A Broken Padmasana: The Fissured Buddha of Pattanam

Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata,
That is the essence of the world.

The Tathagata has no essence.

The world is without essence.

                        Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika, XXII:16

Crossed legs and part of the left hand completing a solemn Padmasana. Demolished above the waist in the violent conquest in the middle ages. Now worshiped as Yakshi at Nileeswaram Siva temple, Pattanam. Ernakulam dist, Kerala.

It was Prof P J Cherian the director of KCHR and the Pattanam/Muziris  excavation project who drew my attention to certain broken granite sculptures kept in Pattanam Nileeswaram Siva temple a couple of months ago.  A retired school master told him about the fragments, says Prof Cherian.  These fragments were recovered some 70 to 80 years ago from the temple pond and placed on the raised platform of the Yakshi outside the Nalambalam structure beneath a Pipal by the pond.

The pedestal and half-undone Padmasana idol from the back. It was recovered from the temple pond almost a century ago and placed on the Yakshi platform by the pond under a Pipal tree. Mavelikara, Kayamkulam and Kattanam Buddhas were also recovered by the people from current Savarna temples at the same time.

People still worship these broken idols as Naga Yakshi and Naga Raja.  But in close examination they were found to be of different statues.  A seated figure in Padmasana is the vital fragment.  Yesterday, 26 Oct 2012 I got time to visit Pattanam and had a close and enlightening view of the fragments.  It is placed on a pedestal with a water chute.  The iconographic style, color of the stone, chiseling style and texture of the stone closely resemble the Buddha idols recovered from Mavelikara, Karumady, Bharanikavu and Kayamkulam in the south.

Four fragments are placed together and that is why it was difficult for the people to decipher the mystery of Pattanam Buddha. It again is a hegemonic act of obscurantism and erasure of vital past by the obliterating Savarna Brahmanical forces who still specialize in burying their own past in a repressive and fascist way.

This idol in Padmasana seems to be demolished above the waist and is the only one resembling a Buddha idol reported to be recovered so far from Ernakulam district.  The regions between Edapally and Vadanapally thrive in place names with the common affix Pally, a Pali word signifying a Chamana sacred place.  All other Buddha idols recovered so far are from Alapuzha and Kollam districts.  Plenty of similar Buddha sculptures are also reported from Tyaganur, Ariyalur, Nagapatinam and other parts of Tamil Nadu, especially in Madurai and Tirunelveli districts.

Tyaganur Buddha in the open field for the last one thousand years or more, from Tamil Nadu.
Photo: The Hindu

Any way it is very important to note that the idol fragments were recovered from the temple pond.  It was the same in Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Pallykal and Karumady.  All the Buddha idols in Kerala were recovered from current Savarna temple ponds or paddy fields in their vicinity.  They were violently attacked uprooted and thrown or buried in ponds and marshes.  The Buddha at Tyaganur is still sitting pretty in the open field exposed to the elements almost a millennium after its creation by skilled sculptors or Chamana sages themselves.

Perfect disguise of the past:  the fragmets placed together in an ambiguous way.  Nileeswaram temple at Pattanam is so close to Cherai the birth place of Sahodaran Ayyappan who initiated the neo buddhist movement in Kerala during the renaissance cultural revolutions in early 20th century. Sahodaran has written extensively on the destruction of buddhist shrines in Kerala by Brahmanic Hindutva forces like Kodungallur and Srimulavasam in particular. Remember his song “O don’t go to the Bharani O brothers…”  Because of his scathing critique of Brahmanism and Savarna elitism,  Sahodaran the greatest organic intellectual that Kerala has ever produced was systematically excluded from the high canon and  textbooks by the Savarna literati, who instead celebrated Asan for his mild Hinduized worldview.

It is not likely to be a Jain Thirthankara image because there is no Mudra or symbols of animals or Chaitya trees associated with each Thirthankara on the base or pedestal.  Moreover the stylization of the figure and its seated posture and orientation of the limbs closely echo the Buddhas at Mavelikara, Karumady and Bharanikavu.  P C Alexander and S N Sadasivan who wrote the history of Buddhism in Kerala  have argued that these south Kerala Buddhas resonate the Anuradhapura style of stone sculpting and chiseling.  The blackness and density of the granite and the exquisite oily suppleness of appearance closely link the Pattanam fragment to its counter parts in Alapuzha and Kollam and in the far south in Srilanka.

Mavelikara Buddha, recovered from the paddy field adjacent to Kandiyur temple and placed at the Buddha Junction, Mavelikara. Note the lotus posture/Padmasana with crossed legs and connected hands. See the tone and texture of the stone and its colour that is recurring in all the Buddha idols including the Pattanam Buddha recovered from Kerala.

It is a mockery of history that these invaluable  fragments of Pattanam went unnoticed and unidentified for the last one century.  It shows the repressive power of the mainstream Savarna Hindu ideology and common sense that becomes hegemonic and annihilating.  Crucial suppression and erasure of collective consciousness, memory, past and integrity under cultural hegemony is a key aspect of Kerala’s elite culture called Savarna supremacism.  Genocidal and symbolic violence and perpetual erasures and mutilations are its chief tenets.  These historic and epistemic violences are legitimized in the name of an omnipotent god and timeless religion.  The pivotal significance of the archetypal phallus or the Linga in the Saivite Hindutva appraisal gains meaning in these contexts.

Pattanam Buddha idol (half demolished, above waist): An early photo by KCHR photographer. Iconography, Chiseling style, Stone type, texture and color closely resembling Buddha idols recovered at Mavelikara, Karumady, Kattanam and Kayamkulam. By courtesy of Prof P J Cherian and KCHR

The broken figure in Padmasana at Pattanam is yet another key-marker of the cultural reality and history of Kerala.  It proves once again that grave and material violence was used to convert and modify the ethical and egalitarian spiritual practices and instructive places in Kerala during the early middle ages by Brahmanic Hinduism and its strategic appropriating tropes like Saivism and Vaishnavism.  The Brahmanic henchmen belonging mostly to the Maravar and Kallar clans, literally demolished and buried all the traces of Buddhism and its non violent culture in Kerala with true Sudra allegiance and slave like fidelity to their caste- sovereigns, the earthly gods or Bhudeva.

Buddha at Bharanikavu Pallykal, Katanam near Kayamkulam. It was also recovered from a pond behind the current Hindu temple in early 20th century. Till then it was used as a washing stone and foot cleaning stone in the temple pond. See the close similarity in chiseling style and lotus posture; with Mavelikara, Karumady and Pattanam idols. Pallykal Buddha is dated to 7th century by experts.  Now protected by Archeological department of Kerala.

Suppression of reality, resistance and speech are still widely practiced by the Savarna power elites who monopolize every public institutions in the country, especially the higher academia and media.  The ideology and praxis of erasure and sanctioned ignorance or silence on the key aspects of collective past are still dominant practices in higher academia and media in Kerala and India at large.  Even the victims conform to this dominant practice out of compulsion from conventions and supervision from the orthodoxy.  Through such hegemonic measures of suppression and silencing the ethical and democratic Chamana culture of Kerala is pushed under the carpet even today in mainstream academic and media discourses.  Mainstream academic historians from the former Savarna social background argue that the idols are some exceptions brought here by some merchants and traders and not part of a people’s culture and tradition!  They are still keeping mum over the extensive presence of Pali words in Malayalam and the cultural symbols and images in the daily life practices of people related to Jain and Buddhist traditions.  Archaeological, cultural and linguistic evidences explode the silence of the self-fashioned academic scholars who make a monopoly of the “academic methodology and practice.”

The pedestal with lying human figures piled on one another on which the Padmasana figure is placed at Pattanam Nileeswaram Siva temple. Ernakulam dist of Kerala.  Note the easy chiseling possibility of modifying such  idols and seats into a Siva Linga.  It was practiced through out south India by Brahmanism and its assimilatory tropes like Saivism and Vaishnavism to convert Chamana Pallys.

The broken granite Buddha sculpture at Pattanam testifies this fascist violence that is still brewing in the present against minor sects, others and out castes in India by the Hindutva and Savarna henchmen.  Pattanam Buddha is a vital fragment of history that teaches us to be vigilant against cultural,  iconographic, architectural and epistemic violence and alterations by the power elite done with coercion and appropriating strategies.  It is striking that Pattanam is so close to Cherai where Sahodaran Ayyappan initiated the most dynamic neo buddhist discourse in Kerala along with C V Kunhiraman and Mitavadi C Krishnan in the early 20th century as part of the  cultural struggles now termed as Kerala renaissance under the visionary leadership of Narayana Guru who symbolically and radically subverted the Brahmanical hegemony through his Aruvipuram installation in 1888.

Sahodaran Ayyappan (1889-1968) wrote extensively on Buddhism in Kerala at the wake of the 20th century. His verses contain a special section “Baudha Kandam.” Instrumental in initiating neo buddhism in Kerala. Also initiated live dialogues with Ambedkarism and Periyor movement in early 20th century Kerala.

In his verse and prose he reintroduced the ethical message of the enlightened one to the people in their mother tongue Malayalam as against the Pali of the Amana monks.  Sahodaran  journal was dedicated to the teaching of ethics to the dalitbahujan people in Kerala.  He used the Pipal leaf as its logo and compared the modern boddhisatva of Kerala, Narayana Guru to the Buddha himself.  The coinage “Sri Narayana-buddha”  is an insightful and futuristic semantic construction by Sahodaran.  He also inaugurated the rationalist and civil/human rights movement in Kerala in early 20th century that culminated in the Kerala model and modernity in a few decades.

Nileeswaram Siva temple at Pattanam. Towards the right background the big Pipal stands and beneath it the Buddha fragment is placed now and worshiped as Yakshi.  Pattanam excavation site is to the left background of this temple.

The shattered buddha of Pattanam is an immortal piece of art as well.  It tells us a lot about South Indian cultural history, iconography,  society and polity during the last few thousand years.  It is an icon of survival, resistance and articulation against invasions and imperialisms, both internal and external.  It is an ethical and spiritual work of art that is political and social as well, with its polyphonic significations and liberating visual cultural possibilities.  This invaluable treasure and heritage of the whole humanity and Kerala in particular must be preserved and protected by the people and their elected governments for future.  As the neo buddha of India has reminded us the people who do not know history, can not make history.

neo buddha of India: Ambedkar merged into the Buddha in the imagination of a dalit artist. Image from the internet.

It is vital to remember that the Padmasana a basic posture  in Indian Yoga traditions has its origin in the Indus valley Dravidian civilization that dates back to BC 3000.  The meditating Yogi in Padmasana amidst wild animals including the tiger and the elephant, recovered from terracotta seals in the Harrappan sites  is identified as one of the earliest artistic expressions of this unique nonviolent culture, ethical aesthetics and cosmological vision.

Indus valley seal of a Yogi in Padmasana: An earliest artistic expression of ascetic and ethical practice in India. Orientalists termed it as Siva as Pasupati. Now linked to the Sramana Yogic tradition of early Dravidian and pre-Jain/buddhist traditions. Image from internet

The orientalist scholars and early Hindutva ideologues instantly  declared it Siva as Pasupati or lord of the beasts.  But radical organic intellectuals from the people recovered this iconic image as the early manifestation of Indus valley Dravidian culture and ethics.  The rudimentary forms of Sramana/Amana/Chamana ascetic-ethical  tradition could be aptly traced back to this Yogi in Padmasana.  The Jain and Buddhist wisdom and philosophy of nonviolence, renunciation and being one with nature could be appropriately  identified with the spiritual tranquility and ethical stability of this human figure amidst animals and the wild forces of nature.

A Boddhisatva from contemporary Kerala who wanted to write on the Padmasana in Indian cultures from the Indus onwards, but could not : O V Vijayan with his life-partner Dr Theresa. Padmasanam was his last projected novel. Photo: thehindu.com

It is again vitally important to remember that O V Vijayan the legend of Malayalam letters was struggling to write his last novel titled Padmasanam as death separated him from us.  He was trying to connect the Indus valley Yogi in Padmasana with the numerous Sramana idols in south India in the same lotus posture, while negotiating with the Parkinson’s disease.  The Pattanam Buddha fragment is there fore the latest addition to this ethical and egalitarian cultural legacy of India that is ever growing and being rediscovered everyday by the people in their various walks of life, struggle and survival.  Preserving it for the world and for the posterity with correct details is going to be a task ahead for the people.

ajay sekher  2 Nov 2012

Biking Kerala: Riding Kasaragod to Kottayam

My five year old Kawasaki on top of Posadigumpe hill, Kasaragod, April 2011

On 24 May 2011 I embarked on a long 450km ride from Kasaragod to Kottayam on my five year old Kawasaki Avenger.  It took two days to reach Kottayam as I stopped and visited plenty of places and people in between.  Because of the contemporary and  historical relevance of the places, people and routes I think I must record and write about it in text at least as there was no camera with me on this long and interesting land cruise from extreme north Malabar to south Travancore.

Malik Dinar Pally, Thalangara, Kasaragod. C. 8th century AD

I was shifting my bike that has successfully completed its fifth year of sensational service to Kottayam and the railway parcel people at Kasaragod expressed some ambiguity regarding the loading and unloading of the bike and its possible delayed arrival at destination, so I thought of riding it the whole way down to south on my own. It is one of the longest bike tours that I have ever undertaken at a stretch connecting Tulunadu and Travancore.

A summer rainbow over Chandragiri fort: From Chandragiri rail bridge, Kasaragod Feb 2011

I remember my early long rides above 500km on my dearest Kawasaki to Kanyakumari from Kottayam through Punalur-Tenmala-Kutalam-Tirunelveli route and return through Trivandrum-Kollam( in 2008); Kodaikanal from Kalady through Munnar-Bodimett-Theni and return through Pollachy-Palakad-Thrissur (2007); To Valparai from Kalady through Athirapally-Malakaparai route and return through Pollachy-Palakad-Thrissur (2008) and Rameswaram and Dhanushkoti from Rajakumari through Bodimett-Theni-Madurai-Ramnad(2009).

Five year old Kawasaki Avenger in our home (Akhila) in Gandhinagar, Kottayam. May 28, 2011

I started at 8.30am from Kasaragod from Thalangara the site of the ancient 8th century Malik Dinar Pally or Mosque and passing through NH17 connecting Kanjangad, Payyannur, Kannur and Thalasery reached the seashore near Thalasery bay around 12.30pm.  Took lunch from a sea side restaurant, rested a while and visited the fort and churches belonging to the early 17th century European colonialists, mainly Dutch, Portuguese and British.

River Chandragiri at Pulikunnu, Kasaragod separating Tulunad and Kolathunad. Jan 2011

Then through the relics of French settlements at Mahi, Vadakara and Koilandy reached Kozhikode and enjoyed tea near Ramanatukara well past the traffic of the city towards south east.  Again rode south on the NH17 and reached Kottakal and Valanchery and ended the day’s ride at Kutipuram at around 7pm.  The beautiful KTDC Aram motel on the highway above the western arm of Kutipuram brdige on river Bharathapuzha is a cool place to stay overnight.

Athirapally waterfall

Rooms (only two ) and food are good and homely.  They also gave me fresh bed cloths, bath towel and soaps all for Rs 450.  The location and views are excellent especially at night and in the morning.  The windows open to the river-scape beneath.  Only the water level is low in the river in this advanced drought season.  Its bare sandy beds are exposed in summer.

Valiyaparamba backwater, Trikaripur, Kasaragod Sept 2010

On the morning of 26 May 2011, the next day I restarted the journey at 7am again riding NH 17 through Ponnani.  Near Chamravattam I could witness the new road barrage that is being constructed across the river that is going to cut the distance by more than 40km between Kochi and Kozhikode.  I also enjoyed the sight of ancient temples and laterite cap-stones on the banks of Perar or Nila a river basin that housed early stone age civilizations in Kerala.  This river valley and Palakad pass linked the Chera west coast with the Chola and Pandya empires in the east in the ancient Tamil country.

A beach near Uppala in Kasaragod Oct 2010

At Ponnani I visited ancient mosques Thotumkal Pally, Pally Kadavu and Jumath Pally, ancient Muslim Pallys near the mouth of the river on the southern bank of the estuary.  This ancient port town was also the head quarters of the legendary Kunjali Marakars the supreme commanders of all naval forces in Malabar coast for many centuries.   Unfortunately the Purathoor estuary and its mudflats and sand banks amidst the vast placid waters of the Ponnani estuary are gone in the dredging construction for the new harbor and fish landing.

Indo-Japanese Buddhist bike on its fifth birthday in our little boddhi garden in Kottayam. May 2011

The migratory birds may not come here next season.  I remember visiting the location earlier and even enumerating the birds here as part of Asian Waterfowl Count with birding friends Dr Dileep K G, Manoj, Jijo, Vishnu, Sandeep, Jinu and others plenty of times in late winter in 2007 and 2009.  But all of that is gone.  My friend artist Anirudharaman who is currently teaching art in a Kutipuram Govt School has informed me that plenty of gulls flocked so inland as far as Kutipuram this season because of the habitat damage caused by the dredging and construction near the river mouth at Ponnani.

Me and my bike in our little boddhi garden, Gandhinagar, Kottayam. May 2011

After visiting the ancient Pallys so cherished by foreign travelers, Tipu Sultan and a range of Sufi sages from the north west I visited Biyam Kayal near Ponnani near Ezhavathuruthy and enjoyed breakfast there on the banks of this unique wetland and backwater at around 9am and resumed my southward journey through the the coastal highway NH 17.

Koi Carps and Gold Fishes: Arun's Koi pond in its prime in 2009 in our home garden in Kottayam

Passing Chetuwa, Chavakad, Vadanapally and Kaipamangalam I reached Mathilakam the ancient Trikanamathilakam or Kunavailkottam north of Kodungallur where Ilango Adikal the younger brother of Cheran Chengutuvan the Chera emperor of Kerala during the early Sangham age wrote his ancient classical Tamil epic Silapatikaram. I missed my camera all the while.

My Kawasaki near the Koi-waterlily pond made by Arun in our boddhi garden, Gandhinagar, Kottayam. May 2011

The Tirukunavayil Kottam or Mathilakam was an ancient Jain and Buddhist center and the Siva temple is a relic of the ancient Sramana heritage converted after the 10th century by Brahmanism and its most virile and violent Sudra henchmen.

Pink waterlily and its close companion at Kumarakom

The late P K Gopalakrishnan the radical local historian and writer who has extensively written about the place and its Sramana antiquity was from Panangad just south of Mathilakam.  I felt like reading PKG once again as I crossed these ancient  regions on my Kawasaki motorcycle that enjoys a love-hate relationship with many friends for its Japanese Buddhist design and looks.

Motorcycle and the art of enlightenment: My Kawasaki well into the sixth year of service

Passing Panangad I reached Kodungallur shrine and rested a while underneath the huge Banyans named after several households from Malabar and Travancore.  I remembered the struggles by Sahodaran Ayyappan to ban the animal sacrifice at Kodungallur Bharani during the early 20th century.

Lesser Whistling Teals resting in Thrissur Vadakechira, Dec 2010

In the temple premise I tried to locate the exact Banyan beneath which there was an attempt on Sahodaran’s  life while speaking against bloody and violent cults; so sensitively narrated by Adv K A Subramanyam and Prof M K Sanu in their respective biographies.  And then proceeded to Cheraman mosque the earliest mosque outside West Asia and the first one in India founded by Malik Bin Dinar in 629 AD.

A view of Malabar coast at sunrise from Arabian sea. Sept 2010 taken during the first pelagic survey

It is also important to remember that an ordinary Muslim tradesman saved the life of Sahodaran as he was beaten up and chased by upper caste henchmen to end his life near this ancient Pally that is just a few hundred meters from the temple.

White lotus in Kanjangad: So dear to the enlightened ones

It is also interesting to note that Kodungallur Kunjikuttan Thampuran has even gone to the extend of describing this Pally as an ancient Buddhist Pally in the early centuries of the Christian era. According to biographers Sahodaran was given asylum inside his shop by the Muslim tradesman and he defiantly guarded and chased away the henchmen and hooligans of Brahmanism with an unleashed dagger drawn from his belt.

Inspiring Wings of mobility: White-bellied Sea Eagle of Malabar coast

The officials allowed me to enter into the old 7th century central chamber and I saw the ancient wood carvings, the pulpit and hanging bronze lamp with ancient Vatezhuthu (old Malayam-Tamil script)  inscriptions used in the olden days. The museum of the Pally is also valuable in many ways.

A machine can take you to people, places, pasts, nature, cultures... especially a soulful one like my Kawasaki... it is a vehicle of imagination and freedom of expression in terms of space and time...

Then by crossing the Kottapuram Kayal reached Muthakunnam, Maliyankara and Pattanam – all resonant with the pasts of Kerala and its historical linkages with the world and radical reformers who shaped our society and cultures.  Crossing the Vadakekara bridge I reached North Paravur and straight away visited the Jew street and ancient synagogue that is being renovated now by Kerala Tourism Department.

River Meenachil at Thazhathangady. May 2011

Site engineer Radhakrishnan from Iritty showed me around this marvelous monument in laterite and wood.  The oldest and biggest synagogue in Kerala would be welcoming the cultural enthusiasts and researchers in a few months.  Only a few Jew Pallys are left in Kerala that include the ones at Paravur, Chennamangalam, Mala and Mattanchery.

8th c. Thazhathangady Jumath Pally, Kottayam

Then I visited my friend Kannan of Prakruti Graphics, Paravur and after taking lunch resumed my journey to Idapally through Cheriyapally and Varapuzha. In between I also visited Varapuzha Pally breifly but could not get inside the ancient structure.  After resting a few hours in a book shop inside the  Oberon mall, Idapally I resumed my journey to Kottayam.  Though plenty of books on Gandhi and Chanakya are abundant in this hi-fi bookshop I was wooed by some books on birds and a German author who wrote about India and Asia.

Artist Vinod Francis drawing waterlilies at Thazhathangady on river Meenachil. 29 May 2011

Accidentally I read Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten and was deeply engaged with the narrative on the enlightened Jesus who is also called a Boddhisatva in Gandhara Buddhism and in Kashmiri and Kabuli Sufi tradition.  I resumed my ride to Kottayam through Vytila, Thripunithura, Vaikom and Thalayolaparambu, the homeland of Basheer and reached home in Gandhinagar at 7.30pm.

The Time Machine: Motorcycling is mobility, freedom and education on culture and nature

Fortunately the summer showers in Ernakulam and Kottayam districts that keep the regions cooler and greener than the other parts of Kerala this summer spared me and my long ride on the Kawasaki that still lures the children and the young in mind with its Japanese Buddhist design elements, fun looks and flowing curves and cool contours.

Beauty of black buddha: 9th c. granite Buddha recovered at Mavelikara

After reaching home I found out that my bike’s fifth birthday is over; it was on 12th May 2011.  I think even machines have spirit and soul and they could enlighten us humans in various respects.  The sights and sounds of sea coasts, rivers, high mountains, wetlands, people and the ancient Pallys at Thalangara, Ponnani, Kodungallur and the one in Thazhathangady are unforgettable and exciting in many ways.

Kovalam. May 2011