City of Enlightened Joy: Trivandrum or Tiru Ananda Puram

Boddhisatva idol by the Vayalvaram hut of the guru at Chempazhanti close to Trivandrum

Tiruvanantapuram the capital of Kerala is now renowned as a Vaishnava centre. Before eighth century CE it was a Sramana holy place of Jain and Buddhist antiquity and significance. In inscriptions and early land records till seventeenth century it is known as Tiru Aanandapuram after the lead disciple of the Buddha. It was also called Mitranandapuram and Anandankad.

Asokan elephant or Gajotama by the Padma Teertha pond at Trivandrum Padmanabha shrine

As the Asokan elephant or Gajotama statue by the Padma Teertha Kulam of the Padmanabha shrine testifies it could be an ancient seat of Buddhism from Asokan times and later became a Mahayana shrine around fourth century CE and by the eighth century transformed into Vaishnava Brahmanism as the Buddha Neelkandha temple in Kathmandu. The place name Tiruvanatapuram is not mentioned in the ancient Tamil texts of the Sangam age of the early common era. Learned local historian and toponymy or place name expert V V K Valath who wrote the local histories of four districts in Kerala for Sahitya Akademi (1984) has clearly elaborated the Buddhist antiquity of the place. In the recent book by Hari Kattel from SPCS (2016) the Jain and Buddhist legacy of the city is accented. It was Ilamkulam Kunjan Pillai who wrote elaborately on the Aay kings of Potiyil Malai now known as Agastyarkoodam and their port at Vizhinjam and their capital at Tiru Atankod that eventually became Tiruvitankod or Thiruvithamkoor. The cave and sculptures at Vizhinjam are archeological evidences of the Buddhist rock cut architecture and iconography influenzed by the Pallava and Pandya styles, says Valath. Kantaloor Sala was a Sramana university near Tiruvanantapuram like the Buddhist university of Vanchi at Kodungallur or Muziris. The local lore on Pulayanar Kotta and Kokotamangalam Pulaya Rani also signify the importance of basic communities of people in the region since Sangam age. The great human rights struggles of Ayyankali for educational rights and freedom of movement exemplify the mobility and agency of the people at the bottom in the region. The early struggles of Ayya Vaikundhar, Tykad Ayya, Chattambi Swamikal and Narayana Guru also attribute to the cultural and political significance of the place. During renaissance cultural movements it was Sahodaran Ayyappan who wrote in his verse that the shrine at Trivandrum that is now worshiped after Vishnu as Padmanabha was originally a Padmapani Boddhisatva or Mahayana Buddhism in ancient times. Prof A. Ayyappan has also archeologically verified and substantiated this argument that the idol of Padmanabha is a modification of Padmapani Boddhisatva.

Prof A Aiyappan former VC of University of Kerala and Social Scientist. From Wiki sources

There are several places named after Aanada in Kerala like the Aanada Pally near Adoor. The proximity to Potiyil or Bodhiyil Malai is another significant aspect of the city’s Buddhist character. Legend has it that it was Cheran Chenguttuvan the Chera chief and the elder brother of Ilamko Adigal who composed the Tamil epic Silapatikaram, who consecrated the shrine of Kannaki as Patini at Kodungallur, Mangaladevi and Atukal. Patini as Mangaladevi is part of a Buddhist popular culture and tradition found in Tamilakam and Ezham or Sri Lanka. The ritual of Ponkala has its origin in the ceremonial welcome feast given to the young nuns when they entered the order by giving an offering, cooked with rice and milk by the laity in true spirit of a larger egalitarian community.

Mahatma Ayyankali the champion of Educational struggles in Kerala and Trivandrum in particular. From web sources

The recent Padmanabha temple treasure controversy in 2011 has also brought some light into the Buddhist past and treasures in the vaults of the temple as the Buddhist antiquity of Sabarimala or Chavarimala/Savarimala in ancient times that was exposed in the 2018 riots and standoff at the mountain shrine. In the case of Savarimala the Brahmanic priesthood was established only in early 20th century by the Travancore regime, before that the Avarana Ezhava chief of Cheerapanchira was the protector of the shrine. The city of Aananda retains many elements of the ancient city of joy with enlightened and ethical legacies that are deeply rooted in the soil and the people, though altered and modified in many ways as it is evident in the case of Kerala as a whole.

Dr Ajay S Sekher, Assistant Professor, Dept of English, SSUS Kalady, Kerala 683574.


Ajay Sekher’s recent books include Putan Keralam, Kerala Navodhanam (Ed) and Sahodaran Ayyappan.

Raining Hornbills and Elaphants: Riparian Rain Forests of Vazhachal and Atirapally

Malabar Pied Hornbills at Vazhachal, across the river above the canopy. 8 June 2019

The low-lying riparian or riverine forests of Vazhachal and Atirapally are home to four species of Hornbills in Kerala: Great Indian, Malabar Pied, Indian Grey and Malabar Grey Hornbills. The resonant calls and wing beats of these huge birds make these rain forests ethereal, sensational and dynamic with vibrant life energy. It has a micro climate and its own unique rain oriented forest ecosystem that is to be admired, studied and conserved.

Southern Bird-wing Butterfly on Gulmohar at Vazhachal

After the floods in August 2018 the river Cholayar or Chalakudipuzha originating from Sholayar and Malakkapara, is gaining its lost sand beds and natural beauty. It is one of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in the lower foothills of the Western Ghats in central Kerala.

Mother and calf in the river Cholayar, through the thickets darkly

It is also part of an important cultural corridor between ancient Tamilakam and Keralam. The trading and travelling groups used the pathways along the river in summer to cross the Western Ghats. The current tribal settlement or Kudi of Kadar tribes in Vazhachal is a resettlement after the Parambikulam dam construction in the 1940s.

Black-tipped Forest Glory damselfly at Vazhachal; 8 June 2019

Vazhachal literally means the stream of the plantain. It could be related to the abundance of wild plantain or some wild trees locally called Vazha in the surrounding riparian forests. It is still a favorite hound of elephants and Hornbills.

Malabar Pied Hornbills across the river Cholayar on a wild fig at Vazhachal, 8 June 2019.

Atirapally literally means the Pally on the frontier or border. It is one of the ancient Buddhist sites on the border land between Kerala and Tamil country. Beyond Atirapally towards Malakkapara above upper Sholayar we have a place called Manampally or Manambolly that denotes a Vihara up above the skies. It was once, one of the highest points on the ancient cultural route that housed a Buddhist Pally.

One on the left guards as the mother and calf are having some water in river Cholayar, at Vazhchal

The abundance of birds and mammals is still luring the curious visitors and travelers to this dense and moist forests of Vazhachal. In morning we may see the Great Indian Hornbills on fig trees in fruition. At dusk we would see a pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills chasing and playing with each other flying and diving from tree to tree and sometimes across the river. The crossing of the great birds may be visible at the old British iron bridge as well.

A playing pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills at Vazhachal, across the river above the conopy.

This biodiversity hotspot needs to be conserved for future and the posterity. The lessons of the 2018 floods must teach us to be careful and conservationist regarding the vernal forests and sources of life giving water, air and earth.

Mother and calf in perfect camouflage in the rocky river Cholayar at Vazhachal after the floods2018, 8 June 2019. The floods exposed the ribs of the river, it requires time to heal the wounds of the floods.