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Discover The Magic Of Malabar....

  • Writer's pictureVijay Nair

Buddhism in Kerala

Buddhism made its way to the Indian state of Kerala during the reign of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BC. Ancient texts like 'Manimekhalai' highlight the efforts of Buddhist missionaries to spread the teachings of Buddha. The Buddhist Chaitya at Vanchi and the Hindu temples at Kilirur and Nilamperur are testaments to the early presence of Buddhism in Kerala.

Buddhism thrived in ancient Kerala due to the policy of religious tolerance practiced by the Hindu rulers. Many present-day Hindu temples were once Buddhist shrines, such as the Kurumba Bhagavathi temple in Kodungallur and the Durga temple in Paruvassery. A large number of Buddha images have been found in the Kollam and Alappuzha districts. The famous Buddhist image of 'Karumadi Kuttan' was discovered in Ambalapuzha. Sri Mulavasam was a famous Buddhist pilgrim centre.

Despite its popularity, Buddhism started to decline in Kerala by the 8th century AD, with the rise of Hindu reformers like Sankaracharya. Buddhism eventually disappeared in Kerala by the 12th century AD.

Buddhism has left a lasting impact on Hinduism in Kerala. Many Hindu religious ceremonies have close links to Buddhism, such as the processions and utsavams in Hindu temples. The 'Kettukazhcha' associated with temple utsavams is believed to have originated from Buddhism. The Sabarimala pilgrimage, with its emphasis on non-violence, vegetarianism, and abstinence, is thought to have evolved from Buddhist doctrine of Ahimsa. The sing-song repetition of 'saranam Ayyappa' by Sabarimala pilgrims is similar to the 'triple saranam formula' of the Buddhists. There is also a view that Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Hinduized version of Buddha.

Buddhism has had a significant influence on Kerala's culture and language. Many Pali words have been assimilated into the Malayalam language, such as Achan (father), Amma (mother), and Onam (the festival). The popularity of Ayurveda is believed to be a gift from Buddhism, as many Buddhist monasteries had dispensaries where free medical aid was given. Buddhist monks were pioneers in education and their Viharas served as learning centres. The term 'Ezhuthu Palli' for elementary school is believed to have originated from Buddhism.

Buddhism has supplied themes to the poets and writers of Kerala, with some works of Kumaranasan having a Buddhist background. The influence of Buddhism can still be seen in the literature and culture of Kerala today

In conclusion, the arrival of Buddhism in Kerala has had a significant impact on the state's culture and traditions. The early presence of Buddhism in Kerala is evident in the numerous Buddhist shrines and relics found across the state. The decline of Buddhism in Kerala may have been inevitable, but its influence on Hinduism is still visible in many Hindu religious practices and beliefs. The assimilation of Pali words into the Malayalam language and the use of Buddhist themes in literature and poetry attest to the enduring impact of Buddhism on Kerala. Overall, the influence of Buddhism on Kerala's culture and history is a testament to the enduring power of this ancient philosophy.

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