Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism in Malabar’

Changaram Komarath: The Ancient Household of Mitavadi C Krishnan in Mullassery

// April 15th, 2013 // 2 Comments » // Cultural Politics

The remaining block of the old Ettukettu of Changaram Komarath household of Mitavadi C Krishnan near Mullasery, Thrissur district of Kerala, early April 2013.

The remaining block of the old Ettukettu of Changaram Komarath household of Mitavadi C Krishnan near Mullasery, Thrissur district of Kerala, early April 2013.

I revisited the Changaram Komarath household of Mitavadi in early April 2013 after almost  four years.  Though I had read a lot on Mitavadi and his counter hegemonic struggles against caste and untouchability from my early doctoral research stage in 2002 onwards, I first visited the place in 2009 while teaching briefly in an Engineering college at Thrissur.  This ancient household is in Thrissur district of Kerala near Guruvayur, close to Mullassery junction.  The remaining block of the old Ettukettu and the family shrine is still preserved by the current generation but it requires further care and larger support.

The current elder at Changaram Komarath explaining the family tree at the household temple, early April 2013.

The current elder at Changaram Komarath explaining the family tree at the household temple, early April 2013.

I was lucky to meet a few senior members from the family and they explained the family tree and the past.  The family shrine in which the ancestors are worshiped as Achan is still used for prayers on a daily basis.  There is a huge Pipal and a small pond before it on the eastern side.  The old house in which Narayana Guru rested while he visited Changaram Komarath is still intact.

Mitavadi C Krishnan Vakeel and old photo from internet

Mitavadi C Krishnan Vakeel, an old photo from internet

The senior members narrated the story of the struggles of the Avarna for human rights and equality that continued till the mid 20th century against the popular misconception of Malabar being delivered from caste by Tipu’s rule and the British rule in mid 18th century.  Though they were the leading tax payers and regional supremos they were not allowed to use the roof tiles till 1903 for being the Avarnas.  Till then coconut leaf thatches were used for a few Ettukettus in the family at Mullasery.

Mitavadi: my on portrait in charcoal on paper, a few years old

Mitavadi: my on portrait in charcoal on paper, a few years old

Though they were having their own temple at the household, as untouchables they were not allowed to stand before the doorway of their own family shrine and salute the deity and were forced to bow before a different stone installed towards the north east of the actual shrine. Bowing the deity directly was a taboo for the outcastes.   Though the region was under Mysore and the British from mid 18th century heinous caste discrimination and untouchability practices continued till the mid 20th century; testify the elders of the family.

The family temple enshrining the ancestors as Achan at Changaram Komarath near Mullasery

The family temple enshrining the ancestors as Achan at Changaram Komarath near Mullasery.  The old Pipal or Boddhi tree to the left and a pond to the east.

There is no wonder that an English educated and ethically inclined C Krishnan (1867-1938) as a lawyer and human rights champion (he was an M L C in the British Madras Province of Malabar) established his own press and daily called Mitavadi in Malabar.  As his bosom friend Sahodaran he also became renowned after his journal.  His father Mr Paran was also supportive in this early journalistic endeavor as part of the renaissance struggles in Kerala under the visionary leadership of Narayana Guru and intellectual and cultural camaraderie of  socio political stalwarts like Sahodaran and C V Kunjiraman from Kochi and Travancore respectively.  Mitavadi, Sahodaran, Muloor and Bhikshu Dharmaskand were instrumental in initiating the neo Buddhist discourse in Kerala.  They founded the Mahabodhi society and Buddha Vihar in customs read near the beach in Calicut in early 20th century.

Mr Kunji Paran an elder at Changaram Komarath remembering family history and Mitavadi.  According to him Narayanga Guru visited the house in 1911 on Mitavadi's invitation.

Mr Kunji Paran, retired revenue inspector and an elder at Changaram Komarath remembering family history and Mitavadi. According to him Narayanga Guru visited the house in 1911 on Mitavadi’s invitation and ended rooster sacrifice in the family shrine. He asked the question,”Is there Himsa here?”

The Changaram Komarath house proclaims its ancient origin with its very name.  Changaram is a recurrent affix in place names and family names in Kerala as in Changaram Kulam north of Kunnam Kulam or the widespread family name Changaram Kandath existing in Thrissur district.  It is a regional modification of Changam or Sangham.  Komarams are the ancient south Indian oracles.  Changaram can also be a derivation of Sangha Arama the sacred groves in the memory of Buddhist nuns now called Kavu.  The location of the Komaram or oracle in the Sangharama is shortly termed as Changaram Komarath.  The inherent link of the family to Buddhism is evident from this family name as in Changampally family north of the Perar. The forced and farfetched Sanskritized interpretation of Changaram as Sankaram by the Savarna forces is a post Hinduization  trend.  Also there is a current Hinduized way of etymologically connecting Komaram with Kumaram.  Both these derivations are baseless as exemplified by place names like Komarakam, Komaranellur etc.

See the gateway of the family shrine dislocated to the right a Avarnas were prohibited from directly standing and saluting in front of the deity till early decades of the last century, though it was their own family shrine.

See the gateway of the family shrine dislocated to the right as Avarnas were prohibited from directly standing and saluting in front of the deity till the early decades of the last century, though it was their own family shrine in their own plot adjacent to their home Changaram Komarath.

More over a few miles north east of Mullassery an ancient Tali temple is surviving.  Tali temples were originally Buddhist, before the 8th century.  When Hindu Brahmanism took over they made it the centre of Brahmaswam regime.  It then passed on to Azhvanchery Tampran in the early middle ages when caste system was established  and is still with him.  The Sery or Chery affix in Azhvanchery and also in Mullasery is a Pali word.

Parambu Tali temple a few miles north east of Mullasery.  Under Azhvanchery Tamprans from early middle ages onwards.  Shows remarkable closeness to Buddhist architectural features.  The southern shrine of Muruka is a Vattadage or Vattam or rounded structure originally a Buddhist structure found only in Kerala and Sri Lanka.

Parambu Tali temple a few miles north east of Mullasery. Under Azhvanchery Tamprans from early middle ages onwards. Shows remarkable closeness to Buddhist architectural features. The southern shrine of Muruka on the left  is a Vattadage or Vattam or rounded shrine originally a Buddhist structure found only in Kerala (Kara-elam in ancient parlance) and Sri Lanka (Tiv-elam). The words Tali, Vattam, Kottam and Kuti also denote a Buddhist or Jain Vihara, Basati or Pally.

According to the  OED, Sery or Chery (lamasery) means the abode of the lamas or Buddhist monks.  This word came to English and French from Pali (through Tibetan perhaps) and was pointed out to me by a local historiographer Mr P S Sugathan from Kodungallur who is working on his new book on Buddhism in Kerala.  Mr Sugathan’s ancient household in Kodungallur is called Panikasery.

The remaining western block of the old Ettukettu at Changaram Komarath.  The blue pvc sheet thatched pagoda on the extreme left was used as an Ezhuthupally for children.

The remaining western block of the old Ettukettu at Changaram Komarath. The blue  sheet thatched pagoda on the extreme left was used as an Ezhuthupally for children.

From these linguistic evidences  sustaining in place names and family names it can be seen that not just the Ezhava households but even the Azhavanchery Tampran’s family were originally Buddhists before the 8th century.  Those who submitted to Vedic Brahmanism were made into Savarna Tampurans or lords and those who never submitted to Hindu Brahmanism or the Vedic hegemony were casted away as the untouchables or Avarnas.

Old photos in the verandah of Changaram Komarath at Mullasery

Old photos in the verandah of Changaram Komarath at Mullasery

The caste  Tamprans made Kerala into a lunatic asylum as acknowledged by a Hindu sage Vivekananda himself in early 20th century and it required the collective struggles of generations of Avarnas to materialize the Kerala renaissance that liberated modern Kerala from the clutches of the self fashioned caste Tamprans and feudal lords.

The wooden parakeet on the western balcony at Changaram Komarath house. Early April 2013.

The wooden parakeet on the western balcony at Changaram Komarath house. Early April 2013.

Mitavadi C Krishnan was in the forefront of anti Tampran or anti caste democratic struggles within the broader movement of the grass root level cultural politics unleashed by Narayana Guru and his disciples like T K Madhavan, Sahodaran, C V Kunjiraman, Murkoth Kumaran, C Kesavan and others.  The current family generations are trying their best to preserve this common cultural heritage of Kerala.  It is high time that the people and their elected governments who are interested and committed to Kerala renaissance and anti caste struggles that formed the ethical foundations of modern Kerala come together and protect and preserve the ancient Changaram Komarath house of Mitavadi for posterity.

Vatadage or Vattam at Polonaruva, Sri Lanka.  Photo from internet

Vatadage or Vattam at Polonaruva, Sri Lanka. Photo from internet

Neo Buddhism in Kerala: The Legacy of Mithavadi C Krishnan

// April 17th, 2011 // 7 Comments » // Cultural Politics

"Mithavadi" Charcoal on Paper by Ajay Sekher

Buddha was the first to question caste and Brahmanism in India in BC sixth century in north India.  He was also the first thinker and social reformer to challenge the authority of the Vedas the foundational texts of Hindu Brahmanism that established the Varna-caste system in the Indus and Gangetic planes soon after the devastation of the Dravidian Indus valley civilization around BC 1500.

The enlightened one included women and outcastes into his fold. The philosophy of love, non-violence and rationalism that he taught included millions in a an egalitarian way of life.  But unfortunately this ethical culture of non-violence that spread to the far corners of Asia to China, Japan and Korea was violently quelled by Brahmanical revivalism of the 8th and 9th centuries led by Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhava.  The persecution of Sramana Buddhists and Jains was a bloody example of Brahmanical Hindu barbarism that reinstated caste and untouchability in India.

Old Bodhi tree in ruins (left) and new one flourishing in Paran Square, Old residence of Mithavadi in Customs Road, Beach, Calicut (currently the property of Bhikshu Dharmaskand's family)

It was Dr B R  Ambedkar who radically reinterpreted the Buddha for the untouchable millions of India at the wake of the 20th century through his masterpiece Buddha and His Dhamma.   At the beginning of the 21st century dalit intellectuals like Kancha Ilaiah also acknowledged the signficance of the Buddha as a political philosopher and re-inaugurated the discourse of Asian enlightenment as a liberation ethics.

In Tamil Nadu Neo Buddhism was developed by Iyothee Thass and followers in early 20th century.  The recent work by Gail Omvedt Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste also enlivens this great epistemological debate in Indian history, society and politics.  In Kerala that has a long history of more than 1000 years of Buddhism from BC 3rd to AD 9th century the philosophy of ethics and enlightenment was revitalized by the leading players of Kerala renaissance including Sahodaran Ayyappan, Mithavadi C Krishnan, C V Kunhiraman, Justice Ayyakutty and others.

Location of Paran Square and Hall: Old home of Mithavadi in Customs Road, Beach, Calicut. Now with Dharmaskand's family

It was Mulur S Padmanabha Panikar the first major Avarna poet in Malayalam who translated the Dharmapada of Buddha into Malayalam straight from Pali original with the encouragement of Sahodaran in 1925 itself.  Sahodaran Ayyappan also prompted Justice Ayyakutty to attempt a second translation of the same later to popularize the word of Buddhism among people.  Through his speeches, editorials, verse and prose Sahodaran tirelessly campaigned for the propagation of Buddhist Dharma among the untouchable Avarna people of Kerala to ethically de-link them from the hierarchical and inhuman desire of caste and Hindu Brahmanism.  He radically reinterpreted his master Narayana Guru’s teaching as “No Caste, No Religion, No God for humans; But Dharma, Dharma and Dharma most appropriately and accordingly (in the enlightened way).”

Like Ambedkar, Sahodaran embraced Buddhism  along with Adv. C Krishnan at the Calicut (Kozhikode) residence of Mithavadi who actually organized a Mahabodhi Society and Buddha Mission at his residence in Customs Road near the beach highway in Calicut.  The place was named Paran Square and hall after his father and a legendary ancestor who was a fighter for just causes from his Changaramkumarath household at the southern margin of Malabar so close to Cochin in the old Ponnani taluk in Mullasery.

C Krishnan got the name Mithavadi after his journal.  It means an argumentative person adopting a middle way (in a Neo Buddhist sense).  C Krishnan was an argumentative Keralite in its most radical and emancipating sense.  Sahodaran was also known after his journal which means the brother who mixed with the dalits and was thus called Pulayan Ayyappan, a term of contempt by the elites which he accepted as an honorary degree. Sahodaran from Cochin and Mithavadi from Calicut were two powerful voices of the subaltern and the untouchable struggling people in Kerala during the renaissance.  The printing press and office of  Sujananandini run by Paravur Kesavan Asan was burned by the Savarna henchmen of south Travancore during this early stage of anti-caste resistance in early 20th century .

Opening to other worlds: Calicut beach close to Mithavadi home

The residence of Krishnan at Calicut was a meeting place for all the cultural and political activists of his time.  Gandhi, Malavya, Annie Bessent and so many stalwarts had visited and spoken in Paran Hall.  It included a library, women’s club and auditorium in its prime.  It also housed the SNDP club of Calicut.  the Calicut Bank was also founded by C Krishnan nearby. One part of the complex also housed his Empire Press.

In the first week of April 2011 I visited the former residence of Mithavadi while attending the National Theatre Festival of Kerala 2011 at Calicut.  I always wanted to go and see his old residence and the historic Paran Square and the ancient Pipal which is directly propogated from the Bodhi tree from Gaya.  Some biographers also say that it was from the Pipal at Anuradhapura in Srilanka that was originally implanted there in BC forth century by the missionaries of Asoka who in tern took it from the seminal tree at Gaya beneath which Gautama got enlightenment.

Resonant with pasts: Mithavadi home today. Bhikshu Dharmaskand bought it in 1952 according to his daughters who currently posses it. Apl 2011

During the 1920s Mithavadi invited Buddhist monks from Srilanka to re-disseminate the gospel of Buddha in Kerala.  He was also part of the great conversion debate that shook the foundations of Hindu majoritarianism in Kerala during the renaissance social revolutions.  Sahodaran, C V and Mithavadi argued for conversion to Buddhism and it startled the orthodoxies and Brahmanical forces and persuaded them to share political power in some reluctant and compromised ways.

But still the Savarnas are chewing the cud of their medieval hegemony and golden past under the Brahman-Sudra nocturnal alliances (called Sambandham) in education and public service sectors.  They are assaulting the constitution and its spirit of inclusion and representation as materialized in the affirmative action policies called reservation almost every day in public spaces and government offices in covert and allusive ways. It is important to remember here that Ambedkar developed his philosophy of social democracy and inclusion from Buddhism that is the gravest critique of caste and Brahmanism in India.

Even the so called university educated young Savarnas are publically questioning the spirit of democracy and social justice in the streets.  In north it is visible in the form of anti Mandal fire dances and AIIMS mutinies sponsored by the Neo Brahmanic corporate lobbies against reservations.  But in Kerala the Savarna – Syrian monopoly groups are adopting covert and heinous means of assault against the dalits and OBCs in government and public aided educational institutions and offices.  The government aided educational institutions that run on public fund do not ensure representative inclusion of the people on whose taxes they survive.

In such contexts of growing hidden hegemony in public sphere it is vital to remember and uphold the spirit of the socio-cultural struggles and revolutions that democratized Kerala during the renaissance.  Temple entry and legislative reforms and civil rights moves were  direct outcomes of the great Neo Buddhist discourse in Kerala launched by the brave organic intellectuls mentioned above.  Neo Buddhism in Kerala was part of the cultural and emancipating politics of the bahujan leaders who used it effectively to subvert the pseudo spiritual monopolies and power centers of Hindu Brahmanism.

The place is now with the daughter of Bhikshu Dharmaskand a friend of C Krishnan.  The Paran Hall and buildings are gone.  So is the Buddha Vihara built by Mithavadi.  The ancient Pipal is decayed and in ruin but one more younger tree is flourishing fortunately for the occasional visitor or researcher.  According to the lady the Buddha idol and other belongings of C Krishanan are taken to Changaramkumarath near Guruvayur by his sons. I remember visiting the ancient household of Mithavadi a few years back.  The old mansion and small shrine of Paran the great ancestral warrior are still intact.

Mithavadi C Krishnan (1867-1938) was a High Court lawyer, a journalist, an editor, a banker, a social revolutionary, a rationalist, Neo Buddhist missionary and much much more.  He bought the Mithavadi journal and press in 1913 from Sivasankaran of Thalassery which was in crisis and developed it into a news daily of Avarnas and Thiyas in purticular from Calicut.  As a subject of British Malabar he got the opportunity for higher education which was then denied to Avarnas in Cochin and Travancore. The counter experience of Avarna’s like Dr Palpu in Travancore is remarkable here.

He used the breaks provided by English education and colonial legal system for the liberation of his fellow untouchables through his pen, press and platforms.  Along with Manjeri Rama Iyer he broke the restriction to use the public road near Calicut Thali temple on his horse carriage in 1917.  The excited people following him threw the blackened boards to the pond that prevented the entry of untouchables in public places.  This historic spatial reclamation by an Avarna could be compared to the 1917 inter dining at Cherayi organized by Sahodaran and the bullock-cart ride of Ayyankali that asserted the basic right to use public roads by the subaltern and the fundamental right and freedom of movement.

Apart from Ayyappan, C V Kunhiraman and T K Madhavan; Asan and Dr Palpu visited C Krishnan at his Calicut residence.  The SNDP club was inaugurated in October 1912.  In 1919 Narayana Guru appointed him as the authority of all his property and institutions at Aluva ashram.  He organized a huge Buddhist public meeting on 19 February 1925 at Paran Square.  The Buddha Vihara and pagoda were inaugurated there on 16 May 1927.

Krishnan became one of the five editors of Yuktivadi (The Rationalist) magzine along with Sahodaran that opened up the rationalist and atheist discourse in Kerala in January 1929.  It was also part of their greater cultural politics for equality and social justice.   In the same year in October he also published his Buddha Tatva Pradeepam (Essays on the Theory of Buddha). He also played a vital role in passing the Malabar Tenants Bill in Madras Legislative Assembly on 18 November 1930 which proved to be highly beneficial for just land reforms.

C Krishnan was in constant touch with the leaders of Tamil Nadu like the head of Justice party Dr T M Nair.  He was also a member of Justice party and became the chairman of South Indian Liberal Federation that fought Brahmanism and Savarna hegemony in public life and institutions. Mithavadi offers exquisite models and strategies for writers, media persons and cultural activists who are interested in socio cultural intervention and change.

Reference

Kaumudi: Mithavadi C Krishnan Edition. Trivandrum: Oct-Dec. 2007.

Mulur.  Dharmapadam (Malayalam).  Elavumthitta:  Mulur Smaraka Committee, 1998.

Ilaiah.  Post Hinduism.  New Delhi: Sage, 2009.

http://mithavadi-ckrishnan.blogspot.com/