Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism in Malabar’

Mahayana in Malabar: Trikaipata Shrine on Ponnamkod Hillock in Calicut

// December 21st, 2013 // 1 Comment » // Cultural Politics, Culture and Ecology

Ponnamkod hillock is a laterite mount a few miles south east of Calicut city by the bypass near the new IT Park.  It stands out against the undulating terrain of laterite mounts and skirting wetlands.  This hill is also known as Ponnayamkod hillock.  The affix Pon denoting gold is a clear Amana/Chamana marker.  Ayam means a pond and Ponnayam therefore indicates a golden pond or a sacred pond or tank having Sramana antiquity.  There is an old and huge well in ruin on the eastern slope of the hill.  Malayatur having a sacred foot mark or Sri Pada is called Ponmala.   Sabarimala has a hilltop called Ponnambalamedu.  Ponmudis abound in various parts of Kerala. These place names having Pon affix are important toponyms and linguistic evidences related to Buddhism and Jainism in Kerala.

Relics and ruins on Ponnamkod hill the site of Trikaipata shrine.  Temple committee members among the granite pedestals and bases.

Relics and ruins on Ponnamkod hill the site of Trikaipata shrine. Temple committee members among the granite pedestals and bases.

The temple wreck on Ponnamkod hill was cleared in the early 1990s.  It revealed two huge sanctum sanctorums (just the bases covered in  heaps of red soil) and are under reconstruction now.  The northern shrine is a huge apsidal or Gajaprishta structure. Gajaprishta and rounded Srikovils are relics of the Buddhist Stupa architecture found only in Kerala and Sri Lanka.  The temple is now called Trikaipata Subramanya temple under the Hindu Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti. I visited the place with Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on the morning of 21 Dec 2013.  In 1992 when the site was rediscovered there was a Matrubhumi report connecting it with Buddhism remembers Mr Srinivasan a health official of the corporation.

The huge apsidal (Gajaprishta) base of the northern shrine of Murukan now being rennovated.  It was rediscovered in 1992 beneath a heap of red soil.

The huge apsidal (Gajaprishta) base of the northern shrine of Murukan now being renovated. It was rediscovered in 1992 beneath a heap of red soil. The two idols were also recovered from this pile

Mr Muralidharan a resident and well wisher informed that it was known as Trikalpota shrine in olden days.  The main deity Murukan was called Trikolapan or Trikorapan.  Trikol refers to the sacred staff or Kol/Vel of Velan or Murukan.  It must be also remembered here that Murukan or Andavan was exalted to a Boddhisatva during the heyday of Mahayana in the 6th to 8th centuries in south India.  Kannan, Ayyappan and Murukan were revered as Boddhisatvas in the southern version of Mahayana Buddhism that attracted and incorporated old Sangham worships and deities in to a liberalized new canon.  But unfortunately this liberalization also provided an opportunity to Brahmanism to absorb and appropriate these numerous regional deities and sub deities in a very coveted way.

The two idols lacking limbs and faces obliterated in Trikaipata temple on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut.

The two idols lacking limbs and faces obliterated in Trikaipata temple on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut. Oil black granite and iconographic style make them really old.  Looks more than  1000 years old and related to the Boddhisatva idols of Mahayana Buddhism in south India. Murukan, Kannan and Ayyappan were revered Boddhisatvas till the middle ages.

The change of the name from Trikalpota to Trikaipata is also suspicious and pregnant with meaning.  Kal or foot is a common icon of Buddhism and Jainism as both the groups were worshipers of the foot marks of their sages and gurus.  Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka is the best example.  On the other Kai or hand mark is a distinguished Jain motif.  Thus the shift from Kal to Kai in the place name that happened very recently according to the local elder Mr Muralidharan is again mysterious and conspiratorial.  Some experts who want to erase the Buddhist connection and to flash the Jain marker instead seem to be behind this recent drift in place name.

The main and big idol relic of Muruka at Trikaipata shrine Calicut.  The limbs below the knee and hands are lost.  The neck is also broken.  The face is obliterated. The head gear and ornamented hairdo clearly connects it to the Boddhisatva figures and iconography associated with Mahayana Buddhism in south India.  Murukan or Andavan was a Bala Boddhisatva before being appropriated into the Hindu Saivite pantheon as the son of Siva.

The main and big idol relic of Muruka at Trikaipata shrine Calicut. The limbs below the knees and hands are lost. The neck is also broken. The face is obliterated. The head gear and ornamented hairdo clearly connects it to the Boddhisatva figures and iconography associated with Mahayana Buddhism in south India. Murukan or Andavan was a Bala Boddhisatva before being appropriated into the Hindu Saivite pantheon as the son of Siva.

The two idols of standing deities now installed in the temporary shrine chapel were found near the colossal wreck in broken form.  The main Murukan idol (2 m tall) and the small sub idol (1 m tall) lack hands and limbs below the knee.  But the standing posture and the hand on hip stance (Kati Bandham) prove their Murukan identity.  More over they wear loin clothes and ornaments in true Boddhisatva fashion and therefore are not Tirthankara idols of Jainism that are nude male figures sans any ornaments and clothes.  Unfortunately the faces and eyes are obliterated.  It is clear that the idols have gone through violent attempts of uprooting and mutilation as in the case of Karumady Kuttan of Alapuzha that belongs to the early 7th century Teravada style.

Perum Trikovil Jain temple Calicut, just to the north of Kutichira.  This is the oldest monument in Calicut which has its name from this Kovil as Kovilkod/Koyikod.

Perum Trikovil Jain temple Calicut, just to the north of Kutichira. This is the oldest monument in Calicut which has its name from this Kovil as Kovilkod/Koyikod. Kutichira Amana landscape is only a few miles west of Ponnamkod.

In my telephonic conversations with Dr K Sugatan the eminent heart surgeon and a keen historian of Buddhism in Kerala who authored works like Buddhanum Nanuguruvum and Buddhamatavum Jativyavastitiyum; a few decades ago Mr Teruvatu Raman unraveled a seated idol from his plot within Calicut city and Prof A Ayyappan then the curator of Madras archeological museum identified it as a Buddha and he took it to Madras.  According to Dr K Sugatan that idol must be still in Chennai.  Dr Sugatan also agrees with my observation that the Murukan relic at Ponnamkod could be related to Mahayana Buddhism in Malabar.  Another interesting topographical fact is that Ponnamkod is aerially close to Kutichira in the west that was a Buddhist landscape before the 10th century.  The Jain temple Perum Trikovil from which Calicut got its name Kovilkod/Koyikod/Kozhikod still stands to the north of Kutichira.

Mr Muralidharan the local elder related to Ponnamkod connects the  iconography to Tanjavur style.  In my view they are ancient considering the oily black stone type and iconological nuances.  The black granite idols look more than 1000 years old and are in broken and mutilated form due to weather seasoning and deliberate disfiguring on the face and limbs in particular. The absence of nudity and the absence of diamond mark on the chest (Sri Valsam) prove that they are not Jain idols.  The crown like head gear, elaborate hair tresses and fabric costumes clearly suggest a Boddhisatva icon related to Mahayana Buddhism in south India.  They are also remarkably similar to the Boddhisatva figures in Ellora, Ajanta, Elephanta and Aurangabad.  The idols also show some resemblance to the Tirupati, Palani, Tanjavur and other major shrines in Tamilakam and Andhra that were Mahayana Buddhist shrines before the middle ages.

Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut.  Pon is a clear Sramana place marker.

Prof M Dasan, Dr P K Sasidharan and Mr Anirudh Raman on Ponnamkod hill, Calicut. Pon is a clear Sramana place marker. The emerging IT Park on the north.

Since the new temple construction is ongoing, the idols that are fragmented will be ritually cremated soon as per Tantric customs.  So it is the duty of the Archeology department of the state to conserve these invaluable treasures of south Indian cultural legacy as soon as the new idols are consecrated.  Most of the ancient granite idols in such ancient temples are so fragmented and ritually thrown into unidentified spots and history is erased and buried everyday in a democratic society in daylight.  The recent resistance against the DTPC move to fix a new hand to Karumady Kuttan at Takazhi is worth remembering here.  Through such affixations the ruling classes are trying to erase the history of mutilation done to stone sculptures by religious fanatics in the early dark middle ages.  The fragmenting and immersion of ancient idols of immense archeological value are also similar crimes against humanity and civilized society.  The departments of culture and archeology must take relevant steps to acquire and conserve the old fragmented idols at Ponnamkod as and when they are ritually cremated.

Pariyapuram: Neo Buddhism and Social Change in Malabar

// April 20th, 2013 // 2 Comments » // Cultural Politics

Pariyapuram is a hilly hamlet north of Tanur in Malapuram district of Kerala.  The laterite hillock here houses an ancient cave that was developed and used by several generations of human beings over the ages.  The megalithic people might have originally discovered it and made it their abode.  There are similar megalithic laterite modified and cut caves in Anakara, Athavanad, Farook and Kandanasery all around Malabar.

Pariyapuram Buddhist cave.  In the 1930s Bhikshu Dharmaskand installed a new marble statue of the Buddha where an old demolished Buddha idol relic was said to be placed.

Pariyapuram Buddhist cave. In the 1930s Bhikshu Dharmaskand installed a new marble statue of the Buddha where an old demolished Buddha idol relic was said to be placed.  This is the eastern entrance.  Early April 2013.

Compared to Kandanasery of Kovilan and Anakara caves on the Ponnunirathu hill near Edapal that are built by the stone age people and are small the natural caverns on laterite hillocks in Athavanad and in Pariyapuram are huge and was used by generations of people and still being appropriated by new sects and folds.  While the Pariyapuram cave is popularly called the cave temple or Asram the Athavanad cave is called Chingali Mada.  It could be a derivative of Chengal Mada (laterite cave) or Changam Mada (Sangha cave).

The eastern entrance of Pariyapuram Buddhist cave.  Originally a natural cavern on the western slope of a laterite hill.  Artist Anirudha Raman at the entrance which is marked as Asram now.

The eastern entrance of Pariyapuram Buddhist cave. Originally a natural cavern on the western slope of a laterite hill. Artist Anirudha Raman at the entrance which is marked as Asram now.

The place name Pariyapuram near Tanur  is also interesting.  Place names with the affix Puram have Buddhist antiquity as in Anuradhapuram or Srimulapuram. Pariyapuram could be originally called Periyapuram or the mega city.  It could have degraded into a periphery or margin called Pariyamburam or Pariyappuram after the Hindutva take over in early middle ages.

The carved niche in which the Buddha idol was installed by Bhikhu in 1935 according to Aandi Kutty master.  "Be Your Own Light" the words of the enlightened is inscribed in Malayalam along with the Tri Saranas: Buddham, Sangham and Dhammam.

The carved niche in which the Buddha idol was installed by Bhikhu in 1935 according to Aandi Kutty master. “Be Your Own Light” the words of the enlightened one inscribed in Malayalam along with the Tri Saranas: Buddham, Sangham and Dhammam.

The master of Malayalam dalit short fiction, C Ayyappan for example talks about Periyapurath goddesses who were expelled from the Hindu Savarna fold.  A few miles south east at the juction of river Tuta and Perar there are seven goddesses who are considered sisters and the ones at Kanakar Kavu at Irimpiliyam on the northern banks of the confluence of the rivers are considered as expelled and ostracized goddesses who mixed themselves with the dalits.  Even today the dalits are performing the rituals and Puja in Kanakar Kavu.  The Kalakettu or Kalavela and Puram ritualistic annual festival of the Kavu are reminiscent of the Buddhist chariot and mascot festivals that are present in modified fashion throughout the south Indian peninsula.

Aandi Kutty Master narrating the early 20th century saga of Pariyapuram and the Buddhist cave at his home in Pariyapuram.  Early Apl 2013.  Thanks to his family for good coffee and jack chips.

Aandi Kutty Master narrating the early 20th century saga of Pariyapuram and the Buddhist cave at his home in Pariyapuram. Early Apl 2013. Thanks to his family for good coffee and jack chips.

In Pariyapuram near Tanur the elders remember a Buddha idol that was there in the cave at the beginning of the 20th century.  It was in a demolished state, perhaps in the violent Hindu conquest.  In early 1930s a few local Avarna and Tiya families established a school and Bhikshu Dharmaskand a close associate of Mitavadi C Krishnan and Mahabodhi Society and Buddha Mission of Calicut was invited to the school for an initiation meeting and the Bhikhu after seeing the ruined site of Chamana antiquity, renovated the cave and consecrated a new white marble sculpture of the enlightened one in the cave.  After his demise in the sixties or seventies it was taken into the school to be protected and is now missing.

Rama-Lakshmana-Sita-Hanuman mural that has come up in the Pariyapuram Buddhist cave.  See Sita worshiping the Siva Linga.  The VHP has made demands to acquire the site.

Rama-Lakshmana-Sita-Hanuman mural that has come up in the Pariyapuram Buddhist cave. See Sita worshiping the Siva Linga. The VHP has made demands to acquire the site.

It is interesting to note that on an adjacent hillock there is a Siva temple and a Math or Brahmanical monastery said to be established by Adi Sankara.  An Ayyappa temple is also there in Tanur.  The Trikaikattu Siva temple could had been a Buddhist Vihara before Sankara, that is up to mid 8th century AD.  Like Trikal or the sacred foot marks of the gurus the Amana also worshiped the sacred palm prints or hand marks of their masters.  The place name Trikaikattu literally means the forest/grove of the sacred hand.  It clearly echoes the past of relic worship that was popular in Buddhist stupas or Chaityas.

It could be Sankara who defeated the Chamana monks in equivocation and expelled them and converted the Bauddha Pally into a Siva temple by consecrating a Linga in the Garbha Gruha or the sanctum sanctorum.  The demolished old Buddha idol that was said to be there till the 1930s could be the deposed icon of this ancient Vihara.  There are also quite a few Chiras or huge laterite stone-cut and  stepped ponds in the region.  Such ancient ponds and place names including the Chira, Puram, Trikai etc. are Buddhist markers existing in linguistic parlance and toponyms.

Folk etymology or Janata Niruktam of the people also reflect such non Vedic legacies related to the region.  That is why the former untouchables or Avarna people who were casted away from current Savarna Hindu temples until the 1940s or 50s are able to relate to the idols of the Buddha and ancient caves to the Amana or Chamana monks.  It is the Avarna who defend and worship recovered Buddha idols from the muddy ponds or fields in the viscinity of current Savarna temples, everywhere in Kerala, whether it is Kuttanad or Malabar.  Neo Buddhism initiated by Avarna intellectuals and cultural activists like Sahodaran, Mitavadi, C V Kunjiraman and others in early 20th century was a strong and influential movement within Kerala renaissance.

Mr Aandikuty master, and enlightened elder from the place and a retired teacher from the local school, remembers these days of social and cultural awakening in Malabar under the aegis of Mitavadi, Bhikshu Dharmaskand and Mahabodhi Society.  The dalitbahujan people found this neo Buddhist movement as a way of social transformation and improving the self in the tumultuous upheavals of renaissance Kerala in early 20th century.  The ethical and non violent philosophy of inclusion and social democracy that originates from the early enlightened teachings of the Buddha helped the untouchable Avarnas who originally belonged to the Buddhist tradition in Kerala that was destroyed by Brahmanism, to regain their social mobility and human status in early 20th century.

But unfortunately after the re-Hinduization period following the temple entry politics and republican rule the Avarna people have lost their political and historical awareness and memories and found cozy asylums in the so called greater fold of liberal Hinduism.  The RSS and the right wing Hindutva forces are now encroaching into the cave at Pariyapuram and there is already an enamel fresco depicting Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Sita worshiping a Linga in the cave.  It is only a few years old and interestingly depicts Sita as prostrating and fondling the phallus with her hands.  The VHP has also recently made a plea to make this cave a Hindu pilgrim place.

Considering the antiquity and the historical and socio cultural significance of the cave in the history of Kerala renaissance and the social transformations in Malabar the site must be protected and conserved by the state departments of culture and archeology.  Similar laterite caverns and Munimadas found throughout Malabar also need the attention of the state and the civil society.  Local bodies and people’s organizations must also show interest in the conservation of their eco-cultural heritage.

Western opening of Pariyapuram Buddhist cave. Early April 2013

Western opening of Pariyapuram Buddhist cave. Early April 2013

It was actually the daughter of Bhikshu Dharmaskand, Mrs Karuna Peterson from Denmark who telephoned me after reading my web article on Mitavadi and Neo Buddhism in Kerala and informed me on Pariyapuram cave.  Artist Anirudha Raman my friend and co-traveler also gathered information to locate the cave and we visited the place together in early April 2013.