Illikkal Kallu is an ancient rock formation rising to 1000 m above sea level at the eastern mountain ranges in Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk bordering with Idukki district. Many tributaries of the river Meenachil are also orginating from the grasslands of this rock caped mountain. It is also close to Vagaman mountains and Ilaveezhapoonchira peak. The enigmatic shrub Neelakoduveli is believed to be growing on its crevices.
The place name Illikkal Kallu refers to Illi or the thorny bamboo. But this variety of bamboo does not grow on such altitude above 1000 m on grass land tops or sholas and rocky peaks in particular on the Western Ghats. It is a miserable mockery that the tourism lobby is now planting a few bamboos there. Only the elephant grass and alpine date palms or Eendu grow on these grassland tops. There are a few giant reeds (‘Ottal or Odal’) in the lower stretches and slopes of this range. So Illi or bamboo cannot become the key element in the place name anyhow. Thus the place name seems to have changed or modified in modern times. Considering the ecological and geo strategic location and proximity to ancient trade routes to Tamilakam or the ancient Tamil Pandya country across the the Western Ghats from the Chera land or Kerala the original place name seems to be Pallykal Kallu or the ancient rock at the vicinity of the Vihara. Especially when we consider the surrounding place names like P(u)allykanam, Elapally and Eendupally it is all the more clear. Pally affix in place names are changed gradually to either Pilly or Pully misusing the British spelling ‘u’ or slight changes in local articulation to erase the history of Buddhism by the hegemonic consensus.
Teekoyi which is a small town near this place is also an altered version of Teekovil the pagoda of fire. Kozhikod was originally Kovilkod and Koyilandy was Kovilaandi in the north. The Poonchira another peak nearby is also having a Buddhist connection as the Chira or dams and irrigation bunds for water management in ancient Kerala and Tamilakam were designed and made in eco-conservative ways by the nuns and monks of Asoka from BC third century onward along with their sacred groves or Sangha Aramas that precipitated later as the Kavu culture of Kerala. The elaborate archaeological and ecological relics of Buddhist conservation culture as in Amaram Kavu named after Amara Simha the author or Amarakosa and the ancient rock temple and Gajotama or Ganes temple in Karikod near Todupuzha are reminiscent of the Buddhist age.
The rock faces and formations at Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu resemble the head of the Buddha in many ways and angles. The face and tuft of hair (Ushnisha) are clear and the tuft also looks like a seated lion roaring, again symbolizing the Sakya Simha speaking to the world. Perhaps that is why the rock was called Pallykal Kallu before the modern age. There were many Viharas or Pallys on the Western Ghats as in Pallykanam or Eendupally on these grass land tops. Kutikanam or the Kanam or wooded grassland top with a Kuti or Pagoda is another example in southern ranges. Many rock heads have fallen. Some rocks look like mushroomed umbrella and are called Kuda Kallu popularly by the Mala Araya tribals. Some are called hunchbacks or Koonan Kallu. It is remarkable to note that Kuda or ceremonial umbrella is another key symbol in Buddhism. The ancient Stupas and gateways carried three, four, five or eight umbrellas. Kodaikanal got its name from the Kodai or umbrella icon of Buddhism. There are Pally affixes in the house names of the Mala Arayas.
Another smaller rock nearby is called Ayyanpara or the rock of Ayya or Arya Buddha. In the middle ages these shrines were taken over by Saivism. Maramala falls is also nearby which is now shortened and distorted in articulation and meaning as Marmala. Mara and his daughter Mohini tested the Buddha with their sensual song and dance and he assumed the down to earth posture or Bhumi Saparsa Mudra peacefully conquering the trials of the senses. There are several places related to Mara in Kerala like Maramon, Maraparambu, Marayimuttom, Mararikulam etc. The traditional percussionist caste is also called Marar or the people of Mara hinting at their song and dance traditions.
This unique geological and eco cultural location must be conserved very carefully from the business interests of the tourism industry and must be conserved for future generations and the future of the river Meenachil and the planes fed by the river.
Pallykanam means the Kanam of the Pally. Pally is a Buddha Vihara and Kanam is a wooded hilltop. Pallykanam is in the Vagaman mountains; high up on the Western Ghats near the border of the current Iduki and Kottayam districts in Kerala. Now the place name is changed into Pullykanam to erase the Buddhist past by covetous Savarna Hindu forces who captured it in the middle ages or in the early modern era by exterminating the fugitive Amana monks who had fled to the mountain peaks escaping persecution in the planes.
There is a dominant tendency to change all the places with Pally affix into either Pilly or Pully that is gaining momentum in Kerala with increased discourses of Hinduization that desire to erase all linguistic and eco-cultural evidences of Buddhism from the soil. Talapally is now called Talapilly, Varandarapally as Varandarapilly, Palapally is now twisted as Palapilly. Similarly Kolapally near Shornur is changed into Kolapully. Pallykanam is thus established now as Pullykanam in the same hegemonic shift of a single vowel.
The absurdity is that there are no such words as Pilly or Pully in any lexicon of Malayalam. The Savarna scholars may introduce it in near future after citing the increased use of the Pilly or Pully or Vally affix. For erasing the past and to mutilate the collective memory of the people the Brahmanical Savarna forces in public institutions and private media are introducing new meaningless words into local parlance in a hegemonic and centralized way with a totalitarian agenda. A new branch of radical social linguistics is required for the study of such abuses of language for the purposes of local power and the sustenance of hegemony.
Pallykanam was with the Punjar kings (a Pandya clan in exile) for the last few centuries. It was their temporary abode as they crossed the western ghats to reach Punjar from Madurai. So the grassland sholas at the western frontier of the Kanam is also called Punjar Motta (egg like grassland top). The word Motta is a metaphoric expression for the Stupa. Mottambalam in Kottayam houses the Gautamapuram temple that housed a Stupa and Chaitya Vihara during the early middle ages. Moreover, the place name of Kottayam is also derived from Kottam and its Ayam meaning the pond of the Kottam or Vattam (the circular Stupa like Sanctum in a Chaitya Vihara).
I visited Pallykanam with Anirudh Raman in early May 2013. The tea plantation workers told us that there was a Pipal or fig tree on the eastern slope of the Pallykanam top and there was an obscure granite idol below. The Tamil people who work in the estates traditionally worshiped this outcasted deity and they do it even today. A Christian plantation worker Mrs Leelama Joseph stated that the Tamil people still go and bow before the deity and the fig tree. The worshiping of the Boddhi tree and the ancient granite idol that is now covered under the roots of the current tree prove the Buddhist ancestry of the place and its name.
A few years ago the huge Pipal fell in storm and it was replaced by a typical shola tree akin to the fig that can survive on that altitude and rough weather at around 1000m above sea level. Moreover the presence of Kutikanam (the well-wooded hilltop with a Kuti or Kottam or Vattam) in the south, Kavukulam in the east and Panjaseela Medu (now distorted as Panjali Medu) again in the south near Kutikanam; prove the Buddhist legacy.
It is intelligible to identify these mountain shrines as part of the early eight sacred Viharas on the Western Ghats described in the ancient Tamil text Tiruvilayatal. It is also interesting to note that the highest peak in Vagaman mountains is still called Murugan Mudi. Murugan like Ayyappan and Kannan, was a Boddhisatva in south Indian or Tamilaka Mahayana Buddhism. These Mahayana Boddhisatvas were absorbed as gods and god-sons in the violent Saivite and Vaishnavite Hindu Bhakti cults in the early middle ages.
It must be remembered that western ghats or Malakutam was the abode of the Buddhist and Jain monks till the 10th centuryAD. In the Tamil text Tiruvilayatal (The Sacred Vihara or Mission) it is descried in the chapter or Patala called “Anayeyta” that there were eight prominent mountain monasteries and eight thousand monks altogether in them in the early 8th century. This is also cross-confirmed by the accounts of the Chinese Buddhist travelers who visited south India in search of their zen master Boddhi Dharma”s nativity in ancient Tamilakam.
The eight Buddhist mountain Viharas (lamasery) on the Western Ghats were Anjana Malai (Karimalai/Sabarimala), Govardhana Malai, Kunjara Malai, Yamakuta Malai, Vinda Malai, Krauncha Malai and Trikuta Malai according to Tiruvilayatal. Anjana Malai or Karimalai is identified as Sabarimala by the rationalist writer Srini Pattatanam in his book Sabarimala: Viswasavum Yadhardhyavum (Calicut; Progress, 2007). In A Social History of India, S N Sadasivan has identified the Kumaly mountain and Vannatipara that houses Mangalamadantai Kottam or Mangaladevi temple as Vinda Malai.
Now the Pallykanam peak or Punjar Motta is with the Iduki Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti and this Hindu temple builders’ and developers’ outfit is going to build a new concrete Siva and Krishna temple on this historic Buddhist site by making roads through the pristine grassland and shola the source of drinking water for the planes. The ancient Buddha granite idol is now termed as that of Siva and is abrogated as a Hindu idol. This shift in the name of the deity is also in tandem with the change in place name from Pallykanam to Pullykanam and completes the Hindu hegemonic appropriation of the location and place.
The Savarna or caste Hindu worldview that operates both in uppercaste Hindu and Syrian Christian social fields endorses and consolidates this hegemonic appropriation of the place which is politically, culturally and ecologically catastrophic. The destruction of grassland tops for new temples here in the model of Sabarimala is going to be an environmental disaster as Pallykanam and Vagaman grasslands are the origin of river Meenachil and some tributaries of Manimalayar the life blood of mid Kerala.
We must learn from the Himalayan crisis (Utarakhand) of monsoon 2013 and check the increasing activities on the Western Ghats. Gadgil recommendations are also being discarded by the political leadership and powerful lobbies who are the major landholders in Kerala part of the Western Ghats. Hindu temple industry in the manner of Sabarimala or Guruvayur are proving to be eco-cultural disasters. The PTR and protected forests and mountains and river Pampa is in threat because of Sabarimala that pollutes the whole Pampa river basin and Kuttanad upto Alapuzha in particular. Guruvayur and other Savarna centres pollute the wetlands and water bodies around in unimaginable rates and leaps. Human excreta from this temple township is pumped into the neighboring backwaters and Kol fields were cultivation is done.
In all these Hindu Savarna temples the money of the Bahujan masses are being exploited by the Brahmanic priesthood of Mel and Kizh Santis and their Padaja menial slaves co-opted as Sudra; and the land, water and air are being rendered irredeemably toxic. Sixty to Seventy Lakh Rupees are given as capitation to become a Kizh Santi (lower division priest) at Sabarimala each season. There are around fifty to sixty such Kizh Santis there mediating between the common man and god (originally a denier of god, i e, Gautama Buddha); Mel Santis and Tantry in addition. The unaccounted income of theTantry for a pilgrim season equals that of lesser Ambanis.
People and their elected political servants must rethink about Hindu temple oriented commercial boom and pilgrim industry in Kerala and India and save the high ranges from an eco-cultural crisis that are essential for the sustenance of life. Some of the Hindu centres have degraded into real estate mafia malls, suicidal retreats and sex, drug and human trafficking underworlds as in Guruvayur. The pomp and ignorance of the Savarna middle classes and the ignorant and co-opted Avarna masses who imitate their caste lords in true religious faith make things more culturally and religiously complex. A concerted effort from the educated youth and ethical political leadership is required to save Kerala from this eco-cultural landslide.