Tag Archives: rock cut temples in Kerala

Madman’s Rock: Bhranthan Kallu or Bhranthachala in Tiruvegapura

Rock cut vestige at Bhranthan Kallu east of Tiruvegapura in Palakad district.  Exactly like the Buddhist vestiges identified at Kattilapara in Kulatupuzha.

Rock cut vestige at Bhranthan Kallu east of Tiruvegapura in Palakad district. Exactly like the Buddhist vestiges identified at Kattilapara in Kulatupuzha.

kaviyur.mulur.eraviperur 058

Kaviyur rock cut temple

The ancient rock temple east of Tiruvegapura is in Palakad district of Kerala on the southern bank of river Thutha.  It is a huge granite boulder around 40m high and three acres in expansion.  There is a flight of steps that lead you to the top exactly like the ones in Karkala or Sravanbelgola but much recent having Malayalam scripts engraved on it.  On the eastern side there is a Chaitya carved into the rock.  It has three openings and two cut pillars.  The left opening is incomplete.  The vestige shows marks and techniques of stone cutting used in early common era by Amana monks or their local patrons that is found throughout the peninsular India.

Ox mascots in Ara Kavu near Tiruvegapura.  Kala Vela or Pooram and Kettukazhcha originated in the pre-Brahmanical era in central north Kerala.

Ox mascots in Ara Kavu near Tiruvegapura. Kala Vela or Pooram and Kettukazhcha originated in the pre-Brahmanical era in central north Kerala in relation with Buddhist harvest festivals.

Tirunandikarai rock cut vestige

Tirunandikarai rock cut vestige

The vestige looks exactly like the ones at Kallupacha and Kattilapara in Kulatupuzha forests identified as Buddhist vestiges by archeological experts like Dr Rajendran. The foot mark on top of the rock also substantiates the Amana connection as in Kaviyur or Tirunandikara rock cut vestiges.  The Jains and Buddhists worshiped the foot imprints of their gurus  the practice that eventually gave birth to place names like Kaladi.  There are Kaladis in Trivandrum, Ernakulam and Malapuram districts of Kerala.  It could be inferred that before the 8th century AD they were pivotal shrines  or Chaityas related to Buddhism and Jainism in Kerala.

The flight of steps leading to the top of rock from southern side.  Looks like the steps at Karkala or Sravanabelgola but a lot recent with Malayalam scripts on it.  Bhranthan Kallu 15 feb 2013

The flight of steps leading to the top of Bhranthan (madman) rock from southern side. Looks like the steps at Karkala or Sravanabelgola in south Karnataka  but a lot recent with Malayalam scripts on it. Bhranthan Kallu, 15 feb 2013.

Rock cut vestige at Kallupacha in Kulatupuzha estate identified as a Buddhist vestige by Dr Rajendran.

Rock cut vestige at Kallupacha in Kulatupuzha estate identified as a Buddhist vestige by Dr Rajendran.

Now this ancient rock-cut vestige is known as Bhranthan Kallu among local people. The word Kallu or stone is an important Jain marker as in Kallil near Perumbavur.  It is now being connected to Naranathu Bhranthan of Panthirukulam and is called Bhranthachala Kshetram in elite parlance. It stands 500 m north of the Pattambi-Valanchery road just east of Tiruvegapura.  Chinavati Kavu (Jina connection?) and Arakavu are just south of this rock temple. The word Ara is a semantic relic of Pally Ara the ancient Amana shrines including Stupas, Chaityas and Pagodas.  This ancient Tamil word can also be related to the word Aram or Dhamma itself.  As the abode of Aram it became Ara.  The ancient Buddhist ritual relics of Kalakettu or Kettukazhcha are still performed as Kala Vela and Pooram in these ancient shrines, now in a Hinduized fashion.

Current shrines of Siva, Muruga etc. on top of Bhranthan Kallu.  The Kanjiram tree is in the back. 15 Feb 2013.

Current shrines of Siva, Muruga etc. on top of Bhranthan Kallu. The Kanjiram tree said to have chained the madman is in the back. 15 Feb 2013.

Local people believe that it was made by some super natural forces who abandoned it as the goddess residing on the eastern hillock made an early morning call in the  voice of a rooster.  Similar stories of abandoning construction at day break by ghosts or demons are plenty all over Kerala. In Ernakulam district people believe that Bhutathan  Kettu dam was built by demons in a single night.  Local people near the Tirunathapuram temple that is in ruin now near Aluva  also believe that it was made by the demons overnight.

Water pools on top of Bhranthan Kallu near Tiruvegapura

Water pools on top of Bhranthan Kallu near Tiruvegapura, 15 feb 2013.

The people still call it the temple of Bhutathans or the temple of demons relating it to the demonization discourse used against the Buddhists originally by Brahmanism.  Moreover place names nearby like Marampally and Payyapally (now being changed to Pilly) confirm the Amana past of the place by the Periyar. The Bhutas or Buddhas or demons disappeared at sunrise abandoning their stones amidst nearby fields say local people.

Kala or Ox mascot in Are Kavu near Tiruvegapura.  Oxen are images of agricultural prosperity and fertility.  They originated in the Buddhist harvest festivals.  The Ketukazcha in Kerala has remarkable semblance to the Buddhist chariot festivals narrated by Chinise Buddhist travelers who visited Patna and north India in the 5th to 8th centuries.

Kala or Ox mascot in Are Kavu near Tiruvegapura. Oxen are images of agricultural prosperity and fertility. They originated in the Buddhist harvest festivals. The Ketukazcha in Kerala has remarkable semblance to the Buddhist chariot festivals narrated by Chinese Buddhist travelers who visited Patna and north India in the 5th to 8th centuries.

It is an allegorical narration of the banishment of the Amanas from the region.  The rise of the sun centered cosmology of Brahmanism and the fall by material and symbolic violence of the moon centered cosmology of Buddhism in Kerala are articulated obliquely by this folk tale existing in orature and the collective unconscious of people especially the former untouchables in the Hindu fold now called the Avarna.

The point of the foot mark towards the east right above the Chaitya vestige on top.  Now modified into an alter where foot dummies are offered in wood.  15 Feb 2013.

The point of the foot mark towards the east right above the Chaitya vestige on top. Now modified into an alter where foot dummies are offered in wood. 15 Feb 2013.

All these places and structures are related to the demonized Amana monks who did extensive work in no time through their dedication and selfless service and the use of simple but humane technology.  Place names Tirunathapuram near Tiruairanikulam and Aluva; and Tiruvegapura near Valanchery also echo Chamana antiquity and early Buddhist sacred towns or Pura/Puram as in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

Fire dances in Are Kavu another ancient shrine of Amana antiquity near Tiruvegapura.

Fire dance in Are Kavu another ancient shrine of Amana antiquity near Tiruvegapura.

Tiru is the common affix that signifies the pre-Sanskritic or Hindu civilization and sacred Viharas or Pallys.  After 10th century the Sanskrit affix Sri came in place of the Tiru along with place names like Sri Kantapuram or Sri Kakulam etc.  The Tiru prefix testifies the pre-Hindu or pre-Vedic or pre-Brahmanic cultural existence and antiquity of the place.

The iron chain believed to be of Naranathu Bhranthan merged into the Kanjiram tree on top of the Branthan Kallu.  Foot replicas in clay and wood are offered here as well.  It looks a lot recent, only a few centuries old, probably used to transform the foot marks and the legends by hegemonic forces for the Hinduization of the shrine.

The iron chain believed to be of Naranathu Bhranthan merged into the Kanjiram tree on top of the Bhranthan Kallu. Foot replicas in clay and wood are offered here as well. It looks a lot recent, only a few centuries old, probably used to transform the foot marks and the legends by hegemonic forces for the Hinduization of the shrine.  Bhranthan could be just another term like Bhutathan used for demonizing the Buddhists and Jains as in Bhutathan Kettu or Bhutathan Ambalam in Ernakulam district. Bhranthan could be a term of abuse like Nastika, Sunya and Hina used specifically against the Amana who contested god and the other worldly.

In Sanskritized parlance it is called Bhranthachalam temple, which is a clear Sanskrit rendition of Bhranthan Kallu after the middle ages.  But the near by households have the term Kunnathu Kavu (shrine on the hillock) in their house names which could be the old name of the rock shrine complex.  For example the Savarna household just east of the rock is called Kunnathu Kavil Padikal (at the gate way of the hill shrine). It is not surprising that the family owns the land on which the rock is founded.

There are a few recent pagoda shrines of Siva, Muruga etc on top now. Plenty of water resources and a Kanjiram tree are on the top of the rock.  Local residents told me that there was a foot mark on the top of the rock now being obscured by concrete constructions.  The cutting style of the Chaitya facade and the vestige design and foot mark on top distinguish that it is an ancient Amana shrine.  It has close similarity to rock temples at Kaviyur, Tirunandikara and Kattilapara inside Kulathupuzha forest.  All of them were ancient Chaityas or Basatis.

This vital treasure proving the 2000 and more years of cultural history of the Thutha river region must be protected by ASI or the state department of Archeology for posterity.  The long evasion and silence of the official bodies and the gradual attempt to Hinduize the rock again verify the Chamana connection. The Government and local bodies must take immediate steps towards the protection of this ancient heritage site in Valluvanad and the conservation of its surrounding ecology by the river Thutha that is shrinking day by day.

Kala Vela or Kettu Kazhcha at Ara Kavu south west of Tiruvegapura.  Researchers in Kerala history argue that Kettu Kazhcha and Vela or Pooram are reminiscent of Buddhist festivals.  Ara in Ara Kavu is a relic of Pally Ara the Vihara shrine.  15 Feb 2013

Kala Vela or Kettu Kazhcha at Ara Kavu south west of Tiruvegapura. Researchers in Kerala history argue that Kettu Kazhcha and Vela or Pooram are reminiscent of Buddhist festivals. Ara in Ara Kavu is a relic of Pally Ara the Vihara shrine.         15 Feb 2013

 

Sastha and Buddha: Buddhist Vestiges in Southern Western Ghats of Kerala

Buddhist vestige at Kallupacha, RPL Estate, Kulathupuzha. Carved into a fine granite boulder with three doorways

The western foothills of the southern ranges in the Western Ghats are known for ancient and popular Sastha Temples of Kerala.  Sabarimala, Achankovil, Ariankavu, Kulathupuzha and Sasthamkotta are prominent Dharma Sastha or Ayyappa temples located in and around this region.  Their proximity to the Tamil Country in the east and Malakootam or Malaya Kootam/Parvatham (Now Agasthya Kootam) in the south are remarkable.  Malaya Kootam is still called Pothiyil Mala (variation of Boddhiyil Mala) and it was also called Pothalaka in Buddhist lore, the seat of the Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva.  It is a ghat region revered by the Hindus and the Buddhists alike.

Kattalapara Buddhist vestige. near Shenduruny sanctuary, Kulathupuzha. Abandoned due to poor stone quality. Now three doorways are worshiped as representing Hindu, Christian and Islamic religions

Dharma Sastha is a synonym for the Buddha.  Ayyappan is an Avalokiteswaran later Hinduized and appropriated by Brahmanism in the early middle ages as an offspring born out of the Siva-Vishnu union.  The metamorphosis of this deity through the violent conflicts and negotiations  involving  Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism) Saivism and Vaishnavism is evident in the legend.  In the Tamil Country Pali words Ayyan, Appan, Achan, Ayyappan and Puthan refer to the enlightend one at least from BC third century.

Kottukal rock cut temple, near Anchal.

Vajrayana used various Avalokiteswaras and Boddhisatva idols with consorts to popularize the cult and it was easy for Brahmanism to appropriate it overnight. Like the Buddha Nilakandha temple of Nepal or the Padmanabha temple of Thiruvananthapuram the Ayyappa temples were easily modified into Hindu Brahmanical ones.  Some scholars also argue that Tantric Buddhism itself was a clever deviation made by the Brahmanical usurpers who joined the Buddhist Sangha for the gradual sabotage as the basic teachings of the compassionate one challenged Brahmanism and caste.

Ariankavu Ayyappa temple at the eastern end of Kollam pass close to Tamilakam

The Buddhist rock cut vestiges in and around the Kulathupuzha forests prove the early presence of missionaries in the Kollam pass well before the advent of the common era.  It can be assumed that they entered the western slopes of the Western Ghats through the Ariankavu pass and established their Pallys and Pallykootams in the lower foothills. The rock cut constructions in Kallupacha in RPL estate in Kulathupuzha and Kattalapara close to the Shenduruny sanctuary are still surviving relics of early Buddhist rock architecture.

Kulathupuzha Sastha temple. The idol represents a Kulanthai or boy

The same architectural pattern and style of carving are found in the rock temple at Kottukal near Anchal.  As the first two vestiges are inside plantations and forests they are almost in abandoned state but the Kottukal rock cut temple is modified into a Siva temple by later Saivism that entered Kerala in the 8th and 9th centuries.  It also shows remarkable resemblance to Kaviyur rock temple near Thiruvalla and Kallil Jain temple near Perumbavur.

River Kallada at Kulathupuzha temple. Location of fish-feeding, an ancient conservationist practice related to Buddhism and Jainism as in Triprayar

It is interesting to note that the bigger shrines close to important mountain routes and the popular ones were transformed into bigger Hindu temples while the smaller vestiges and rock carvings were neglected and forgotten in the jungle.  On June 1, 2011 the Hindu published an article on the report of Dr Rajendran an archeologist who surveyed the region.  According to him these vestiges are related to early Buddhism that reached Kerala in the last centuries of BC era and the whole Ariankavu, Kulathupuzha, Ponmudi belt still holds the relics of this early Buddhist cultural  intervention.

Mahamaya/Mayadevi in Kulthupuzha in classic Yakshi stance with a mirror in hand and leaning onto a tree. Mahamaya is the mother of Buddha who is the central deity in Kilirur and Neelamperur

According to Dr Rajendran Malsya Mudra or fish signs are identified in the carving sites that prove the Buddhist identity of the makers.  In Kulathupuzha fish-feeding is also an important ritual that is still practiced showing the Buddhist conservationist spirit of the shrine.  Such practices of conservation are still sustaining in many temples all over Kerala as in Thriprayar in Thrissur district.  Naga deities and Mahamaya (mother of the Buddha) idol are also worshiped in Kulathupuzha.

Naga deities in Kulathupuzha Sastha temple

I visited the region on 18th and 19th May 2012 and got the opportunity to see and experience the unique ecology and cultural traces related to the ancient conservationist traditions of Kerala.  The Thenmala eco-tourism project and rivers Kallada and Kallar along with the numerous life forms offer plenty of learning experiences for the seeking.

Indilayaappan idol. An ambiguous deity in Ariankavu Ayyappa shrine, showing the Vajrayan, Saiva and Vaishnava scramble