The full moon day of Vaisakha is celebrated in all the Asian countries as the birthday of the Buddha. Vaisakha Paurnami or Buddha Poornima is conceived as representing the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of the compassionate one. It was a lifetime opportunity for me to watch the super moon of 2012 Buddha Poornima, rise in the eastern horizon on the banks of the Nila or ancient Perar. Coincidentally I witnessed the unusually big moon at Thirunavaya on the northern bank of the river while returning from the ancient port city of Ponnani that forms the mouth of the river Perar where it drains into the mighty Arabian Sea.
Thirunavaya is known for its religious and historical significances. It is the location of the ancient carnival called Mamankam. In the middle ages it deteriorated into a bloody feud between the Zamorin of Calicut and the Valluva Konathiri or Vellatiri of Valluvanad. But before the 10th century it was a great cultural and spiritual festival related to the Sramana democratic traditions of ancient Kerala. Historians like P K Gopalakrishnan, Velayudhan Panikkassery and V V K Valath argue that it was a great Buddhist festival originally called Mahamargolsavam. Maha Margam is nothing but the way of the Buddha or the Dhama Pada.
But after the Brahmanic take over and spiritual hijacking that happened between the sixth and ninth centuries it degraded into a petty competition between the regional local chieftains resulting in bloody duels and the massacre of the suicidal militia called Chaver. The barbarism and violence involved in the establishment of the Savarna Brahmanical high culture in Kerala could be read in the vulgar decadence of this ancient carnival in Kerala. The well used to dump the bodies of the militia (Mani Kinar), the platform used by the kings (Nilapadu Thara) and the Changampally Kalari (school of martial arts) are still surviving here.
Thirunavaya is also associated with the transition from Sramana culture to Brahmanical one. Keralolpathy and other Brahmanical texts testify that it was here that the Buddhists were defeated in verbal combats and their texts burned and tongues cut by the pedantic perverts of elite barbarism. Radical Malayalam scholars like P Pavithran argue that the ‘Nava’ reference in the place name is linked to this hoary episode in Kerala history. Conventional interpretations associate it with the Navagraha Yogis who performed the installation in the Navamukunda temple. Some versions also talk about the repetition of the installation that happened nine times . Whatever may be the etymological root of the place name it is inextricably linked to the cultural pasts of Kerala. The pulled or plucked tongue of the Chamana become a key icon of cultural hegemony and the resistance of the silenced.
Thirunavaya offers the best views of Nila or Perar. The Mamankam memorials and the old temples make it a historically and architecturally rich cultural location. I had a long and enlightening conversation with Mr Rajiv, a police officer who patrols the region as illegal sand mining is ruining the river and the ecology. We talked about the early human settlements and civilizations on the banks of the Perar and ventured deep into the history and cultural pasts of the region. We watched the super moon climbing like poetry in the dark blue canvas of the starry night. It was a great and meaningful dialogue with a sensitive and informed fellow being and we really enjoyed the time. When we parted it was almost 9pm and I rode to Kuttippuram, five kilometers east, where I am currently residing in a rented quarters.