Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism in Kerala’

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.

Boddhisatva Idols from Kerala: Modification of Utariya into Sacred Thread and the Problems of Misrepresentation

// January 27th, 2015 // 7 Comments » // Cultural Politics

Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram, Chempazhanti. Recovered and installed by John Dharma Teerthar some 75 years ago. Mark the minimalist Utariya over the left shoulder.

Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram, Chempazhanti. Recovered and installed by John Dharma Teerthar some 75 years ago. Mark the minimalist Utariya over the left shoulder.

The Boddhisatva idol in a deeply engrossed meditating stance at Chempazhanthy by the birthplace and natal hut of Narayana Guru has become a familiar figure to most of the visitors. It was recovered in early 20th century by his disciple Swami John Dharma Teertha (formerly Chatanattu Parameswara Menon) from an ancient Buddhist site close to Vayalvaram house (the region including Patira Pally, Kunnam Pally Konam and Ilaya Pally Konam) and installed at the birth place of his spiritual master; often called the “Kerala Buddha” and “Sri Narayana Buddha” by poet disciples like Sahodarn Ayyapan and Pandit Karupan.

Boddhisatva idol from Karapuram/Chertala. Raja Leelasana posture, hairdo and ornaments are marked features

Boddhisatva idol from Karapuram/Chertala. Raja Leelasana posture, hairdo and ornaments are marked features. Now displayed in Krishnapuram palace state archaeology museum with the tag “Sasta”

In Kayikara the birthplace of another disciple of Nanu Asan, that of poet N Kumaranasan, stands another granite idol that joins hands in lotus bud posture in life size. It is also identified by scholars as a Buddhist idol depicting the Siddha or Upasaka figure in Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana that sustained in Kerala till 14th and 15th centuries in disguise struggling through Hindu Bhakti waves of Saivism and Vaishnavism. It is also called Tozhuvan or the one who is in the lotus bud pose joining the hands in a devotional stoop. There are place names all over Kerala involving the Tozhuvan affix like Tozhuvankode, Tozhuvanur, Tozhuvankonam etc. The point is that all the three major schools of Buddhism have their sculptural relics and archeological remains in Kerala in transformed ways. The Teravada Buddhas in Mavelikara, Karumady, Kayamkulam etc are associated to the early Anuradhapura style unique to Elam and Keralam. The Mahayana Boddhisatva idols are converted to Muruka, Ayyappa and Kanna in current Hidnu temples from the middle ages onwards. The Vajrayana Siddhas and Tara Devis began to be increasingly called as Tozhuvans and Hindu Bhagavatis in the post middle ages. In the sixteenth century Chennas wrote Tantra Samuchayam and absorbed the Tantric Buddhist deities into the Tantric Brahmanic mode, eventually completing the take over.

Vajrayana idol at Kayikara Asan Memorial. Locally called Tozhuvan. A Siddha/Upasaka figure in Vajrayana in Kerala. Jan 2015

Vajrayana idol at Kayikara Asan Memorial. Locally called Tozhuvan. A Siddha/Upasaka figure in Vajrayana in Kerala. Author with idol, Jan 2015

The recent discovery and identification of two Boddhisatva idols in Thrissur and Ernakulam districts in late 2014, are important and vital connections in understanding the Hinduization of early Buddhist shrines and idols in Kerala. The Avalokiteswara idols are crucial links in the transformation and modification to the Hindu Sasta cult a combination of Saiva, Vaishnava compromise done on Buddhist and Jain deities.
Avittatur is a village near Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district of Kerala. Irinjalakuda as the name shows was a Jain and Buddhist centre till the middle ages say historians. Alavattam or ceremonial white whisk made with Yak hair and rounded majestic hold along with Mutukuda or sacred jewelled umbrella are key Sramana icons safely embedded in the place name.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Ayyanchira pond in Avittatur in late 2014. Photo by Abi Tumboor. Now in state archeological museum Thrissur.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Ayyanchira pond in Avittatur near Irinjalakuda in late 2014. Photo by Abi Tumboor. Now in state archeological museum Thrissur.

Local legend has it that Irinjalakuda was ruled till the middle ages by a dalit (after the middle ages) ruler called Ayyan Chirukandan. A sword related to his life is still preserved in the Nambadan household nearby. Ayyan or Ayyar is an old Tamil word for the Buddha in ancient Tamilakam (Chera, Chola and Pandya lands) as Putan, Neelan, Kuttan, Tankan, Ponnan, Nanappan, Nagappan etc. There are several Ayyan Kavus and Putan Kavus in Kerala.

Avittatur or Agasteswara Putur has its etymological origin in Avalokiteswara Putur. Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva of Vajrayana was called Akatiya in old Tamil and that is why the ancient seat of Avalokiteswara at the summit of Potiyil Malai is called Akatiya Malai. This was later Hinduized as Agastya Malai and Agastya Koodam in the middle ages. In this analogy Agsteswaram is Akatiyesaram or Avalokiteswaram and Putur is just the village of Putan or Putar or the Buddha. This double signifiers related to Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism (Avalokiteswara) and Teravada or early Buddhism (Putur) that was implanted here by the missionaries of Asoka in BC 3rd century show the prolonged connection with different schools of Buddhism over the ages; i.e. from BC 3rd century to the middle ages up to the 14th or 15th century. On the eastern coast in Nagapattinam and Tanjavur Buddhism was thriving even in the 16th century. Some of the Pallys or Viharas and Stupas on the Coromandal coast stood up to the British colonial times in 18th century.

Mavelikara Buddha. Related to early Teravada in Anuradhapura style. Recovered from the marsh near current Hindu temple and installed by the road in 1923 by the people.

Mavelikara Buddha. Related to early Teravada Buddhism in Kerala in Anuradhapura style. Recovered from the marsh near current Hindu temple and installed by the road in 1923 by the people. See the old style normal Utariya above left shoulder that shrunk in later Vajrayana age.

In late 2014 a granite idol was recovered from the ancient pond called Ayyan Chira at Avittatur. Ayyan Chira is named after Ayyan Chirukandan the old (dalit) Buddhist chief of the region. This looked more than a millennium old and was similar to the Boddhisatva idol recovered a few years ago from Karapuram or Chertala in Alapuzha district of Kerala. Prof P O Purushotaman in his book Buddhante Kalpadukal (Thrissur: Current, 2008) or the Footprints of the Buddha has given the clear image of this idol and identified it as Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva. His consort Tara Devi the female Vajrayana deity was also recovered from Karapuram. Prof Purushotaman has printed both the images to prove his point beyond doubt in the book. But unfortunately Kerala Archeology Dept Museum at Krishnapuram palace exhibits the Avalokiteswara idol with the tag “Sasta.” Sasta or Dharma Sasta is a synonym for the Buddha, but it is also a later Hinduized name that is used for Ayyappa. Actually as we have seen earlier Ayyappa is a Hinduized later version of Avalokiteswara.

Tara demonized as Yakshi in Trikariyur temple. Similar idols of Tara are found in Yakshi and Rakshas modifications in Kulatupuzha and Neelamperur temples.

Tara demonized as Yakshi in Trikariyur temple. Similar idols of Tara are found in Yakshi and Rakshas modifications in Kulatupuzha and Neelamperur temples.

Prof Purushotaman clearly mentions the distinctions of the Avalokiteswara idols. Elaborate hairdo, ornaments on the hair, ear, neck, hands, waist, feet etc. form a distinct feature of the Avalokiteswara figures. The seating posture of Raja Leelasana or Ardha Padmasana also connects it to the Buddhist idols in Vajrayana and Mayana practices in north India, Tibet, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Korea or Japan. The stylized and decorated minimal Utariya is often misrepresented as the Brahman sacred thread by the Kerala Archeology Dept and the idols are interpreted as the Hinduized Sasta and belonging to the post 13th century period. But actually as the stone type, chiselling and iconography reveal these are older than the middle ages and could date back to 7th – 9th century AD and are Buddhist in iconography and cultural markers. Local researchers and historians like Abhi Tumbur, Saifudeen and Krishnakumar were instrumental in the current identification of the idol as a Buddhist one, through elaborate discussions through the social media. Unfortunately it is handed over to the state Archeology Dept Museum Thrissur and they are yet to put it on display. As per the RIT information their iconographic Lakshana texts prompt them to term it also as “Sasta” with the “sacred thread.”

Boddhisatva idol recovered in Dec 2014 from Ponjasery Pukulam temple pond. See the elaborate hairdo, ornaments and minimalist Utariya in true Tantric Vajrayana style.

Boddhisatva idol recovered in Dec 2014 from Ponjasery Pukulam temple pond. See the elaborate hairdo, ornaments and minimalist Utariya in true Tantric Vajrayana style.

In December 2014 another similar Boddhisatva image was found in the pond near the Pukulam temple near Ponjasery on the Aluva-Perumbavur road. Mr Ismayil Pallypram a local historian and researcher was instrumental in bringing it to the media discourse. The priest himself confirmed that the thread like thing over the left shoulder is not a Brahmanical sacred thread or Punool but a minimal Utariya and the idol could be Buddhist in origin. The tie of knot is visible on the minimal rounded Utariya like the ones worn by people enacting the post cremation rituals even today. The same rope like Utariya is also visible on the Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram house. Elaborate hairdo, ornaments, seating posture and the abandoned state in the pond below the current Hindu temple confirm the Buddhist identity of the sculpture. It is also split into two at the waist. Local residents and temple committee members like Mr Aji also informed that he has seen the stone pedestal of the idol in his younger age lying in the muddy pond.

Ancient Naga deities in a Kavu or sacred shrine in Pala. Conservationist culture of early Buddhism is reflected in Kavu culture. Kavu means Kanyakavu or the nuns who composed Terigadha.

Ancient Naga deities in a Kavu or sacred shrine in Pala. Conservationist culture of early Buddhism is reflected in Kavu culture. Kavu means Kanyakavu or the Boudha nuns who composed texts like Terigadha.

It must be remembered that all the Buddhist idols so far recovered from Kerala were unearthed from temple ponds or marshes close to current caste Hindu temples. Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Karumady, Pattanam etc are examples of such chanced recovery from Hindu temple vicinity. Utariya, Ushnisha and Jwala are the common markers of the early Teravada Buddhas in Anuradhapura style in Kerala. But in Mayana and Vajrayana Boddhisatva idols we have much more charming and dashing male seductive figures with moving postures, ornamental elaborate hairdo and jewellery. The misinterpretation and hideous misrepresentation of the minimalistic short Utariya as sacred thread is the covetous strategy through which caste Hindu lobbies in the state department of Archeology are reappropriating the sculptures to the Hindu fold. It must be remembered by the people that it was the same Savarna caste Hindu forces that assimilated most of the early Jain and Buddhist shrines and idols as numerous Hindu deities with minor modifications in names and attire. It must also be remembered that most of the invaluable icons of the Sramana age were abandoned and disposed in rivers and water bodies by the Brahamanical priestocracy in the ritual called Nimajjana by saying that an old broken idol is an evil omen.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Pukulam temple pond at Ponjasery near Aluva. Broken into two and probably disposed in the ancient Chira or tank with perennial spring.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Pukulam temple pond at Ponjasery near Aluva. Broken into two and probably demolished and disposed in the ancient Chira or tank with perennial spring that watered the surrounding paddy fields.

When people recover these deposed, demolished, fissured and disposed idols again from the soil and identify their true Amana or Chamana heritage; Brahmanism and Savarna Hindu ideologues in the media and state cultural institutions again mark them with a Hindu hegemonic tag and a sacred thread that re-entangles them in the metaphysics of the second sacred birth. But the mockery is that the same forces of the sacred thread are reluctant to give the same dubious Brahmanical tag thread to the home returnees in their reconversion programme called Ghar Vapsi. The Maharajs and Sadhvis have made it clear that the home returnees will return to their old Sudra or Chandala Kulas and Gotras. It is high time that the people must realize such mass deceptions and cultural hegemony parading as “sacred religion and tradition” and reject the growing Hinduization of public treasures and archaeological relics.