Jain Sage in a Hindu Temple: Paruvassery Pallyara

Jaina Thirthankara idol in Paruvassery Pallyara Bhagavathy temple, Vadakanchery, 26 Jan 2012

Paruvassery temple near Vadakanchery in Alathur taluk of Palakad district is an ancient shrine of Jain antiquity.  It is around 5km north of Vadakanchery town on NH 47 between Thrissur and Palakkad.  It is locally called Pallyarakavu showing clear linkages to Pally the Pali word signifying a non Hindu sacred space.  The key word Kavu also signify the Buddhist antiquity of the shrine as Kavu means Kanyakavu or Kanyastree or the Buddhist nun the Bhikuni who nurtured the sacred groves from Asokan times onwards in Kerala. Now it is a Hindu temple and is called Pallyara Bhagavathy temple where the idol of the goddess is worshiped in the central shrine.  The granite idol of the Jain Thirthankara is placed  outside the Nalambala complex in a roofless shrine towards north west.  It is facing east.  The temple is facing north and is surrounded by wooded domestic plots.  There is also a Siva temple nearby with a small sacred grove with Naga deities and a large pond nearby.

Paruvassery Pallyarakavu temple, Thirthankara shrine towards left, outside the complex

The temple overlooks vast paddy fields and a lotus pond.  Nelliampathy Mountains dote the background with a few Palmyra palms in the foreground.  A Pipal and mango tree stand before the temple in deep embrace.  When I visited the place with friend Madhavadas from Thrissur in the evening of 26 Jan 2012 there were plenty of birds around.  Parakeets and Mynas were vocal on the great Pipal.  Jacanas were busy in the drying lotus pond.  Small Green Bee-eaters were sitting pretty on the electric wire as if they were ruminating over the Sramana past of the place.  Palm swifts were flying around and egrets were returning to their roosts.

Open shrine in which Thirthankara idol is kept outside the Paruvassery Pallyarakavu temple

The Jina idol is in black granite and is around two feet high.  Yaksha and Yakshi figures adorn its left and right.  The iconic three-tied umbrella is clearly visible over the head of the sage.  This Jain marker confirms the religious affiliation of the statue.  The Jina is seated in Padmasana and early interpreters like Anujan Achan in Ramavarma Research Institute Bulletin Vol. VI, Part II, Trichur mistook the image as that of Buddha.  But his prudent observation on the Buddhist antiquity of the regions close to Kutiran and Vadakum Nadhan shrine are still valid. As in the case of other Jain centres like Iringalakuda it could be having a Jain interim period from eighth to fifteenth century CE. Iringalakuda was modified into a Brahmanical shrine after the 1340 floods under the chairmanship of Azhvancheri.

The face and head of the relief is mutilated and it could be a clear imprint of obliteration attempts during the takeover and conversion of the temple into a Hindu Brahmanical one.  This mutilation mark is also similar to the destructive mark on the Jina image at Kallil temple near Perumbavur and the half demolished Buddha at Karumady, popularly known as karumady Kuttan.

Ayyappa shrine near Pallyara temple. Said to be Swayambhu. Having Jain and Buddhist antiquity

Historians and researchers like M R Raghava Varier, K T Ravivarma, V V K Valath and others have recorded and written extensively on the Jain antiquity of Paruvassery Bhagavathy temple.  It shows the modification of Sramana shrines into Hindu Brahmanical temples that occurred in the period from 8-12thcenturies in Kerala.  The general pattern is changing the sub deities of goddesses or Yakshis attending the Thirthankaras into main deities called Bhagavathy or goddess and cleverly excluding and erasing the main deity in a systematic way.  Another small shrine towards a few miles east now dedicated to Ayyappa is also having Jain and Buddhist antiquity as it is referred as Swayambhu or self originate.  The pre existing Sramana temples and idols were termed as Swayambhu by Brahmanism all over south India. The examples at Kallil and Paruvassery show such iconographic and architectural modifying strategies of Brahmanical invasion, amnesia and erasure in Kerala.

Madhavadas before Paruvassery Pallyara temple


Ravivarma, K T.  Pandathe Malayalakara

Valath, V V K.  Thrissur Jilla

—-.  Palakad Jilla

Variar, M R. Jainamatam Keralatil

Nelliampathy ranges beyond the paddyfields at Paruvassery

Kallil: The Last Surviving Relic of Jainism in Central Kerala

The huge granite structure that houses the shrine
The huge granite structure that houses the shrine

Kallil is a rock-cut temple in central Kerala.  It is located a few miles east of Perumbavur in Ernakulam district near Odakali.  According to historians like V V K Valath and P K Gopalakrishnan who have done extensive field studies and archival research in the local history of Ernakulam district it was a Jain temple till the7th or 8th century.  The early 20th century commentators have also pointed out the Jain ancestry of the Kallil Pisharady.

Thirthankara image on the mantle
Thirthankara image on the mantle

In the ancient Tamilakam Adikal denoted a Jain sage as in Ilanko Adikal the legendary Jain saint (who was the brother of Cheran Chenguttuvan the Chera emperor), who composed The Silapathikaram the Tamil Sramana epic at (Thrikana)Mathilakam, a few miles west of Kallil near the coast and north of Kodungallur also known as the ancient port of Vanchi or Muziris. It can be reasonably assumed that this rock structure was converted into a Hindu temple after the onslaught of Brahmanism that wiped out Buddhist and Jain cultures from Kerala in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries through coveted  royal patronage and usurpation.  The historians record that the idols of Mahavira, Parswanatha and Padmavathi Devi were found from the temple.  We can still see the relief of the Jaina Thirthankara on the rock surface above the front opening.

Elephant Icon a Jain Mudra
Elephant Icon a key Asokan icon and a Jain Mudra

The cave shrine is housed on top of a small hillock.  the top of the shrine is covered naturally by a huge granite rock.  There are also images of Naga deities in front of the shrine.  Now the image of the Devi is worshiped as a Hindu godess.  There is also a rock carving or shallow etching of an elephant image at the back of the shrine, which again is a confirmed Jain icon or Mudra. As Gajotama or the exquisite elephant image is a key Asokan icon representing the Buddha the Asokan missionary antiquity of the place and shrine is also evident. There are also ancient ponds and tanks that offer clear drinking water nearby.  The mineral water springs also confirm the fact that this was an ancient Jain Thirtha or forest cave shrine with a mineral spring that attracted devotees from far and near. We have similar relics of Jain temples in Wayanad in Sulthan Bathery and Mananthavady.  In Palghat a Jain Basti still survives and a few families too.  the place is called Jaina Medu.    But these regions are close to the Karnataka plateau and are exceptions in the cultural geography and history of Kerala.


Valath, V V K.  Keralathile Sthala Nama Charithrangal: Ernakulam Jilla.  Thrissur:  Kerala Sahitya Academy, 1991.

Gopalakrishnan, P K.  Keralathinte Samskarika Charithram.  Trivandrum:  Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2009.

—,  Jainamatham Keralthil.  Trivandrum:  Prabhat, 1992.