Buddhism and Caste Issues of Kerala: An Analysis

After his propaganda about ‘breast tax’ myth (which we have refuted here) anti-Hindu artist from Kerala named T Murali or ‘chithrakaran’ as he calls himself, is back in mainstream news with new propaganda to propagate his painting. This time he makes claims that Odiyans (black magicians of medieval Kerala) were recruited by Savarna upper castes to oppress the Muslim & Avarna (i.e not included any of the four Varnas)’Buddhist’ population of Kerala like Ashari, Mushari, Ezhava-Thiyya etc and Savarna Hindus took over Kalaris from these ‘Buddhists’ of Kerala.

How true are these claims? Let us analyze.

First we look into the issue about the Odiyans. Odiyans were feared black magicians of Kerala. In medieval times, they are said to be possessing the power to transform into any animal form. They practiced certain gruesome rituals like making magic oil out of unborn fetus which included death of pregnant women. The Odiyan cult was prevalent among caste called Parayans, who were from the lowest layer in society. F. Fawcett, in his 1915 work titled ‘Nayars of Malabar’ says the following about the Parayan Odiyans

“The Parayans are complete outcastes, and their presence carries pollution to one of any superior caste within about a furlong. It is not too much to say that, as a rule, they are abhorred as the lowest of the low. They eat “beef, and are therefore quite outside the pale of Hinduism. I have heard of fairly well authenticated cases of their stealing children of Nayars, hiding them away in the forest and bringing them up as their own. The belief that they will steal children helps to some extent to make them dreaded as well as abhorred, but it is as skilled professors of black magic that they are really feared.”

It is because of their habit of consuming beef (meat of dead cows as cow slaughter was forbidden in Hindu kingdoms in Kerala), practicing ghastly black magic and kidnapping children that they were placed in the lowest strata of the society in medieval Kerala. It is clear that mere presence of Parayan is enough to pollute an upper caste, and they mostly dwelled in areas beyond the reach urban society like forests. In such a situation how can upper castes hire these feared Parayan Odiyans to steal and kill the so called ‘Avarna Buddhists’?! The absence of records to prove any exaggerated claims like that of Chithrakaran also reduces the scope of its probability especially in a state like Kerala where every single incident was widely documented from ancient times.

Now let us go to another claim of his. He claims that upper castes took over Kalari or martial arts training schools of medieval Kerala. He states that these were originally under Avarnas and was a threat to Brahmanical religion. So the upper caste appropriated it.

While it is true that Kalaripayattu was practiced by many castes and even non Hindus like Muslims and Christians, it is a fact that it was most popular among the Nair community who were the military class of Kerala. Authors like Duarte Barbosa mentions the Kalari training of Nairs in detail and there is no doubt that Kalari was practiced mainly by Nairs. In fact the Nair boys when aged 7 were sent to Kalaris for training and each Tharavad (Nair households) had it’s associated Kalari. Even the northern ballads or Vadakkan Pattukal of Kerala clearly mentions that Aromal Chekavar (who was a Thiyya martial artist) was accompanied by Nairs before the Kalari ankam or duel. He was fighting for his Kaimal (Nair) lord.

Finally let us analyse his claim that Kerala was once under Buddhists before Brahmins, Nairs etc came to Kerala and destroyed Buddhism. How popular was Buddhism in Kerala? While it is true that Buddhism also came to Kerala when it spread into other regions, it is clear that Kerala was never a Buddhist majority region. All the kings of Kerala were Hindus beyond doubt right from the early Sangam age. In medieval era, Chera kings like Kulashekhara Azhvar and Cheraman Perumal Nayanar were devout Hindu kings. There is no record of any Buddhist king in Kerala. While there is a folklore narrated in medieval texts like Keralolpathi about certain Pallibana Perumal who was a Buddhist, it is clear that he was also a Hindu before his conversion. Also there is no recorded history regarding this king apart from late medieval folklore. Buddhism vanished from Kerala due the non violent Bhakti revolution which is further established by the fact that the Chera kings mentioned above were Bhakti saints themselves while none of them were Buddhists.

Now to the question of Ezhavas, Thiyyas, Asharis, Musharis etc being Buddhists in the past, there is no record which states these Hindu communities were Buddhists. While it is true that Ezhava-Thiyyas are said to be from Sri Lanka as per legends, there is no proof that they were Buddhists. Just because they came from Sri Lanka, it doesn’t mean that they were Buddhists at one point of time since Sri Lanka still has good number of Hindu population! However it  must also be noted is that Ezhavas-Thiyyas are pure Malayalis and there is no trace of Sri Lankan Sinhalese culturally or linguistically among them.

From all these facts, it is clear that T Murali is twisting Kerala history according to his own fantasies, which are far from actual recorded history. Widely popular news sites like Manorama should think twice before publishing absurd propaganda articles like these by dubious author ‘chithrakaran’ Murali.

(Feature image source: Manorama)

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About the Author

Dauhshanti & Paanchajanyaa
@Dauhshanti - A proud Polytheist & Idolater, blessed to be born into the civilization of Bharata. @paanchajanyaa - Soldier of dharma... Yato dharmas tato jayah...