Sunday, October 08, 2006

Temple architecture of Kerala -I

The temple architecture in Kerala shows East Asian influences. Few have speculated a population from North-East/East Asian region moving to Kerala. Others have speculated the overwhelming Buddhist presence in the region.

I don’t find much merit in the population movement. Let’s consider Buddhism. I do not have much knowledge about the area from which Buddhism spread in Kerala. Buddhism that was prevalent in Kerala might have been Tantraism. And Eastern regions are the origin of this sect. However, I don’t think the Buddhists who came to Kerala could be from Eastern regions beyond India. That leaves us with only cult that came from regions outside the boundaries of present day India. And that is Natha cult of Nepal.

Natha cult:
According to few sources, that I have read, not much is known about this cult. But it is in this cult where Buddhism met Shivaism. Buddhists became Shaivas.

According to legends in my place(Mangalore), a Natha cult guru Matsyendranatha (or Minnatha, literally Lord of fish) from Nepal visited Mangalore(and even Kerala) around 10th century. He propagated Shaiva Tantraism among Buddhists Tanriks*. One of his disciples was a queen called Mangale from an unknown(to me) Malayala region. She followed Matsyendranatha to Tulu regions along with her husband(to be precise, she followed her husband who was a follower of Minnatha) and two children. After few crazy incidents she would die tragically. And it looks like for some unknown reasons she was made goddess and the place was named Mangala Pura after her. Later the place came to known as Mangalooru (Or Mangalore) but Malayalees still call it Mangala Puram**. Now back to original topic.

In my opinion, the East Asian influence is because of Nepal connection through Natha cult. Nepal architecture has obvious Sino-Tibetan features. Probably, sculptors, architects from Nepal followed Natha cult gurus to Tulu/Malayala regions. I am not sure how many of these temples are older than 1000 years.

*Another region where Natha cult became popular was Bengal. No wonder, both Malayala/Tulu and Bengal regions show very strong Tantrik tradition even today.

**The native Tuluvas call the region “Kudla”. Fits well with my Tala people theory with little bit stretching(tala-> kada).

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