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Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu? The Ancient Rock that Looks Like a Buddha Head in Meenachil Taluk of Kottayam

Illikkal Kallu rock peaks resembling the face of the Buddha, profile with nose, chin and tuft of hair or Ushnisha above. It rises above 1000m at the eastern border of Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk.

Illikkal Kallu is an ancient rock formation rising to 1000 m above sea level at the eastern mountain ranges in Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk bordering with Idukki district. Many tributaries of the river Meenachil are also orginating from the grasslands of this rock caped mountain. It is also close to Vagaman mountains and Ilaveezhapoonchira peak. The enigmatic shrub Neelakoduveli is believed to be growing on its crevices.

Illikkal Kallu fallen rock face resembling the face of the Buddha with a tuft of hair above that resembles a lying lion representing the Sakya Simha roaring to the world

The place name Illikkal Kallu refers to Illi or the thorny bamboo. But this variety of bamboo does not grow on such altitude above 1000 m on grass land tops or sholas and rocky peaks in particular on the Western Ghats. It is a miserable mockery that the tourism lobby is now planting a few bamboos there. Only the elephant grass and alpine date palms or Eendu grow on these grassland tops. There are a few giant reeds (‘Ottal or Odal’) in the lower stretches and slopes of this range. So Illi or bamboo cannot become the key element in the place name anyhow. Thus the place name seems to have changed or modified in modern times. Considering the ecological and geo strategic location and proximity to ancient trade routes to Tamilakam or the ancient Tamil Pandya country across the the Western Ghats from the Chera land or Kerala the original place name seems to be Pallykal Kallu or the ancient rock at the vicinity of the Vihara. Especially when we consider the surrounding place names like P(u)allykanam, Elapally and Eendupally it is all the more clear. Pally affix in place names are changed gradually to either Pilly or Pully misusing the British spelling ‘u’ or slight changes in local articulation to erase the history of Buddhism by the hegemonic consensus.

Reclining Buddha in his rocky bed, another angle of Illikkal Kallu. An alteration of Pallykal Kallu as Eendupally and Elapally as well as Pallykanam are surrounding the area in Meenachil Taluk in Kottayam district of Kerala.

Teekoyi which is a small town near this place is also an altered version of Teekovil the pagoda of fire. Kozhikod was originally Kovilkod and Koyilandy was Kovilaandi in the north. The Poonchira another peak nearby is also having a Buddhist connection as the Chira or dams and irrigation bunds for water management in ancient Kerala and Tamilakam were designed and made in eco-conservative ways by the nuns and monks of Asoka from BC third century onward along with their sacred groves or Sangha Aramas that precipitated later as the Kavu culture of Kerala. The elaborate archaeological and ecological relics of Buddhist conservation culture as in Amaram Kavu named after Amara Simha the author or Amarakosa and the ancient rock temple and Gajotama or Ganes temple in Karikod near Todupuzha are reminiscent of the Buddhist age.

The rock faces and formations at Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu resemble the head of the Buddha in many ways and angles. The face and tuft of hair (Ushnisha) are clear and the tuft also looks like a seated lion roaring, again symbolizing the Sakya Simha speaking to the world. Perhaps that is why the rock was called Pallykal Kallu before the modern age. There were many Viharas or Pallys on the Western Ghats as in Pallykanam or Eendupally on these grass land tops. Kutikanam or the Kanam or wooded grassland top with a Kuti or Pagoda is another example in southern ranges. Many rock heads have fallen. Some rocks look like mushroomed umbrella and are called Kuda Kallu popularly by the Mala Araya tribals. Some are called hunchbacks or Koonan Kallu. It is remarkable to note that Kuda or ceremonial umbrella is another key symbol in Buddhism. The ancient Stupas and gateways carried three, four, five or eight umbrellas. Kodaikanal got its name from the Kodai or umbrella icon of Buddhism. There are Pally affixes in the house names of the Mala Arayas.

Another smaller rock nearby is called Ayyanpara or the rock of Ayya or Arya Buddha. In the middle ages these shrines were taken over by Saivism. Maramala falls is also nearby which is now shortened and distorted in articulation and meaning as Marmala. Mara and his daughter Mohini tested the Buddha with their sensual song and dance and he assumed the down to earth posture or Bhumi Saparsa Mudra peacefully conquering the trials of the senses. There are several places related to Mara in Kerala like Maramon, Maraparambu, Marayimuttom, Mararikulam etc. The traditional percussionist caste is also called Marar or the people of Mara hinting at their song and dance traditions.

This unique geological and eco cultural location must be conserved very carefully from the business interests of the tourism industry and must be conserved for future generations and the future of the river Meenachil and the planes fed by the river.

Photos and text by ajay sekher

Buddha at Vellilapally in Kottayam District of Kerala

In early March 2019 a Buddha head in stone was recovered from Vellilapally near Ramapuram and Amanakara in Kottayam district of Kerala. It was found while the workers were making a stone wall. It was part of an older wall. There is a Dhammasasta shrine nearby. This place is called Pallykandam or the field of the Pally or Vihara in Vellilapally village. Vellilapally was the original name of the whole place now known as Ramapuram. Brahman settlements came up durng the middle ages.A similar life size Buddha sculpture in seated posture with broken hand was recovered earlier from the same spot in Pallykandam in Vellilapally and is currently on display in Trissur archeological museum.

Buddha head recovered from Vellilapally in Kottayam district of Kerala in March 2019 at Hill Palace Museum. Life size and more than one feet in height. Photo: Ajay Sekher 

The head seems to be part of a similar life size sculpture. It alone is more than one feet in height. The long earlobe and Ushnisha or hairdo is clear that are characteristics of the Buddha sculptures. It is broken in the back and was probably connected to a larger sculptural unit with hallow like paraphernalia as the background or pedestal. In hairdo it is similar to the Buddha at Kayamkulam Krishnapuram palace museum. The resemblance of Gandhara and Kalinga styles are visible. It may be related to C E fifth or sixth century like the ones at Trissur and Kayamkulam museums. The facial features are obscured in long tear and wear underground or badly mutilated so that it is unnoticed.

Vellilapally Buddha head at Tripunitura Hill Palace Museum. See the hairdo similar to Kayamkulam Buddha having Gandhara and Kalinga iconographic influences. Also broken at the back and was part of a larger sculptural assemble. Photo: Ajay Sekher

It was recovered and taken to the Hill Palace Museum at Tripunitura by Kerala Archaeology Department. It must also come to display with the correct tags at the earliest. The recently discovered Boddhisatva idols from Ponjasery in 2015 and Avittatur in 2014 taken by Kerala Archaeology Department are not yet displayed and are lying hidden in the stock room. It is now evident that Vellilapally and Kottayam district in particular was an important cultural location of Buddhism till the middle ages. Place names like Amanakara, Marangattupally, Pandapally etc are proving the presence of Amana or Sramana missionaries and their educational establishments like Pally and Pallykoodam.

Vellilapally Buddha at Pallykandam in early March 2019. See the long earlobe and the erased or mutilated face.