Padagiri and Nelli Kulam in Nelliampati on the Northern Tip of Anamalais

Padagiri the peak of Nelliampati rising upto 1585 m, as seen from Ayyappan Tittu shrine enroute to Nelliampati

Nelliampati or Nelliyampathy is a hill station of coffee and tea plantations created by the British in mid 19th century on the southern mountain ranges of the Western Ghats bordering the Palakad gap or Palghat pass. From the 1860s there were coffee and tea plantations and factories created by the colonial enterprise. Civilization began on the mountains as part of the early Anamalai centres of Sramana culture. There are many relics of ancient human settlements and establishments as in place names and megalithic menhirs, caverns and sacred groves amidst the vast estates.

Ayyappan Tittu shrine en route to Nelliampati; a Mahayana style Ganes and bell are still intact before it.

Nelli is the gooseberry tree that was the totem tree of the early Ezhava clans associated with Ezham the ancient Tamil word for Sangham or the Buddhist congregational society that is closely interwoven like fabric or intertwined and entangled natural world. Ezhavar simply means the people of the Ezham or Sangam (Sekher 2019: 61 – 62 ). There may be many ethnicities and ethnic amalgams within this social section outcasted by Brahmanical Hinduism. Ezhavar were having many socio-cultural rights and privileges in society till the 17th century; argues Elamkulam (651) because of their ancient cultural legacies of Buddhism like medical practice and writing (Balakrishnan 61). Narayanaguru and P K Gopalakrishnan have also defined the Ezhava as a basic people and not a caste within Hinduism (Gopalakrishnan 2007).   Nelli and Vagai were also revered by the Chera clans in ancient Tamilakam. Pati or Pathy is an ancient ritual grove or shrine in Tamilakam like the Tirupati on Tiru Vengadam hills north of Chola Mandalam that was originally a Buddhist shrine till the middle ages.

Temple tree (Plumeria Rubra) or ancient Ezha Chembakam the Chembakam of Ezham or Sangha before Ayyappan Tittu shrine of Dhamma Sasta en route to Nelliampati. Writer and researcher K P Ramesh in pic.

Another ancient Mahayana shrine Palani is also in the east and in between we have Chamanam Pati that means the sacred ritualistic grove of the Sramana in Tamil. Chingan Chira and many other ancient sacred groves are on the northwestern side of Nelliampati. Chingan Chira is the huge pond created with an earthen bund by the early Asokan Buddhist missionaries and named after Chingan or Simhan the Sakya Simha. In the middle ages, it was violently Hinduized through hoary sacrifices of animals and even human beings and modified into the shrine of the blood-thirsty Hindu goddess Kali.

Lion-tailed Macaque (Simha Valan) at the entrance of Nelliampati. Feeding of wild animals creating havoc.

Pongilidi or smashing the sacrificed head of the Buddhist or Avarna into small pieces and eating it as the ritual offering before Kali was also prevalent in those cannibalistic middle ages till the arrival of the British and colonial modernity. Kavu Teendal and Bharani Pattus and similar drunken revelries and violence both symbolic and physical were prominent as in Kodungallur and Chertala Kavu Teendal and many other violent exorcizing rituals like Teeyattu, Mudiyetu and Choottu Padenis all over Kerala that reveal the violent and repressive Hindu cults and rituals related to the ousting of peaceful and nonviolent Jain and Buddhist monks and nuns from the ancient Pallys and modifying them into Hindu Brahmanical shrines and Kshetras with Tantric rituals. Nelliampati also witnessed such a hegemonic takeover and conjuring in the middle ages.

Nelli Kulam shrine of the goddess at the lap of Padagiri peak on the east by the stream and pool called Nelli Kulam. Padagiri top visible in background. This is the Moola Sthanam or the original seat of the goddess who was taken to Nenmara Nellikulaty shrine by Kodakara Nair in 16th century according to legend. Original Nelli Kulam still with Avarna family . Photo by Ajay Sekher 6 Feb 2022

The ancient Pati or sacred grove shrine in Nelliampati from which it got its name is Nellikulam grove shrine and stream on the eastern slope and base of Padagiri the highest peak in Nelliampati. It is 1585 m tall above mean sea level (Valath 158). Padagiri is also called Nelli Kotta. There are other peaks rising above 1500 m like Vellachi Mudi, Valiya Bana Mala, Maya Mudi or Myal Mudi, Valvachan Mala etc. Till mid 19th century the region was covered in dense forests of various sorts deciduous, semi-deciduous, evergreen and shola grass lands above 1400 m on the peaks in particular.

Nelli Kulam or the pool formed in the stream called Nelliyar at the eastern base of Padagiri peak in Nelliampati. Many ancient Ezha Chembakam trees are protected here still like this one with railing or Vedika. Similar ones are found in Tirunelly Pally or ancient Sri Amalakee Vihara in Wayand above Pulpally.

Nelli Kulam is an ancient seat of Devi or Mayadevi now worshiped as a goddess in Hinduized ways. It is like Devikulam near Chakra Mudi in Munnar. Chakra Mudi is now distorted as Chokra Mudi and Boddhi Medu Mountains are called Bodi Mettu. Originally these Kulams or ponds were dedicated to Mayadevi in Buddhist times and later when Hinduized these were modified into that of Sitadevi to link these places to Rama and Ramayana and to Ramafy these discursive cultural geographies. It happened to Sabarimala that was originally Savari Mala or Chavari Mala the mountain of the Savari deer or Sambar deer in the ancient old Tamil Sangam texts.

Padagiri peak of Nelliampati as seen from the grassy wetland or Vayal formation in the eastern tea estate. Photos by Ajay Sekher

The location of Nelli Kulam at the base of Padagiri or the mountain enshrining the Sri Pada or Buddhist footprints as in many other mountains in South India and Ceylon from Malayatur to Sri Pada in Sri Lanka; confirms the Buddhist origin as many other place names related to Nelli around. As in Tirunelly shrine of Wayanad that was originally Tiru Nelly Pally or Sree Amalakee Vihara; Amalaka or Amla or Nelli has a special revered status in Buddhist cultures and related medical practices.

Plumeria Rubras or temple trees or Ezha Chembakams by the Nellikulam pool and stream in Nelliampati. The flowers of these trees with five petals representing the Panchaseela were used to worship and revere the Buddha in the past in Kerala; as it is still used all over tropical South East Asia. Poets like Sahodaran have written verses on it.

It is also distorted later in placename articulation in Malayalam into “Patagiri” (പാടഗിരി) to deliberately erase the Buddhist history of the sacred feet worship or the symbolism of Sri Pada or Kalady. The original golden idols and treasures were looted and reinstalled at the Nenmara Nellikulangara Bhagavati shrine by a feudal lord from a caste Hindu Sudra clan in mid 16th century called Kodakara Nair who was accented and supported by the Brahmanical regime by then. But even today, the Kodakara family men must come to the original seat at Nelliampati for all the initiations before each annual ritual festival to Nelli Kulam on the Nelliampati hills; which is still in the hands of the Avarna Ezhava household called Nellikulam in Nelliampati. This family is also known as Pootandu locally as there was a garden created by the British near the top.

Author Dr Ajay S Sekher with writer K P Ramesh at Sitarkundu viewpoint with an iconic Nelly and Palakad gap visible some 1000 m below.

It is similar to the history of Tirunelly or Tiru Nelly Pally or ancient Sree Amalakee Vihara in Wayanad close to the Deccan plateau which was one of the first Buddhist Pallys in Kerala to be converted into a Hindu shrine. The footmarks there amidst a lake are just modified and termed as Vishnu Pada with some slight and sly iconographic alterations and additions. In Tirunelly as well as in Nellikulam in Nelliampati the ancient Ezha Chembakams or temple trees of the Sangam are still growing as in all the ancient Kavus having Asokan Buddhist antiquity. Through out South East Asia these Plumeria Rubra or Alba trees are revered and used for worship in the old Buddha Pagodas and shrines. Sahodaran Ayyappan the lead-disciple of Narayanaguru a rationalist and neo Buddhist has written poems on this tree and its Buddhist legacy in his Buddha Kanda published in 1934 in his anthology of Verse (Ayyappan 133-35).

Mr Mani the present in charge and priest of the Nelli Kulam shrine at Nelliampati at the feet of Padagiri for the last fifty years; speaking on the history of the shrine of the goddess on the mountain.

At the feet of the mountain too there are umpteen number of places associated with the Buddha and Buddhism. Kotakulam, Kotasery, Kotachira are place names at the base of Nelliampati near Potundy the site of a mud dam today. Kota (കോത) in place names is an ancient Dravidian southern or Dekhini Pali form of Gota or Gotama. It was also used by the early Chera kings as an honorific title like Makota, Kokota, Kotaravi etc. Many Kotamangalams and Kotakulangaras and Gotamapuras are there in Kerala even today. Kottayam was Kotayam (കോതായം, കോത്തായം, കോത്താഴം) the Ayam or pond of Kota till middle ages. Tiru Gotamapura shrine is still there as a Hinduized one under caste Hindu seizure and gradual approriation.

Sambar deer or Savari Maan, domesticated and disabled through human feeding and contacts at Sitarkundu in Nelliampati. Such Savari Maans were abundant on Savari Mala or Chavari Malai and now Savari is replaced by Shabari of Ramayana to Ramafy the region by hegemonic forces who work towards amnesia and abrogation.

 Kota or Gotama is the enlightened one himself as Gotama Buddha as he is called in Pali or Gautama in Sanskrit. Potundy could also be a later modification of Putandy meaning Puta Muni or Buddha Muni himself. Jina Muni is Sakya Muni the Buddha, testifies Amarakosa by Amara Simha. In many places it is modified into Pothan as in Pothanikad east of Muvatupuzha. ‘Ayyo Potho’ was the common address to Ariya Buddha in Tamilakam and Keralam, especially in mid-Travancore. Ayyappan is the Ariya Appan or Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva of Mahayana and Vajrayana in Tamilakam. There is an Ayyappan Thittu on the way from Potundy to Nelliampati from where Padagiri is clearly visible.

Peepal or the Boddhi tree or Arayal at a local shrine in Nelliampati. The presence of Arayal, votive Stupas, menhirs and Naga stones confirm the historic rootedness of Buddhism in the region from Sangam age onwards

Nelliampati ranges prolong to the southeast and merge with the Parambikulam mountain ranges with Karimala (also Karu Mana) Gopuram as its highest peak at 1440 m. It is also called Karumana Gopuram in many narratives. In Kulotunga Chola’s Chidambaram rock inscription of 12th century CE it is the site of his flagpost erected to mark his victory over Chera and Pandia kingdoms on the Western Ghats (Valath 159). These ranges were civilizational centres during the Sangam age to the late middle ages as per the Sangam literary sources.

Coffee processing centre locally called Kaapi Mattam close to Nelli Kulam shrine in the lap of Nelli Kotta or Nelli Kalam at Nelliampati. Coffee plantations were started in 1860s by the British.

Valath also adds that this region was a civilizational one during early Cheras in the Tamil Sangam age. In Sangam literary works like Purananuru and Chirupanatupadai there are references to the Malai with Nellika or gooseberries like the references to the Malai with Savari or Chavary or Chavariman or Sambar deer or Mlavu; the Savari Malai now Ramafied as Sabari Mala or Shabarimalai.

The Mayana style Ganes at the entrance of Ayyappan Tittu shrine on the way to Nelliampati

There are mentions on the life and legacies of Chera king Atiyaman who gives the golden gooseberry or Pon Nellika to poet Auwaiar so that she lives longer than him; as he states that poets like Auwaiar must live longer than kings like him as they address the future as well. Valath associates this great Nelly tree to the Nelli Kulam or ancient veranal spring, pond and stream by the Nelli Kulam shrine at Nelliampati (Valath 160). The remains of the British bungalow of the 19th century were visible for Valath in the 1980s too on the Nellikkulam top by the Padagiri.

Nelliyar flowing into Manalar and then Karaparayar and joining Cholayar near Sholayur. This hanging bridge at Karapara. Author with Jaime Chithra and K P Ramesh at Karapara. 6 Feb 2022.

He also digs up the roots of the place name, Padagiri from Boudh Gaya. It is a place where the footprints were worshiped within 100 miles from the diamond seat of the Buddha under the great Boddhi tree. The Moola Sthana or original seat of Nellikulangara Poti or Bhagavati of Nenmara is also this Nelliampati shrine. Kodakara Nair; a feudal lord has conjured and transferred the goddess from this ancient mountain shrine into the Nenmara one at the base of this mountain. This was known as Nellikulangara Kavu of Nenmara, but now known as Nellikulangara Kshetram in Sanskritized way; like Kottiyur Vaisakholsavam is now known as Yaga Ulsavam in true Vedic and Vedantic fashion! According to Valath the original settlement was on the mountain and only in the middle ages many people have come to the plains. The mountain shrine is still with the Ezhava family of Nellikulam. The stream from this Nellikulam pond flows down as Nelliyar and joins the waters of Cholayar or Chalakudi river towards the south. In between, it also mixes with Manalar and Karaparayar locally. There are places like Cherunelly and Nellithara in the plains at the base still.

Budding shoots of Shola forests at Nelliampati; a unique natural habitat to be conserved for posterity and the planet!

Nelliyar is also called Manalar as it swells and joins Cholayar through Karapara river and contributes to Chalakudi river. The name Nalliyar is almost extinct and anonymous today; and only Manalaroo remains in the tea factory name started by the British in Anglicized mode. One branch of the Manalar river going north also joins Perar or Paratapuzha now Sanskritized partly as Bharatapuzha. Valath mentions a huge natural cavern and the presence of leopards here (162). He also links Nelliampati to Parambu Mala or later Parambi Kulam which was ruled by king Pari during the early common era in the Sangam age. Kapilar the renowned Sangam poet has sung about the grandeur of the place. Nelliampati is a province or Amsam of ancient Parambu Mala he argues (162). Valath also cites his own article in Kalakaumudi in 1982 Nov 19 to explain that the natural cavern in Nelliampati is a Sangam age civilizational relic.

View of Nelliampati mountain ranges from the Potundy dam site below. Many places with Nelly and Kota affixes are in the plane at the base of the mountain.

Sangam literary texts like Madurai Kanchi, Aim Kurunuru and Purananuru mention many such caverns as ‘Vidar’ or early Sramana monks’ abodes says Valath (163). Anamalai is known for its Jain and Buddhist settlements. The ancient Kadar tribe was having a Kudi or Uru (early human settlement) called Poti in Nelliampati (Kareem 1971). So it could be Nelliampoti as well; like Potiyil Malai or Bodhiyil Mala later Hinduized as Agastyakoodam. But Pati is also equally possible as it means a village in Kongu Tamil parlance like Patti and Pally affixes in certain other contexts in Tamilakam. In the Kerala District Gazetteer of Palakad the place name is also etymologically deciphered as Pali Ghat. There are also other elaborations linking it with early Pallavas who were Buddhists and also to later Pala empire in Bengal who were also Buddhists till middle ages.

the new twin tunnels of NH 47 at Kutiran an ancient Asokan crossroad in the Palakad pass showing the icons of Kutira the horse and Ana or elephant two key Asokan images representing the enlightend one. See the crescent above Kutiran!

Valath argues that Padagiri is a Buddhist centre in the analogy of Gaya and associated Guru Padagiri that is close to it (164). Mahakasyapa who lived before Gotama attained Nirvana on Guru Padagiri near Gaya (Dey 73). Nundo Lal Dey cites Fah Xian or Fa Hian the Chinese Bhiku, historian, translator and travellor of CE fourth century who travelled on foot to India; to prove his point that it was not the disciple of the Buddha who was the chairperson of the first Buddhist council or synod but a pre-Buddha (73). This craggy mountain is also shortly called Gurpa hills like the Gurugav or Gurugram of Haryana-Delhi border near Indrapadh or the pathway of the victorious one. It is also called Kukuda-padagiri in many Mahayana texts. It is believed by the Mahayani Buddhists that the future Buddha Maitreya would also teach there. The huge granite peak at the summit of Nelliampati mountain is also known as Nellikotta and Nellikalam in further distinction to Nelli Kulam. Valath argues that it was originally Nelli Kottam. The cascade and stream forming a pool at its base on the east is called Nellikkulam or Nelly Kulam pond and shrine by it.

Wild Boar at the Vayal or grassy wetland formations at the base of Padagiri in Nelliampati; 6 Feb 2022

Place names like Kaikatti, Chandragiri and Muniappan shrines are also having Jain antiquity argues Valath (164). The serpent above the Teerthankara like figure of Muniappan is a Lanchhana or esoteric mark of Parswanadha he concludes. But there are possibilities of the Muchilinda or Sesha protecting the Buddha himself. The sign of the unfolded palm or Tiru Kai or Abhaya mudra was also a common gesture of the Buddha idols. Simple correlations of the Kai to Jainism may not be compatible always as there are many later appropriations and admixtures (Sekher 2021: 26-48).

The modified Pada at Tirunelly or ancient Tiru Nelly Pally or Sree Amalakee Vihara in Wayanad near Pulpally

Valath also traces the history of coffee and narrates the life story of Baba Budan a Muslim pilgrim from Mysore who on his return route from Mecca visited South Abyssinia in Africa and took some beans from the village called Caffa and planted them in Mysore and created the first coffee gardens in India in 16th century CE (165).  The smuggling of seven coffee beans in his beard by the prudent Sufi Budan is narrated by many (Wild 25-89). In Karnataka near Chikamangalur, the Sufi shrine is there and the Chandragiri hills are now called Baba Budangiri. This Sufi is a real Buddha of coffee in India! The coffee of Nelliampati was transported to Palakad on animals called Poti Kaala or Poti Maadu and then to Beypore port through rail. The Pattambi-Kadalundi railway line was established for such cargo movement by 1861 itself (Valath 168). In the 1880s there was a bullock cart road established and it became a motor road only in 1931. This road to Nelliampati has completed 90 years of existence now in 2022. Some parts were lost in the 2018 floods but it was ably restored by the paramilitary forces soon after.

Bibliography

Ayyappan, Sahodaran. Padyakritikal. Edited by Pooyapally Tankapan. Kerala Sahitya Akademi Trichur, 2001 (1934).

Balakrishnan, P K. Keraleeyatayum Matum. DCB, 2004.

Dey, Nundo Lal. The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India. London: Luzac and Co., 1927.

Elamkulam. Elamkulam Kunjanpillayute Tiranjeduta Kritikal. Ed. N Sam. University of Kerala, 2005.

Gopalakrishnan, P K. Keralatinte Samskarika Charitram. Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2007.

Kareem, C K. ed., Kerala District Gazetteers – Palaghat. Kerala Gazetteers Trivandrum, 1971.

Sekher, Ajay. ed., Buddhism and Kerala. Sankara University Press Kalady, 2021.

—. Putan Keralam: Kerala Samskaratinte Boudha Aditara. Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2019 (2018).

Wild, Antony. Coffee: A Dark History. New York: Fourth Estate Press, 2004.

Valath, V V K. Keralatile Sthala Charitrangal – Palakad Jilla. Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 2005 (1986).

Dr Ajay S. Sekher; Feb 2022. 9895797798. ajaysekher@gmail.com

Sannati and Kanaganahally: Asoka’s Last Resorts in South India

Asoka statue and recreations of Asokan pillar with lion capital and Sannati and Kanaganahally stupas in the background by the Buddhist people at Sannati by the river Bhima in Kalaburgi district of Karnataka. Dec 2021. Photos by Ajay Sekher

According to Buddhist traditions, the Mauryan emperor Asoka the great traveled to South India three times in his life. The third time he never went back, it is widely held by Buddhists in India. As his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya came to breathe his last moments in South Karnataka in Sravanabelagola (literally the Bella Kola or white pond of the Sramana) along with his Jain guru Bhadrabahu in BCE 4th century; Asoka also is said to have spent his last days in northern Karnataka in BCE 3rd century. In Kalaburgi district bordering with Maharashtra where the river Bhima creates many distributary wetlands and irrigated paddy field networks this ancient land of Sannati remains almost unknown to the world.

Asokan edict at Sannati archeological site in Karnataka, his last resort in South India. This was accidentally discovered when some later constructions at Chandralamba Hindu temple collapsed in 1986.

Amidst vast green paddy fields now nurtured by the Sannati regulator cum bridge we have the historic places and archaeological sites of Sannati and Kanganahally. These were sites of two ancient stupas built by Emperor Asoka towards the end of his life, and perhaps he embraced death peacefully on these tranquil shores of Bhima amidst the meditating cool greens and blues. He traveled the whole subcontinent following the footsteps of the compassionate one and made more than 84,000 stupas and pillars with distinct rock edicts wherever the Buddha had spoken. 

Huge more than life-size Buddha sculptures lying neglected in the ASI site sheds at Sannati in Karnataka

Hally or Halli is a common suffix to place names in Kannada land that is equal t to Pally in Tamilakam and Kerala, denoting a Buddhist sacred space or the site of a stupa, Chaitya or Vihara; the keyword having southern Pali or Dekhini Pali/Prakrit and Tamil connection that has been used by all the minorities including Jews, Christians, Jains and Muslims in South India for their worshiping places. In Andhra there is a place still existing called Kanagana Palli and the ancient name of Konark in Odisha was originally Kanaka Mana in Buddhist times. Nayapally is in Odisha or ancient Kalinga of Asokan times and Nampally is in Hyderabad. Another Konakamana is in Nepal Tarai.  Kanaga or Kanaka indicating gold is a key affix to place names throughout Tamilakam and Keirala suggesting the Buddhist origin of the place as the idols of the Buddha were originally made in gold and the Viharas were having much-donated gold.

The author Dr Ajay S Sekher at Sannati archeological site before the recreation of Asoka statue as a monk, Asokan pillar and two stupas in the backdrop. Buddhist flag also flying on the right. Dec 2021

The relics of the ancient structures first built by Asoka and later modified and rebuilt many times by Satavahanas at Sannati were underneath the surface of the soil for thousands of years and came up to the view of the world only in 2001 when Archaeological Survey of India excavations began here. The ruined foundation of the ancient stupa was recovered and an Asokan inscription or huge rock edict was also recovered from the nearby Chandraleswari Hindu temple.

Ancient granite aqueducts at Tirunelly Pally or ancient Sree Amalakee Vihara in Wayanad district of Kerala. Post middle ages it is a Vaishnavite Brahmanical shrine.

In 1986 when the Sanctorum of this Chandralamba Kali temple collapsed the Asokan inscription in Dhamma script was revealed. Many stones and pillars have gone into the making of many other recent structures in the neighborhood. The huge flag post foundation of the temple could also be a modified column base of an Asokan pillar. It has happened in Bhubaneswar Bhaskareswara temple and even the Varavur and Mattanchery Udyaneswara shrines in Kerala are sites of such Asokan pillar modifications argue local subaltern historians.

Ruins of the Maha Stupa at Sannati; made by Asoka in BCE third century and later rebuilt by Satavahana kings. Originally called Sakya Maha Chaitya. image from the internet.

The invaluable portrait sculptural reliefs of Asoka with his queens and consorts and his worship at the stupa were discovered from the dislodged panels of the stupa here. The Brahmi or Dhamma script inscription “Rayo Asoka” is below the portrait relief in sandstone. Historians like Romila Thapar as in her Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas; have been citing it and many archaeologists are of the opinion that the foundation of the Sannati stupa is older than the Sanchi stupa and it is a later Asokan construction. But all these invaluable treasures along with many huge, more than life-size sculptural depictions of the Buddha are simply piled up in the site sheds and many relics are already stolen from this ASI enclosure in the last twenty years.

Portrait-relief of Asoka in sandstone with his consorts at Sannati stupa with the inscription in Dhamma script or Brahmi “Rayo Asoka.” image from the internet.

The ASI site is literally closed to researchers and the general public. The stupa and relics are not open to the people and visitors from far and wide who are driving in as we did during the Christmas holidays in December 2021. We drove more than 2000 KMs altogether from Kerala to reach Sannati and in return. Photography and videography are strictly prohibited and even for research purposes photos are not allowed. We emailed for permission in advance but were forced to wait for hours and eventually official sanction was denied saying that the application had to be given two weeks in advance online. The indifferent official at the site also said that it is “a sensitive” site. Times of India on 22 January reported that the Kalaburagi MP Mr. Umesh Jadhav is seeking the support of ASI for conserving and declaring Sannati as a world heritage site. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hubballi/excavation-will-resume-at-sannati-and-kanaganahalli/articleshow/89049681.cms )

Brahmi or Dhamma script inscription beneath the portrait relief of Asoka as “Rayo Asoka” at Sannati. Images from internet

The ASI that is devised to conserve and present such historic treasures and archaeological heritage before the people are literally hoarding and concealing it from the collective consciousness and public discussion. It is a grave offense and crime against humanity and the civilized world as we are all deeply concerned about our common heritage and cultural history of the people. The play of power politics, manufacturing amnesia, and erasure of history at the cost of the people’s tax money are evident. The vital memories of Asokan Buddhist legacies in South India are thereby nipped in bud by a hegemonic anti-people ruling bureaucratic nexus and axis of erasure.

The closeness of Sannati to Amaravati and Yeragudi Asokan sites. Amaravati iconography is reflected here. image from the internet

This is a strategic act of the Hindu commonsense and the Brahmanical consensus against the memory and history of Buddhism in India that posed a challenge to caste and Varna and the revival of the Vedic Varnasramadharma system of social stratification. By burying this world heritage that is more than two millennia old, the advocates of Hindu Dharma are literally manufacturing and marketing the 16th-century brief Brahmanical “empire” of Vijayanagara in Hampi. Public funds are pumped into the literal fabrication of Hampi as an “ancient” wonder and the reinforcement of the Karnataka Sanskrit University there in true Brahmanical hegemonic fashion. Sannati is now transferred to the Hampi circle of ASI. Earlier it was with the Dharward circle. These beureaucratic churnings are also done towards subsiding and obliterating the centrality of this world heritage site.

Panels depicting Mahamaya the mother of the Buddha and his birth at Sannati resembling the Amaravati style. Image from the internet

 The whitish sandstone of the region has withstood more than two millennia of seasoning and severe onslaughts of time and aggressive invasive violence done by humans to humanity and civilization at large. Almost all the stones are having Dhamma Lipi inscriptions too, which make them unique and truly cosmopolitan. Even from the underbelly of medieval Hampi ancient Buddhist sculptural and architectural relics were found that are exhibited in the Lotus Mahal museum within the Hampi archaeological site. The Buddhist stone panel reliefs exhibited there date back to BCE second and first centuries the immediate post-Asokan era in the Deccan.

Asoka and the Boddhi tree or Peepal tree with footprints of the Buddha at Sannati in Karnataka. Image from the internet

In Ayhole of ancient Ayyavolly or Ayya Pally there are Buddhist monasteries in stone atop the hillock facing the current huge shrine in elephant butt or apsidal or Gaja Prishtta style that is a reminiscence of the Buddhist Chaitya cathedral architecture. There are double-storied granite monasteries with Buddha reliefs and the demolished statue of the Buddha. The Jain shrine there could also be a Buddhist shrine in the beginning as its foundation clearly shows the iconographic and architectural shreds of evidence of typical Buddhist motifs and imagery including the Dhamma Simhas and Dhamma Gajas the Asokan ethical elephants and lions representing the Sakya Simha who is also imagined by Asoka as an exquisite elephant.

Asoka and followers worshiping the Buddha through icons of the lion’s throne and footprints as depicted on the Sannati stupa panel in Karnataka. Image from the internet

In Pattadakallu or Pattadakal also, the ancient Asokan Buddhist style is evident and the typical iconogrphic motifs of Buddhism prevail though in the sanctum sanctorums of the ancient pagodas some Lingas and Yonis or Sakti figures are placed in later periods.  Badami or Vatapi caves and shrines were also originally Buddhist and later Jain and Brahmanical ones were created by invading and expelling the original creators of that series of caves on the red stone hillock.

Author Dr Ajay S Sekher at Sannati archaeological site before the ASI enclosure of the stupa ruins in Dec 2021

In the Kalinga region now known as Odisha, there are many rock-cut caves in Khandagiri and Udayagiri near Bhubaneswar that are now known as Jain vestiges. These were originally carved and dedicated to Buddhist Sanghas by emperor Asoka and after his reign when Kharavela the Jain king came to power he gave it all to Jain monks. Now it is known as a Jain site.  These kinds of appropriations, handovers and later modifications have happened in many early Buddhist sites from the Kalingan, Deccan regions to Tamilakam regions and Kerala too. Many ancient Vattams or well-rounded stupa like sanctums all over Kerala and apsidal or Gajaprishtta ones were originally Buddhist ones as in Ayhole or ancient Ayya Pally in northern Karnataka. As we have seen the Bahujans are chanting the Sarana mantras of Ayyappa and coming to the ancient Buddhist shrine of Savarimala even today.

Flag post at Chandralamba Kali Hindu temple at Sannati from where the Sannati Asokan edict was recovered in 1986 when the sanctum collapsed. This huge foundation of the post resembles the column foundation of an Asokan pillar as in many temples in Odisha and South India including Kerala.

As we entered Kerala regions of Wayanad from Karnataka through the Brahmagiri ranges we could see ancient routes of cultural invasions and changes that happened in early Middle Ages. The ancient vihara called Tiru Amalakee Vihara or Tiru Nelly Pally is modified into a Brahmanical Hindu temple post-Middle Ages with two executions stones or Kazhuveti Kallus placed at the entrance. This could be one of the first Buddhist shrines to be captured and converted in the Kerala regions.

Many headless partly demolished Buddha sculptures and that of his lead-disciples at Sannati site shed of ASI. These are not open to the public and the world. In Tamilakam such relics are called Talavetty Muni Appans and found throughout the state. At Ayhole or ancient Ayya Pally in north Karnataka close to Sannati too we saw a headless Buddha violently mutilated and demolished in later Brahmanical conquests.

 But still, the ancient aqueduct in huge granite stone pillars are still intact that is a lasting Buddhist construction requiring imperial engineering skills and technology like the one offered perhaps by the vast Mauryan empire that stretched from the Gandhara to Tamilakam. All the ancient temples in Kerala too are depicting the Asokan Dhamma Gaja, Simha, Vyala motifs at the foundation, evidencing their ancient Buddhist origin and later modification. It is the same in Pulpally, Kottiyur and many neighboring shrines at the edges of Wayanad landscape that is a Deccan projection into the Kerala land.

Recent recreation of Kanaganahally stupa at Sannati by Buddhist people of the region as ASI is hoarding and forcing the ancient sites and invaluable relics to be lost and destroyed in open weather and theft.

Kazhuveti Kallus or execution stones are still found in Asamannur the Ur of Asoka Mannan east of Perumbavur, Tiru Koditanam near Vazhapally in Changanasery and Koothattukulam Siva shrine in Ernakulam district. On the Asamannur second execution stone on the west, the Vattezhutu writing clearly evidences the execution done in the tenth century. In Ayiranikulam shrine Vattelutu inscription in Thrissur district too, the execution of Buddhists is mentioned in the expression “Maurya Kshata.” Vattezhutu itself is a medieval modification of Asokan Dhamma scripts in Kerala and Tamilakam. The detailed analysis of Asamannur inscription by the veteran Kerala epigraphist Prof T Pavithran may be seen in Buddhism and Kerala edited by the author and published by Sankara University Press in 2021 available at SSUS Kalady publication counter.

Author Dr Ajay S Sekher and media person Bansree A S at Srirangapatna fort where Tipu Sultan’s body was found after the battle of 1799 with British imperial forces in the Carnatic wars.

We could also see the 18th century capital and fort of the tiger of Mysore; Tipu Sultan where he fought his last with the British imperial forces at Srirangapatna north of Mysore the Ur or dominion of Mahisha another demonized Bahujan Buddhist leader of the people like Mahabali and Ravana who were deposed by Vaishnavite Brahmanism through cheat. Demonization and othering were strategies used by the hegemonic forces of monopoly against Asoka too, but many new books and research projects and the will of the people have revitalized his memory as that of the enlightened one himself.

Buddha panels of an ancient stupa recovered at Hampi in the State Archaeology Museum inside Hawa Mahal at Hampi. Remarkable similarity with Amaravati style in iconography and Tribhanga posture of human bodies also relates it to early Buddhist art and could be from the second century BCE period.

Academic knowledge-based institutions seeking truth and justice like Asoka University or the revived new Nalanda University and similar research institutions in Indian culture and history or archaeology with the support of all the Buddhist countries of Asia and the civilized world institutions like the UN have to come together to save the resting place and relics of Asoka the great from the forces of repressive erasure and hegemonic obliteration of the common heritage and cultural legacies of the people.

Buddha Pada recovered at Hampi. Such footprints were modified into Vishnu and Siva Padas in the middle ages to Hinduise the regions by priestly patriarchy all over India. Even in Kerala, such footprint worship was common among the Buddhist laity, and practices of printing the footmarks of the dead are still with Avarna.

There is an urgent need to open up and conserve the ancient Asokan sites in Karnataka as many historical and archaeological evidences are resurfacing despite the severe attacks of distortion and amnesia. These vital civilizational evidences of ethical life, material culture and practical wisdom must be conserved for the future and preserved as world heritage by UNESCO and other global agencies and cultural institutions of humanity.

Execution stone or Kazhuveti Kallu raised as a warning against the Avarna people having Buddhist legacy to keep away from the Brahmanical Hindu temple once it was modified so by priestly patriarchy. Such Kazhuveti Kallus with Vattezhutu inscriptions denoting the date of execution in the tenth century CE are at Asamannur, Tirukoditanam and Koothattukulam in Kerala placed before Caste Hindu temples.

It will also improve the economy of the region reeling under the pandemic. The aggressive and annihilating attitude towards our own cultural pasts and civilizational roots would be catastrophic and self-destructive. Let truth and justice prevail. Let the truly cosmopolitan and international Asokan legacy come to light and the attention of the whole world as in its ancient great glory.

Sri Pada at Tirunelly or ancient Sree Amalakee Vihara in Wayanad, a projection of the Deccan plateau into Kerala parts of the Western Ghats. An evidently medieval modification of the Buddha Pada into Vishnu Pada that happened in many places all across the subcontinent. Tirunelly was one of the first Viharas or Pallys to be captured and modified into the Brahmanical Vaishnava shrine followed by Pulpally, Tiruvallykavu and Kottiyur.

Dr Ajay S. Sekher; January 2022

ajaysekher@gmail.com 9895797798