Panayannar Kavu: The Sacred Grove by the Pampa near Parumala and Niranam

Panayannar Kavu  sacred grove by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar; 29 Oct 2017.

Panayan means the serpent king and Panachi means the serpent queen. Panachikad for example, near Kottayam is the forest of the serpent queen. Panachikal Kavu is within the Vaikom shrine.  Panayannar Kavu literally means the sacred grove of the serpent king the Panayan or Panayannar as he is addressed with reverence.  This grove is on the southern banks of river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar at the margins of Patanamtitta and Alapuzha districts in Kuttanad region the land of Kuttan or the little Buddha. 

Sapta Kanya or Sapta Mata idols in Panayannar Kavu. The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyamata denoting the Buddhist nun. Similar idols are in Kilirur another seat of Buddhism consecrated by Pallyvanar in 16th century after Perinjanam and before Nilanperur.

Now it is a Kali temple but it is clear from the name and the surviving diverse vegetation that it was an ancient Sangha Arama or Buddhist sacred grove by the Pampa before the early middle ages.  The very word Kavu is from Kanyakavu or Kanyastree the Buddhist nun.  As it was the nuns and monks who nurtured the medicinal natural grove around their shrines.  The Kavu culture in Kerala is a reminiscence of the conservationist culture that originated with the Asokan missionaries in BC third century.

A female figure in Panayannar Kavu upholding a lamp with Lamba Karna or long pierced ear lobes typical of the Kerala Buddhist tradition.

Now a community called Adissan or Adi Achan is the custodians of the Kavu. They reside in the nearby Kottaratil household with slanting roof and Chaitya Vatayana style ventilation.  This name Adiachan is a striking resemblance to Ezhutachan community who were also having Buddhist writing legacy and multi lingual competency in the past.  Again the name is close to Kannassan or Kannachan who were supposed to be of Ganaka origin and scholars and astrologers because of their Buddhist literary traditions.

Balikallu or altar placed in the west of Panayannar Kavu showing dragon mounted Chaitya medallion motifs with human faces with Buddhist features like Ushnisha and Lamba Karna. Padma Dala and Chatur Dala Pushpa motifs too are clearly Buddhist in iconography.

There is a dominant trend to hegemonically appropriate these masters of writing in Kerala and eliticize them into caste Hindu fold that has been going on for a long while now.  It should be clearly noted at this moment that the writing tradition of letters and the initiation cultures were all part of the Buddhist and Jain legacies in Kerala. ‘Nanamonam’ or Namastu Jinate salutation (to the Buddha or Sakya Jina Muni) used for initiation into the world of letters till early 20th century testifies this Amana or Sramana legacy in Kerala.

Medicine rich bio diversity in Panayannar Kavu by the river Pampa near Parumala and Mannar

There is a household called Kavil still existing in the south of the Panayannar Kavu and it was the maternal house of poet and renaissance writer Muloor Padmanabha Panicker.   The biographers of Muloor like Prof Satyaprakasam have associated the legacy of Muloor to Panayannar Kavu.  He was a lead student of Narayana Guru and was the first major Avarna poet to be established in the literary public sphere in early 20th century. He paved the way for Asan and Karuppan.  His early literary struggles like Kavi Ramayana Samvadam, Chillu Vazhakku or the struggle to add the sound ‘r’ to his name that infuriated the caste Hindus etc are well known.

Cheriya Panayannar Kavu just to the south of the Valiya Kavu known after Muloor. Kavil family of Muloor’s mother is still residing near it. Now it is modified into a small temple complex. Till a few decades ago the Kalari or Ezhutupally or Kudi Pallykoodam of Muloor was standing here.

Following the democratic vision of his guru he mixed himself with the people at the bottom of the society like Kurumban Daivatar a dalit leader and composed his Pula Vritangal to voice their social and cultural aspirations. As per the friendly persuasion of Sahodaran Ayyappan a neo Buddhist he translated the Dhammapada of the Buddha directly from Pali into Malayalam.  His memorial is now at Ayatil near Ilavumtitta his paternal household.

Huge stone gateways on the west of Panayannar Kavu at the boat landing by the Pampa. It was an important inland port with world connections.

Close to Mannar and Niranam is the birth place of another group of poets from the 15th and 16th centuries called the Niranam poets or Kannasan or Kannachan poets: Madhava Panicker, Sankara Panicker and Rama Panicker.  It was through them that there began a literary  Bhakti movement in Kerala with their Bhasha translations of Gita, Ramayana and Bharata.  Though they had become instrumental in the Vaishnavization and Rama-fication of Kerala,  even before Ezhutachan, by the end of the middle ages their literary contributions enriched the development of the vernacular and also to end the booming Achi Charitas or Manipravala lust-lore.  They were associated with the Tri Kapaliswara temple a Saivite seat at Niranam.  According to critical commentators Tri Kapaliswaram is a post middle ages alteration of Tiru Palisaram, having connections with Pali rather than Kapali as in the Paliekara Pally a few miles north east in Tiruvalla.

Kannassa Memorial Library, Niranam. 29 oct 2017

Niranam was also an ancient port and the coastal line was much interior than today till the 14th century, till the colossal floods in 1341 that silted the backwaters and pushed the coastline further west.  Kadapra a place east of Niranam is a modification of Kadapuram or the sea shore.  Some local historians identify Niranam with the old legendary port called Nelcynda. Pliny’s Natural History mentions about Nelcynda and another chance is Neendakara near Kollam. Niranam was enjoying navigational linkages since ancient era.

Tri Kapaliswaram temple, Niranam; 29 oct 2017. Kannachan poets were close to this shrine.

Anyway it is believed by the St. Thomas Christians here that the apostle came and established the church in AD first century.  There are a few churches and a few boat landings where the apostle is believed to had arrived.  One such quay in a wide canal connecting the Pamapa with Manimalayar is called Tomat Kadavu or the ghat of Toma.  Nearby towards east in Tiruvalla we have another old church called Paliekara Pally.  There are several places with the name Paliekara as in Trissur where we have Palisery as well.   Places like Kuttanperur and Buddhanur are also near Parumala and Panayannar Kavu.  Karumady Kuttan or Bala Buddha of Karumady is further west near Takazhi and Ambalapuzha.  We have Buddha idols recovered at Mavelikara and Kayamkulam as well.

Tomat Kadavu where St Thomas the apostle is believed to had arrived on a sail boat. It is on a wide canal connecting the Pampa with Manimalayar near Niranam. 29 oct 2017.

It is clear that Niranam was an ancient port till the middle ages and continued to be an inland port and trade/cultural centre even up to the modern age.  And it was having global linkages with many religious and oceanic cultures till recently. the China-ware and huge Chinese pots in the Niranam Pally museum itself form an evidence for its East Asian trade and cultural relations.

Stupa like foundation of the stone cross at Niranam Pally on which elephant, lion, fish and lotus motifs are carved.

River Pampa which itself is a later modification of Pampar or the serpent river functioned as a navigational link between the sea and the port and also the hinder lands and eastern hills, especially the western ghats regions including Sabarimala and Nilkal.  A local history museum and cultural interpretation centre linking all these treasures of river Pampa must be setup here to showcase this rich composite heritage and legacy of the Niranam region before the world and posterity.

Paliekara Pally, Tiruvalla. There are several Paliekaras in Kerala and Paliserys as well, showing the widespread rootedness of Pali as a linguistic culture and tradition as in Paliyam household for example.

Rivers Achankovil, Pampa and Manimalayar: Eco-cultrual Diversity of Pathanamthitta

River Pampa near Maramon, Kozhanchery, Pathanamthitta

Pathanamthitta is the gift of river Achankovil originating from the high ranges of the Western Ghats near the ancient forest shrine of Achankovil in the north eastern border of Kollam district so close to Senkotai and Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu.  Achan Kovil means the shrine of Achan or the supreme deity.  The Malayalam words Achan, Appan, Aliyan etc. have Sramana and Buddhist origins.

Kaviyoor Cave Temple; 5km east of Thiruvalla on TK road

Along with river Achankovil, Pampa and Manimalayar join in the Pathanamthitta basin in the west to make it fertile and lush green.  The place name combining Pathanam (ship) and Thitta (river bank and delta) explains the ancient riverside inland port or Pattanam (port town) on the banks of Achankovil.  Pathanapuram is also close towards the south.

Common Emigrants mud puddling near Kaviyoor rock-cut temple called Trikalkudi

All these three rivers drain to Kuttanad backwaters  ultimately to lake Vembanad in the west like Kodoor, Meenachil and Muvatupuzha rivers.  In the ancient times Pathanamthitta was part of this intricate inland waterways and wetland ecology and cultural water-scape.  The rise in the water level in those days allowed big vessels to come so inland as this ancient inland port town.

Trikalkudi Jain rock-cut cave temple, Kaviyoor. AD 9th c. in Pallava style
Orange-tailed Dart at Kaviyoor, Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta

Pathanamthitta was part of Kottayam and Kollam districts till a few decades ago.  This beautiful new district has important cultural and ecological treasures that lure the travelers.  On April 30, 2011 I made a 200 km  midsummer drive through its tropical green contours, wetlands, deltas and dales.

Gateway to Kaviyoor rock temple: Between two gigantic granite rocks, modified recently

I started from Kottayam in the morning and went to Thiruvalla straight down south on the MC raod. From there took the eastern route to Pathanamthitta.  Just 5 km east near Paipad backwater lake and on the western bank of river Manimalayar I visited Kaviyoor rock-cut cave temple.  This 8th century carved granite temple is associated with Jain and Pallava architectural tradition later converted to a Hindu Siva temple.

Protected by Dept of Archeology: Facing west the Kaviyoor Trikalkudi rock cut temple

The giant granite rock and surrounding area is still called Trikalkudi or divine rock settlement or divine footmark settlement.  Place names close to the locality like Pazhampally, Pallypuram and Mundyapally also expose the Sramana antiquity of the place.

Carved out of the rock: Front varandah and chamber of Kaviyoor cave temple

More than that Mallapally, Madapally, Vazhapally, Mariapally, Puthupally, Pallypurathukavu, Karthikapally, Karunagapally etc. are also surrounding this region.   To add to all this there is a Hanuman temple now called after Siva.  It could be well assumed that this was an ancient Jain cave temple like Kallil near Perumbavur in Ernakulam district in the north.

Pallava style Dwarapalaka in Kaviyoor cave temple: Earliest stone sculpture in Kerala, probably much older than 8th century

Local people still have the legends of Bhuthams (demonised Buddhists imagined after Brahmanical invasion) building the cave overnight like the Bhuthathankettu dam in Periyar near Thattekkad that was built by the Sramana sages for irrigating the Periyar valley and improving its agriculture.

Spring full even in summer towards the left of the cave
Devotee like Dwarapalaka in Pallava style, Kaviyoor rock temple

A local woman also told me that the foot mark engraved on the stone was on top of the rock but now being lost through various encroachments and erasures.  Jains traditionally worship the footmarks of their gurus or Thirthankaras.  There is also a brimming spring near the cave.  Jain shrines are also known for their medicinal springs.

Facade shows clear marks of chiseling, removal and erasure like Kallil temple: Originally Jain later converted to Hindu Saiva temple in the middle ages
Pallava style Ganes in Kaviyoor rock temple. Ganes and Saraswati were originally Jain sub deities like Padmavati and Khusmandini later Hinduized as goddesses

The facade also shows signs of chiseling and erasures.  The comparatively new stone phallus inside the chamber does not match with the antiquity of the surrounding carvings and is surely a later re-installation.

A hawk near Kaviyoor rock-cut temple 30 Apl 2011
Spring source at the top of Trikalkudi rock, Kaviyoor, Thiruvalla
Pipal in between the rocks at Trikalkudi rock temple, Kaviyoor

From there I re-entered the state highway connecting Thiruvalla with Pathanamthitta and went east a few more miles to reach Eraviperur (8 km east of Thiruvalla) the head quarters of PRDS a subaltern socio-cultural and spiritual movement established by Poykayil Kumara Gurudevan and the birthplace and memorial of Poykayil Kumara Gurudevan or Poykayil Appachan.

The hut in which Appachan was born and left his body in Eraviperur, Pathanamthitta
Poykayil Sri Kumara Gurudevan memorial, Eraviperur, Thiruvalla

I met the president and important people leading the institution.  They welcomed me as the translator of Appachan to English and showed around the place including the preserved hut of Appachan where he was born and left the body.

Sri C P Damodaran, President, PRDS

Then again went east to Marmon the venue of the annual Christian convention on the banks of Pampa.  Thanks to the summer showers all the rivers and water bodies in the district are full and brimming with fresh water.

River Pampa near Maramon, Kozhanchery, Pathanamthitta

I remembered accounts of C V Kunhiraman addressing the huge gathering in the Maramon Convention on the banks of the great river to talk about caste and the vitality of conversion in fighting it in the early decades of 20th century during the hey day of Kerala renaissance social struggles.

A Shikra at Maramon, Pathanamthitta

On crossing the river Pampa on the eastern bank I met another revolutionary speaker immortalized in a bronze statue.  It was C Kesavan in metal delivering his historic Kozhanchery address in 1935 during the Nivarthana Prakshobham or joined struggle by Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas.

Muloor memorial near Keralavarmasaudham, Elavumthitta, Pathanamthitta

Enjoying  rice and spicy fish curry from a restaurant near the Pampa bridge I resumed my journey via Thekemala to Elavumthitta (around 10 km from Kozhanchery) the land of another brave son of the soil enriched by rivers Pampa and Achankovil.

Epitaph explaining his philosophy of humanim and keen sense of equity: Muloor in eternal versification

It was Muloor S Padmanabha Paniker who questioned Savarna hegemony in poetry and literature in an unquestionable fashion towards the end of 19th century in Malayalm and paved the way for Asan, Karupan and Sahodaran and a whole lot of Avarna or untouchable poets and writers in Malayalm through his brilliant verses and literary interventions that shook the cultural monopolies of the Savarna lords for ever.  I reached his renowned home named after his friend, Keralavarma Saudham around 3pm.  The newly preserved home and monument by Govt. of Kerala are a treat to the eye and the mind.

Poet's home named after his friend as Keralavarmasaudham, Elavumthitta, Pathanamthittta

It was getting cloudy and it began to drizzle.  The humidity and heat of Pathanamthitta just before the summer showers are really challenging during this time of the year.

Muloor Memorial Govt. UP School, Elavumthitta, Pathanamthitta

But it is also a unique experience of nature in its own.  At  Elavumthitta I also visited the the Govt. UP School that is named after Muloor.  A Buddha Engineering college for girls is also coming up in the region near Ayathil the wife house of Muloor.

Shrines dedicated to Narayanaguru and local deities near Keralavarmasaudham, Elavumthitta

From Elavumthitta I drove to Pathanamthitta the capital town of the district and visited my publishing friends Saju of Prasakti Books and Hari of Fabian at the Library Council Book Fair happeing in Co-operative College premises.

Interior of Keralavarmasaudham: Full of portraits of poets and lines from poetry

Browsing through some of their new titiles that they gifted to me and savoring tea with them I went up to Konni a few miles south on the Muvatupuzha-Punalur Hill Highway to enquire about the new Konni-Achankovil road now being developed by Kerala PWD.

Muloor home amidst the greenery of Elavumthitta, accessible through road from Pathanamthitta and Kozhanchery, some ten km from these centers

I went up to the margin of Pathanamthitta district and touched the border of Kollam through this new route by driving through the teak plantations for a few miles.  Then talked to the local people and they informed me that the route lacked tarring in a mid 10km stretch in its 40 km course.  I began my return journey through Konni-Pathanamthitta-Kozhanchery-Thiruvalla-Changanassery-Kottayam at around 6.30pm. The roads are good in this route.

Blue-tailed Dart in Elavumthitta

I reached home in Gandhinagar, Kottayam at around 9.45pm.  Thanks to our little Maruti 800 the 12 hour and 200km drive  on a hot and humid midsummer day was sensational and empowering in various ways in which I learned and experienced a lot about my neighboring district; its past, present, culture, nature and people.

Beauty of Elavumthitta architecture: Govt. rennovating the cultural treasures of Muloor home

I also found out a new thing about our rivers. Rivers are accessible and could be experienced through roads as well.  But there is nothing like sailing through the rivers themselves and touching their fresh water with your hands.  Compared to other districts Pathanamthitta rivers seem to be free from plastic wastes and pollution as well.

Grey Past and Green Present: From the top of Kaviyoor Trikalkudi rock temple