Posted on April 1, 2007
I read this article on Sabarimala and Buddhism that explores a few intriguing questions about Sabarimala in Kerala. It is the hilltop temple in the Western Ghats that attracts scores of pilgrims during one month, every year. The trek is arduous and the rituals that precede the pilgrimage are really difficult. Unlike many other pilgrimages in Hindu culture – maybe even unlike any other.
The article proposes the hypothesis that Sabarimala is actually a Buddhist pilgrimage(monastery). Some of the salient points are given below, which are really thought provoking. It makes sense, on some level.
- The austerities followed by the Iyyappa devotees are similar to the vows, known as ashta-shilas, taken by Buddhists
- The Iyyappa temple in Sabarimala was built by a Pandalam king. The Pandalam dynsasty is an offshoot of the Pandya dynasty of Tamil Nadu. And the Pandalam king who built the Iyyappa temple was not a Hindu. He was a Buddhist.
- (They) never bother to think how Iyyappa who is supposed to be the son of Shiva and Vishnu, could have possibly met got help from a Muslim who lived just a few hundred years ago.
- The pilgrims’ chant of ‘Swamiye Saranam Iyyappa’ is similar to the Buddhist chant of ‘Buddham Saranam Gachhaami’. In no other Hindu temple is the word ‘Saranam’ used in a chant.
- The Makara Jyoti which appears mysteriously in the Sabarimala forests on the Makara Sankranti day gave it the name Potalaka. The surprise: The Dalai Lama’s palace in Lhasa is called – Potala!
- Hsuen Tsang refers to Avalokitesvara* on the Potala in the following words, summarised by Waters (1905): “In the south of the country near the sea was the Mo-lo-ya (Malaya) mountain, with its lofty cliffs and ridges and deep valleys and gullies, on which were sandal, camphor and other trees. To the east of this was Pu-ta-lo-ka (Potalaka) mountain with steep narrow paths over its cliffs and gorges in irregular confusion…”
- Iyyappa is also known as Dharma Sasta, and “Shastha” is mentioned elsewhere as a name for the Buddha.
- Iyyappa has the vajradanda, a crooked stick in his right arm. The vajra is a characteristic weapon of Bodhisattva.