Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism in Kerala’

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.

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.