Ancient Pallys on the Banks of River Meenachil

Vazhikadavu up on the Vagaman mountains: river Meenachil flows down from this western ghats above MSL 1000 m

The river originates from the lush green grass hills of Vagaman well above 1000 m at the margin of Kottayam and Idukki districts high up in the western ghats.  After embracing various tributaries while flowing westward and nourishing the soils of Theekoy, Iratupetta, Pala and Kidangoor it reaches the fertile planes of Kottayam and splits into various distributaries to merge in to the great Vembanad lake near Kumarakam before meeting the Arabian sea.

Unique grass hills and shola in Vagaman: The origin spring of river Meenachil

The river Meenachil or Meenchilar attracted plenty of early navigators and explorers from far and wide over the ages.  Jews, Muslims, Christians and similar trading groups of Sramanas earlier from BC third century onwards were lured by its inland waterways and market ports abundant with spices. I revisited the sacred bank of Meenachilar near Thazhathangady on Friday 20th May 2011.  Local friend Shajahan helped me to relocate the Pally.

River Meenachil at Thazhathangady, Kottayam. 29 May 2011
Meenachilar at Thazhathangady: Beautiful old houses on the southern bank. early May 2011

Thazhathangady (market situated low) near Kottayam on the banks of Meenachilar retains plenty of Pallys both Christian churches and Islamic mosques today.  It could be well assumed that the region also housed Sramana Pallys and Jewish Pallys (synagogues) in ancient times before the Hindu Brahmanical conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries.  Synagogues have vanished and Buddhist Pallys like the Tali temple were converted to Hindu ones in the fierce conquests of Brahmanism through cheat and disguise.

Juma Masjid Thazhathangady, Kottayam: Founded in the 8th century by Malik Dinar the first Islamic missionary to Kerala/India from West Asia

The Juma Masjid/Jumat Pally or ancient Taj mosque of Thazhathangady is more than 1200 years old and was founded by Malik Ibnu Dinar from West Asia  in the 8th century AD.  This ancient Muslim Pally in Kerala is supposed to be the oldest mosque in India along with Ponnani Juma Msjid, Kodungalloor Cheraman Pally and Kasaragod Malik Dinar Pally at Thalangara.

Northern entrace and facade facing Meenchil river: Thazhathangady Pally is one of the oldest Islamic Pallys in India, more than 1200 years old

It is a marvel in ancient Kerala style of architecture that is a legacy of the Sramana heritage of Kerala having strong connections to Chinese, Japanese, Sri lankan, Tibetan and Nepali architecture.  These ancient surviving structures clearly show Kerala’s historic cultural exchanges with the greater Buddhist Asia and Islamic and Christian West Asia.

Eastern attic casement of Juma Masjid, Thazhathangady, Kottayam

Pally itself is a Pali word and it is Sramana (Buddhist/Jain) in origin.  All the minority religions in India; Jews, Christians, Muslims… in addition to Jains and Buddhists used this Pali Sramana word to refer to their worshiping places even after the annihilation of Buddhism in Kerala around the 10th century by Hindu Brahmanism and its subservient Sudra henchmen.

The ancient granite footbath at the northern entrance in Thzhathangady Pally, Kottayam
The beauty of Thazhathangady landscape, water-scape and culture-scape

These cultural and linguistic shared legacies also show the shared Sramana heritage of all the people in Kerala irrespective of religion and caste.  It is also crucial to remember here that caste is a typical Brahmanical import used to divide and rule the people under the hegemonic Hindu colonialism or Brahmanical internal imperialism.  There is no reference to caste and Varna in the Sangham literature that is Sramana in spirit and philosophy that belongs to the period BC 500 to AD 500 that has produced Tamil epics and classical poetry.

An interior chamber in Thazhathangady Pally, Kottayam

The ancient architects of Kerala have imprinted their mastery and craft in the wooden structure here in Thazhathangady which is imposing and awe inspiring.  The facades, columns and roof structures are amazing and visual treats to the visitors interested in space and form.

Old wooden and roof tiled houses in Thazhathangady on Meenachilar
Pally Kulam or pond in Thazhathangady Pally, Kottayam

The Pally is chiefly done in Teak and other hard wood and old terracotta tiles are used in the roof.  This may be a later addition but the wooden structure and framework belongs to the eighth century itself as per the Pally inscriptions, legends and in looks.  There are gigantic wooden beams and columns on which inscriptions from the holy Qur-an are still visible and readable in calligraphic Arabic alphabets.

Southern gateway of Kottayam Cheriya Pally (1579)
Heritage houses in Thazhathangady on river Meenachil, Kottayam

The ancient pond or Pally Kulam is also intact and well conserved by the community.  The Pally has close architectural semblance with the ones in Ponnani and Kasaragod on the Malabar coast.  The beautiful wooden and roof-tiled houses here in Thazhathangady are also exquisite and deserve to be protected as heritage monuments.

Kottayam Valiya Pally and granite cross (1550)
Wooden roof structure with striking Chinese archetectural influece, Thazhathangady, Kottayam

The 16th century Kottayam Valiya Pally and Cheriya Pally that belongs to Christian churches are also in the proximity.  The government and the cultural wing of the UN must take initiatives to conserve these ancient Pallys and surrounding habitats on the banks of the river Meenachil in central Kerala.  Steps must be take to develop these monuments to a greater cultural circuit like the Muziris Heritage Project in Kodungallur.

Old houses and streets in Thazhathangady, Kottayam

Kallil: The Last Surviving Relic of Jainism in Central Kerala

The huge granite structure that houses the shrine
The huge granite structure that houses the shrine

Kallil is a rock-cut temple in central Kerala.  It is located a few miles east of Perumbavur in Ernakulam district near Odakali.  According to historians like V V K Valath and P K Gopalakrishnan who have done extensive field studies and archival research in the local history of Ernakulam district it was a Jain temple till the7th or 8th century.  The early 20th century commentators have also pointed out the Jain ancestry of the Kallil Pisharady.

Thirthankara image on the mantle
Thirthankara image on the mantle

In the ancient Tamilakam Adikal denoted a Jain sage as in Ilanko Adikal the legendary Jain saint (who was the brother of Cheran Chenguttuvan the Chera emperor), who composed The Silapathikaram the Tamil Sramana epic at (Thrikana)Mathilakam, a few miles west of Kallil near the coast and north of Kodungallur also known as the ancient port of Vanchi or Muziris. It can be reasonably assumed that this rock structure was converted into a Hindu temple after the onslaught of Brahmanism that wiped out Buddhist and Jain cultures from Kerala in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries through coveted  royal patronage and usurpation.  The historians record that the idols of Mahavira, Parswanatha and Padmavathi Devi were found from the temple.  We can still see the relief of the Jaina Thirthankara on the rock surface above the front opening.

Elephant Icon a Jain Mudra
Elephant Icon a Jain Mudra

The cave shrine is housed on top of a small hillock.  the top of the shrine is covered naturally by a huge granite rock.  There are also images of Naga deities in front of the shrine.  Now the image of the Devi is worshiped as a Hindu godess.  There is also a rock carving or shallow etching of an elephant image at the back of the shrine, which again is a confirmed Jain icon or Mudra.There are also ancient ponds and tanks that offer clear drinking water nearby.  The mineral water springs also confirm the fact that this was an ancient Jain Thirtha or forest cave shrine with a mineral spring that attracted devotees from far and near. We have similar relics of Jain temples in Wayanad in Sulthan Bathery and Mananthavady.  In Palghat a Jain Basti still survives and a few families too.  the place is called Jaina Medu.    But these regions are close to the Karnataka plateau and are exceptions in the cultural geography and history of Kerala.

Reference

Valath, V V K.  Keralathile Sthala Nama Charithrangal: Ernakulam Jilla.  Thrissur:  Kerala Sahitya Academy, 1991.

Gopalakrishnan, P K.  Keralathinte Samskarika Charithram.  Trivandrum:  Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2009.

—,  Jainamatham Keralthil.  Trivandrum:  Prabhat, 1992.