Chamravattam: A Sacred Grove-islet and Sastha Shrine at the Mouth of Perar

Chamravattam Sastha Shrine on an islet-grove in Nila. View from the new barrage

Ayyappa temples are found generally  in the eastern hills or in the mid-uplands  of Kerala.  Chamravattam Sastha temple near Tirur and Tirunavaya is close to the sea, near the mouth of Nila or Perar.  This ancient Dharma Sastha shrine is located in an ancient island-grove in the Perar isolated from the main bank by the ebb and tide of the Purathur estuary just above the confluence of the Nila, Tirurpuzha and the Arabian Sea .  This Ayyappa shrine is on the northern bank of Perar on the opposite side of Ponnani. It can be reached through road from Tirur and Ponnani now.

Chamravattam shrine from the northern bank of Perar. New barrage in the backdrop

I visited the temple when I went to see the new barrage at Chamravattam on June 2, 2012.  As the other Sastha temples in Kerala it also has a non-Hindu origin.  It is said to be self incarnate or Swayambhu now.  It means that the original installation and shrine predate Brahmanic takeover.  The place name clearly suggests that it was a Vattam of Chamanars.  Vattam, Kutti or Kottam denote a Sramana or Jain Pally.  Chamanar is a colloquial word representing Sramana sages of Jainism and Buddhism who did missionary work in the south even before the advent of the common era.

Devotees of Ayyappa at Chamravattam during the evening ritual

There is also a legend that a Jain Sage callled Chamaran spent his last days here in the islet and hence the place is named after this saint (Kottam or Vattam of Chamaran).  To counter this Brahmanism has created a legend of Sabara Rishi doing penance here and re-consecrating the Sastha idol in the shrine.  Any way the place name including both Vattam and Chamanar  (Chamanar Vattam shrinking into Chamravattam) clearly show a Sramana connection.  To add to this the Brahman household in charge of this temple is called Kuttissery Mana.  The word Kutti in their house name also is a clear marker of Jain culture and architecture.

Ancient wild trees protecting the shrine from the currents of the river Perar

An ancient sacred grove of wild trees protects the shrine in monsoon floods.  It is also believed that it was Perumthachan the legendary master architect of Kerala, who has done the idol installation here.  the small stone idol is installed in a pit at the water level (of the time of installation).  Now the river bed is much lower awing to centuries of flooding and illegal sand mining.

It can be assumed here that the new installation or re-installation in Hindu Brahmanical style was performed with the help of Perumthachan under the auspices of Sabara Maharshi in the early middle ages somewhere around the 12th or 14th century.  The exact life period of the master-carpenter is unknown and only assumptions are possible.  Any way it can be imagined that the re-consecration happened after the takeover of Kadampuzha temple by Sankara that happened in early 9th century.  The Sabara Maharshi could also be a disciple or follower of Sankara  and his conquest as well.

Because of the new Calicut – Kochi route being opened through the Chamravattam barrage this shrine is going to be much popular and it is going to be under huge pressure from Ayyappa pilgrims and  visitors.  This sacred shrine and the unique surroundings must be protected and conserved for posterity with cultural and historic sensitivity and ecological awareness.  The concrete construction around the sacred grove must be checked and minimized and other ecologically suitable alternatives need to be imagined and materialized.

Buddha Poornima at Thirunavaya

Super Moon of Buddha Poornima 2012 reflected in river Perar or Nila at Thirunavaya. May 6, 2012

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.

Nila or Perar at Thirunavaya. Early 2012

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.

Buddha Poornima or Vaisakha Paurnami an image of the birth, enlightenment and Mahaparinibana/demise of the Buddha

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.