The Jains who belong to the Swetambara sect from Gujarat believe that it is more than 2000 years old. According to legend the present temple was eructed at the site of an ancient Jain temple that was converted to a Hindu temple in the 9th century. The Zamorin of Calicut returned the temple to the Jains after repeated appeals in the middle ages. The current structure has undergone a series of modifications over the ages.
M R Raghava Varier observes that the current temple shows medieval architectural and iconographic style (2012: 39). It was built on the site of an older temple having round sanctum sanctorum and granite base. The Calicut Jain temple is locally known as the Aryan Trikovil. It stands in Trikovil lane. The local name showing the regional tone also suggests its antiquity. It is said that the relics of the old Digambara temple is still in the vaults of the current temple. Raghava Varier adds that apart from this temple Thalapozha, north of Mananthavady alone, is associated with the Swetambara sect.
Today there are two temples inside the courtyard. One old and one new. both have exquisite sculptures in wood and plaster. The old temple has a treasure trove of wooden carvings. The detailed wooden sculptures represent the iconographic connection between the Hindu and Jain temple architecture. Saraswati and Lakshmi images are seen all over the place. Distinct Gujarati style icons and idols are also on display.
Varier, M R Raghava. 2012. Jainamatham Keralathil. Kottayam: N B S.
The western foothills of the southern ranges in the Western Ghats are known for ancient and popular Sastha Temples of Kerala. Sabarimala, Achankovil, Ariankavu, Kulathupuzha and Sasthamkotta are prominent Dharma Sastha or Ayyappa temples located in and around this region. Their proximity to the Tamil Country in the east and Malakootam or Malaya Kootam/Parvatham (Now Agasthya Kootam) in the south are remarkable. Malaya Kootam is still called Pothiyil Mala (variation of Boddhiyil Mala) and it was also called Pothalaka in Buddhist lore, the seat of the Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva. It is a ghat region revered by the Hindus and the Buddhists alike.
Dharma Sastha is a synonym for the Buddha. Ayyappan is an Avalokiteswaran later Hinduized and appropriated by Brahmanism in the early middle ages as an offspring born out of the Siva-Vishnu union. The metamorphosis of this deity through the violent conflicts and negotiations involving Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism) Saivism and Vaishnavism is evident in the legend. In the Tamil Country Pali words Ayyan, Appan, Achan, Ayyappan and Puthan refer to the enlightend one at least from BC third century.
Vajrayana used various Avalokiteswaras and Boddhisatva idols with consorts to popularize the cult and it was easy for Brahmanism to appropriate it overnight. Like the Buddha Nilakandha temple of Nepal or the Padmanabha temple of Thiruvananthapuram the Ayyappa temples were easily modified into Hindu Brahmanical ones. Some scholars also argue that Tantric Buddhism itself was a clever deviation made by the Brahmanical usurpers who joined the Buddhist Sangha for the gradual sabotage as the basic teachings of the compassionate one challenged Brahmanism and caste.
The Buddhist rock cut vestiges in and around the Kulathupuzha forests prove the early presence of missionaries in the Kollam pass well before the advent of the common era. It can be assumed that they entered the western slopes of the Western Ghats through the Ariankavu pass and established their Pallys and Pallykootams in the lower foothills. The rock cut constructions in Kallupacha in RPL estate in Kulathupuzha and Kattalapara close to the Shenduruny sanctuary are still surviving relics of early Buddhist rock architecture.
The same architectural pattern and style of carving are found in the rock temple at Kottukal near Anchal. As the first two vestiges are inside plantations and forests they are almost in abandoned state but the Kottukal rock cut temple is modified into a Siva temple by later Saivism that entered Kerala in the 8th and 9th centuries. It also shows remarkable resemblance to Kaviyur rock temple near Thiruvalla and Kallil Jain temple near Perumbavur.
It is interesting to note that the bigger shrines close to important mountain routes and the popular ones were transformed into bigger Hindu temples while the smaller vestiges and rock carvings were neglected and forgotten in the jungle. On June 1, 2011 the Hindu published an article on the report of Dr Rajendran an archeologist who surveyed the region. According to him these vestiges are related to early Buddhism that reached Kerala in the last centuries of BC era and the whole Ariankavu, Kulathupuzha, Ponmudi belt still holds the relics of this early Buddhist cultural intervention.
According to Dr Rajendran Malsya Mudra or fish signs are identified in the carving sites that prove the Buddhist identity of the makers. In Kulathupuzha fish-feeding is also an important ritual that is still practiced showing the Buddhist conservationist spirit of the shrine. Such practices of conservation are still sustaining in many temples all over Kerala as in Thriprayar in Thrissur district. Naga deities and Mahamaya (mother of the Buddha) idol are also worshiped in Kulathupuzha.
I visited the region on 18th and 19th May 2012 and got the opportunity to see and experience the unique ecology and cultural traces related to the ancient conservationist traditions of Kerala. The Thenmala eco-tourism project and rivers Kallada and Kallar along with the numerous life forms offer plenty of learning experiences for the seeking.