Elaveezha Poomchira; An Ancient Floral Pool on the Grassland Mountain Top

Elaveezha Poomchira the grassland tops rising up to 1000 m at the border of Kottayam and Iduki districts

This mountain top rising up to 1000 m above sea level at the border of Kottayam and Iduki districts in Kerala is the site of rare geographical wonder. It still houses an ancient check dam or Chira on the top of the grasslands sprawling on three mountain peaks and their joint summit called Mankunnu, Kodayatur Mala and Tonipara. In place names Chiras are associated with ancient Buddhist water management. This is called Elaveezha Poomchira or Ilaveezhapoonchira the floral pool or small dam; where leaves do not fall into it as it is on the grassland top of the mountain. The shola forest patches are there in the crevices and creeks of the mountain grass tops just below the grassland shola peaks.

Ancient Naga deities at Elaveezha Poomchira. Buddha as Naga Appan or Nagaraja Boddhisatva in Abhaya and Varadana mudras and Mahamaya as Naga Yakshi in a shola sacred grove within the grassland top at around 820m. at the summit of Mankunnu, Kodayatur Mala and Tonipara.

There is a sacred grove shrine by the small floral lake or Poomchira. There are ancient Naga deities in granite by shola trees. Buddha as Naga Appan or Nagaraja Boddhisatva and Mahamaya as Naga Yakshi are still seen in Hinduized ways there by the trees. There are also ancient crude rock votive stupas nearby. The small pagoda is now dedicated to the fierce Hindu goddess Kali and the shrine is now called Kali and Krishna “temple.” Such fierce modifications might have happened in the late middle ages when the ancient Keezhmalai Nadu was annexed to Vadakumkoor in the early seventeenth century and subsequently to Travancore in the mid-eighteenth century.

The small pagoda is now worshiped as Kali in Elaveezha Poomchira. Till the middle ages it was Mahamaya or Tara, and violently Hinduized through bloody sacrifices and rituals.

This mountain peak is some 20 km from Todupuzha the capital of Iduki in the plains; it is some 50 km from Kottayam. Now a new road is being built linking it from Melukavu and Todupuzha. Till the early seventeenth century, this was part of the ancient Keezhmalai Nadu and place names like Muttam, Kodaytur, Koovapally, Elapally, Pallykanam and Ellykal Kallu etc. show ancient toponymical linkages to Buddhism as there are many Pallys or modified place names here. Muttam and Vattam represent the well-rounded stupa of Buddhism.  Relics of ancient stones and menhirs and stupa-like worshiping stones also prove the archaeological presence of Buddhist cultural relics here.

Ancient sacred grove within the grassland peak in the shola patch housing the ancient Naga deities; Buddha as Naga Appan and Mahamaya as Naga Yakshi in Elaveezha Poomchira.

Ellykal Kallu or Illykal Kallu is also said to be a later modification of Pallykal Kallu as Pallykanam is now changed into Pullykanam misusing the British English spelling as in Pullyvasal in Munnar. It must be remembered that such ancient bunds and dams using rammed earth are still surviving in Achan Kovil forests and Kulatupuzha forests near ancient Kattilapara or carved rock vestiges associated with Buddhism. The proximity to Pallykanam and Vagaman and the closeness to Moolamatam and Kodayatur are also linkages to the ancient trade-cultural routes between Chera and Pandya lands. The presence of Mala Araya tribal people closely associated with the Buddhist shrine of ancient Chavarimala or Savarimala now Ramafied as Shabarimala is also remarkable.

Ancient rock stupas at Elaveezha Poomchira are now worshiped as Lingas in Saivite ways.
The newly widened road that is being built as of late Feb 2022; at Elaveezha Poomchira close to the ancient sacred grove shrine now modified as a “Kali and Krishna temple.”

Panayannar Kavu: The Sacred Grove by the Pampa near Parumala and Niranam

Panayannar Kavu  sacred grove by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar; 29 Oct 2017.

Panayan means the serpent king and Panachi means the serpent queen. Panachikad for example, near Kottayam is the forest of the serpent queen. Panachikal Kavu is within the Vaikom shrine.  Panayannar Kavu literally means the sacred grove of the serpent king the Panayan or Panayannar as he is addressed with reverence.  This grove is on the southern banks of river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar at the margins of Patanamtitta and Alapuzha districts in Kuttanad region the land of Kuttan or the little Buddha. 

Sapta Kanya or Sapta Mata idols in Panayannar Kavu. The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyamata denoting the Buddhist nun. Similar idols are in Kilirur another seat of Buddhism consecrated by Pallyvanar in 16th century after Perinjanam and before Nilanperur.

Now it is a Kali temple but it is clear from the name and the surviving diverse vegetation that it was an ancient Sangha Arama or Buddhist sacred grove by the Pampa before the early middle ages.  The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyastree the Buddhist nun.  As it was the nuns and monks who nurtured the medicinal natural grove around their shrines.  The Kavu culture in Kerala is a reminiscence of the conservationist culture that originated with the Asokan missionaries in BC third century.

A female figure in Panayannar Kavu upholding a lamp with Lamba Karna or long pierced ear lobes typical of the Kerala Buddhist tradition.

Now a community called Adissan or Adi Achan is the custodians of the Kavu. They reside in the nearby Kottaratil household with slanting roof and Chaitya Vatayana style ventilation.  This name Adiachan is a striking resemblance to Ezhutachan community who were also having Buddhist writing legacy and multi lingual competency in the past.  Again the name is close to Kannassan or Kannachan who were supposed to be of Ganaka origin and scholars and astrologers because of their Buddhist literary traditions.

Balikallu or altar placed in the west of Panayannar Kavu showing dragon mounted Chaitya medallion motifs with human faces with Buddhist features like Ushnisha and Lamba Karna. Padma Dala and Chatur Dala Pushpa motifs too are clearly Buddhist in iconography.

There is a dominant trend to hegemonically appropriate these masters of writing in Kerala and eliticize them into caste Hindu fold that has been going on for a long while now.  It should be clearly noted at this moment that the writing tradition of letters and the initiation cultures were all part of the Buddhist and Jain legacies in Kerala. ‘Nanamonam’ or Namastu Jinate salutation (to the Buddha or Sakya Jina Muni) used for initiation into the world of letters till early 20th century testifies this Amana or Sramana legacy in Kerala.

Medicine rich bio diversity in Panayannar Kavu by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar

There is a household called Kavil still existing in the south of the Panayannar Kavu and it was the maternal house of poet and renaissance writer Muloor Padmanabha Panicker.   The biographers of Muloor like Prof Satyaprakasam have associated the legacy of Muloor to Panayannar Kavu.  He was a lead student of Narayana Guru and was the first major Avarna poet to be established in the literary public sphere in early 20th century. He paved the way for Asan and Karuppan.  His early literary struggles like Kavi Ramayana Samvadam, Chillu Vazhakku or the struggle to add the sound ‘r’ to his name that infuriated the caste Hindus etc are well known.

Cheriya Panayannar Kavu just to the south of the Valiya Kavu known after Muloor. Kavil family of Muloor’s mother is still residing near it. Now it is modified into a small temple complex. Till a few decades ago the Kalari or Ezhutupally or Kudi Pallykoodam of Muloor was standing here.

Following the democratic vision of his guru he mixed himself with the people at the bottom of the society like Kurumban Daivatar a dalit leader and composed his Pula Vritangal to voice their social and cultural aspirations. As per the friendly persuasion of Sahodaran Ayyappan a neo Buddhist he translated the Dhammapada of the Buddha directly from Pali into Malayalam.  His memorial is now at Ayatil near Ilavumtitta his paternal household.

Huge stone gateways on the west of Panayannar Kavu at the boat landing by the Pampa. It was an important inland port with world connections.

Close to Mannar and Niranam is the birth place of another group of poets from the 15th and 16th centuries called the Niranam poets or Kannasan or Kannachan poets: Madhava Panicker, Sankara Panicker and Rama Panicker.  It was through them that there began a literary  Bhakti movement in Kerala with their Bhasha translations of Gita, Ramayana and Bharata.  Though they had become instrumental in the Vaishnavization and Rama-fication of Kerala,  even before Ezhutachan, by the end of the middle ages their literary contributions enriched the development of the vernacular and also to end the booming Achi Charitas or Manipravala lust-lore.  They were associated with the Tri Kapaliswara temple a Saivite seat at Niranam.  According to critical commentators Tri Kapaliswaram is a post middle ages alteration of Tiru Palisaram, having connections with Pali rather than Kapali as in the Paliekara Pally a few miles north east in Tiruvalla.

Kannassa Memorial Library, Niranam. 29 oct 2017

Niranam was also an ancient port and the coastal line was much interior than today till the 14th century, till the colossal floods in 1341 that silted the backwaters and pushed the coastline further west.  Kadapra a place east of Niranam is a modification of Kadapuram or the sea shore.  Some local historians identify Niranam with the old legendary port called Nelcynda. Pliny’s Natural History mentions about Nelcynda and another chance is Neendakara near Kollam. Niranam was enjoying navigational linkages since ancient era.

Tri Kapaliswaram temple, Niranam; 29 oct 2017. Kannachan poets were close to this shrine.

Anyway it is believed by the St. Thomas Christians here that the apostle came and established the church in AD first century.  There are a few churches and a few boat landings where the apostle is believed to had arrived.  One such quay in a wide canal connecting the Pamapa with Manimalayar is called Tomat Kadavu or the ghat of Toma.  Nearby towards east in Tiruvalla we have another old church called Paliekara Pally.  There are several places with the name Paliekara as in Trissur where we have Palisery as well.   Places like Kuttanperur and Buddhanur are also near Parumala and Panayannar Kavu.  Karumady Kuttan or Bala Buddha of Karumady is further west near Takazhi and Ambalapuzha.  We have Buddha idols recovered at Mavelikara and Kayamkulam as well.

Tomat Kadavu where St Thomas the apostle is believed to had arrived on a sail boat. It is on a wide canal connecting the Pampa with Manimalayar near Niranam. 29 oct 2017.

It is clear that Niranam was an ancient port till the middle ages and continued to be an inland port and trade/cultural centre even up to the modern age.  And it was having global linkages with many religious and oceanic cultures till recently. the China-ware and huge Chinese pots in the Niranam Pally museum itself form an evidence for its East Asian trade and cultural relations.

Stupa like foundation of the stone cross at Niranam Pally on which elephant, lion, fish and lotus motifs are carved.

River Pampa which itself is a later modification of Pampar or the serpent river functioned as a navigational link between the sea and the port and also the hinder lands and eastern hills, especially the western ghats regions including Sabarimala and Nilkal.  A local history museum and cultural interpretation centre linking all these treasures of river Pampa must be setup here to showcase this rich composite heritage and legacy of the Niranam region before the world and posterity.

Paliekara Pally, Tiruvalla. There are several Paliekaras in Kerala and Paliserys as well, showing the widespread rootedness of Pali as a linguistic culture and tradition as in Paliyam household for example.