It was an enlightening experience to be at Ajanta on Buddha Purnima on 25 May 2013. Anirudh and me were fortunate to visit the fundamental sites of Indian and south east Asian art in Maharashtra this summer, though we were planning for years. The evolution of Indian sculpture, architecture and painting in the Buddhist rock cut Chaitya and Vihara vestiges and the gradual appropriation of these arts into Hindu Brahmanical mainstream can be seen in these early sites of culture in Asia as some of the caves date back to third century BC.
Maharashtra and the Deccan was with the Mauryas at the beginning of the common era and the political patronage helped the spread of Buddhism, its egalitarian and ethical philosophy of peace, non violence and conservation oriented eco-aesthetics.
Cultural expressions that co-exist with nature and preserve the environment with minimum intervention was the basic tenet of Buddhist cave architecture and visual art. These monasteries and chapels never altered the geology, topography or hydrology of the region but simply existed in a non violent way amidst the wilderness in tranquility and at ease.
The development of Mahayana school liberalized and popularized the original Teravada austerity and it resulted in gods and goddesses called Boddhisatvas and Devis along with the paraphernalia of Yakashas and Yakshis.
This enormous liberalization caused a shift from Buddhism to Brahmanism and with the help of the Tantric School of Vajrayana the Hindu Brahmanical hegemony gradually absorbed Buddhism into its meta referential structure. The Tathagata himself was assimilated as an avatar of Vishnu and a dynamic Boddhisatva was termed Siva.
This gradual takeover and absorption of Buddhism into Hindu Brahmanism is visible and tangible in Ajanta, Aurangabad, Ellora and Elephanta. Violence and forced trasformation of Boddhisatva images into Siva and Vishnu or Taradevi into Parvati is clear and concrete here. Chiseling and modifying the Stupa of Teravada into huge Linga or phallus is also evident.
The Linga cult itself was deployed to strategically absorb the Stupa icon ans symbolism in Teravada Buddhism. While the Stupa is like an egg and womanish the phallus aggressively musculinist and patriarchal. Brahmanic patriarchy found its ideal icon in this erect and imposing Linga, a cunning reworking of the Stupa.
This covetous modifications happened around 8th and 9th century AD during the heyday of Hindu Bhakti surge called Saivism and Vaishnavism. Many Buddhist and Jain caves were converted to Hindu ones during the intoxicating spell of Bhakti. The fall of the Mauryans and the newly converted local kings to Brahmanism also contributed in this regression into primitive phallus cult.
But fortunately almost all the caves in Ajanta and half the caves in Ellora are still Buddhist, thanks to the great Ambedkarite movement and the neo buddhists. The Aurangabad caves are also exclusively Buddhist and there is a thriving monastery beneath it were neo buddhists or dalitbahujans play a pivotal role in the present sustenance of the teaching of the compassionate one among the people at the bottom.
We also visited Ambedkar University at Aurangabad, Milind College of Law established by Babasaheb in 1951 in Aurangabad, Ambedkar Research Centre, Regional History Museums and libraries inside the campus. The Mogul legacy that started in 14th century also resulted in monuments like Bibi ka Maqbara, famous as little Taj and Panchaki an old water mill. We reached Aurngabad on May 23, visited Ellora on 24 and went to Ajanta on 25 May.
On 26 May we visited Mumbai and Elephanta island and caves. A Buddhist Stupa in ruins still exists there. All the other six caves are now being converted into Saivite ones. This happened in the 8th century. The bloody violence is still visible in the mutilations and erasures done on the sculptural representations.
We returned on the Kanyakumari Express and reached Kottayam on the morning of 28 May 2013. The summer was hard with low humidity on the Deccan plateau and high humidity on the Mumbai coast but as working people we get time and space only during the vacation to go and see the real heritage and civilization of the people in India that has become the shared legacy of the world.
The light of Asia, the only light you see amidst the darkness of the phallic violence and the barbarism of caste and Varna, emanates from Ajanta and it blooms in the month of Baisak and particularly on the Buddha Purnima.
Last Buddha Purnima (2012) was at Tirunavaya in Malabar where the Chaitya Vihara was turned into a Hindu Brahmanical temple after declaring the Buddhists defeated in rhetoric and plucking their tongues out by the henchmen of Brahmanism who were intoxicated by the Bhakti of Vishnu in the 8th century AD according to radical historiographers and counter hegemonic writers from the people in Kerala.
Let the people recognize and reclaim their cultural sites and heritage through peaceful democratic and cultural politics that was obliterated, mutilated and erased by the Varna centered patriarchal ideology of Brahmanism through the heinous orchestration of phallic violence and lingering symbolic violence in the present.
Let there be light and peace, let the peaceful light of the full moon of Baisak prevail over the peninsula as it prevailed over a millennium from BC third century to 13th century in India. Our journey to the Deccan was an attempt to relink this ancient cultural connection between Elapura (Ellora now) and Kara Elam or Kerala.
Mangaladevi temple or Mangala Madan Tai Kottam is an ancient shrine eructed in the memory of a brave and legendary Tamil woman by the ancient Chera emperor of Keralam in the second century AD. Mangaladevi or Mangalamadan Tai is an early Tamil and Buddhist south Indian cult signifying an auspicious female guardian deity from the beginning of the common era. The cult of Mangalamadan Tai flourished with Buddhist popular culture and gave birth to plenty of place names all over the peninsular India as in Koramangala, Mangalapuram, Neryamangalam, Kotamangalam etc.
The current Mangaladevi temple or Madantai Kottam in true ancient Tamil Amana (Jain and Buddhist) parlance, near Kumaly in Idukki district of Kerala close to the border of Tamil Nadu on a high grassland shola peak at around 1337 m above sea level overlooking the Kambam valley and Meghamalai dales has more than 2000 years of history to tell. It is 15km from Kumaly town which is on the Kollam – Kottayam – Theni National Highway.
This unique grassland shola is within the PTR or Periyar Tiger Reserve that is ecologically sensitive and extremely crucial for the sustenance of life and drinking water down in central and south Kerala apart from being the last asylum of the Asiatic Tiger in South India. The grassland sholas and fern groves are also home to rare and endangered flora and fauna, most of them medicinal.
According to researchers and authors like S N Sadasivan this organic Tai Shola or mother of all sholas as in the Nilgriris was a Buddhist nunnery in the beginning of the common era on a great trade route and mountain pass that connected the Pandya kingdom with the Chera lands across the western ghats.
Kannaki the legendary heroine of sage Ilango Adikal’s Tamil epic Silapatikaram, after cursing and metaphorically burning the city of Madurai in her ire against the king who unethically punished her husband Kovalan (accusing him of stealing the anklets of the queen ) by ripping of her breast, went north west along the banks of river Vaigai in the Kambam valley and disappeared into the Sahyadri’s according to legend and the epic.
The grassland shola peaks near Kumaly then was known as Vindhamalai among the Tamil people. The southern mountain is still called Meghamalai. The existence of the Chamana monastery or lamasery was known to the people of the Pandian planes as far as Madurai during the early common era. This peak is still visible from Theni district.
It must also be remembered that Ilango Adigal was the younger brother of the Chera chief Changuttuvan who consecrated the temple in the memory of Kannaki as Patini or the chaste wife. Kodungallur was the capital of Cheran were Adikal composed his epic in the monastery at Matilakam or Tiru Kunavayil Kottam. Both these enlightened sons of Kerala were the biological sons of the Chera emperor Nedum Cheral Atan. The surname Atan is a regional form of the Arhat the Buddhist sage.
Patini cult was popular among the Buddhist laity in the early common era. There were Patini installations in Kumaly, Kodungallur and Atukal by Cheran Chenguttuvan. The Patini or Kannaki cult was also popular in Tamraparni or Sri Lanka then and the Muventar or the south Indian ruling trio consisting of Chera, Chola and Pandya kings were also close to the Sri Lankan kings in culture and kinship. That is why Gajabahu I (c. 114 – 136 CE) the king of Ceylon was also present during this installation at Kumaly and Kodungallur (Sadasivan 2008).
Brahmanism captured these Buddhist nunneries and monasteries known as Kottam, Kuti, Vattam, Vihara, Kavu, Thopu, Thottam etc. through the strategic use of subaltern energy that was cunningly utilized in the Bhakti movement as in Saivism and Vaishnaism in Tamilakam and Keralam. These movements were initiated as democratic liberalizations but they actually contributed to the expansion of the Brahmanical Hindu world among the lower strata by violently converting Amana sects and heterodox sites in south India.
In the 9th century AD during the heyday of Saivism, Sambandha Moorty’s (Jnana Sambandhar) rabid legion of assassins conquered this shrine at Kumaly and converted it violently to a Siva temple installing the huge rock Linga, the Amman or Parvati and Ganapati. Some pre existing Buddhist idols were reconsecrated as these new deities. They did this conquest by violently executing the Buddhist monks with tridents and raping and torturing the nuns in unimaginable barbaric ways. But fortunately the Patini or Kannaki shrine was spared for some reason and is still surviving as a sub shrine within the big but ruined temple complex atop the grassland. It is also possible that the people from Tamilakam recovered the Kannaki idol and cult and reinstalled the practice again after the hey day of Saivism.
The Patini installation by Chenguttuvan was in AD second century according to the history and chronology of Chera rulers. The Tamil people as well as the Bahujans or Avarnas from Kerala used to climb up the western ghats every year on the festival day of the Chitra Paurnami. As it is a disputed location on the border; Kerala and Tamil Nadu are conducting the festival collectively now with official co-operation.
But there is every possibility that this ancient Tamil Buddhist shrine could be gradually Hinduized and Brahmanized and Sanksritized in a covetous fashion. Brahman priests are at the helm and the Parivar outfits are gaining momentum in this Sangham age monument that represents the true secular tradition of south India. Only the Kannaki shrine is with the Avarna and Tamil people now. Women and Bahujans are leading the rituals there while half naked Brahmans are playing the priestly role in other shrines of Siva, Parvati and Ganapati. At least 30,000 people mostly women and dalitbahujans or the Avarna visited the mountain shrine this year on 25 April 2013 from Tamilakam and Keralam.
There is also a conspiracy to make this temple something like the current Sabarimala that was originally the abode of Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva (Ayyappa) of Mahayana Buddhism prior to 8th century. The Saivites and Vaishnavites who conquered the shrine at Sabarimala under the strategic meta narrative of Brahmanism got into a pact and made it a half Saivite and half Vaishnavaite shrine, a queer combination of Appa and Ayya according to their weird etymological interpretation. This will be catastrophic because the region is in Periyar Tiger Reserve and is part of the most crucial eco screen preventing the dry weather from Tamil planes into Kerala. The Pullumedu disaster and other losses to the grasslands in Sabarimala season must also be remembered and well pondered.
More over the ancient Sangam shrine without any caste and gender hierarchy and untouchability and purity practice is now being gradually converted into a Brahmanic Hindu temple of high purity and pollution riddles and Savarna elitism. They are starting with a Savarna aversion for footwear in this archeological and historical site as in many Savarna villages in Tamil Nadu and Savarna temples in Kerala now and will end up in Dhoti and the bare breast very soon. They are going back to the pre-renaissance days where struggles were required to cover breasts in public.
The Brahmanic Tantris, Melsantis and Kizhsantis will soon drop in out of the blue and will make it another Sabarimala where millions are given as donation to get a lower division priestly post every year. It is a Brahmanical conspiracy to squeeze the money from the Bahujans who offer everything they can to the shrine in the name of faith and religion.
In Malabar they are now forcing the temple goers to remove the pants and shirts and soon they will come down to the inner clothes. If current Brahmanical Hinduization goes unchecked by the people and their organizations Mangalamadantai Kottam will become another Sabarimala and a new environmental and cultural disaster in the present and near future that cannot be corrected ever after. It is high time for the policy makers and people’s elected bodies to think, discuss and act.