Perilous identities for Sabarimala: a national alarm
by B S Harishankar on 13 Dec 2018 27 Comments

Commenting on the recent issue on Sabarimala, Dharmasthala Dharmadhikari D. Veerendra Heggade observed that austerities at the shrine are observed for self-control and age-old traditions must be preserved. He adopted a firm stand against the state government’s position which has led to turbulences at the shrine. Veerendra Heggade also said that if allowed into Sabarimala, there is a possibility of misusing the system in the name of equality. (Heggade bats for women entry ban at Sabarimala, Deccan Herald, Oct. 23, 2018)


Belonging to the Digambara Jain tradition, the Heggade family are trustees of the Shiva temple at Dharmasthala in Karnataka. The temple complex also includes shrines of major Jain Thirthankaras. The priests in the temple are Vaishnavites.


Jain Acharya, Yugbhushan Suri Maharaj, said that the sanctity at Sabarimala was a religious issue and that it was connected to fundamental religious rights. The Acharya adopted a strong position against the state government on Sabarimala issue. (Women should not enter Sabarimala: Jain acharya Pandit Maharaj, India Today, Oct.18, 2018)


Veerendra Heggade gave his observation on Sabarimala, not as a philanthropist, but as representing one of the major schools of the comprehensive Hindu tradition in India. Yugbhushan Suri Maharaj also gave his statement as one of the major acharyas among the Hindu denominations.


The observations by Virendra Heggade and Acharya Yugbhushan Suri Maharaj gain much importance when left historians have raised divisive bogeys using the colonial and left agenda for vertically and horizontally splitting Hindu society. There are claims that Buddhists were persecuted in Kerala for not accepting Brahminical dominance and were treated as a degraded lot, along with Jains (Rise and fall of Buddhism in Kerala, The Hindu, Feb.5, 2012). Historians in the Marxist controlled Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) also adopted a similar stand, that Brahmanical hegemony persecuted minorities like Jains and Buddhists and annihilated them from the soil of Kerala forever, as interpreted by the controversial Pattanam excavator, P.J. Cherian.



The Left government in Kerala officially put forward the claim early in 2008 that scholars suggest Sabarimala was once a Buddhist shrine where rituals followed were synonymous with the ‘Saranathrayam’ of Buddhist disciples. In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the state government said, “Some scholars of ancient Kerala history say that the Sabarimala Sastha Prathishta was once a Buddhist shrine”. The Left government, however, declined to disclose the name of the historians who claimed that Sabarimala is a Buddhist shrine (Kerala govt suggests Sabarimala was once a Buddhist shrine, Outlook, Feb. 7, 2008). Now it is clear that the names of the historians whom the state government declined to disclose are Left historians from KCHR.


When the current controversy reached its peak, the Left Government also said that Sabarimala is a ‘secular temple’ and the Waqf Board, Muslim organisations, Vavar Trust, Christian organisations and tribal outfits were necessary parties before taking any decision on the petition (Kerala Government. Opposes Plea To Restrain Non-Hindus in Sabarimala Temple, The Week, Nov.12, 2018).


Neither the Left historians or their fellow travellers have any idea of Jain asceticism and its philosophy. In the post-Vedic Period, Jaina ascetics did not establish a heterodox religion as preached by missionaries and Leftist historians. It was the birth of a great intellectual tradition when India was dwindling to irrational sacrifices and absurd metaphysics. Besides a school of philosophy, an erudite Jaina scholarship also incorporated mathematics, medicine, astronomy, grammar, lexicography and art into Indian tradition. Buddhist sources were, however, confined largely to art, philosophy and medicine.


In the ancient Tamil country, the epic, Cilappatikaram (“Anklet Story”) composed in the common era by Jain ascetic Ilango Adikal, is still revered as a priceless literary gem. The epic lauds the virtues of Kannaki (Kannagi) who is still worshipped as the epitome of Kali in temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Ilango Adikal, who resided at Trikkanaa-Mathilakam near Kodungallur in Kerala, was the brother of the Chera monarch, Senguttuvan. The epic describes the splendor of the Himalayas in the north as the abode of gods, and Kaveri with its holy water in the south.


The text narrates the glory of the four Vedas, as well as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Skanda, Indra, Jaina temples and hermitages. Above all, Cilappatikaram eulogizes the Great Goddess Mahishamardini Durga in her multiple manifestations and adored by various Vanvasi communities, such as the Maravans. It is this deep-rooted Hindu tradition of oneness, despite the diversity evident in Cilappatikaram that is currently attacked by Left historians and certain religious lobbies.


A number of Goddesses were accepted as guardian deities of Jaina Tirthankaras, such as Ambika, Padmavati, Jwalamalini, Lakshmi, Kali, Chakresvari, Saraswati and Siddhika. It also includes the Shodasavidyas or Vidydevis as given by Hemachandra.


Buddhism was essentially urban in character, and a vast majority of Buddhist sites are located in cities along major trade routes in south Asia. Laurya Nandangarh, Vaisali, Sanchi, Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Takshasila, Bamiyan, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda and Nagapattinam - the examples are numerous. No Buddhist vihara or monastery is located at Sabari hills in the densely vegetated Western Ghats with no secure access to the plains.


Numerous evidences of cultural synthesis of Buddhism and various Indian traditions are before us. The sculpture of Hari-Hara flanked by Buddha and Surya belongs to the Pala Period. There are numerous carvings at Nagarjunakonda and Gandhara depicting Buddha surrounded by Indra and other gods, exhorting him to preach the cosmic law of Dharma. A rare sculpture of Buddha seated on a lion resembling Durga is from Mahoba. This Simhanada Buddha holds a trident, sword, lotus and rosary. The bronze statue of Hayagriva-Lokeswara from Swat valley in Pakistan is a fine blending of the Hayagriva manifestation of Vishnu and Buddha. Numerous images of Tara Mahavidya, the Great Goddess of Buddhist tradition, have been recovered from numerous Buddhist sites. She holds an important position in Das Mahavidya tradition of the Saktas. These historical facts have been conveniently covered up by left historians.


In August 2015, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, arrived at the holy town of Trimbakeshwar during the Kumbh Mela to meet and interact with various sadhus and Mahants belonging to the Jaina, Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava denominations. He has been the chief guest at World Hindu Conclaves, including the recent one at Chicago which commemorates 125 years since the historic Chicago address by Swami Vivekananda on Sept. 11, 1893. The Dalai Lama was also the Chief Guest at the International Seminar Bhagavad-Gita held at Thiruvananthapuram in December 2000 by the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram.


Left historian, Prof. Rajan Gurukkal, has currently observed that it makes little sense to make a Buddhist case at Sabarimala, based on the observance of celibacy, the expression ‘Dharma Sasta’ and the chanting of ‘saranam’, since Dharma Sasta is only a recent coinage and the chanting of saranam has nothing to do with the Buddhist sharanam. Gurukkal emphasized that there is no archaeological indication at the site to support the presumption since Buddhist monastic establishments are found on rocky terrain and are invariably along trade routes (Yes, Sabarimala Is In Peril, But Not The Way You Think, Outlook, Oct. 25, 2018).


Sri Ayyappa in Sabarimala as an ascetic is believed to have merged with ‘Mahasastha’ who is essentially a tantric deity of Shakta tradition, although there are strong Shaiva and Vaishnava influences. The Mahasastha tradition in Kerala takes its root from the ancient historic city of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu from the 7th century AD. The main textual evidence is the Sri Lalithopaakhyana, part of Brahmanda Purana and a very important tantric text associated with the Srividya tradition. The text narrates Mahasastha in the context of rituals associated with Kali, Bhairava and Saptamatrkas. It highlights the importance of Mahasastha as a manifestation of Vishnu and Siva. The text also describes the importance of Mahasastha in association with Bhairavas and Kshetrapaalas at the coronation of the Great Goddess Sri Lalitha Parameswari, fountainhead of Srividya tradition. Those who pick up absurd disputes on the shrine at Sabarimala suppress this very crucial textual evidence.


Today, when the Left government demands that along with Christian and Islamic bodies, tribal outfits should be taken into consideration on Sabarimala issue, it has conveniently suppressed facts. Historical documents say that Pandalam Raja had full rights over Sabarimala till the Travancore government took it over in 1812, along with 347 other temples. ‘Travancore Tribes and Castes’ by anthropologist L.A. Krishna Iyer states that  Sabarimala was in the joint possession of Pandalam Raja, Kakkattu Potti, Perinadu folk and Kochuvelan, a  vanvasi/tribal community (Who owned Sabarimala?, The Times of India, Oct. 24, 2018).


The Malampandaram Vanvasi group in Kerala, staging a protest against the Left government’s decision on Sabarimala, said that Ayyappa is their own deity and they are ready to give up their lives for Him, if the situation so warrants. A large number of women from the Attathode tribal colony, the second largest tribal settlement in the State, are participating in the Namajapa protest against the Left government (Local tribals ‘deeply hurt’ against Kerala govt.’s decision on Sabarimala, The Hindu , Oct.16, 2018).


Who removed the Vanvasis from the trusteeship of the Sabarimala shrine, marginalizing and gradually erasing them out of the temple administration? Another Vanvasi community, Mala Araya Mahasabha, has called upon the authorities to take necessary steps to restore their rights to light the Makara Vilakkau at Sabarimala, which enjoyed for centuries till the Travancore Devaswom Board took over the temple nearly nine decades back. The Sabarimala tanthri and royal family of erstwhile Pandalam have made it clear that the Makara Vilakku was a centuries-old ‘deeparadhana’ performed by the Mala Araya community and that privilege and right has to be duly restored to them (Mala Arayas seek right to light Makara Vilakku, The Hindu, April 30, 2011).


The Travancore Devaswom Board has been virtually controlled by the Left and Congress governments. Even Frontline (Volume 18, Issue 21, Oct. 13-26, 2001) reported that the tribal people were once in possession of large tracts of forests in Kerala, especially in areas including Pathanamthitta district, where Sabarimala is located. Frontline admitted that to a large extent, post-Independence governments were responsible for the Adivasis losing their lands to encroachment by non-tribal settlers. But Frontline did not dare reveal the open role of the Syro-Malabar Catholic church which sponsors major encroachment of the Western Ghats. The Kerala government in February 2010 informed a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court that 14,200 tribal families still remained landless in the State.


In the case of Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages Sabarimala, more than 500 acres of land belonging to 525 temples have been occupied by various parties. There are 160 cases related to encroachments, crushed by absence of land records (Recovery of temple lands bogged down, The Hindu, April 5, 2010).


Currently, it is claimed by certain secular lobbies that Sabarimala devotees must also visit the Arthunkal Catholic church dedicated to apostles St Andrew and St Sebastian at Alappuzha district to remove the sacred beads (Sabarimala: Everything you need to know about the unique temple, its myth and pilgrimage, Indian Express, Nov.25, 2018). It is contended that Sri Ayyappa received spiritual wisdom from these Apostles and hence represents communal harmony. The Left government has stated that Christian organizations are necessary parties before taking any decision on the petition on Sabarimala. The Left historians who demand historical evidence on any issue are silent on the nature of documents showing the system of philosophy that was imparted to Sri Ayyappa by the Apostles and the subsequent period. The Left historians’ duplicity for establishing the historicity of Apostle Thomas in Kerala is crucial when read in the Sabarimala context.


The Left government which simultaneously claims that Sabarimala was a Buddhist shrine and also demand the inclusion of Christian churches in the temple should remember historical facts. In 1989, the Catholic Church, through the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, rejected attempts at mixing some aspects of Christian and Buddhist practices in a letter titled, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation”, generally known as the Aspects of Christian meditation letter. The document issues warnings on differences between the two faiths and referred to Buddhism as “negative theology”. Pope John Paul II’s “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” illustrates the cacophony over the doctrinal disparity between Christianity and Buddhism. Similar warnings supported by the Southern Baptist Convention were issued in 2003 in “A Christian reflection on the New Age” which also views Buddhism negatively.


Currently, the only way left before the church to counter Buddhism in Asia is to launch a cultural invasion. The church has involved in inter religious dialogues and publications to meet this target. Conflicts between Buddhists and Christians can be resolved through peace education, according to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 2007. Paul F. Knitter, Catholic theologian who authored the book, “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian” (2009) is a typical example.


Left historians who claim Buddhism was wiped out of Kerala by Hindus, should remember their own legacy. In Russia, Communists unleashed a reign of terror in Buddhist areas of Kalmykia and Buryatia. In 1931-32, the highest-ranking members of the Buddhist clergy were persecuted, and in 1935-36, the remaining members of the middle ranks of the clergy were arrested. In 1930, the seizure of temples and monasteries and pogroms began. Buddhist temple property was confiscated and destroyed. The repressive Communist Government that ruled Mongolia for 70 years under the advice of the Soviet Communist regime destroyed more than 700 monasteries in the 1930’s, burning books and executing hundreds of lamas.


Under the notorious Cultural Revolution by Mao, Communist China looted and destroyed numerous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries using Red Brigades. The Jokhang temple, Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred site, was plundered, destroyed and desecrated beyond repair.


Current moves by Left lobbies and certain religious groups to give a Buddhist identity to Sabarimala and bring Christian churches in as trustees have to be taken seriously. Using the same tactics, it can quickly spread to Hindu shrines throughout India.

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