now a community called Adissan or Adi Achan is the custodians of the Kavu. They reside in the nearby Kottaratil household with slanting roof and Chaitya Vatayana style ventilation.  This name Adiachan is a striking resemblance to Ezhutachan community who were also having Buddhist writing legacy and multi lingual competency in the past.  Again the name is close to Kannassan or Kannachan who were supposed to be of Ganaka origin and scholars and astrologers because of their Buddhist literary traditions.

Balikallu or altar placed in the west of Panayannar Kavu showing dragon mounted Chaitya medallion motifs with human faces with Buddhist features like Ushnisha and Lamba Karna. Padma Dala and Chatur Dala Pushpa motifs too are clearly Buddhist in iconography.

There is a dominant trend to hegemonically appropriate these masters of writing in Kerala and eliticize them into caste Hindu fold that has been going on for a long while now.  It should be clearly noted at this moment that the writing tradition of letters and the initiation cultures were all part of the Buddhist and Jain legacies in Kerala. ‘Nanamonam’ or Namastu Jinate salutation (to the Buddha or Sakya Jina Muni) used for initiation into the world of letters till early 20th century testifies this Amana or Sramana legacy in Kerala.

Medicine rich bio diversity in Panayannar Kavu by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar

There is a household called Kavil still existing in the south of the Panayannar Kavu and it was the maternal house of poet and renaissance writer Muloor Padmanabha Panicker.   The biographers of Muloor like Prof Satyaprakasam have associated the legacy of Muloor to Panayannar Kavu.  He was a lead student of Narayana Guru and was the first major Avarna poet to be established in the literary public sphere in early 20th century. He paved the way for Asan and Karuppan.  His early literary struggles like Kavi Ramayana Samvadam, Chillu Vazhakku or the struggle to add the sound ‘r’ to his name that infuriated the caste Hindus etc are well known.

Cheriya Panayannar Kavu just to the south of the Valiya Kavu known after Muloor. Kavil family of Muloor’s mother is still residing near it. Now it is modified into a small temple complex. Till a few decades ago the Kalari or Ezhutupally or Kudi Pallykoodam of Muloor was standing here.

Following the democratic vision of his guru he mixed himself with the people at the bottom of the society like Kurumban Daivatar a dalit leader and composed his Pula Vritangal to voice their social and cultural aspirations. As per the friendly persuasion of Sahodaran Ayyappan a neo Buddhist he translated the Dhammapada of the Buddha directly from Pali into Malayalam.  His memorial is now at Ayatil near Ilavumtitta his paternal household.

Huge stone gateways on the west of Panayannar Kavu at the boat landing by the Pampa. It was an important inland port with world connections.

Close to Mannar and Niranam is the birth place of another group of poets from the 15th and 16th centuries called the Niranam poets or Kannasan or Kannachan poets: Madhava Panicker, Sankara Panicker and Rama Panicker.  It was through them that there began a literary  Bhakti movement in Kerala with their Bhasha translations of Gita, Ramayana and Bharata.  Though they had become instrumental in the Vaishnavization and Rama-fication of Kerala,  even before Ezhutachan, by the end of the middle ages their literary contributions enriched the development of the vernacular and also to end the booming Achi Charitas or Manipravala lust-lore.  They were associated with the Tri Kapaliswara temple a Saivite seat at Niranam.  According to critical commentators Tri Kapaliswaram is a post middle ages alteration of Tiru Palisaram, having connections with Pali rather than Kapali as in the Paliekara Pally a few miles north east in Tiruvalla.

Kannassa Memorial Library, Niranam. 29 oct 2017

Niranam was also an ancient port and the coastal line was much interior than today till the 14th century, till the colossal floods in 1341 that silted the backwaters and pushed the coastline further west.  Kadapra a place east of Niranam is a modification of Kadapuram or the sea shore.  Some local historians identify Niranam with the old legendary port called Nelcynda. Pliny’s Natural History mentions about Nelcynda and another chance is Neendakara near Kollam. Niranam was enjoying navigational linkages since ancient era.

Tri Kapaliswaram temple, Niranam; 29 oct 2017. Kannachan poets were close to this shrine.

Anyway it is believed by the St. Thomas Christians here that the apostle came and established the church in AD first century.  There are a few churches and a few boat landings where the apostle is believed to had arrived.  One such quay in a wide canal connecting the Pamapa with Manimalayar is called Tomat Kadavu or the ghat of Toma.  Nearby towards east in Tiruvalla we have another old church called Paliekara Pally.  There are several places with the name Paliekara as in Trissur where we have Palisery as well.   Places like Kuttanperur and Buddhanur are also near Parumala and Panayannar Kavu.  Karumady Kuttan or Bala Buddha of Karumady is further west near Takazhi and Ambalapuzha.  We have Buddha idols recovered at Mavelikara and Kayamkulam as well.

Tomat Kadavu where St Thomas the apostle is believed to had arrived on a sail boat. It is on a wide canal connecting the Pampa with Manimalayar near Niranam. 29 oct 2017.

It is clear that Niranam was an ancient port till the middle ages and continued to be an inland port and trade/cultural centre even up to the modern age.  And it was having global linkages with many religious and oceanic cultures till recently. the China-ware and huge Chinese pots in the Niranam Pally museum itself form an evidence for its East Asian trade and cultural relations.

Stupa like foundation of the stone cross at Niranam Pally on which elephant, lion, fish and lotus motifs are carved.

River Pampa which itself is a later modification of Pampar or the serpent river functioned as a navigational link between the sea and the port and also the hinder lands and eastern hills, especially the western ghats regions including Sabarimala and Nilkal.  A local history museum and cultural interpretation centre linking all these treasures of river Pampa must be setup here to showcase this rich composite heritage and legacy of the Niranam region before the world and posterity.

Paliekara Pally, Tiruvalla. There are several Paliekaras in Kerala and Paliserys as well, showing the widespread rootedness of Pali as a linguistic culture and tradition as in Paliyam household for example.

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.