Tag Archives: Buddhism and jainism in Kerala

Solitude of a Black Buddha: Karumady Kuttan and Kerala

Cultural legacies of Kerala: Pagoda erected by Dalai Lama above the 7/8th century black granite buddha at Karumady in Alapuzha district of Kerala. This idol was recovered from muddy paddy fields. It was mutilated and buried deep in mud by the violent Hindu henchmen in the 8th cntury. 20 Oct 2012

The black buddha at Karumady is called Karumady Kuttan. The place name Karumady itself is related to Karu or idol as in Karunagapally in the south. Kuttan is a colloquial form of Puthan/Buddhan. place names like Kuttankulangara, Kuttanellur etc. are other buddhist sites spread all over Kerala. Kuttanad itself is named after Kuttan or Buddhan as the land of Buddha.

The idol faces west and the Alapuzha – Kollam canal. It was recovered from muddy fields nearby in early 20th century and became a local deity ever since. Kuttan Kuthu is a pest affecting the paddy. People offer flowers and oil to Kuttan/Buddhan and pray before the idol for getting rid of minor diseases and pest attacks on crops.

Half undone by Brahmanic henchmen: clear marks of mutilation on the partially demolished sculpture in black granite. Historians have dated it to 7/8th century AD. Experts like P C Alexander and S N Sadasivan who have written the history of Buddhism in Kerala, argue that it retains the Anuradhapura style of Srilanka. The exquisite handwork of stone-sculptors from the Eelam is tangible says some cultural observers. Anyway it is the foundation of figurative stone-sculpture in Kerala. Its human figuration and animate pose are highly stylized and evocative.

The peaceful and solemn face retains its grace and smile even after a millennium of violent mutilations and obliteration. The open scars of mutilation are visible all over the sculpture. Half of it is still missing. Local Avarna people offer it  flowers and they decorate the missing Jwala on the head with Ixora blossoms in a sensitive way. The idol retains remarkable similarities to that of Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Pallikal and Thyagannur in Tamil Nadu.

As a new Amana/Chamana: Artist Anirudh Raman before the Karumady Kuttan shrine. 20 Oct 2012

The lambs of buddha appeared out of the blue. buddha saved the lambs by showing his own throat to the executioner at a brahmanical yaga ritual. That was the beginning of his critique of the Yaga-yajna ritualism and obscurantism of Brahmanism. Karumady 20 Oct 2012.  Photo: Anirudh Raman

Before the buddha at Karumady. 20 Oct 2012. Photo: Anirudh Raman

 

Music from the Sacred Grove: An Ancient Fairy in Panachikadu

Sacred grove around the shrine

Just a few decades ago it was a dense and impenetrable forest on the north western slopes of a hillock overlooking the paddy fields on the southern banks of river Kodur, south of Kottayam.  This sacred grove enshrined the stone icon of an ancient goddess related to the serpent clan.  She is also worshiped as the spirit of the wood and the virgin spring that comes out of its thickets.  She is revered as Panachi the Naga Yakshi and her protected grove is thus called Panachikadu.  She is now worshiped as Saraswati in a pond covered with wild creepers. But her antiquity is traced back to the pre-Hindu or Sramana cultural phase of south India by historians and scholars (Valath).

Saraswati Nada

Buddhism in South India was open and inclusive towards the local and indigenous traditions like nature worship and tribal sacred practices.  The greater philosophy of conservation and bio-ethics manifested in Buddhist praxis in a variety of ways in the ancient Tamil country as early as BC 3rdcentury (Sugathan).  Conserving protected and sacred groves for endemic flora and fauna was one of the most popular and persistent practices in South Indian Buddhism that lasts even today in Kerala in the form of numerous Kavu and Kadu that sheltered the birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, insects and medicinal shrubs for thousands of years. Serpent and tree worship was also integral to this practice that included the Naga, Negritoid and Dravidian traditions (Gopalakrishnan).

Yakshi Nada, the seat of the fairy above Saraswati Nada

The sacred grove dedicated to the serpent deities in Vaikom temple is called Panachikal, meaning the vicinity of Panachi.  The sacred grove near Niranam is called Panayannar Kavu, meaning the shrine of Panayan.  Panayan means the serpent king and Panachi represents the serpent queen (Valath 313).  In this analogy, Panachikadu means the sacred forest of Panachi the serpent queen or Sarpa Yakshi.  According to experts in local history like V V K Valath, Panchikadu near Chingavanam in Kottayam was originally a Sramana (Buddhist or Jain) sacred grove were this Naga deity was worshiped and after the Hindu-Brahmanic cultural invasion that happened in the eighth or ninth century the old shrine was converted into a Saraswati temple.

Pond of the goddess below the spring

Place names like Chingavanam and Channanikadu nearby also point towards the Chamana or Sramana cultural connection.  Channanikadu could be an adjacent shrine of a sister deity.  It is also important to note that Pakil Dharmasastha temple is closeby.   Anyway the Yakshi or Naga goddess still has a stone abode underneath the intertwined wild vines and creepers here. It is also important that the word Yakshi/Yakshan has a strong Jain linkage in the post Sramana period.

The place is also marked for a spring or Thirtham and a stone or Sila; that are key indicators or Mudras related to Jain or Buddhist shrines.  Vishnu is enshrined in the nearby big temple now. Places having the Pali word Pally in name, like Mariapally, Puthupally, Vazhapally, Mallappally, Pallypurathu Kavu etc. surround the hillocks of Panachikadu that rises from the backwaters and paddy field formations of Kodurar towards the south east of Kottayam town. 

It is also interesting to observe that Saraswati is worshiped as a sub deity of letters and arts by Jains along with Ganesh representing the primal connection with the animal kingdom in the form of an auspicious elephant god.  The Jain temples of Sravanabelgola, Halebidu, Venur and Moodbidri are typical examples of this mode of plural and eclectic worship and spirituality.

Unfortunately the sacred grove and its wild endemic vegetation are shrinking day by day under the pressure of development in the forms of concrete roads and construction all around the shrine.  The forest in the place name may remain in the very name in a few years if the culturally and ecologically aware people ignore this ancient sacred grove that has been an unlimited source of eco-spirituality, oxygen, drinking water and life sustaining knowledge practices for centuries.  I could see rare medicinal plants, insects, butterflies and birds inside this holy wood as I walked around the grove on the morning of Monday, 26 December 2011.  The lonesome long call of an invisible Iora from the darker green depth of the grove was particularly sweet and moving.

Stone representing the goddess covered in wild creepers, enshrined within the spring pond

Reference

Gopalakrishnan, P K. Keralathinte Samskarika Charithram. Trivandrum: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2008.

Sugathan, K. Buddhamathavum Jati Vyavasthithiyum. Calicut: Progress, 2011.

Valath,  V V K. Keralthile Sthalanama Charithrangal: Ernakulam Jilla. Thrissur, Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1998.