Waterbirds of Vembanad Wetland

The largest lake in Kerala: Vembanad Kayal

Vembanad lake and adjacent wetlands form the largest water body in Kerala.  It is also one of the longest and largest lakes in India.  It stretches beyond 1500 sq. km and separates the districts of Kottayam, Alapuzha and Ernakulam.  The great rivers of Kochi and Travancore unite to form this unique wetland ecosystem.  River Periyar, Muvatupuzhayar, Meeachil, Manimalayar, Achankovilar and Pampa drain their waters to this estuarine system that is situated at sea level.

A lone migrant: A Spotted/wood Sandpiper in Kumarakam paddyfields

It has been the cradle of human culture and cultivation (below sea level) for many a millennium.  All the relics and reminiscences of ancient Kerala are found from the Kuttanad region that encircles lake Vembanad.  Mavelikara Buddha statue, Ambalapuzha Karumadikuttan (partially demolished 8th century granite Buddha), The old Buddhist temples of Kiliroor, Nilamperur, Thakazhi etc. (Hinduized after the 10th century) are still found to the south of the lake.   Place names like Thottappally and Bhuthapandy point towards the Buddhist and Tamil pasts of Kerala.

Dwindling Numbers: Whiskered Terns and Barn Swallows in Pallikayal

According to local oral narratives  and historians the place got the name of Kuttanad (literally the land of Kuttan) from the black Buddha idol called Karumadi Kuttan that represents the true cultural tradition of Kerala and its people, especially the subaltern, that was obliterated in the Brahmanic conquest that took place after the 5th century AD.

A Darter on a Driftwood in Vattakayal, Kumarakam

The Kottayam Nature Society lead by Dr B Sreekumar and supported by youngsters like Ajay Nilamperur, Prasanth Narayanan and others, has been organizing the annual waterfowl count in Vembanad for more than ten years now with the support of Kerala Forest Department.  They are also producing the reports in book form after each survey.  Their contributions and interventions in the field of conservation are extremely valuable and commendable.

A 'Punna' tree in Kavanatinkara, typical of the Neythal landscape associated with the Thina eco-aesthetics of Sangham age, the ancient Tamil cultural phase of Kerala

I have been part of this endeavor for the last couple of years.  But this time I was not an official participant of the count for being away from Kottayam, working in the real margin of the state in Kasaragod.  Still I was able to do a bit of parallel birding at the margins of the survey.

Water hyacinths and plastic bottles are becoming real threats: A View of Pennar

There is a drastic decline in the number of birds and number of species this year.  The ducks and waders are specifically missing.  So  are the terns and gulls in the lake.  Perhaps the changed rain pattern and climatic change in general have altered the migratory routes and frequenzy.  We are all eagerly awaiting the official report and the analysis by experts.

From all over Kerala: Vembanad Waterfowl Count Team 2011 at KAU campus, Kumarakam

In a few hours in the morning I could see small groups of Lesser Whistling Teals, a few Cotton Pigmy Goose, Egrets, Little Cormorants, Indian Shags, a few Whiskered Terns, Barn Swallows, Darters, Starlings and Common Mynas near Vattakayal and Thollayiram Kayal.  A Snakebird was seen in breeding plumage to my surprise.

A Darter in breeding plumage in Thollayiram Kayal, Kumarakam

The decline in migrant population must be addressed immediately by the experts and conservationists on an emergency basis.  The various implications should be studied and brought to light.  The analyses are vital for the sustenance and conservation of this key Ramsar site in Kerala and the neighboring human community.

Darter fishing in the lake like a snake

Buddhism in Kerala

Buddha Sculpture at Mavelikara
Buddha Sculpture at Mavelikara

The Buddha idols of Mavelikara and Karumadi in south Kerala are now well known all over the world. Today we see plenty of relics and ravages related to Buddhism and the Sramana tradition in Kerala scattered all over the state. Architectural and sculptural reminiscences are numerous apart from the vital linguistic and cultural imprints like the abundance of Pali (the ancient Buddhist Bahujan language) words in the present south Indian regional languages.

Karumady Kuttan: Half destroyed Buddha idol in Karumady Recovered from the River
Karumady Kuttan: Half destroyed Buddha idol in Karumady near Ambalapuzha

The state is also known for the educational and health care achievements apart from its universal literacy. All these human development indicators are not just the product of 20th century evangelical Christian missionary activities and state welfare schemes but the lasting legacy of Buddhism, the democratic, egalitarian and inclusive way of living that shaped the cultural contours of Kerala from B C 3rd century to A D 13th century.

Nilamperur Pally temple
Nilamperur Pally temple: Converted to Hindu after Pallybana Perumal

Kerala is also known for its progressive left and democratic politics. This grass root level democracy and collective struggles of subaltern people are also a reminiscence of Buddhism that was the first missionary yet peaceful religion that welcomed women and outcastes to the mainstream community. The people or Bahujans who were defiant to Hindu Brahmanism after the destruction of Buddhism by Brahmanism were condemned as untouchable Chandals as outside the Brahmanic Hindu Chatur Varnayam after the devastation of Sramana tradition in Kerala. These Chandals or untouchable Buhujan masses were and still are the agents of Kerala social revolution or renaissance under the aegis of various radical social rebellions like the Narayana Guru movement, Ayyankali movement, Sahodara movement and various other progressive left and democratic processes in Kerala.

Buddhist Pagoda Shrine housing Karumady Kuttan
Buddhist Pagoda Shrine housing Karumady Kuttan, built by Dalai Lama

According to researchers, historians and thinkers like P C Alexander, P K Gopalakrishnan, Pavanan, Puthussery Ramachandran, Aju Narayanan etc. Buddhism was introduced in Kerala in the B C third century itself by the missionaries of emperor Asoka on their way down south to Sri Lanka which still is a Buddhist country. Jainism and Ajivaka philosophy also co-existed with Buddhism creating the great Sramana civilization of the South that has given birth to cultural classics like The Thirukural, Silapatikaram, Manimekhala and the whole canon of Sangham writing. The Buddhist, Jain and Ajivaka seers introduced the Brahmi script and the art of writing in South India. All the early inscriptions now available are written in Brahmi script in Tamil language. The ancient Tamilakam or Tamil country was a treasure house of Sramana heritage.

Tenth century granite Buddha at Pallykal Bharanikavu
Tenth century granite Buddha at Pallykal Bharanikavu, Kayamkulam. Recovered from the pond of a present Savarna Hindu temple and placed near the gate now with the intervention of local people

Almost all the current Savarna Hindu temples in Kerala are modified Buddhist or Jain temples by coveted Brahmanism and its Padaja (Sudra or subservient Varna) forces. The brutal persecution of Buddhist monks/nuns and conversion of temples happened in eighth and ninth centuries under the leadership of Sankara the furious advocate of Brahmanical propaganda and violence. He argued with other religious scholars, defeated them verbally and annihilated them and their religion forever. His brutal followers and henchmen like Vramila Bhatta converted the seat of the defeated to that of Hindu Brahmanical temples with extended support from ruling classes. He is also called Prachanna (pseudo) Buddha as he modified and disguised Buddha’s Sunyavada (rational theory) into the empire of the

Gandhara Buddha Replica
A Gandhara Buddha replica in Mattaanchery antique market

Brahmanic self, the Advaita ‘theory’ that reiterated and enforced caste division and hierarchy with a peripheral and cunning shroud of unity that cheated the masses. Thirumulla Varam, Thottappally, Podiyil Mala, Sabarimala, Kodungallur, Thrissur, Kottakkal, Madappally and Bekal were world renowned Buddhist shrines of worship, learning, health care and nature conservation. In places like Mathilakam and Kiliroor there were even Buddhist and Jian universities and Research centres in Kerala in the early centuries of the first millennium that attracted intellectuals and students from all over the world.

Tenth century granite Buddha recovered from Maruthurkulangara
Tenth century granite Buddha recovered from Maruthurkulangara, Karunagapally and now placed in Krishnapuram palce near Kayamkulam. Face and features badly mutilated

Pally is still the most popular affix used along with place, plot and family names in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra. The Pali word Pally means a non Hindu/ Brahmanic place of worship. In the ancient times it denoted a Jain or Buddhist shrine. Buddhism guided culture and society in the south for more than a millennium. It was erased from Kerala through the barbaric and coveted Brahmanic invasion that happened from the fifth to eighth centuries under cruel and reckless royal patronage and usurpation with power.

Karunagapally Buddha - ? 8th century
Karunagapally Buddha is claimed to be much older than Archeology Dept. says. Aju Narayanan argues that it is made out of a monolith in 8th century

Images and records of Buddhist persecution by the Brahmanic barbarians are still available in Kerala in the form of stone carved images, local subaltern orature and secret lore (Valath). The Hindu Brahmanic colonists burned the Pali canon and the sacred texts and knowledge systems of Buddhism in Kerala. These nomadic Aryans from the Vedic and Sanskritic clans of West and Central Asia introduced Sanskrit and Hindu religion in the South Indian Kingdoms. They found leverage in royal patronage through cunning usurpation and cheat. The legend of Onam and Maha Bali still articulates the historic deceit of Buddhist Bahujan culture by the Brahman dwarfs. Poets like Sahodaran Ayyappan has extensively written about the internal imperialism of Hindu Brahmanism in Kerala.

Vadayar-Attuvela-A-relic-of-Buddhist-past
Vadayar Attuvela: A relic of Buddhist past

The Brahmans created the notorious sexual colonies among the Sudra women and used their male counterparts as foot soldiers who ensured the caste and Varna system, the practice of untoucahbility and pollution. The Sudras in return were given land and titles (as Nayar, Panikar, Thampy, Unni, Kaimal, Kurup, Menon etc.)with which they suppressed the local defiant untoucahable people having Buddhist lineage with bloody hands and weapons. These foot soldiers and menial hands of Brahmansim were absorbed to the Chatur Varnyam (fourfold Varna stratification of Brahmanical imagiNation comprising of Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra) as the fourth and last Varna, the Sudra. The vast majority of people, the Dalit Bahujans were outside the cultural geography of Brahmanism as Chandals and Mlechas, as they are the former Buddhist and Jain population.

Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur.  The first installation by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.
Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur. The first installation by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.  Goddess became prominent here as well.

The Nayar dominance in Kerala history began in the middle ages with large scale Brahman settlements and militarization and still holds sway though they also want to be declared as a backward community now, as they still relish absolute power! According to state commission reports this power elites and historically advantageous group having less than 15 percent of Kerala’s population enjoy more than 32 percent share in government jobs. In higher education and universities it is more than 48 and in private owned print media and visual media it is almost 90 percent. Imagine the extent of Savarna Nayar hegemony in Kerala even today!

Sastha idol recovered from Cherthala
Sastha idol recovered from Cherthala. Dharma Sastha is a synonym for the Buddha and is clearly related to pre Brahmanic traditions, Krishnapuram palace museum, Kayamkulam

These henchmen of Brahmanism who cheated and killed their Buddhist, Ajivaka and Jain brethren to enforce Brahmanic caste and did the work of pimps by fetching their own women for the Brahmanic high priests with all the shameless pride of getting an elite alliance; are now hailed as the Samurais of Kerala by some fascist spokesmen of elitism who thrive in popular cinema and culture. This historical mediating middllemen are still the advocates of Gita classes, Veda and Vedantic obscurantism in Kerala and outside! They are the orchestrators of Hindu hegemonic discourses and the power heads of the Parivar forces all over the country allying with the Neo Kshatriya aspirants. They are also Hinduizing the Bahujan masses who are attracted to power and chauvinist social status! They need the numbers of Hinduized Bahujans for their pseudo majoritarian and fascist politics. It is an absurdity of history that some of them even today boast about their Brahmanical wedlock which was stopped just a few decades ago!

This Brahman – Sudra alliance or infamous Sambandham gave birth to the Manipravalam literature, the new Malayam-Tamil and later Malayalam and the Savarna elite culture of Kerala in the dark and dubious middle ages that Sanskritized and Hinduized Kerala elites and a lot of people. Even Syrian Christians boast about their Brahmanical connections more than 2000 (?!) years after conversion! Actually there were no Brahmins in the south in the A D first century! Then how could St. Thomas convert those absent Brahmans to Christianity? The coveted Brahmans came to Kerala only in the 4th or 5th century or later.

The power of Brahmanism and Hindu hegemonic discourse is that much tangible and an everyday reality in Kerala and India. This hidden Savarna elitism is the real culprit behind all the fascist pogroms and genocides in post Independent India. All the minority religions in Inida and Kerala like Jews, Muslisms and Christians still use the Pali word Pally to refer to their place of worship along with Jains and Buddhists in the south. Buddhism is making a second coming as an ethical philosophy and eco-spiritual alternative way of life all over the world and in India and Kerala in particular.

Smiling Buddha at Pallykal Bharanikavu Kayamkulam
Smiling Buddha at Pallykal Bharanikavu, Kayamkulam

The historic affiliation to Buddhism in the philosophy and praxis of Narayana Guru the seer of Kerala modernity, his disciples and intellectuals like C V Kunhiraman, Asan, Sahodaran Ayyappan and now the new Ambedkarite Dalit movement in Kerala are significant. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s illuminating subaltern hermeneutics of Buddhism in his masterpiece Bddha and his Dharma are also instrumental in the second rebellion of Buddhism against caste Brahmanism and social exclusion. Plenty of radical scholars and organic intellectuals in India and Kerala are now working on Buddhism like Gail Omvedt herself. It could be well assumed that Buddhism is emerging as the cultural and ethical alternative of the present and future all over the world and particularly in Kerala. The Bahujans in Kerala who lost their true Sramana legacy in the onslaught of Hindu Brahmanic internal imperialism are now recovering from the calamity of Brahmanism and its burden and looking forward to alternative paradigms and new ways of living.

Reference
Alexander, P C. Buddhism in Kerala.
Gopalakrishnan, P K. Keralthinte Samskarika Charithram. Tvm: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2001.
Omvedt, Gail. Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste New Delhi: Sage, 2007.
Pavanan. Baudhaswadheenam Keralathil. Tvm: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2008.
Ambedkar, B R. Buddha and his Dhamma. Bombay: Govt. of Maharashtra, 1980.
Valath, V V K. Keralathile Sthala Charithrangal: Ernakulam Jilla. Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academy, 2001.
—, Thrissur Jilla,Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academy, 2001.
—, Thiruvananthapuram Jilla, Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academy, 2001.
Narayanan, Aju. Keralathile Buddhamatha Samskaram. Thrissur: Current/Tapasam, 2005.