Is Sabarimala a Buddhist Monastery?

Posted on April 1, 2007

Ayyappa 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.

  1. The austerities followed by the Iyyappa devotees are similar to the vows, known as ashta-shilas, taken by Buddhists
  2. 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.
  3. (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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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…”
  7. Iyyappa is also known as Dharma Sasta, and “Shastha” is mentioned elsewhere as a name for the Buddha.
  8. Iyyappa has the vajradanda, a crooked stick in his right arm. The vajra is a characteristic weapon of Bodhisattva.

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30 Comments so far
  1. srinivas November 2, 2007 11:59 am

    did you ever think how a muslim helped the ancient bodhisattva?
    The seemingly malayali?tamil word “potala” and the Dalailama’s “potala” are one and the same?

  2. Kavisha May 7, 2008 3:50 am

    There was no clear cut demarcation between Hindu, Buddhist and Jains in south India. There was for example Pampa the adikavi of kannada who was a Jain and wrote the ramayana. SOme of the reasons citied here are quite common across all indic traditions. For Example:

    “1. The austerities followed by the Iyyappa devotees are similar to the vows, known as ashta-shilas, taken by Buddhists ”

    Vows are common in many traditions. There are Yogic vows which are also similar based on the yoga sutra of patanjali. There are also many Brahmin vrathas which enjoin similar strictures. It is not just a Buddhism Monopoly.

    “2. 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.”

    The Pandyas who ruled over many centuries where sometimes Saivaites, sometimes jain and sometimes buddhist and the latter pandyans were vaishnavaites.

    “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.”

    Sharanagathi or surrender is a common concept across all Indic traditions. There are several Hindu temples where people pledge ‘Sharanam’ to Gods. Remmber the famous Ganesha Vanda ‘ Ganesha Sharanam Prapadya’

    “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! ”

    What about Patala the sanskrin word for the undercover or underground. This is typical of many conspiracy theories. How about ‘Putana’ in Bagavatham – is she also related to potala. The potala in lahasa is infact a very local tibetian term which means red mountain.

    “Iyyappa is also known as Dharma Sasta, and “Shastha” is mentioned elsewhere as a name for the Buddha.”
    Shastha is a sanskrit word which comes from the word shasana meaning rule. This is common across Indic scriptures. Not at all unique to buddhism. Also is the ‘Shastha’ mountains in californai, america also Buddhist? It is an american indian name. Are the native american Indian buddhists as well or even Hindu?

    “Iyyappa has the vajradanda, a crooked stick in his right arm. The vajra is a characteristic weapon of Bodhisattva. ”

    Vajra is the characterstic weapon of the vedic God Indra who preceeded the Bodhisattwas by many millenia.

  3. srikantha August 12, 2008 9:41 pm

    Author,

    Sabarimala, is not buddist monastry………
    am 100% sure that it is a pure hindu monastry.
    so don’t be under wrong impression,
    coz it may imapct the society badly

  4. BIJU N.T November 27, 2008 11:23 pm

    yes , it must be a budhist temple.i ve seen a alot of jain temples in vayanad which is similiar to hindhu temples. normally hindu temples not allowed any lower caste and other religious people to their temples but budhism allowed everybody to their temples ,as you can see in sabarimala everybody is allowed. islam has come to world only 2000 years back,at that time lord shiva and visnu had been there in pathanammthitta. nobody would have converted or change their religion to islam. at that time contempory religion was budhism. so logically we cannot believe sabarimala is a hindu temple

  5. Mahesh January 16, 2009 3:44 am

    This is too sarcastic. This is like saying ‘A child gave birth to its parent’. Hinduism or ’sanaathana dharma’ has a a history of more than innumerable years. Most of the other religions are ‘created’ only with certain specific aims. But hinduism is a culture and style of life.

  6. J J April 3, 2009 12:17 am

    I have read that the name “Sabari Mala” evolved from “Sabor mala” and sabor was a christian priest from the middle east has something to do with the Nazranis of Kerala

    http://www.geocities.com/easo/NAZRANISOFKERALAhtm.htm

  7. guru murthy rao July 21, 2009 10:23 pm

    i need all buddha preachings to my mail…..

  8. Dr.Shriharsha Sharma August 16, 2010 4:49 am

    Please do not divide us more by such articles we are one under the vast umbrella of Hinduism and Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and vast number of sects and Panths are branches of Hinduism.
    Namaste.

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  10. Rejeesh P November 17, 2010 8:07 am

    Hindus do not need to convert any other religions worship places to Hindu temples. But it is a real fact that other religions started and existed here(in India) only because Hindus are tolerant.

    What is the similarity in Swami Saranam Ayyappa & Buddham Saranam Gachami? The word Saranam? What a wonderful observation! Reading your nonsense investigations, may anyone think the origin of Hinduism was only many centuries after Buddhism?

    Do not try to make silly and strange comparisons to prove that Sabarimala temple was a Pagoda. You are saying that Pandalam king was a Buddhist ruler. The name of Pandalam king was Rajasekharan from Hindu Kshathriya community. Even now representatives of Pandalam royal family take part in important functions in Sabarimala temple. Can you ask them whether their ancestors were Buddhists?

    I have only one thing to say: THE NUMBER OF PILGRIMS TO SABARIMALA TEMPLE IS INCREASING EVERY YEAR. YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON CAN NOT CHANGE THE MINDS OF CRORES OF DEVOTEES OF LORD AYYAPPAN, EVEN A SINGLE DEVOTEE OF SWAMI AYYAPPAN WILL NOT BELIEVE THESE TYPES OF BLUNDERS.

    SWAMIYE SARANAM AYYAPPA…

  11. Rejeesh P November 22, 2010 8:41 am

    >The austerities followed by Iyyappa devotees are similar to the vows, known as ashta-shilas, taken by Buddhists.
    Lord Buddha has not ‘invented’ anything new. Many Buddhist principles like ahimsa, brahmacharya etc. can be seen in Hindu writings which were composed 1000s of years before the birth of Lord Buddha. (Similar doesn’t mean both are equal)
    >Son of Vishnu & Siva is Sastha; Ayyappa is incarnation of Sastha, (like Krishna – incarnation of Vishnu) who lived only a few 100s of years back.

    >”Pandalam king who built the Iyyappa temple was not a Hindu. He was a Buddhist.(any proof?)

    >The ‘temple’ he built was in fact, a Buddhist monastery.(any proof?) The temple is supposed to be the place where a great Jain or Buddhist monk attained Nirvana” (only suppose, not sure; do you know who was that saint?)

    >In no other temple the word ‘Saranam’ is used.- Devotees use the word saranam for worship in major Hindu temples in Kerala. (please visit a few Hindu temples in Kerala & get genuine information before making frivolous arguments)

    >Here no one call Makarajyothi by the name ‘Potalaka’.
    >Ayyappan is the only Hindu God in sitting position- Haven’t you seen the photos of Ganesh, Unnikkannan, Siva etc. in sitting positions? Sriram is seen in sitting position (’Srirama pattabhishekam’). Please ‘observe’ with eyes open.

    >’Dharma Sastha’ is mentioned in Hindu puranas which were written 1000s of years before the birth of Siddhartha (Lord Buddha). Sastha and Buddha shows ‘chinmudra’- that is a similarity. (Gold and Diamond glitters- similar, but not equal)

    >Ayyappa has no weapon or stick in any of his arms (Please look at any picture of Sabarimala Ayyappan at least once), but Pulivahanan photo shows bow & arrows in the hands of Lord Ayyappa. Many other Hindu Gods & Goddesses have also weapons in their hands. Then what is the connection with Lord Buddha?

    You come to Kerala and visit Erumeli, Pandalam & Pamba; inquire and observe with a clear vision & clear your doubts.

    You can see the successors of Pandalam king and Vavar in Sabarimala. If you think they are fake, then why can’t you try to find out the originals.

    Please take ‘Vratham’ and come to Sabarimala or at least worship Lord Buddha with true devotion. God (Buddha, Ayyappa or any other deity) will show you the right path.

    I have studied that Lord Buddha’s most important teaching is ahimsa. Ahimsa not only means not to wound or kill other living beings, but also it means not to harass, insult, hate, abuse or defame others or others’ beliefs.

    Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

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  14. shayari December 3, 2011 9:27 pm

    I do not disagree with this article…

  15. Suresh December 20, 2011 7:18 pm

    I think the categorization of Hinduism and Buddhism as separate religions is something that arose from Western thought. It is true, that there are differences in their thought, but I think separating them is too simplistic. I think Hindo-Buddhism is what we have today, since the modern form of Hinduism familiar to us is heavily influenced by Buddha’s teachings.

    In Japan, for example, people worship Saraswati, whom they call Benzaiten. So i think sabarimala being a buddhist monastery does not detract from its hindu-ness, because Hinduism and Buddhism have always been very closely intertwined.

  16. Ranjith January 15, 2012 5:57 am

    SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2011

    Sabarimala and Kerala’s Buddhist Tradition
    B.R.P.Bhaskar

    The 1931 Census Report of Travancore states: “The famous Sastha temples now existing in Sabarimala, Thakkala and other places in Travancore were originally none other than temples dedicated to (the) Buddha. Besides these temples, several remains of Buddhist viharas and chaityas are still seen in different parts of this country. These are indications of Buddhism having been once the common religion in Travancore”. (Thakkala is now in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu).

    The Census Report of Travancore was not written by a British official or Marxist historian. The Census, though part of the operations conducted by the British rulers throughout the continent, was conducted by the government of Travancore. The state was ruled by a family which had accepted Vedic servitude unreservedly. Most of the Dewans who presided over the administration were followers of the Vedic tradition. The senior members of the bureaucracy also belonged to that tradition. The Dewan at the time of the 1931 census was V. S. Subramanya Iyer, whose name itself certifies his Vedic connection.

    A report dated June 5, 1881, submitted by the Peishkar (head of the district administration) of Trivandrum, V. Nagam Aiya, to Maharaja Visakham Thirunal, pointed out that the temple at Chitaral in Vilavancode taluk (this place too is now in TN) was a Buddhist place of worship. The Maharaja recorded this comment on it: “Your description is correct. The Brahmins have appropriated and adapted this Buddhist temple as they have done with many others. What you call muni is nothing but the figure of Buddha Gautama”. (Nagam Aiya, well-known as the author of the Travancore Gazetteer, belonged to a Telugu Brahmin family living in the Thirunelveli area of TN)

    The Sabarimala deity was given a Hindu identity by the Vedic community by fabricating the fib about the Raja of Pandalam finding the abandoned son of Vishnu and Siva in the forest. The Raja’s family, a remnant of the Pandyans of Madurai, did not reach Pandalam until the 11th century. Sabarimala’s history goes back farther than that.

    The Vedic community could not even fabricate a credible lie for the origin of the temple it took over. It didn’t need a good story because there was a slavish population ready to swallow any lie it dished out.
    http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
    The quotations above are taken from the book “A Social History of India” by Dr. S. N. Sadasivan, a distinguish academic who taught at the Indian Institute of Public Administration , New Delhi, and the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.

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    Now iam also think like this, the sabarimala, was a buddist monastery

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  24. B April 21, 2014 3:32 am

    Some guy wrote that Shabarimala evolved from Sabor mala a Christian priest. What a shit. Shabari was a tribal woman who gave wild berries to Lord Rama when he visited her during his exile years. That’s how it came to be knowk as Shabarimala.
    Whoever has written this false thing should consult a Psychiatrist.
    Bharat belongs to Hindus not the christians

  25. B April 21, 2014 3:33 am

    Some guy wrote that Shabarimala evolved from Sabor mala a Christian priest. What a shit. Shabari was a tribal woman who gave wild berries to Lord Rama when he visited her during his exile years. That’s how it came to be knowk as Shabarimala.Whoever has written this false thing should consult a Psychiatrist. Bharat belongs to Hindus not the christians

  26. rajesh April 28, 2014 5:53 am

    potala is agasthyar koodam or pothigai malai…. dharma shastha is vajrayana buddhist siddha,,,, ayyappa swami also vajrayana maha siddha shabari pada or padmapa sangye.

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  28. Prashant June 7, 2014 10:58 am

    Without going into a point by point rebuttal, I would only like to point out that Swami Ayyappa is considered a reincarnation of ‘Dharma Shasta’. Hence, its quite possible that they lived in seperate millenia, like Rama and Krishna and other avatars of Vishnu. Essentially, Dharma Shasta was born of the union of Shiva and Vishnu and reincarnated as Ayyappa. While I dont deny there might be evidence that there was a buddhist angle to this story, the fact remains that Ayyappa is a divine inspiration to tens of millions of devotees. What do you care if the path to revelation is through Buddha Jesus or Ayyappa, considering that following this path doesnt exclude you from other paths. If you still think Ayyappa is Buddha, chant ‘Buddham saranam gachchami’ instead of ’swamiye saranam ayyappa’

  29. Vasanth October 2, 2014 6:47 pm

    This article tries to convince the readers about presence of buddhism by referring some names or phrases used. But certain points to be pondered on are :

    1) The posture of Lord Iyyappa (kind of squatting on the floor) is very unique on its own and doesn’t have any resemblance to any of buddhist monks or gurus.

    2 ) Gautam Buddha used Pali language to spread his gospel which was an offshoot of Sanskrit language. To make lay men understand his teachings buddha simplified sanskrit. So definitley some words will sound similar and also might mean the same.

    3 ) Buddism as a way of life is a branch of hinduism or sanatana dharma. Many of buddha’s teachings are found in Bhagavath Geetha which came much much ealrier than his time. Only difference was that Buddha never acknowledged the presence of an superior almighty power over humans. He rather propounded humans to realise divinty by self realisation.

    4) With so many rituals like Mala Dharanam, 41 days tough penance and austerity, Guruswami’s importance, Padi pooja and taking bath at pampa before visiting the shrine, one must be really stupid to doubt the authenticity of Lord Iyyappa’s history. Its very much a Hindu culture and tradition to take bath in a river before visiting a shrine.

    5 ) History can always be distorted and can never be 100 percent accurate. Even buddhist’s themselves aren’t sure about the birthplace of Gautam Buddha which is currently believed to be lumbini park in Nepal. Inspite of that the Nepal government doesn’t promote that place and also buddist’s across the world don’t vsit that place in large numbers. Does that mean Buddha was not born in Nepal or in Lumbini park ?? We can’t be sure.

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