Tozhuvanur means the land of the Tozhuvan or the one who is in the Pranama posture. There are place names in south Kerala after the mysterious Tozhuvan as Tozhuvankod and Tozhuvankonam. In the Malapuram district in Malabar there is a place called Tozhuvaanur a few miles north of Valanchery.
This ancient sacred grove is situated near Kavumpuram on NH 47 between Valanchery and Kanjipura. Kavumpuram literally means the periphery of the sacred shrine as Kutipuram is the periphery of the Kuti or Kottam or Vattam (a Jain or Buddhist shrine).
Kavu is a sacred grove in Kerala named after the Kanya Kavu or the Buddhist nun as Buddhist nuns planted and nurtured the culture of Sangharamas or sacred gardens and groves in Kerala through their literacy, healthcare and conservationist missionary work as the ecological and ethical base of their mission or the Sangha. It was Sangha Mitra the daughter of Asoka and a leading nun who carried the layered cutting of the Boddhi tree from Gaya to Sri Lanka and planted and nurtured it in Anuradhapura.
It is clear from the place name Kavumpuram that the place housed a big Kavu or sacred shrine grove from the ancient times onwards. Now a Durga temple or Bhagavati temple is situated amidst this ancient grove with numerous old world plants. This is also counted among the most sacred group of 108 Durga shrines in Kerala.
In the stone lamp post or Kalvilaku before the shrine that faces south, there is a bass relief of the Tozhuvan or a human figure in Pranama at its base. This is very similar to the Tozhuvan or Siddha idol of Kayikara south of Varkala that is associated with the Vajrayana school of Buddhism in Kerala. It is clear that this place got the name from this Siddha figure in Pranama and this ancient shrine grove was a Tantric Buddhist shrine at some moment in the past, most probably up to the early middle ages.
It is also interesting to note that Tozhuvankod temple near Trivandrum belongs to an Avarna Kalari household. They were the Kalari Gurukals (martial arts masters) of the infamous Ettuveetars (Ettuveetil Pillais) who were ruthlessly annihilated by Marthanda Varma in the 18th century in Travancore. Tozhuvankod literally means the cornering land strip of the Tozhuvan. It is the family temple of an Ezhava Kalari household. It is also vital to note that there was no caste or religious restriction in the access to the temple from ancient times onwards. The lack of caste untouchability and inclusion of all and the practice of health care and self defense prove the Buddhist connection and antiquity. I am thankful to my friends Srilal and Stanley to point out this after reading my early draft.
There is a banyan on the north eastern corner of the grove above the current temple and a Pipal towards the south beneath. The idol is said to be self incarnate or Swayam Bhu. As in Kadampuzha or Chamravattam there is a pit in its place. It is evident that the original installation or the early Buddhist idol was removed and a subsidiary escorting goddess was substituted later in the middle ages . There is also a legend about Vilwamangalam Swamiyar checking the power and grace of this grove. So it is clear that the shrine was originally Sramana and was later appropriated by Brahmanic Hinduism by removing the main idol and raising the sub deity into prominence.
In Kadampuzha it was Sankara who did the re-installation according to legend. In Chamravattam it is said to be a Sambara Maharshi and in Tozhuvanur it could be Vilwamangalam. This kind of metamorphosis or disguise or forced formal transformations have occurred in plenty of ancient sacred places in Kerala including the Andalur Kavu in Talassery, Kallil temple near Perumbavur and Paruvassery Pallyara near Vadakanchery. The sacred grove at Tozhuvanur still has rare and medicinal plants and shrubs and needs protection from the local people and the temple goers. This ancient treasure house of natural and cultural history can tell us a lot about our society and its ancient foundations.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.