Tag Archives: the siddha of Kayikara

Boddhisatva Idols from Kerala: Modification of Utariya into Sacred Thread and the Problems of Misrepresentation

Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram, Chempazhanti. Recovered and installed by John Dharma Teerthar some 75 years ago. Mark the minimalist Utariya over the left shoulder.

Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram, Chempazhanti. Recovered and installed by John Dharma Teerthar some 75 years ago. Mark the minimalist Utariya over the left shoulder.

The Boddhisatva idol in a deeply engrossed meditating stance at Chempazhanthy by the birthplace and natal hut of Narayana Guru has become a familiar figure to most of the visitors. It was recovered in early 20th century by his disciple Swami John Dharma Teertha (formerly Chatanattu Parameswara Menon) from an ancient Buddhist site close to Vayalvaram house (the region including Patira Pally, Kunnam Pally Konam and Ilaya Pally Konam) and installed at the birth place of his spiritual master; often called the “Kerala Buddha” and “Sri Narayana Buddha” by poet disciples like Sahodarn Ayyapan and Pandit Karupan.

Boddhisatva idol from Karapuram/Chertala. Raja Leelasana posture, hairdo and ornaments are marked features

Boddhisatva idol from Karapuram/Chertala. Raja Leelasana posture, hairdo and ornaments are marked features. Now displayed in Krishnapuram palace state archaeology museum with the tag “Sasta”

In Kayikara the birthplace of another disciple of Nanu Asan, that of poet N Kumaranasan, stands another granite idol that joins hands in lotus bud posture in life size. It is also identified by scholars as a Buddhist idol depicting the Siddha or Upasaka figure in Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana that sustained in Kerala till 14th and 15th centuries in disguise struggling through Hindu Bhakti waves of Saivism and Vaishnavism. It is also called Tozhuvan or the one who is in the lotus bud pose joining the hands in a devotional stoop. There are place names all over Kerala involving the Tozhuvan affix like Tozhuvankode, Tozhuvanur, Tozhuvankonam etc. The point is that all the three major schools of Buddhism have their sculptural relics and archeological remains in Kerala in transformed ways. The Teravada Buddhas in Mavelikara, Karumady, Kayamkulam etc are associated to the early Anuradhapura style unique to Elam and Keralam. The Mahayana Boddhisatva idols are converted to Muruka, Ayyappa and Kanna in current Hidnu temples from the middle ages onwards. The Vajrayana Siddhas and Tara Devis began to be increasingly called as Tozhuvans and Hindu Bhagavatis in the post middle ages. In the sixteenth century Chennas wrote Tantra Samuchayam and absorbed the Tantric Buddhist deities into the Tantric Brahmanic mode, eventually completing the take over.

Vajrayana idol at Kayikara Asan Memorial. Locally called Tozhuvan. A Siddha/Upasaka figure in Vajrayana in Kerala. Jan 2015

Vajrayana idol at Kayikara Asan Memorial. Locally called Tozhuvan. A Siddha/Upasaka figure in Vajrayana in Kerala. Author with idol, Jan 2015

The recent discovery and identification of two Boddhisatva idols in Thrissur and Ernakulam districts in late 2014, are important and vital connections in understanding the Hinduization of early Buddhist shrines and idols in Kerala. The Avalokiteswara idols are crucial links in the transformation and modification to the Hindu Sasta cult a combination of Saiva, Vaishnava compromise done on Buddhist and Jain deities.
Avittatur is a village near Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district of Kerala. Irinjalakuda as the name shows was a Jain and Buddhist centre till the middle ages say historians. Alavattam or ceremonial white whisk made with Yak hair and rounded majestic hold along with Mutukuda or sacred jewelled umbrella are key Sramana icons safely embedded in the place name.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Ayyanchira pond in Avittatur in late 2014. Photo by Abi Tumboor. Now in state archeological museum Thrissur.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Ayyanchira pond in Avittatur near Irinjalakuda in late 2014. Photo by Abi Tumboor. Now in state archeological museum Thrissur.

Local legend has it that Irinjalakuda was ruled till the middle ages by a dalit (after the middle ages) ruler called Ayyan Chirukandan. A sword related to his life is still preserved in the Nambadan household nearby. Ayyan or Ayyar is an old Tamil word for the Buddha in ancient Tamilakam (Chera, Chola and Pandya lands) as Putan, Neelan, Kuttan, Tankan, Ponnan, Nanappan, Nagappan etc. There are several Ayyan Kavus and Putan Kavus in Kerala.

Avittatur or Agasteswara Putur has its etymological origin in Avalokiteswara Putur. Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva of Vajrayana was called Akatiya in old Tamil and that is why the ancient seat of Avalokiteswara at the summit of Potiyil Malai is called Akatiya Malai. This was later Hinduized as Agastya Malai and Agastya Koodam in the middle ages. In this analogy Agsteswaram is Akatiyesaram or Avalokiteswaram and Putur is just the village of Putan or Putar or the Buddha. This double signifiers related to Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism (Avalokiteswara) and Teravada or early Buddhism (Putur) that was implanted here by the missionaries of Asoka in BC 3rd century show the prolonged connection with different schools of Buddhism over the ages; i.e. from BC 3rd century to the middle ages up to the 14th or 15th century. On the eastern coast in Nagapattinam and Tanjavur Buddhism was thriving even in the 16th century. Some of the Pallys or Viharas and Stupas on the Coromandal coast stood up to the British colonial times in 18th century.

Mavelikara Buddha. Related to early Teravada in Anuradhapura style. Recovered from the marsh near current Hindu temple and installed by the road in 1923 by the people.

Mavelikara Buddha. Related to early Teravada Buddhism in Kerala in Anuradhapura style. Recovered from the marsh near current Hindu temple and installed by the road in 1923 by the people. See the old style normal Utariya above left shoulder that shrunk in later Vajrayana age.

In late 2014 a granite idol was recovered from the ancient pond called Ayyan Chira at Avittatur. Ayyan Chira is named after Ayyan Chirukandan the old (dalit) Buddhist chief of the region. This looked more than a millennium old and was similar to the Boddhisatva idol recovered a few years ago from Karapuram or Chertala in Alapuzha district of Kerala. Prof P O Purushotaman in his book Buddhante Kalpadukal (Thrissur: Current, 2008) or the Footprints of the Buddha has given the clear image of this idol and identified it as Avalokiteswara Boddhisatva. His consort Tara Devi the female Vajrayana deity was also recovered from Karapuram. Prof Purushotaman has printed both the images to prove his point beyond doubt in the book. But unfortunately Kerala Archeology Dept Museum at Krishnapuram palace exhibits the Avalokiteswara idol with the tag “Sasta.” Sasta or Dharma Sasta is a synonym for the Buddha, but it is also a later Hinduized name that is used for Ayyappa. Actually as we have seen earlier Ayyappa is a Hinduized later version of Avalokiteswara.

Tara demonized as Yakshi in Trikariyur temple. Similar idols of Tara are found in Yakshi and Rakshas modifications in Kulatupuzha and Neelamperur temples.

Tara demonized as Yakshi in Trikariyur temple. Similar idols of Tara are found in Yakshi and Rakshas modifications in Kulatupuzha and Neelamperur temples.

Prof Purushotaman clearly mentions the distinctions of the Avalokiteswara idols. Elaborate hairdo, ornaments on the hair, ear, neck, hands, waist, feet etc. form a distinct feature of the Avalokiteswara figures. The seating posture of Raja Leelasana or Ardha Padmasana also connects it to the Buddhist idols in Vajrayana and Mayana practices in north India, Tibet, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Korea or Japan. The stylized and decorated minimal Utariya is often misrepresented as the Brahman sacred thread by the Kerala Archeology Dept and the idols are interpreted as the Hinduized Sasta and belonging to the post 13th century period. But actually as the stone type, chiselling and iconography reveal these are older than the middle ages and could date back to 7th – 9th century AD and are Buddhist in iconography and cultural markers. Local researchers and historians like Abhi Tumbur, Saifudeen and Krishnakumar were instrumental in the current identification of the idol as a Buddhist one, through elaborate discussions through the social media. Unfortunately it is handed over to the state Archeology Dept Museum Thrissur and they are yet to put it on display. As per the RIT information their iconographic Lakshana texts prompt them to term it also as “Sasta” with the “sacred thread.”

Boddhisatva idol recovered in Dec 2014 from Ponjasery Pukulam temple pond. See the elaborate hairdo, ornaments and minimalist Utariya in true Tantric Vajrayana style.

Boddhisatva idol recovered in Dec 2014 from Ponjasery Pukulam temple pond. See the elaborate hairdo, ornaments and minimalist Utariya in true Tantric Vajrayana style.

In December 2014 another similar Boddhisatva image was found in the pond near the Pukulam temple near Ponjasery on the Aluva-Perumbavur road. Mr Ismayil Pallypram a local historian and researcher was instrumental in bringing it to the media discourse. The priest himself confirmed that the thread like thing over the left shoulder is not a Brahmanical sacred thread or Punool but a minimal Utariya and the idol could be Buddhist in origin. The tie of knot is visible on the minimal rounded Utariya like the ones worn by people enacting the post cremation rituals even today. The same rope like Utariya is also visible on the Boddhisatva idol at Vayalvaram house. Elaborate hairdo, ornaments, seating posture and the abandoned state in the pond below the current Hindu temple confirm the Buddhist identity of the sculpture. It is also split into two at the waist. Local residents and temple committee members like Mr Aji also informed that he has seen the stone pedestal of the idol in his younger age lying in the muddy pond.

Ancient Naga deities in a Kavu or sacred shrine in Pala. Conservationist culture of early Buddhism is reflected in Kavu culture. Kavu means Kanyakavu or the nuns who composed Terigadha.

Ancient Naga deities in a Kavu or sacred shrine in Pala. Conservationist culture of early Buddhism is reflected in Kavu culture. Kavu means Kanyakavu or the Boudha nuns who composed texts like Terigadha.

It must be remembered that all the Buddhist idols so far recovered from Kerala were unearthed from temple ponds or marshes close to current caste Hindu temples. Mavelikara, Kayamkulam, Karumady, Pattanam etc are examples of such chanced recovery from Hindu temple vicinity. Utariya, Ushnisha and Jwala are the common markers of the early Teravada Buddhas in Anuradhapura style in Kerala. But in Mayana and Vajrayana Boddhisatva idols we have much more charming and dashing male seductive figures with moving postures, ornamental elaborate hairdo and jewellery. The misinterpretation and hideous misrepresentation of the minimalistic short Utariya as sacred thread is the covetous strategy through which caste Hindu lobbies in the state department of Archeology are reappropriating the sculptures to the Hindu fold. It must be remembered by the people that it was the same Savarna caste Hindu forces that assimilated most of the early Jain and Buddhist shrines and idols as numerous Hindu deities with minor modifications in names and attire. It must also be remembered that most of the invaluable icons of the Sramana age were abandoned and disposed in rivers and water bodies by the Brahamanical priestocracy in the ritual called Nimajjana by saying that an old broken idol is an evil omen.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Pukulam temple pond at Ponjasery near Aluva. Broken into two and probably disposed in the ancient Chira or tank with perennial spring.

Boddhisatva idol recovered from Pukulam temple pond at Ponjasery near Aluva. Broken into two and probably demolished and disposed in the ancient Chira or tank with perennial spring that watered the surrounding paddy fields.

When people recover these deposed, demolished, fissured and disposed idols again from the soil and identify their true Amana or Chamana heritage; Brahmanism and Savarna Hindu ideologues in the media and state cultural institutions again mark them with a Hindu hegemonic tag and a sacred thread that re-entangles them in the metaphysics of the second sacred birth. But the mockery is that the same forces of the sacred thread are reluctant to give the same dubious Brahmanical tag thread to the home returnees in their reconversion programme called Ghar Vapsi. The Maharajs and Sadhvis have made it clear that the home returnees will return to their old Sudra or Chandala Kulas and Gotras. It is high time that the people must realize such mass deceptions and cultural hegemony parading as “sacred religion and tradition” and reject the growing Hinduization of public treasures and archaeological relics.

The Sacred Grove in Tozhuvanur: Metamorphosis of Siddha into Durga

Tozhuvan figure at the base of the stone lamp post before the Tozhuvanur temple, Kavumpuram, Walanchery.  It is similar to the Siddha idol of Kayikara in posture and in attire.

Tozhuvan figure at the base of the stone lamp post before the Tozhuvanur temple, Kavumpuram,Valanchery. It is similar to the Siddha idol of Kayikara in posture and in attire.  Siddha is a saintly figure in Tantra traditions.

Tozhuvanur means the land of the Tozhuvan or the one who is in the Pranama posture.  There are place names in south Kerala after the mysterious Tozhuvan as Tozhuvankod and Tozhuvankonam.  In the Malapuram district in Malabar there is a place called Tozhuvaanur a few miles north of Valanchery.

This ancient sacred grove is situated near Kavumpuram on NH 47 between Valanchery and Kanjipura.  Kavumpuram literally means the periphery of the sacred shrine as Kutipuram is the periphery of the Kuti or Kottam or Vattam (a Jain or Buddhist shrine).

The western gateway of Tozhuvanur Durga temple.  The ancient trees and creepers are still growing in the Kavu or ancient sacred grove in the memory of a nun.

The western gateway of Tozhuvanur Durga temple. The ancient trees and creepers are still growing in the Kavu or the ancient sacred grove in the memory of a nun.

Kavu is a sacred grove in Kerala named after the Kanya Kavu or the Buddhist nun as Buddhist nuns planted and nurtured the culture of Sangharamas or sacred gardens and groves in Kerala through their literacy, healthcare and conservationist missionary work as the ecological and ethical base of their mission or the Sangha.  It was Sangha Mitra the daughter of Asoka and a leading nun who carried the layered cutting of the Boddhi tree from Gaya to Sri Lanka and planted and nurtured it in Anuradhapura.

It is clear from the place name Kavumpuram that the place housed a big Kavu or sacred shrine grove from the ancient times onwards.  Now a Durga temple or Bhagavati temple is situated amidst this ancient grove with numerous old world plants.  This is also counted among the most sacred group of 108 Durga shrines in Kerala.

The southern entrance to the temple and the ancient stone lamp post in the foreground.  The shrine faces south unusually. 25 march 2013.

The southern entrance to the temple and the ancient stone lamp post in the foreground. The shrine faces south unusually. 25 march 2013.

In the stone lamp post or Kalvilaku before the shrine that faces south, there is a bass relief of the Tozhuvan or a human figure in Pranama at its base.  This is very similar to the Tozhuvan or Siddha idol of Kayikara south of Varkala that is associated with the Vajrayana school of Buddhism in Kerala.  It is clear that this place got the name from this Siddha figure in Pranama and this ancient shrine grove was a Tantric Buddhist shrine at some moment in the past, most probably up to the early middle ages.

It is also interesting to note that Tozhuvankod temple near Trivandrum belongs to an Avarna Kalari household.  They were the Kalari Gurukals (martial arts masters) of the infamous Ettuveetars (Ettuveetil Pillais) who were ruthlessly annihilated by Marthanda Varma in the 18th century in Travancore.  Tozhuvankod literally means the cornering land strip of the Tozhuvan.  It is the family temple of an Ezhava Kalari household.  It is also vital to note that there was no caste or religious restriction in the access to the temple from ancient times onwards.  The lack of caste untouchability and inclusion of all and the practice of health care and self defense prove the Buddhist connection and antiquity.  I am thankful to my friends Srilal and Stanley to point out this after reading my early draft.

Tozhuvanur Durga temple, Kavumpuram, Valanchery.  The huge banyan is seen in the back ground in the north eastern corner.  It is a museum of rare plants and a memorial of local history.

Tozhuvanur Durga temple, Kavumpuram, Valanchery. The huge banyan is seen in the back ground in the north eastern corner. It is a little sanctuary of rare plants and a cultural memorial of local history.

There is a banyan on the north eastern corner of the grove above the current temple and a Pipal towards the south beneath.  The idol is said to be self incarnate or Swayam Bhu.  As in Kadampuzha or Chamravattam there is a pit in its place.  It is evident that the original installation or the early Buddhist idol was removed and a subsidiary escorting goddess was substituted later in the middle ages .  There is also a legend about Vilwamangalam Swamiyar checking the power and grace of this grove.  So it is clear that the shrine was originally Sramana and was later appropriated by Brahmanic Hinduism by removing the main idol and raising the sub deity into prominence.

Siddha idol at Kayikara in Pranama posture also called Tozhuvan.  This traditional deity is locally called Chithan a vernacular version of the Siddha.  See the resemblance in the posture, broad shoulders and the loincloth.

Siddha idol at Kayikara in Pranama posture, also called Tozhuvan. This traditional deity is locally called Chithan a vernacular version of the Siddha. See the resemblance in the posture, broad shoulders and the loincloth. The image of the Siddha was central to Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism in Kerala

In Kadampuzha it was Sankara who did the re-installation according to legend.  In Chamravattam it is said to be a Sambara Maharshi and in Tozhuvanur it could be Vilwamangalam.  This kind of metamorphosis or disguise or forced formal transformations have occurred in plenty of ancient sacred places in Kerala including the Andalur Kavu in Talassery, Kallil temple near Perumbavur and Paruvassery Pallyara near Vadakanchery.  The sacred grove at Tozhuvanur still has rare and medicinal plants and shrubs and needs protection from the local people and the temple goers.  This ancient treasure house of natural and cultural history can tell us a lot about our society and its ancient foundations.