Buddhist History of Kerala
Sangam-works like Manimekhalai indicate that there were
Buddhists in Tamil Nadu and that the Buddhist missionaries were
active in spreading their religion. According to the Sangam
tradition, there was a famous Buddhist chatty a (temple) at Vanchi
(Karur) and a Palli Bana Perumal became a Buddhist.
Cheras were originally Mundas, many of whom were Buddhists even
before their arrival in Tamil Nadu. It was they as well
as the Buddhist missionaries from the Maurya Empire that brought
the religion of Buddha to the South. They were distinctly
a powerful minority in Tamil Nadu and were subjected to per-secution
by the Brahmin Counsellors of the Dravidian Hindu Kings during
the ascendancy of Brahminical Hinduism in the South. Aalavaipathikam
records that around 640 A.D., Sambanda Murti, a Brahmin, won over
the Pandya royal family and caused the massacre of 8,000 Buddhist
monks in Madurai; Buddhist nuns were reportedly made into devadasis
and relocated in the Hindu temple precincts. The persecution and
eventual exodus of Buddhists from Tamil Nadu to Kerala in the
seventh century was occasioned by the fall of the Buddhist Kalabhras
at the hands of the Pandyas.
Buddhists came to Kerala and established their temples and monasteries
in different parts of the country. The following Hindu temples
were once Buddhist shrines: the Vadakkunnathan Temple of
Trichur, the Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple of Cranganore, and the
Durga Temple at Paruvasseri near Trichur. A large number
of Buddha-images have been discovered in the coastal districts
of Alleppey and Quilon; the most important Buddha-image is the
famous Karumati Kuttan near Ambalappuzha. Buddhism probably
flourished for 200 years (650-850) in Kerala. The Paliyam Copper
Plate of the Ay King, Varaguna (885-925 A.D.) shows that the Buddhists
enjoyed some royal patronage even in the tenth century.
decline of Buddhism started in the eighth century with the arrival
of the Aryan missionaries and the Brahminical religion.
As mentioned earlier, the Brahmin scholars defeated Buddhist
monks in debates and established the superiority of the Hindu
religion. Adi Sankaracharya, the Hindu revivalist, was also
responsible for the fall of Buddhism; he founded Hindu monasteries
and trained Hindu priest-scholars to combat his Buddhist adversaries.
Buddhism faded away gradually and completely disappeared during
the reign of the Vaishnavite Kulasekharas in the eleventh century.
What actually happened was that Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism
from which it broke away. Many Keralites, like the Ezhavas,
who were most likely Buddhists once, gradually became Hindus.
has left its impact on Kerala. The images and tall rathas
(cars) used in temple processions, and utsavams (fairs) are said
to be Buddhist legacies. The Ayurvedic system of medical treatment
is also a gift of Buddhism. Buddhists opened schools [in
pallikudam and ezhuthupally. Pally is the
Buddhist term for school) near their monasteries. Kerala
temples show traces of Buddhist art and architecture. Amarasimha,
the author of the popular Sanskrit text-book used in Kerala schools
until recently, was a Buddhist. Kumaran Asan, the great
Kerala poet, was influenced by the great Buddhist religion and
wrote the famou, Buddhist poems: Karuna. Chandala Bhikshuki,
and Sri Buddha Charitam.