Friday, September 10, 2010

Ayyappa is Buddha ?

TaktSang Monastery, Paro, Bhutan
 This article is not intended to question the faith or harm the sentiments of any devotee nor is it to disprove a popular view. It contains a bunch of arguments which appeared logical to me, majorly collected from internet and partly based on my observation, which gives an alternate perspective on the Dravidian God ‘Ayyappa’.
I recently went on a 4 day trip to Bhutan. I had heard in advance from a senior as well from the Tourist Guide that a trip to Bhutan is incomplete without a visit to the Taktsang monastery in the outskirts of Paro city.
So on one Friday early morning, we set out for our trek to Taktsang. It took us about 6 hours to complete the entire trek. It is a really tiring journey uphill, with slippery and steep portions, but the experience that we get at the top is worth the entire trouble. A view of the beautiful waterfall which sprinkles icy water as we cross a wooden bridge over the stream and the beautiful Taktsang Monastery - an awe inspiring structure, built on a vertical cliff, appearing to defy gravity is a once-in-lifetime experience.
I was amazed at the similarities between the monastery I saw and Sabarimala temple in Kerala that I have been to, many times.
The journey to the monastery involves a 3 hour trek from the road through the forest, similar to the trek to Sabarimala temple. Buddhist monasteries are generally located deep inside the forest, on mountain tops etc where they can lead an austere life peacefully and far from civilization, unlike Hindu temples which are mostly located in populated areas. Sabarimala is also located far inside the forest, in the middle of 18 hills in Western Ghats, the area coming under the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Just before the monastery, there are a series of steep steps, which reminded me of the “Pathinettam padi” or “18 steps” which takes us to the Sabarimala shrine. The legend related to Taktsang says that Guru Padmasambhava, who propagated Buddhism in Bhutan came to this place riding on a Tigress. Taktsang literally means “Tigers Nest”. Ayyappa’s legend also has a mention of him riding back home, on a tigress.
Even before going to Taktsang, I had read about the less popular view on Sabarimala and Ayyappa. There are quite a number of scholars who have given evidences to the fact that Sabarimala was actually a Buddhist shrine and Ayyappa was actually Buddha, rechristened during the revival of Hinduism and the subsequent exile of Buddhism.
 “Dharma Sastha”, the alternate name by which Ayyappa is known, suggests in similar lines. “Dharma” is a word which is of utmost importance to Buddhists. The 'Saranathrayam' of Buddhist disciples “Budham Saranam Gachami; Dharmam Saranam Gachami; Sangham Saranam Gachami” meaning “To the Buddha I go for refuge; To the Dharma (Teachings) I go for refuge; To the Sangha (Monks) I go for refuge” portrays Buddha and Dharma as destinations for ones refuge. Also “Sastha” is a widely used synonym for Buddha.
The chanting of Ayyappa devotees wherein they repeat the word Saranam is also interesting. There is no other Hindu God who is associated with the chanting of Saranam whereas it is an integral part of the Buddhist chants.
Ayyappa devotees making a pilgrimage are expected to lead an austere life for 41 days - follow celibacy and refrain from tobacco and alcohol and all carnal pleasures as well - unlikely of other Hindu pilgrimages. This is very much similar to the Buddhist principles which advocate renunciation and mental discipline.
Another interesting aspect to notice is the egalitarian nature of the Sabarimala temple. Devotees here are never differentiated on the basis of religion, caste or color. Everyone wears the same dress and addresses each other as “Ayyappa” or in other words each devotee considers each other as the God himself. This again isn’t in line with the Hindu system of differentiating people, but more similar towards the Buddhist principle of equality.
Ayyappa does not show his presence in any of the mainline Hindu scriptures, which are of Aryan origin. This is obvious as Ayyappa was a Dravidian God, who was absorbed into the Hindu mythology. Later Hindu works added him as Hariharaputra (Son of Vishnu and Shiva) who was born out of the love between Mohini(Vishnu) and Shiva.
The folk story of Ayyappa portrays him as the prince of Pandalam dynasty, the Pandalam King having adopted him on finding him as a baby in the shores of river Pampa. It is probable that the folk story was absorbed into the later Hindu scriptures, adding the missing link of the birth (story of Mohini and Shiva).
Ayyappa’s  legends speaks about him having a Muslim friend called Vavar who has helped Ayyappa. This also underlines the above fact, as Islam religion originated in mid AD 600s whereas most of the Hindu scriptures were composed in the BC era. The legend of Ayyappa must have originated at a time of religious harmony between Muslims and Hindus. The era of Pandalam Dynasty (1200-1500AD) of which Ayyappa’s legend is based on, also suggests the same.
It is interesting to note that Ayyappa is just one among the several Dravidian Gods including Tirupati Balaji, who convincingly seem to be rechristened forms of Buddha.
There is also convincing evidence that Buddhism had strong following in Kerala during early days. Lot of idols have been discovered across Kerala; the black granite statue of Buddha discovered in Alapuzha(Karumadikkuttan) being the most prominent. A 4 foot statue of Buddha has been discovered in Neyyattinkara as well. Karunagappally, Idappalli, Mavelikkara etc. have been pointed out as chief centers of Buddhism in early days.
Whatever be the truth behind it, with the limited knowledge that we have (and as history and mythology are never written by God himself), it is impossible to conclude on any of the presented views. It is actually immaterial to the millions of devotees of Ayyappa, to whom the egalitarian nature, the unique experience of controlling ones senses for an extended period, the toughness of the journey, the ambience and the energy felt among the devotees in the entire trip contributes to the ultimate satisfaction of the unique pilgrimage to Sabarimala.
Ayyappa and Sabarimala draw millions of devotees from across South India every year, making it the second largest annual religious gathering in the world after the Hajj.

On a lighter note, I feel this is an ideal topic for Dan Brown. He can start in his typical style – a Melshanti (priest) in Sabarimala getting killed on mysterious grounds, forcing the Travancore Devaswam board to bring Robert Langdon. He would then uncover lots of clues hidden across Kerala, Tirupati and some parts of North India, take some cues from Tibet and Bhutan and finally conclude that Ayyappa is actually Buddha. He can probably fall in love with the Meshanti’s beautiful daughter also, if he has enough time ;)



Nandu said...

I've already known about this years ago. Kerala was once a Buddhist bastion. Many places whose names ends with pally were actually buddhist viharas. Many hindu temples became buddhist temples and then during the revival of hinduism many became hindu again. But I dont see any difference betwen the teachings of buddha and vedanta. The concept of nirvana, karma, moksha, the oneness of all beings etc are there in Vedas, upanishads, gita and also the Buddhist teachings. The proclaimation of the vedas that the truth is Ekam Eva Adwitheeyam(One, without a second) itself is the teaching of Buddha. Truth being one, different sages cannot speak in different words. Those who have known the truth, whereever they be in the world, they speak the same words. Infact Ayyappa is buddha only, because Buddha means enlightened one. So I dont see any conflict between Buddhism and Vedanta. But as you said Hinduism has many superstitions and evil customs. Hinduism minus all those evil customs is Buddhism. So I believe Buddhism and vedanta is the essence of Indian spirituality. It proclaims universal Oneness of all beings. It teaches that Brahman(Not to be confused with brahma or brahmana. Brahman is the word used in vedanta to present the Supreme truth) alone exist. This Brahman is identical to atman or consciousness. That alone is the truth and it is our real essence. All this infinite names and forms that we see are illusions and not real. It exist in Brahman, the consciousness. So u and me really doesn't exist. U and me are that Supreme truth Brahman. That alone exist and this truth can be realised through meditation, which is what Buddha and many other sages discovered through deep meditation. This is what Sree Narayana Guru also proclaimed when he said "അവനിവനെന്നറിയുന്നതൊക്കെ ഓര്‍ത്താല്‍ അവനിയില്‍ ആദിമമായോരാത്മ രൂപം".

But i see another contradiction here. Buddha was said to be not interested in idol worship. But the buddhist built his idols and worshipped it, which i feel is part of hinduism. Hindu sages have envisioned temple worship in which they have brought in an excellent concept. The hindu temple worship is actually a symbolic ritual which symbolises self discovery or meditation. The temple is called Kshethra which means body. Kshethra symbolises our own body. The 18 steps symbolises the 18 principles of our body like the senses etc. We have to go beyond all these within ourself to see the supreme being residing in the sanctum sanctorum. Thus when u enter the temple you are entering your own body, where u will find the supreme body. The gopura of the temple symbolises our mind with innumerable thoughts. This is why we see erotic sculptures in the gopuras. This represent our desires etc. We have to cross all these and enter within to discover god. You wont see any erotic scuptures within the inner wall of the temple. Those have to be kept outside. The tortoise that u see at the entrance remind that you must withdraw your 5 senses like how the tortoise pulls its 4 legs and head into its shell. And in shabari mala temple when you cross the 18 mountains and 18 steps and reach the sannidhanam you see the message Thatvamasi which means That thou art. The truth which u r seeking is within your self. This is the beautiful concept of temple worship. So it really doesn't make any difference if Ayyapa is Buddha or not. Because Buddha represent the state that all Hindus must aspire to become.

Anonymous said...

Really loved this one. This is one area which interests me immensely, the origin of religions and religious beliefs. I feel what we consider as religion today emerged out of a set of stories and beliefs created to attain a sense of bonding between different tribes in a region which were otherwise quite separate in other aspects.

The Dravidian religions have always been a mystery. The Aryans had indeed done a great job in integrating their Hindu beliefs with the prevailing religions of the south. But still if you go deep inside, people worship gods who wont be seen anywhere else in the country. Muneeswarar and Ayyanar are two such examples of south Pagan gods, who hold great sway over the masses there.

Though I doubt Tirupati was a buddhist shrine, I too have heard about the buddhist connection of Ayyapa. Indeed Buddishm created a great connection between Kerala, TN regions and rest of Asia. There is a popular belief that the Shaolin form of Kung Fu, which is the most respected form in China, was indeed taught to the monks there by a Pallava king from Kanchipuram named Bodhidharma.
Kalari is considered the mother of all Asian martial arts.
The kings of south were sea faring and had great trade relations with most of south east Asia, a reason Tamil is such a popular language in those regions. Even though Buddhism originated in the north, the southern kings played an instrumental part in its spreading.

I really would like to see your wish coming true, of a Langdon type expedition to find the roots of this mystery.

Vinumon S said...

@ Abhinand,
Thanks for the comment. I think your comment is more informative than my blog :D

@ Gokul,
Thanks man :)
Regarding Thirupati, I can give you a link

PKS said...

Really nice post...good observations...i had never heard of this buddhist connection before...
And is said that Siddhartha decided to leave his wife, renounced his kingdom and left in search of enlightenment...Same with Ayyappa right?...He renounced kingdom and the ban on females from visiting Ayyappa at Sabarimala is there...

kp said...

interesting post

Deepak Madhu said...

1. Mountains are important in all religions. For examples: Sermon on the mount, the ten Commandments, revealing of The Koran, Mount Kailas, Mount Olympus, Palani...
2. Buddhism is a form of Hinduism. Many Indian Buddhists consider themselves Hindus. The Indian constitution considers Buddhism that way. Please note that Ambedkar was a Buddhist.
3. Buddha is the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
4. Many Hindu temples came under Buddhist influence and then back. Note that Angkor Vat is primarily a Maha Vishnu temple.
5. Lord Shiva and Lord Ganapathi are worshipped in Japan. For example Shinrikyo cult leader considered himself a reincarnation of Lord Shiva.

Rajesh Menon said...

Excellent Article Mr. Vinumon S. Thank You Very Much For The Same.

mizhaavu said...

Good article da...

A question though:
Is Ayyappan really egalitarian? By not allowing ladies to come to his abode?

pavi said...

Its good if we can link all gods to each other including Jesus and Allah. So that people understand all god is part and parcel of one source of enegy.
Agree buddism had greater influence and it was shankara charya who again brought people back to santadharma. Building temples in mountain is nothing new in will find lot of temples build in forest and mountain. Take for example, Tirupati,Vaishno devi,Kankai mata temple in gir forest,Raghunathji temple in mount abu,Vimal vasahi temple in rajastan. In earlier days these areas were forest covering. Changes what you see today is due to mixing religion with pilgrimage tourism and destruction of forest for building hotels etc. Kerala govt is little strict in the matter so sabarimala was untouched. But within next 100 years there will be much change and hardly forest covering will remain. Vaishno devi has lot of resemblence with Sabarimala.

For debate prospective any god can be linked, krisha to jesus and lot of similarities can be linked from birth to death.Teaching of Buddhism in Jesus preacing. Pandalam family still exist all other gods which we belive whether it is hindu,christian,muslim, buddism,jainism their roots no more exist so most of them can be linked with only epics. There are proof of Ayyapan childhood in pandalam palace and I dont think a small king can influence hinduism in such a extend that it made way for stories linking to krishna and shiva. Lets be more materialistic when bringing truth with proofs than assumptions. Ayyappa birth is more to do with equality between all faith Hindu/muslim/christians. The same for Saibaba of shirdi who has maintained all god is one

chaturdn said...

Very good article and thanks for all these links. I learnt a lot.

sumesh said...

Hi, very well written topic, cheers, I have always believed that keralites had a strong budhist connection.Your article poked those parts of my brain which were dormant till now.Thank you for sharing your views.

I hope i am not diverting the topic, however i would like to put forth couple of obsevartion i made.. I am from palakkad, kerala, in palakkad there are few places where you can find remains of Jainist temples, they are in very sad state though. The most easily accessable site is near to the town, known as Jainimedu..the name itself depicts its jain connection.

Whenever i used to pass through that place i used think about keralites relatioship with jainism, so i did some online research along with reading on the topic, the results or probabilities i found of said relationship gave very huge surprise to me,

There used to be followers of Jainism in palakkad,kerala and they were forced to convert to hinduism, Jains are non vegetarian and lead a very simple life, like that of a monk and were also considered as scholars. Caste system was very much prevalent in hinduism during this era, So the brahman caste was at the helm, and since the Jains also followed similar lifestyle like brahmins, they were inducted just below the brahman community in the caste system, eventually these jains came to be known as pisharodies,

There are few similar practices that Jains and pisharodies share, most notable similarity is in the cremation ceremony, Both of them have samadhis, they bury their dead in seated position, like monks or saints does.No other community in Kerala follow such type of ritual,

Another topic to note is related to this article,budhism in kerala, Budha was known as Karumadi Kuttan in 600-650 ADin kerala when Budhism was prevalant. Kannan, Lord Krishna's name was derived from kuttan. I cant validate this particular observation, however these are some topics that we can ponder on and gather as much as information possible. Thank you, Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Good information.Its a fact that lot of buddhist monasteries are replaced with hindu temples and mosques. the religion which was once flourished whole india and even after 2500 years it is still called as great intelligent religion among all the world religions. which was founded in india and ruled india for more than 1000years. now we see it is completely vanished in its own birth place. what a tragedy. not only just sabarimala but most of hill-top remote temples are buddhist monasteries only but now it can be found in variety of god names. as for as i know from sources that all the avatars of gods fake stories generated to convert various forms of buddha shrines of various places..

Geomatrix said...

I very much like your bolg Vinumon and the comments too. Both are very much informative and thought provoking. I am thrilled to join this group and hence my comment.

துரை ராஜ் said...

The era of Pandalam and Poonjar Rajas are meticulously noted.Both are scions of Madurai Pandyan Dyanasty.
The marava chief ,one Udayanan came as a raider in the pandalam area ,looting and arson the general public.He actually abducted the sister of Pandalam Raja Rajasekera Pandian and married her after he himself converted to Buddhism, becoming sober.He started practising Buddism and lived in the shores of River Pamba near the Buddhist shrine.His son Ayyappan was adopted by the childless Raja,Rajasekera Pandian..and the story goes on:)
The brother of Udayan,ChimayeThevar was the founder of Seithur Dyanasty in the eastern side of Pandalam(Tamilnadu side).