Tag Archives: south india and buddhism

Buddhism in Tamil Nadu

Buddha at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, marked 11th century AD

Buddha at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, marked 11th century AD

Theodore Bhaskaran on Buddha at Tanjavur in the Hindu

Dakshinamurty fragment in Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, showing remarkable similarities with the above Buddha with the Bodhi tree and hairdo indicating the appropriation of Buddhist iconography into Saivite art in Tamilakam

Dakshinamurty fragment in Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, showing remarkable similarities with the above Buddha with the Bodhi tree and hairdo indicating the appropriation of Buddhist iconography into Saivite art in Tamilakam in early middle ages

Read Dr Jambulingam’s writings on Buddhism in the Chola Country

Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

The fresco and stone reliefs featuring the Buddha in Tanjavur Big temple or Brihadiswara temple is interpreted in many ways by scholars and pundits. Theodore Bhaskaran keeps alive the sceptical tradition in his 2004 piece in the Hindu. It is also found in Odisha that the 7th or 8th century Siva/Devi temples are having images/motifs similar to the Buddhist Viharas. It is generally interpreted as an act by the Viswakarma artisans who worked for all these monuments.
But considering the violent fanatic nature of the Saivite forces and kings who monitored the making of the new Hindu temples in early middle ages such aberrations by artisans are literally impossible. The abandoning of the Big temple in Tanjavur by Rajendra Chola the son of Rajaraja soon after its construction in AD 1010 and the religion of Rajaraja the father are in deep mystery.
The presence of the Buddha with the Bo tree at more than three different locations in the Tanjavur Big temple proves its ancient Buddhist legacy. It is also interesting to note that Dr Jambulingam a local archaeologist has recovered almost 65 Buddha idols from the Kaveri delta itself in the last few decades. Tanjavur Palace Museum is having more than five Buddha idols, some of them in standing posture and more than five feet tall, all in simple Teravada style.
Tiruchirapally Govt Museum is also having more than three huge sculptures of the Buddha. Acharya Buddha Duta Mahatero a Buddhist scholar of the fifth century AD is believed to have lived in the vicinity of Tiruchirapally, near Srirangam and Uraiyur. Six feet tall granite sculpture of Buddha Duta was found in a current Siva temple in Putamangalam near Uraiyur.
The origin story of Tillai Kovil in Chidambaram is also shrouded in mystery. As the sacred tree belonging to the mangrove variety called Tillai and the antiquity and unique architecture of the sanctum are also connected to the sacred groves of Buddhism and the basic principle of conservation of life rather than destruction and cosmic dance done on the back of the opponent rendered as demon. Saivite take over and transformation of Buddhist shrines in Tamilakam in the 6th to 8th century is the general pattern that we can recognize in the cultural and discursive geography.

Buddha 2 at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum

Buddha 2 at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum

A lion pillar at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, recovered along with the Buddha 1. Dhamma Simhas or lions were key motifs in Buddha Pallys or Viharas

A lion pillar at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, recovered along with the Buddha 1 above. Dhamma Simhas or lions of ethics were key motifs in Buddha Pallys or Viharas

Buddha 3 at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, seems to be of later middle ages.

Buddha 3 at Tiruchirapally Govt Museum, seems to be of later middle ages. The hallow marks it as Mayana style.

Buddha 2 at Tanjavur Palace Museum. The Mayana style hallow is added and not part of the original Teravada sculpture.

Buddha 2 at Tanjavur Palace Museum. The Mayana style hallow is added and not part of the original Teravada sculpture. So is the frontal piece.

A standing Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

A standing Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

Seated Buddha 3 at Tanjavur Palace Museum

Seated Buddha 3 at Tanjavur Palace Museum

Panel reliefs depicting the Buddha under the Bodhi tree in Big temple, Tanjavur also called Brihadiswara temple built in early 11th century AD by Rajaraja Chola. This one on the eastern side of the southern exit from sanctum.

Panel reliefs depicting the Buddha under the Bodhi tree in Big temple, Tanjavur also called Brihadiswara temple built in early 11th century AD by Rajaraja Chola. This one on the eastern side of the southern exit from sanctum.

Another panel relief featuring the Buddha under the Bo tree on the western side of the inner or second eastern tower or Gopura in Big temple Tanjavur.

Another panel relief featuring the Buddha under the Bo tree on the western side of the inner or second eastern tower or Gopura in Big temple Tanjavur.

The author, Ajay Sekher in Big temple at Tanjavur. This Siva temple was built in AD 1010 by Rajaraja Chola, but it shows remarkable Buddhist connections in fresco and reliefs.

The author, Ajay Sekher in Big temple at Tanjavur. This Siva temple was built in AD 1010 by Rajaraja Chola, but it shows remarkable Buddhist connections in fresco and reliefs. The inner fresco gallery is now closed to visitors.

The author, Ajay Sekher with the Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

The author, Ajay Sekher with the Buddha at Tanjavur Palace Museum

Read Peter Schalk’s essay “Buddhism among the Tamils”

Grasslands and Wooded Hilltops of Western Ghats: Kutikanam, Pallykanam, Cherupallykulam and Panjaseelamed

Megalithic stone pillars and menhirs at Panjalimed.  The old name is Cherupally Kavu or Kapalu Venga an ancient grassland shola south west of Kutikanam or the Kanam with a Kuti (Pally or Vihara).  Photo taken by Anirudh Raman

Megalithic stone pillars and menhirs at Panjalimed. The old name is Cherupally Kulam or Kapalu Venga, an ancient grassland shola south west of Kutikanam or the Kanam with a Kuti (Pally or Vihara) at around 1000m high, west of Peerumed.       Photo taken by Anirudh Raman

Kanam is a well wooded hill top in south Indian parlance and especially in the western or Kerala side of the Western Ghats. The Place now called Kuttikanam in the Western Ghats east of Peruvantanam and west of Peerumed could be a modified version of Kutikanam as a Pallykanam exists in distorted form (as Pullykanam) in Vagaman a few miles north. Kuti and Pally mean the ancient Buddhist Vihara, Stupa or Chaitya. So Pallykanam and Kutikanam are the same. It means a wooded hilltop with a Pally or Kuti or Kottam or Vattam, since all these words refer to Buddhist or Jain holy places and monuments.

Beore the big menhir at Panjalimed with Anirudh.  A left hand self click in good morning light.

Before the big menhir at Panjalimed (Cherupallykulam originally) with Anirudh. A left hand self click in good morning light.

More over Mundakayam that strongly establishes a Munda or shaven head Buddhist past (shaven head of the monks prompted people to call them Munda) is lying in the adjacent western slopes of this region. The nearby Taluk that skirts the region from the west is called Kanjirapally the Vihara with a Kanjiram tree marker. Further west we come across Mallapally, Mariapally, Puthupally, Manalepally, Kuvapally, Ilampally and so on and so forth. Some of the Pallys are changed over the ages into Pillys and Pullys. Like Pullykanam, Kolapully near Shornur is also a deliberately changed place name in the covetous act of erasing the past by Savarna forces who came to hegemony from the middle ages onwards by taking over these Pallys and casting away the people and turning the Pallys into caste Hindu temples.  The Buddhists who never submitted to Hindu Brahmanism were thus termed the Avarna or Chandala and they were even prohibited from coming near their own original sacred places.

Anirudh explaining the ancient technique of splitting the stone into slabs using drilling tools, wooden planks and water.

Anirudh explaining the ancient technique of splitting the stone into slabs using drilling tools, wooden planks and water.

The southern slope of Kutikanam is now called Cheruvally Kulam and it is certainly a modified or transgressed form of Cherupally Kulam, meaning the little Vihara and its sacred pond. The current place name Panjalimed is of recent etymological origin as the Ramayana and Bharata narratives and legends were established in popular oral culture only after the 14th century with the composition of Ramayana based regional verses including that of Ezhuthachan.  It can be inferred that the grassland shola above Cherupally Kulam was called Panjaseela made originally symbolic of the five egg heads of the grassland peaks and suggesting the five ethical practices of the enlightened one.  Through the cunning distortion of Panjaseelamed to Paanjaalimed the Savarna forces have erased the memory of the Cherupally its Kulam and the five grassland peaks symbolizing the five fold ethics, philosophy and praxis of enlightenment that flourished in Western Ghats for more than a millennium and acted as a link between Kerala and Tamilakam.

A stone idol of elephant at Panjalimed.  A similar one was found at Rajaparamed while working at Rajakumari GVHSS in 2010.  Could be part o the Tamil Sangham culture and iconography.

A stone idol of elephant at Panjaseelamed (Cherupallykulam). A similar one was found at Rajaparamed while working at Rajakumari GVHSS in 2009-2010. Could be part of the Tamil Sangham culture and iconography and the Buddhist regional and ecological animistic practices in the early common era.

When I visited the place with artist Anirudh Raman in late March 2013 we found plenty of prehistoric menhirs and stone pillars and idols on the top of Cherupallykulam or Panjaseelamed now dubbed as Panjalimed.  These granite relics belong to the megalithic age and could be almost ten thousand years old.  Anirudh says that the local Peruvantanam Panchayat documents show the place name as Kapalu Venga named after a big Venga tree resembiling a ship or used to build a ship. It is clear from these divergent names  that the place name Panjalimed is of recent origin and is a clear distortion of Panjaseelamed.

Naga deities in the current Durga temple at Panjalimed, late March 2013

Naga deities in the current Durga temple at Panjaseelamed, late March 2013.  Almost 1000m below Mundakayam and Kanjirapally regions in the backdrop.

It is also important to note that these places with Pally affixes are on the ancient civilizational trade route that connected the Pandya and Chola countries with Kerala (as Chera land)  through the Kumaly pass. Mangaladevi temple the first installation by Cheran Cheguttuvan the elder of Ilango Adigal who wrote the Silapatikaram was near Kumaly, second one at Kodungallur as Pathini and the third one at Atukal.  It is said that Kannaki after burning the Pandya capital at Madurai with her ripped off breasts like Nangeli of Cherthala just a few hundred years ago, took asylum in the Mangaladevi Kottam or Madantai Kottam at an elevation of 1000m and became a Buddhist nun.  This Amana shrine was converted violently into a Hindu temple by Sambandhar and his legion of bloody rabid assassins or Hindu henchmen who specialized in killing Chamana monks and raping nuns.  It is a mockery of history and democracy that the same practices are used by post modern Hindutva and Moditva Karsevaks and Padajas in Gujarat and Orissa and the current Sambandhar or Appar, Mr Naramedha Modi is going to be prime minister.  The people who forget history can not make history taught the neo buddha of India. It is vitaly important for the old Mlechas and Avarnas to remember these lessons of history in their current resistance and future struggles.

The origin of a stream in the grassland shola at Panjalimed.  It flows south west and joins the river Manimala and reaches the Vembanad.

The origin of a stream in the grassland shola at Panjalimed. It flows south west and joins the river Manimala and flowing through Mallapally reaches the Vembanad.

Buddhism and Jainism reached Kanjirapally taluk through this historic  trade route from Tamilakam and the western ghats regions were flourishing green groves of Buddhism in the early common era. In the early middle ages after the Brahmanical internal imperialist conquest and the Saiva-Vaishnava takeovers, all these regions were Hinduized and changed into caste temples and power centres of untouchability, purity and pollution. The Avarnas were chased away even from coming to the vicinity of these Savarna monopolized temples because the caste Hindus feared that the casted away people may unite and recapture their monuments and sacred places.  This is why untouchability and unseeability were forced into social practice.

An endemic flowering shrub in the grassland atop Panjalimed, late March 2013.

An endemic flowering shrub in the grassland atop Cherupallykulam also known as Kapalu Venga and Panjalimed, originally Panjaseelamed. late March 2013.

We continued our journey through this route to east and reached Kumaly and visited the modern sanctuary, Periyar Tiger Reserve at Tekady. It is apt to remember that it was the Buddhist nuns and monks who made the earliest Saranalayas or sanctuaries for domestic and wild animals especially under the patronage of Asoka the great as early as BC third century.  Sahodaran Ayyappan had reminded all Keralites on these ethical and conservationist legacy of Buddhism through his verses.

A herd of Sambhar Deer cooling themselves in Tekady lake just across the boat landing on a hot summer afternoon in late March 2013.

A herd of Sambhar Deer cooling themselves in Tekady lake just across the boat landing on a hot summer afternoon in late March 2013.

The old big nest of the white necked stork is no more near the landing but we saw plenty of other birds and small mammals including a herd of Sambhar Deer and Giant Squirrels near the landing.  It was the sacred land of Manan tribe.  Mullakudi and Tannikudi were Manan sacred groves and tribal hamlets  from where the river Periyar originates.  But they were degraded into Mannaan (distortion of Manan meaning the rulers of the land) and their Kovil Malai (mountain shrine) kingdom was distorted into Kozhi Malai (Rooster Mountain).  These word distortions and subsequent changes in meaning explain the gravity and heinous conspiracy of Savarna Hindu ideology manifesting in internal imperialism that is proving to be genocidal for natives.

A Pipit on the grassland top of Panjalimed, late March 2013.

A Pipit on the grassland top of Panjalimed, late March 2013.