Tag Archives: Kilirur temple

Pally Vana Perumal and Pally Temples in Kerala

Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam.  The first installation by Pallybanar in early 16th century.

Perinjanam Pallyil Bhagavati temple north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam. The first installation by Pallybanar in early 16th century.

Pallybana Perumal or Pallyvanar was a Chera prince of Kerala.  He lived in late 15th and early 16th century according to researchers.  He was the last defender of Buddhism in Kerala.  When Brahmanism converted most of the Chera kings and royalty and took over the Chaityas and Pagodas, he abdicated his throne to save his ancient Dhamma and retreated to the wetlands around the great Vempanad lake and adjacent Kuttanad.  Kuttanad is also known as the land of Kuttan a local form of the Buddha.

Lion motif of the goddess in Perinjanam Pally temple. On the lamp post towards the north.

Lion motif of the goddess in Perinjanam Pally temple. On the lamp post towards the north.

His name shows his link with the Pally or ancient Buddha Vihara.  He literally ruled over the Pally and became known as the Pally Vana.  He established many Pallys or Chaitya Viharas all around the lake Vembanad.  Perinjanam, Kilirur and Neelamperur are still surviving with his memories.  Perinjanam Pally north of Kodungallur and Mathilakam (Trikana Mathilakam/ Tiru Kunavayil Kottam/Kunava was an ancient Jain and Buddhist cultural centure) is still surviving in a Hinduized way.  It is still called Pallyil Bhagavaty Temple or the Temple of the Goddess in a Pally or Vihara.  It is also memorable that Vanchi the ancient Buddhist university where Manimekhalai received higher education was near Mathilakam and Perinjanam.

Pallyil temple Perinjanam.  On the right the shrine of Vishnu/Krishna facing east.  On the left the main shrine of the goddess facing north.  In Neelamperur too the goddess is facing the north.

Pallyil temple Perinjanam. On the right of the Ana Kottil is the shrine of Vishnu/Krishna facing east. On the left the main shrine of the goddess facing north. In Neelamperur too the goddess is facing the north.

The installations in Perinjanam, Kilirur and Neelamperur are exactly the same.  The mother of the enlightened one Mahamaya or Taradevi is placed in the central shrines.  The Buddha situated in subshrines are now worshiped as Vishnu or Krishna.  Pally is in the name of the temples at Neelamperur and Perinjanam.  While the Neelamperur temple is still called Pally Bhagavati temple, the Perinjanam temple is called Pallyil Bhagavati temple.  The Kilirur temple is popularly known as Kunnummel Bhagavati temple or the temple of the goddess on the hilltop in Kuttanad.  While Kilirur and Neelamperur are towards the south east of the Vembanad lake, Perinjanam temple is towards the north west of the lake and its linked backwaters.

Palyil temple, Perinjanam: A View from the east.

Pallyil temple, Perinjanam: A View from the south gate.

The Pallybanar lived his last years in Neelamperur and his idol was recovered from the temple.  The idol clearly showed the Swastika talisman representing the four noble truths and the eight lotus signs below it, representing the eightfold paths envisioned by the enlightened one.  It is remarkable that the same cross like Swastika engraving and footmarks were recovered from Malayatur hilltop.  The Buddhists traditionally worshiped the footmarks of their gurus as in Sripada of Ceylon.  The Malayatur footprints and Swastika point towards the Buddhist antiquity of Kerala Christians.

The shrine of Krishna at Kilirur temple, Kottayam.  The northern door of this shrine is marked for Buddha.  A Boddhisatva idol in Ardha Padmasana is worshiped today as Krishna.  It was also consecrated by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.

The shrine of Krishna at Kilirur temple, Kottayam. The northern door of this shrine is marked for Buddha. A Boddhisatva idol in Ardha Padmasana is worshiped today as Krishna. It was also consecrated by Pallyvanar in early 16th century.

It is also important that Perinjanam Pallyil temple is ritually related to present Guruvayur temple which was renowned as Koravaiyur in ancient Sangham age.  The annual festival in Guruvayur begins just after the annual festivities in Perinjanam temple.  The ritual of the elephant demolishing the flag post could also be related to the Brahmanical take over and conversion.  There are also connections in relation to the sending of elephants to Guruvayur from Perinjanam.

The Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram temple, Pattanam.  Recovered from the temple pond and placed on the Yakshi platform and worshiped as Naga Yakshi along with other fragments from different idols.

The Pattanam Buddha fragment at Nileeswaram temple, Pattanam. Recovered from the temple pond and placed on the Yakshi platform and worshiped as Naga Yakshi along with other fragments from different idols.

The Perinjanam Pallyil temple is therefore one of  the most significant centres of Kerala’s cultural history and is still surviving with the Pally affix pointing towards the strong and lingering memory and semiotic markers of Buddhism in popular unconscious, temple worship, local rituals, customs and place names.  All these three temples directly related to Pallybana Perumal and Buddhism in Kerala that have survived many onslaughts and invasions must be preserved and their real history of Buddhism must be made available to the people who were excluded and casted away from their own monuments under the inhuman regime of caste, untouchability  and Brahmanism from the early middle ages onwards.

Reference

Sadasivan, S N. A Social History of India. New Delhi: APH, 2000.

Panikassery, Velayudhan. Kerala Charitratinte Ullarakalileku.  Thrissur, Current, 2012.

Gautamapuram and Beyond:Towards a Cultural History of Kottayam

Gautamapuram temple, Kottayam

Kottayam offers at least two etymological possibilities of  interpretation.  Ayam of a Kotta means pond of a Kotta or pond by a Kottam.  Akam of a Kotta makes it the interior of a fort.  The second one is more popular but the first one seems more historically relevant.  In both ways the place is associated with a Kotta or Kottam that signifies a pre Hindu place of worship in south India often associated with Sramana or Chamana culture.  Jain and Buddhist temples are often called Kottam, Vattam, Kutti, Ambalam etc.  Pally was more of a sacred word in Pali language used to refer to more established Viharas, Chaityas and Basatis of greater sanctity.  Simple pagodas, pillors, towers, Stupas, Pipal platforms with ponds nearby etc. were referred to with these words of common denomination and popular currency.

Biodiversity of river Kodur: Cotton Pigmy Goose and Cormorant in a backwater formation of Kodurar that forms the southern margin of Kottayam town

It is clear that Kottayam before the 8thcentury was the abode of Kottams, ponds and Ambalams.  Place names that survive centuries of cultural onslaughts like Muttambalam, Pallypurathu Kavu, Mariyapally, Gautamapuram etc. point towards the Sramana antiqutity of Kottayam.  Pallypurathu Kavu on the banks of the Kodurar close to the lake Vembanad in the west literally means an ancient sacred grove outside but in the vicinity of the Pally (Buddhist temple after disseminating the slurs).  Mariyapally could be an alteration of Maariyapally or changed shrine.  Muttambalam may refer to a spherical Stupa of Buddhist worship as relic worship was popular in many schools of Buddhism.

Panachikad shrine on the southern bank of Kodurar

It is also important to note that Panachikad an ancient seat of a Naga Yakshi and her sacred grove and spring is located just across the river on the southern bank.  Yakshi itself is a corrupt and demonized term related to Buddhist Nuns and Teachers (imagined as evil by Brahmanism in order to exterminate them after disseminating the slur).  There are also ancient shrines of Buddhist antiquity like Neelamperur Pally Bhagavathy Temple a few miles south west and Kilirur Kunnummel Bhagavathy Temple in the west.  According to historians these temples remained Buddhist even up to 15th or 16th century.

Apart from a place in Chennai in south India only Kottayam has a place name called Gautamapuram that is located on the northern bank of river Kodur between Pallypurathukavu and Muttambalam.  It lies in the slope just south of present Baselius College and Manorama.  An ancient temple there is also called Thri (Thiru) Gautamapuram temple.  Though Krishna is worshiped here today in the central shrine as in Kilirur temple just a few miles west on the banks of lake Vembanad, local people especially the Avarnas believe that it was an ancient Buddhist shrine.  But according to the NSS officials of the temple it is named Gautamapuram as a sage Gautama has performed the installation here.

In his masterpiece Kerala and Buddhism, S Sanku Iyer talks about Gautamapuram and its Buddhist past.  According to him it was the location of a Buddhist Vihara that was lost or demolished (Iyer 5) and it was named after Gautama Buddha himself by the early missionaries who reached Kerala in the third or fourth century BC.  He also cites Changanassery Parameswaran Pillai saying that there was a Buddha idol in the ruins at Gautamapuram (Iyer 67).

Endorsing this view and rehabilitating the local legends and oral narratives by the Avarna people in the locality who have become extinct in the area because of rapid urbanization and the pressures of the newly moneyed classes, Dalitbandhu N K Jose also records about the Buddhist past of Gautamapuram at the heart of Kottayam in his polemical work Buddh Dhamam Keralathil (Dalitbandhu 36).  It is also interesting to note that same legends are also existing among dalitbahujans regarding Thiru Nakkara temple just a mile afar in the west.

Named after Gautama Muni or Gautama Buddha?

It is evidently clear that the official historical versions on Kottayam that begin with the Thali rule and Thekumkur associated with the Brahmanical Savarna hegemony that begins with 16th century are grossly inadequate and obsolete in interpreting the greater and ancient legacies of the people, their cultural traditions and trajectories of resistance against internal imperialism of caste, cultural elitism and absolute hegemony by the forces of barbaric violence, Varna and Veda.  Epistemological violence related to mutilation and erasure of history and culture done through linguistic and semiotic doctoring may take centuries of de-colonizing and rewriting to achieve balance and poise.