Illikkal Kallu or Pallykal Kallu? The Ancient Rock that Looks Like a Buddha Head in Meenachil Taluk of Kottayam

Illikkal Kallu
Illikkal Kallu rock peaks resembling the face of the Buddha, profile with nose, chin and tuft of hair or Ushnisha above. It rises above 1000m at the eastern border of Kottayam district in Meenachil Taluk.

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.

Illikkal Kallu fallen rock face resembling the face of the Buddha with a tuft of hair above that resembles a lying lion representing the Sakya Simha roaring to the world

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.

Reclining Buddha in his rocky bed, another angle of Illikkal Kallu. An alteration of Pallykal Kallu as Eendupally and Elapally as well as Pallykanam are surrounding the area in Meenachil Taluk in Kottayam district of Kerala.

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.

Photos and text by ajay sekher

A Life in People’s History: Dalitbandhu N K Jose

Dalitbandhu N K Jose before his works in his study at Namasivayam house, Kudavechur, Vaikam. 19 Feb 2012. He turned 84 recently

History is lived and fought by the people and not by the kings and priests, says Dalitbandhu.  Mr N K Jose hailing from Kudavechur in Vaikam in Kottayam district of Kerala is a people’s historian.  He has given Malayalam more than 140 books on key issues in Kerala history that are vital for the people at the bottom of Kerala society. He has completed his 84th year of relentless and committed service to the people the subaltern classes of Kerala through his vibrant and insightful historical writings.

Historiography is not an elite academic exercise for him but an inevitable part of life and struggle.  It is the struggle to survive, resisting the onslaughts of cultural invasions and hegemony.  It is a counter hegemonic practice and quintessential life struggle for this veteran freedom fighter who was a secretary of J P during his youth and spent some time even in Wardha ashram.  In his mature later career he became an ardent critique of Brahmanism and the Savarna or Caste Hindu hegemonic culture in India and Kerala.

Vaikam temple. Dalitbandhu's Namasivayam household was associated with it a few centuries ago says the learned historian

Though the mainstream media and academia excluded him the people at the bottom, especially the dalitbahujans of Kerala have embraced him and his vital and strategically essential epistemological contributions that are so important  to their sense of the past and present.  His books are bibles in almost every dalit home in Kerala today.  Everyday the people visit his home and interact with him on various issues related to culture, politics and history.  It is open to all throughout the day and is a common resort of the excluded.

There are critics who say that his historiography lacks methodology, ideological tenor and depth, but his political intentions and affiliation to the liberation of the people, the downtrodden can never be contested.  There are academics who preach that such writings are trivial and could not be considered as knowledge but even they are moved by the organic integrity and power of his counter narratives and simple humane wisdom.  Through more than 50 years of consistent committed writing Dalitbandhu N K Jose has proved himself to be a real relative of the depressed.

Mavelikara Buddha idol. 7th century in Anuradhapura style according to peoples like Dalitbandhu

I was delighted to visit him at his beautiful simple home called Namasivayam at Ambika Market close to the Thanneermukkam barrage across the lake Vembanad on its eastern shore, on the morning of Sunday 19 Feb 2012.  He was surrounded by young activists and scholars especially from the dalit sections as always.  It was DHRM youth who celebrated his 84thbirthday recently.  Even amidst his busy schedule talking to the students and writing his regular notes he welcomed me with a whole heart and showed me all his books and publications.

Pathiramanal Island in Lake Vembanad the heart of Kuttanad the land of Kuttan or Buddhan

We had an intimate and enlightening dialogue before his exquisite book shelf in his study.  A wooden engraved portrait of Jesus blessed me with endless love from the top of the bookshelf.  I also got his latest titles on Padmanabha Temple Treasures and Buddha Dhamam Keralathil.  He suddenly remembered the visit of Nithyachaitanya Yati to Namasivayam and showed me a Siva Linga installed by him in the garden.  After meeting the young friends briefly I returned back to Kottayam and it was a truly illuminating journey for me.

You may visit his home page here.