Tag Archives: jainism in india

Siddha of Kayikara: Vajrayana in Kerala

Granite idol at Kayikara now installed at the gate of Asan memorial.  Can be identified as a Siddha of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism in Kerala. 26 Dec 2012

Granite idol at Kayikara now installed at the gate of Asan memorial. Can be identified as a Siddha of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism in Kerala. 26 Dec 2012

In the Oxford Illustrated Cultural History of India edited by A L Basham (New Delhi: 2007) Bhikhu Sangharakshita has sensitively traced the rise and fall of Buddhism and its various schools in India, the birthplace of the light of Asia.  According to Sangharakshita at least three schools were prominent. Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana also formed the three stages of evolution and the most prominent schools of enlightenment in India that tried to resist caste and gender hierarchies in India.

The gateway of Asan memorial library and sculptural complex at Kayikara.  Siddha statue towards the right inside the wall.

The gateway of Asan memorial library and sculptural complex at Kayikara. Siddha statue towards the right inside the wall.

The Hinayana or Teravada which is often called the little cart projected the image of the Arhat as a desirable ethical stature.  The Mahayana or great cart was centred on the image of the Boddhisatva.  The last school of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism projected the image of the Siddha.  Arhat is a sage who has attained enlightenment following the path of the buddha.  Boddhisatva is a saintly and celestial mystical being akin to the buddha.  Siddha is a Buddhist yogi or a holy man with instant potentials and greater agency.

The buddha from Chandala Bhikshuki a pillar relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara.

The buddha from Chandala Bhikshuki a pillar relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara.

In Kerala the early Chera kings adopted the surname Athan which is a form of the Arhat.  Boddhisatva has become Chathan in Kerala.  Another synonym of the buddha, ‘Sastha’ is also associated with this word.  Siddha of Vajrayana has become ‘Chithan” in Kerala.  C V Kunjiraman the worldly disciple of Narayana Guru, a contemporary of Asan, a leading renaissance writer and anti caste activist has observed that Ezhava people in south Kerala had two deities traditionally: Chithan and Arathan.  Chithan is Siddha of Vajrayana and Arathan is none other than Arhathan/Athan a localized form of the Arhat.  In mid and north Kerala Ezhava and other Avarna people, especially the dalits still worship the Chathan.  Chathan is also connected to Sastha and Ayyappa by the Bahujans.

Asan, Narayana Guru and Dr Palpu: Bass relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara

Asan, Narayana Guru and Dr Palpu: Bass relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara

On 26 Dec 2012 I visited Kayikara, five km south of Varkala by the Arabian Sea which is renowned as the birth place of poet laureate Kumaran Asan.  His ancient household called Thomman Plackal is no more.  There is a library, a memorial statue, a sculptural complex and a Governemnt School at the place.  The in-charge of the library Mr Soman a senior citizen from the region  informed me that there was an ancient pond at the place and a granite idol was recovered from the pond which is now installed on the right of the gateway close to the compound wall facing west by the roadside.

Kumaran Asan statue at Kayikara by Chavara Vijayan

Kumaran Asan statue at Kayikara by Chavara Vijayan

The local people designate this life size granite idol as the buddha, as I talked to many.  A broad shouldered man with a head dress or rounded hair tuft (in place of the Jwala of the buddha) and a peculiar loin cloth stand with the palms joined together before the chest in the Pranama posture has some resemblance to the buddha.  The person has a round face, broad shoulders and thick lips and is in a spiritual melancholy.  The phase looks south Indian. There is a deep sorrow and yearning in the whole mood and look.   It has resemblance and some similitude to the figure of the Chakyar in Koodiyattam which is often associated with the Sakya artistes and early Buddhism in Kerala by many researchers.

Aruvipuram installation of Narayana Guru (1888): A bass relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara

Tagore meeting Narayana Guru at Sivagiri: A bass relief by Chavara Vijayan at Kayikara

The statue is a unique one in its figuration and chiseling style.  The stone type and stylization are also different from other buddhas at Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Kottapuram or Pattanam.  The other buddha idols recovered so far from Kerala belong to the Theravada early period and are dated to 7 th or 8th century by experts like Ilamkulam.  Most of them fall under the influence of the great Anuradhapura style of Srilanka.  But the Kayikara idol looks a lot recent and could be dated to 15th or 16th century.  Researchers like Dr Aju Narayanan also endorse this observation.

LIfe size idol of the Siddha at Kayikara.  Recovered from an ancient pond near the birth place of Asan.  A key icon of Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana in Kerala.

LIfe size idol of the Siddha at Kayikara. Recovered from an ancient pond near the birth place of Asan. A key icon of Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana in Kerala.

Buddhas generally appear in Padmasana, Bhumisparsa and Abhaya postures.  It is extremely unusual for a buddha to assume the Pranama posture that is a product of the Hindu hierarchical worldview.  But there are place names scattered all over Kerala connected to this posture of Pranama or  “Thozhal” in current Malayalam.  Thozhuvan Kode, Thozhuvan Konam, Thozhuvan Uru etc. are place names found all over Kerala.  Even in Malabar there are place names associated with the Thozhuvan or one who is in the Pranama posture.  Thazhampally and Mampally are regions just south of Kayikara.  The Chamana antiquity of the place is evident.

Buddha in Pranama posture, Temple of Nara, Japan. C. 8th century AD

Bodhisatva in Pranama posture, Temple of Nara, Japan. C. 8th century AD. Photo from Internet

In my inquiry through books and the internet a bodhisatva idol in the same posture was found in the Temple of Nara in Japan that belongs to the 8th century AD.  Mr Soman had also told me that when Mr Humayun Kabir the M P visited Kayikara he made a statement that it was not buddha as buddhas never assumed the Pranama posture.  It is true that the original buddhas in Hinayana and Mahayana never assumed this posture which is often related to Brahmanical Hindu cults.  But if you look at the history of the development of Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana and its appropriation by Tantric Brahmanism in the 15th and 16th centuries this Pranama posture becomes meaningful.  it provides the vital clue and the missing link in the history of Buddhism in India.

Mampally and Thazhampally regions south of Kayikara.  A view from Anjengo light house.  Anjengo Kayal is also visible.

Mampally and Thazhampally regions south of Kayikara. A view from Anjengo light house. Anjengo Kayal is also visible.  ”Pally” in the place names proves the Sramana antiquity of the region as in Panayanpally and Thopumpady in Mattanchery in Ernakulam district.

Mahayana itself was a greater and diversified movement that diluted the original Hinavada or Sunyavada of the buddha.  Nagarjuna and other sages who basically came from Brahmanism itself digressed a lot from the original teaching of the buddha in their contestable attempts at popularizing and liberalizing Buddhism in India through their greater vehicle.  As a result of this large scale liberalization there was extensive hybridity and ambivalence in the context.  The ambiguous figure of the Siddha or Chithan emerged from this chaos.

Sarada installation by Narayana Guru at Sivagiri where he used the Jain imagination of the deity rather than the Brahmanical one.

Specially designed Pagoda with ventilation, enshrining the Sarada installation by Narayana Guru at Sivagiri  (April 1912) where he used the Jain imagination and consecration of the deity rather than the Brahmanical one. He traveled throughout the south India and in Sri Lanka before the act and imagined and designed the simple architecture of the shrine.  Foundation was laid in 1907.  Soon after the performative installation avoiding Tantric rituals he composed a literary offering to the goddess of knowledge, Janani Navaratna Manjari, Nine Gems in Praise of the Mother.

This hybridity and later easy apropriation by Brahmanism could also be read as a strategic tactics by the hegemonic forces to take over the heterodox Buddhism from within.  They infiltrated into the Sangha, liberalized it, hybridized it and smoothly converted it into Hindu Brahmanism.  Diluting, dividing and deviating is a key strategy used by imperialisms everywhere.

A little buddha idol, exactly like a little Krishna image. This one at Todaiji temple of Nara, Japan.

A little buddha idol, exactly like a little Krishna image. This replica of the  one at Todaiji temple of Nara, Japan. An example of ambiguity and hybridity. Photo from Internet

Thus the suspicious stone idol at Kayikara could be aptly identified as Chithan or the Siddha of Tantric Buddhism.  The Yogic Siddha stands in self engrossing Pranama by the Arabian Sea at Kayikara.  The undercurrent of Buddism in Asan’s poetry at least in its political unconscious could also be explained in the light of this Siddha of Kayikara.  It represents the gradual blurring of the boundaries between Tantric Buddhism and Tantric Brahmanism.  The icon provides the missing link in the socio cultural evolution of Kerala and India at large and the gobal history of Buddhism in general.

Ethical Foundations of South Indian Aesthetics: Chitharal and Tirunandikarai

The paved walkway leading to the top of a granite hillock: Chitharal/ Sitharal near Marthandam in Kanyakomari district of TN is an ancient Jain monument established in 8th or 9th century. It is also called Tirucharanathu Malai/ Tirucharanathu Pally/ Tiruchanampally etc. Now with ASI

A green Banyan growing on the top of this granite boulder. It is also the Chaitya tree of Adinatha.  The entrance to the temple complex at Chitharal. Now called Malai Kovil. It was converted into a Hindu Bhagavathy/goddess temple in the 13th century by Ay kings under the influence of Brahmanism.

The gateway to the temple through a natural cavern between two gigantic rocks. The granite hillock is around 200m above sea level and offers panoramic surround view. 23 Oct 2012

The bas-relief gallery of Thirthankaras facing north at the top of Chitharal hillock.  M R Raghava Wariar says in his recent Jainamatham Keralathil  that it was the Amana sages Achanandi, Gunanandi and Veeranandi who directed the sculpting at Chitharal.

Bas-reliefs of Mahavira, Parswanatha and Padmavathy Devi at Chitharal rock temple. Carved by dedicated artisans or creative Chamana monks themselves in the 8/9th century AD. Some early interpreters like S N Sadasivan mistook it as Buddhist rather than Jain. He rendered the female figure as Pragya Paramitha. The closeness of Jain and Buddhist iconography and ethical/aesthetic praxis are remarkable here.

Ethical foundation of South Indian Chamana art: The lion-seated Ambika or Dharmadevi / goddess of ethics at Chitharal. The grace, elegance and spiritual quality of this piece of compassionate art is the aesthetic manifestation of ethical culture in Tamilakam initiated by the Amana sages as early as 3rd century BC.

Before the Thirthankara and Ambika reliefs in the galaxy of jinas facing north. Chitharal 23 Oct 2012

9th century inscriptions in Vateluthu script propagated by Amanas. They also introduced the Brahmi script in Tamilakam in the 3rd century BC. The inscriptions here are about the offerings to the Tiruchanampally by some devotees.  Raghava Wariar has noted the name of Gunamthangi Kurathikal a lady scholar who had offered gold to this shrine in the 9th century.  Kurathikal is the female gender of guru and shows that women were also among the ascetic scholars and eminent teachers  of Jainism in the south.

Carved granites steps leading to the top of the rock. Replicas could be found in Kaviyur, Kallil and Kattilapara in Kerala. Tirucharanampally was a major Jain centre that was modeled in the smaller versions in Kerala.  Charanathupally itself was modeled on Sravanabelagola in south Kanara.

The temple and perennial pond on top of the rock at Chitharal. A Pipal and Banyan grow on this tiny top soil bed. The Digambara/clad-in-space sages used the water from this rock top pond for survival and taught ethics and letters to the people.

Western Ghats towards the east of Chitharal. A view from the top. 23 Oct 2012

A self-portrait from the top of Chitharal Tirucharanathu Pally. 23 Oct 2012

The Pandya style Vimana of Tiruchanam Pally at Chitharal. Now called Malai Kovil by local people. Built in 8th century as a Jain vestige and converted into a Hindu Devi temple in the 13th century by Ay rulers.

Youth getting on the Banyan, the Chaitya tree on top of Chitharal rock. Young people are showing considerable interest in the live and breathing  Chamana legacy of South India. Ethics is like oxygen to the enlightened young people

Tirunandikarai cave temple near Kulasekharam in Kanyakomari district of TN. Originally Jain later converted to Hindu temple in the middle ages during the violent bouts of Saivism. Veera Nandi is the founder of this Jain shrine in the 7th century. The small stream and place are named after this Jain sage as Nandiar and Tirunandikarai respectively. The current Siva temple is also called Nandiswaran temple after Vira Nandi originally. Later Siva’s vehicle Nandikeswara was tagged to provide a Brahmanical version of the place name.

 

Tirunandikarai rock-cut Jain vestige: Exactly like Kaviyur, Kallil and Kattilapara in Kerala. Carved into a gigantic granite monolith in the 7th century by Vira Nandi and disciples. The Vateluthu inscriptions talk about Vikramadithya Varaguna the Ay king and Raja Raja Chola who celebrated his birthday here.

Traces of 9th century murals inside Tirunandikarai rock temple. One of the earliest rudiments of Kerala style of murals. Originally Chamana later Hinduized after the violent conversion in the 9th century following the Saivite and Vaishnavite upheavals.

Footprints of the Jain sage Vira Nandi on top of the rock. Now considered by Hindus as the footmarks of Siva. The Chamanas were worshipers of the footprints of their gurus. Place name Kalady meaning the feet of the enlightened ones occurs from Trivandrum to Thrissur in Kerala.

My backpack on top of Tirunandikarai rock with the back drop of Pechy Parai and adjacent peaks. 23 Oct 2012. Let me salute the phenomenal pioneering Amanas who walked throughout the peninsular India and created wonders in nature and culture of the subcontinent as early as 3rd century BC.

The spectacular cloud formations towards the west. A view from the top of Tirunandikarai rock. 23 Oct 2012

Reclining on the top of Tirunandikarai rock after a day long exploration. Pechy Parai peaks in the backdrop. The air is incredibly sweet here. 23 Oct 2012: 6pm

The Chaitya tree: A Pipal growing by a rock pool on the Tirunandikarai rock.  Pechy Parai peaks in the horizon

At the end of the day: Another self-portrait atop the Tirunandikarai rock. 23 Oct 2012. 6pm

Wisdom of Tiruvalluvar and Tirukural: The next morning in Kanyakomari 24 Oct 2012

Sunrise at land’s end: Confluence of three oceans at the Cape Comerin. Ancient Kanyakomari or cape of the lady oracle later Sanskritized as Kanyakumari. As Kanya and Kumari are the same it is an absurd tautology that exposes the redundancy and epistemological violence of Brahmanical appropriation of south Indian place names. Bye from the Cape!

But a threatening presence in the horizon: Nuclear reactor at Kudankulam emerging some 40km east of Kanyakomari. A zoomed shot in the haze from the Cape. The struggling people and their leaders say that it is going to affect the lives of the people in the whole peninsular India; TN and Kerala in particular.  The fight for survival is on in south India like this sailing catamaran in a tri-sea.