Friday, August 21, 2015

Bodhidharma in Kanyakumari – Buddhism as a branch of Hinduism existed 2000 yrs BP.

An article that appeared in today’s TOI (reproduced below) quotes from a lecture on how it looks probable that Bodhidharma, who took Buddhism to China could have had his training in remote southern parts of Tamilnadu such as Kanyakumari. The article wonders how there is no trace of Buddhist influence in Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam while some of the Sangam age poets had Buddhist name. The name that is quoted is Saatthan (சாத்தன்) and its mutations, all derived from the name Sastha! In this post I am sharing my views on these issues.

First of all Buddhism was not considered as a separate religion until the beginning of the Common Era. It was one among the 6 Thoughts prevalent within the Hindu fold. All these Thoughts were different expressions of viewing life, cosmos, karma, rebirth and liberation or moksha but not considered as ‘alien’ Thoughts. The 6 Thoughts or religions (அறுவகைச் சமயம்) did not include Jainism but did include Buddhism. A reference to these 6 religions is found in the 1st century CE work Manimegalai.

(How Manimegalai is a 1st century CE work? Manimegalai is the twin epic of Silappadhikaram and the authors of these two epics were contemporaries. The Cheran king Senguttuvan was the elder brother of Ilango adigal who authored Silappadhikaram. This Cheran king was a contemporary of Gautamiputra Satakarni who helped him to cross the Ganges in his Northern expedition and with whom he defeated the Yavanas. Read my earlier article here. Gautamiputra Satakarni lived in the 1st century CE. Therefore I am positioning Silappadhikaram and Manimegalai in the 1st century CE.)

The names of the 6 religions are mentioned in the Epic of Manimegalai while a preceptor was describing his religion to Manimegalai (the heroine of the epic).

They are
Vaisheshika and 
as expounded by Brihaspathi, Jina, Kapila, Akshapada, GaNaadha and Jaimini respectively.

The preceptor continues to tell what unites them together (as the 6 religions of the Hindu fold). It is the methodology that are accepted by all and the still in use (then).

Those methodologies are 6 in number and as follows:
(1) Perception (direct & indirect) or prathyaksha
(2) Inference (anumana)
(3) Testimony (shastra / texts)
(4) Analogy or comparison (upamana)
(5) Circumstantial presumption (arthapatti) and
(6) Proof of non-existence (abhava)

The verses in Tamil from Manimegalai on these are reproduced below:

 "பாங்குறும் லோகாயதமே பௌத்தஞ் 
   சாங்கியம் நையாயிகம் வைசேடிகம் 
    மீமாஞ் சகமாஞ் சமய வாசிரியர் 
    தாம் பிருகற்பதி சினனே கபிலன் 
    அக்கபாதன் கணாதன் சைமினி 
    மெய்ப் பிரத்தியம் அனுமானம் சாத்தம் 
     உவமானம் அருத்தாபத்தி அபாவம் 
     இவையே இப்போது இயன்றுள அளவைகள்" 

(Manimegalai 27- 78 to 85)

What is crucial in all these 6 methods is the 3rd one on Shastra or Sruti texts. They must have been common for all the 6 groups including Buddhism of that time. It is from the same Sruti texts, Buddhist monks had derived the need for non-violence and living a life of renunciation in pursuit of Buddhi or Jnana.

In fact what actually influenced Manimegalai to embrace Buddhist path was the over emphasis on non- violence and against killing. Buddha was known for his objection to animal sacrifices in the yajnas. As recent as the period of 12th century Jayadeva and the 15th century Annamacharya, Buddha was considered as the 9th avatar of Vishnu who came to spread compassion for all beings. (Read my article here.)

Manimegalai has had a turbulent background. Her father Kovalan was executed by the king without any enquiry. This happened even before she was born. She grew up by listening to the gory story of Kannagi's  anger and the death of many innocent lives in the fire that spread due to Kannagi’s anger. To appease Kannagi, the king sacrificed the lives of 1000 goldsmiths. For a little girl, all these are difficult things to cope with. She herself has seen her mother Madhavi become a Buddhist monk!

Even in the background incident that she became a Buddhist monk, there was a famine in the city of Kanchi. People were dying of hunger. She was asked to go over there to serve them food. She has seen a lot of suffering around her that the insistence on compassion and non-violence preached by the Buddha motivated her to take up Buddhist path. This path was not an alien path, but a different path that aids in realisation of the Athman and in breaking the cycle of rebirth. In that it is as much a Hindu or Sanatana way of life.

Perhaps the Buddhist way of Realization gave room for the womenfolk too who wanted to graduate to it without going through the Ashrama dharma way. Manimegalai’s mother Madhavi was one inspiration. Another inspiration could have come from an ancestor of Manimegalai. That incident shows how the Buddhist path offered an easy way of skipping the Ashrama ways.  

It is about an ancestor of Manimegalai. She had an ancestor known by the name Kovalan (her father’s name) who lived 9 generations before her father. He was a rich trader and a friend of the Cheran King. Once he along with the king happened to listen to a lecture by the (Buddhist) monks and was influenced by their preaching (but the king was not). As a result he gave up all his belongings within a week and took up to meditation. From the description in Manimegalai, it seems that he had attained Nirvana and the place where he died, a Chaitya was erected. Manimegalai’s grandfather had come to worship at the Chaitya located in Vanji, the capital city of Chera land. It was there Manimegalai met her grandfather and came to know about this ancestor.

The exact verse is

தொழு தவம் புரிந்தோன் சுகதற் கியற்றிய 
    வானோங்கு சிமையத்து வாலொளிச் சயித்தியம் 
     ஈனோர்க்கெல்லாம் இடர் கெட வியன்றது 
     கண்டு தொழுதேத்துங் காதலின் வந்த.." 

(Manimegalai - 28- 130 to 133)

The present day commentators interpret this as the Chaitya of some Buddhist teacher and that Kovalan (ancestor of Manimegalai) was a follower. But the verse indicates that a chaitya was erected where he died in meditation and that Maasaathuvaan (grandfather of Manimegalai) came to worship him at the Chaitya.

If we observe the way of life of these characters in Silappadhikaram and Manimegalai, we can see that there was no conflict of ideologies in living as a Hindu and conducting the wedding in Vedic way (as was done for Kovalan – Kannagi wedding) and embracing renounced life of a Buddhist or dying through meditation. This could happen only if such renunciation was an accepted way of life for the people of Veda dharma. This was almost like how the ancients took to sanyasa or vaanaprastha in the woods to shed the mortal coils. But the Buddhist path offered immediate access to renunciation for women-folks too. (Manimegalai could have been inspired by her mother too who became a Buddhist monk). As long as the core principle did not deviate from ideas of karma, rebirth and Moksha, people did not consider them as alien Thoughts (religions).

This kind of a background culture indicated by Manimegalai makes no doubts about how Buddhism was present all over India from Harappa to Kanyakumari to Vanji. This also shows that Buddhism at that time was not alien to Hindu Thought.

Let readers recall the Harappan image that resembles Bhumi-sparsha Mudra that is the penultimate state of Nirvana.

The comparable image of Buddha in the same state of Bhumi- sparsha mudra is shown below.

(Read here my article on this.)

Now coming to the next issue raised in the TOI article on why Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam were silent on Buddhist thoughts. The obvious answer is that these two texts had pre-dated all the Buddhas. The earliest Buddha has been recorded in the Asiatic Society chronicles, by taking into account the then existing views from across Asia (read here). According to that the early Buddha appeared 3000 years before present. The two Tamil works (Thirukkural and Tholkappiyam) were olden than that time. In my opinion expressed in various other articles in this blog-spot, the presently available work of Tholkappiyam was written sometime between the 15th to 13th centuries BCE after the 3rd deluge in the Indian Ocean. Thirukkural was earlier than that, penned 7000 years BP, just before the 1st deluge in the Indian Ocean.

{Even Manimegalai says that many Buddhas existed before. Siddhartha Gautama was not idolised then – at least in the Tamil lands. When Manimegalai asked ARavaNa adigaL ( அறவண அடிகள்), the teacher of Buddhist path about the way to remove the disease of rebirth, he started by telling that there existed many Buddhas and that what he was going to say was the essence of ideas of all those Buddhas.

"இறந்த காலத்து எண்ணில் புத்தர்களுஞ் 
   சிறந்தருள் கூர்ந்து திருவாய் மொழிந்தது" 

(Manimegalai 30-14) }

Now coming to the above issue, Thirukkural does not obey the rules of Tholkappiyam thereby indicating that it was very much prior to that. One example is the use of (rather non-use of) the letter ‘sa’ or ‘cha’ in the beginning of a word. It is because these letters are in Sanskrit as sa, sha, ja etc. Particularly the letters sha and ja are not in Tamil. When they are adopted from Sanskrit (vada-sol) they are changed as ‘sa’ (e-g: Shanmuga as Sanmugan and Jambu and Sambu in Tamil). This is to say that Sa does not exist in Tamil as the first letter of the word. There are of course exceptions which the Tholkappiyam sutra says as follows:

சகரக் கிளவியும் அவற்று ஓரற்றே
எனும் மூன்று அலங்கடையே.

(Tholkappiyam 1-2-29)

As per this, if the words end with ‘a’, ‘ai’ and ‘au’ sounds, the letter can begin with sa-garam.(sa, saa, si, see, su,soo etc).

The other words starting with sa-garam are not pure Tamil words, as per this sutra.(it means a loan word from Sanskrit)

But Thirukkural does have a verse starting with a word that has sa as the first letter but not obeying the above sutra. It is given here:

லத்தால் பொருள் செய்து ஏமாக்கல்-பசு மண்-
கலத்துள் நீர் பெய்துஇரீஇயற்று.

(Thirukkural verse 660)

 Here the first word is “salam” starting with sa. Salam means bad karma. There is no similar (sounding) word in Sanskrit with the same meaning. This makes ‘salam’ an indigenous Tamil word – a word used in Thirukkural but not approved by Tholkappiyam. There are other words of similar nature from Sangam texts such as Malai padu kadam, Pura nanauru and ThirumurugaRRu-p-padai but they are derivatives from Sanskrit. This example is one among many to show that Thirukkural was olden than Tholkappiyam and the Buddhist period.

The analysis of the word with ‘sa’ beginning, answers the next and last issue of the Buddhist name in Tamil lands. It was Saatthan and Saatthanar.

 Earlier in this article, we saw the word “Saattham” in Tamil (சாத்தம்) for Shastra – the Sruti texts in a quote from Manimegalai. So the names Saatthan (சாத்தன்) or Saaththanaar (சாத்தனார்) {Saaththanaar is the name of the poet who authored Manimegalai} are Sanskrit derivatives, perhaps from the word Shastra or Shasta (for Iyyappan – again a derivative from Shastra). The presence of this name among Sangam age poets shows the prevalence of Shasta and not necessarily a Buddhist name.

Moreover there is another big story of a migration from Indus- Saraswathi regions around the same time of the 3rd deluge in 15th century BCE. A group of stone workers called ‘Aruvalar’ settled down in Kancheepuram which was until then an uninhabited area. These people brought their deity “Saatthan”!

Recent excavations in Sriperumbudur confirm the migration of stone workers for the first time in Tamil lands. For details read my article Vedic ‘Kurma’ excavated near Sriperumpudur.
 A literary history for this site dates back to 1900 years BP when the Cholan king Karikalan worshiped at Saatthan temple in Kancheepuram, then known as Kacchi and got a weapon called "Chendu" from that deity. He went to the Himalayas after that and used this weapon to chisel the image of Tiger, the Cholan emblem on the Himalayas.  This weapon that was used for chiseling the mountain rock perhaps signifies the early period when stone cutting and stone-working was happening in Tamil lands. That instrument could in all probability be the “Uli” ( உளி ) the chiseling instrument.

What is important for this article is that there existed a Saatthan temple in a place dominated by migrant people from the Indus – Saraswathi region. These people only had built the famous ‘KallaNai” (கல்லணை ) across Cauvery. Their deity still exists in Kancheepuram.

The following picture of Saatthan in a temple in Kancheepuram was earlier sent by a reader.

So it is possible the name Saatthan came to stay in the Tamil society by the worshipers of this deity and the descendants of the migrant people and not necessarily through Buddhism. 

The TOI article ends with a note that the history of Kanyakumari must be approached in an impartial manner. I wish the same is extended to the very history of Tamil lands and more than anything else to Hinduism as revealed through Puranas and Ithihasas that contain world history itself!

A long Post script:-

The context in Manimegalai of revealing the 6 religions is as follows:

The heroine Manimegalai had a question uppermost in her mind. She wanted to know - What is the way to get rid of the Disease of Rebirths (பிறவிப் பிணி)? She wanted to search the answer by herself and therefore went about to meet the heads of all the Faiths residing in the city of Vanji, the capital city of the Chera land.  This is detailed in Chapter 27 of Manimegalai. This chapter gives valuable inputs on the religious views present in the Tamil lands about 2000 years ago. She met the heads of 10 different sects and listened to their replies to her question. These 10 sects are listed below.

1. ALavai-vaadhi (அளவைவாதி) – everything in some measurements. The religious head of this Thought identifies Veda Vyasa, Kruthakoti (Bhodayana) and Jaimini as the teachers of this Thought.

2. Saiva-vaadhi (சைவவாதி) - Saivism. Shiva as the supreme Lord

3. Brahma-vaadhi (பிரம்மவாதி) – Brahma as the supreme Lord

4. VaiNava- vaadhi (வைணவவாதி) – Vaishnavism. Here there is a specific mention of Vishnu Purana. The author says ‘the one who had read and understood the Purana of Vishnu explained Vaishnavism to Manimegalai. (“காதல் கொண்டு கடல் வண்ணன் புராணம் ஓதினன்” – Manimegalai 27- 98)

This shows that the text of Vishnu Purana had existed before the start of the Common Era. It was not a later day text as claimed by many.

5. Veda-vaadhi (வேதவாதி)– Vedas as supreme.

6. Aseega-vaadhi (ஆசீகவாதி) – The narrator, the chief of Aseega sect quotes his views from his religious text called “Nava kadhir” (நவ கதிர்) authored by “MaRkali devan” (மற்கலி தேவன்). The precepts sound close to Jainism. This could have been a branch of Jainism.

7. Niganda-vaadhi (நிகண்டவாதி) – Jainism. The narrator claims his Lord as Arugan (அருகன்).

8. Sankhya-vaadhi (சாங்கியவாதி) – Sankhya philosophy.

9. Vasisedika-vaadhi (வைசேடிகவாதி) – Vaiseshika philosophy.

10. Bhootha-vaadhi (பூதவாதி) – Charvaka philosophy.

In this way, the text of Manimegalai authenticates the existence of 10 different philosophical thoughts on God, rebirth and ways to attain Moksha (Liberation). 

The heroine Manimegalai exactly wanted to know what these different Thoughts tell about how to attain Liberation. Having heard from 10 different Heads of Thought, the chapter closes with a line that Manimagalai had thus learned about 5 religions! (“ஐவகைச் சமயமும் அறிந்தனள் ஆங்கென்.Manimegalai 27 – 269). The 10 Thoughts or precepts  have been shrunk into 5 religions. They have been listed in the above article. The 6th religion is Buddhism.



Tracing Buddhist connect in the south



Buddhism is said to be India's contribution to the world and monks are believed to have travelled across the country and even to Sri Lanka to spread the religion.

It is strange that although a number of Jain monuments have been discovered across Tamil Nadu, no Buddhist structure has been found. In this context, a study conducted by a Buddhist scholar attains significance. It claims that Kanyakumari was once a famous centre of Buddhism.

According to Buddhist scholar S Padmanabhan, Bodhidharma, founder of Mahayana Buddhism (zen), studied Varma Sastra and Thekkan Kalari, a martial art form, which is still popular in Kanyakumari. “The difference between Vadakkan Kalari (of Kerala) and Thekkan Kalari is the fighting method.In the former, any weapon or stick is used but in Thekkan Kalari it is fought with bare hands. Bodhidharma never used weapons,“ he said. The masters of Thekkan Kalari were known as `asans'.“The asans of Kanyakumari have ancient palm leaf records dealing with varmam and adimurai and Bodhidharma is believed to have learned from them,“ he said.

Even though there is little archaeological evidence to prove the existence of Buddhism in TN, historians believe Madurai, Kanyakumari and Tiruvelveli were ancient centres of the religion, and its presence in the state can be traced to the 300BC, said Padmanabhan, who was in the city to deliver a lecture on “Bodhidharma in Kanyakumari.“ “Edict no 2 of emperor Ashoka speaks of the places where he sent Buddhist missionaries. It mentions `Tampraparni' and various dynasties of ancient TN namely Chera, Pandya, Satyaputra and Keralaputra. The name Tampraparni denotes Sri Lanka, as the island nation was known as `Taprobane' by Greek historians,“ he said.

It is surprising to note there is no mention of Buddhism in the Tirukkural and the earliest grammatical work Tholkappiyam. “Maduraikanchi, a sangam work by Mankudi Maruthanar, describes a Buddhist vihara at Madurai. The Buddhist works in China and Tibet has references to Pothiga, a hill bordering Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli. It is called Pothalagiri, Potala and Potalaka. In Mahayana tradition, Potala is the abode of the Buddhist deity Avalokitha. It is said that Avalokitha with his wife Tara Devi lived in this mountain,“ said Padmanabhan.

According to Padmanabhan, there are many Sangam poets whose names are related to Buddhism in some way or the other. “We come across names such as Sattan and Sattanar in Tamil epics like Akananuru, Purananuru, Narrinnai and Kurunthogai. Sattan is the Tamilised form of the Sanskrit word Sastha, which is one of the attributes of the Buddha,“ he said.

Padmanabhan said only if the history of Kanyakumari could be approached in an impartial manner, the glory days of Buddhism and its contribution to the world could be highlighted better.

1 comment:

Krishna Murthi said...

I remember to have read somewhere that BODHIDHARMA was from kerala