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Buddhism in Kerala

  • Buddhism came to Kerala during the reign of Asoka in the 3rd century BC.

  • Some Sangham works describes the efforts of Buddhist missionaries to spread the messages of Buddha.

    • 'Manimekhalai' discusses about the tenets of Buddhism.

    • There was a Buddhist Chaitya at Vanchi.

    • The Chera king 'Palli Bana Perumal' embraced Buddhism and abdicated his throne. The Hindu temples at Kilirur (in Kottayam district) and Nilamperur (Alappuzha district) are closely associated with this this Chera king.

  • Many present- day Hindu temples were Buddhist shrines in the ancient period. Eg: Kurumba Bhagavathi temple at Kodungallur.

    • In the Durga temple at Paruvassery (in Thrissur district), an image of Buddha sitting in meditation was discovered.

  • Large number of Buddha images were found in the Kunnathur and Karunagappally taluks of Kollam district and Mavelikkara and Ambalapuzha taluks of Alappuzha district.

    • The most famous Buddhist image found in Kerala is 'Karumadi Kuttan' (found from Ambalapuzha).

  • Sri Mulavasam (in Alapuzha district) was once a famous Buddhist pilgrim centre.

  • The Hindu rulers of ancient Kerala followed a policy of religious toleration and patronised Buddhist temples without reservation.

    • 'Paliyam copper plate' of the Ay king, Vikramaditya Varaguna bears evidence of the patronage extended by the rulers to the temple at Sri Mulavasam.

    • There are references about Sri Mulavasam in the sanskrit work 'Mushaka Vamsa'. Vikramarama, a Mushaka king saved this Buddhist temple from the encroachment of the sea by throwing large blocks of stone.

  • Buddhism started to decline in Kerala by 8th century AD. One reason for the decline was the emergence of Hindu reformers like Sankaracharya.

  • Buddhism disappeared in Kerala in the 12th century AD.

Impacts of Buddhism

  • Buddhism was absorbed in Hindu religion.

  • Many Hindu religious ceremonies have close relations with Buddhism.

    • The processions, utsavams, etc. in Hindu temples is a legacy from Buddhism.

    • 'Kettukazhcha' which is associated with temple utsavams is also taken from Buddhism.

  • Some scholars believe that Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Hinduised version of Buddha.

    • Sabarimala pilgrims observe strict vows of non-violence, vegetarianism and abstinence from worldly pleasures and this is considered to be evolved from Buddhist doctrine of Ahimsa.

    • Pilgrims do not observe caste distinctions during the period of their vow, which is in accordance with the Buddhist principles of castelessness and cosmopolitanism.

    • The sing-song repetition of 'saranam Ayyappa' by the Sabarimala pilgrims is similar to the 'triple saranam formula' (Buddha saranam, Dharma saranam, Sangham Saranam) of the Buddhists.

    • There is a striking resemblance between the figures of the Ayyappa and the Buddha.

  • There is a view that the 'Naga worship' which is popular in Kerala may be from Buddhist influence.

  • Popularity of the Ayurveda is believed to be a gift of Buddhism.

    • Many of the Buddhist monasteries had dispensaries where free medical aid was given.

    • Some temples (Siva temple at Tiruvizha, Sastha temple at Takazhi) still give medicinal preparations to the sick devotees.

  • The Buddhist monks were pioneers in the field of education.

    • The Buddhist Viharas served as learning centres.

    • The Buddhists used to call their Viharas as 'Palli'.

    • The 'Ezhuthu Palli', the Malayalam term for elementary school seems to be a legacy from Buddhism.

  • Large number of Pali words were assimilated to Malayalam language.

    • Achan (father), Amma (mother), Ambalam (temple), Palli (mosques & churches), Pallikoodam (school), Kallu (toddy), Purikam (eye brow), Thadakam (lake), Vattam (circle), Pattika (list), Chanthi (butt), Ayyo, Chakkara (jaggery) and Onam (the festival) have their roots in Pali language.

    • Ayyan is a word used for Buddha or Sastha. 'Ayyo' is generally used in Kerala in distress to call God.

  • Buddhism has supplied themes to the poets and writers in Kerala.

    • Some works of Kumaranasan has Buddhist background. Eg: Karuna, Chandala Bhikshuki

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