Sree Narayana Guru's

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(New lights on the concept of Dharmasastha)


Dharma (righteousness) is the basic foundation of Indian philosophy. Dharma is the path towards liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. Artha (wealth or possession) and kama (instinctual desire) are the sights on both sides of this path. The pursuits of wealth and desire for possessions must be within the ambit of Dharma.


Dharmasastra is founded in the rule or principle that, “you reap what you sow”. Dharma is eternal because it sustains at all times. Therefore we call Hindu Dharma as Sanatana dharma (the absolute and eternal law of life). One who dictates, preaches or corrects Dharma is called Dharmasastha. Sastha is a synonym for Buddha as mentioned in the Sanskrit  lexicon, Amarakosa. It was Buddha who proclaimed,  “Dharmam  Saranam  Gatchami” (I am moving towards taking refuge in Dharma), for the first time in India. Though there were other masters for Dharma in the later years, Buddha stands out as the ‘first’ to preach Dharma.


The five precepts mentioned in Shri Narayana Dharma, ie, Ahimsa (non injury/non-violence), Satyam (Truth), Astheyam (non stealing), Avyabhicharam (un-adultery) and avoidance of intoxicants, are the same as Buddha Dharma. In Buddhism these are known as Pancha-silas ( 5 moral disciplines or obligations). The path of purity encompasses these teachings of Buddha.


Until 10th century AD, almost 85% of the people in Kerala were Buddhists or Jains. Following the attack that took place between 10th and 12th century AD, Hinduism established itself. It was Paramara Parasurama (970 AD) who conquered Kerala and initiated the process of conversion to Hinduism. This is the same Parasurama, who is mentioned in Hindu scriptures, as the one who threw his axe and reclaimed the land, which he later gave as gifts to Brahmins. The reference to ‘reclamation’ is to indicate the process of reclaiming Hindu Dharma from the influence of Buddhism and Jainism, or the country from their hold. The battle axe was the most common weapon used in those days by the soldiers. Parasurama took over the Buddhist places of worship and converted them into Hindu Temples. He then gave charge of these temples to Brahmins to run them according to Hindu rites of worship.


This was followed by the attack of Cholas (999 to 1102 AD). During this period, the Buddha vihars were converted into Siva temples. The Jaina vihars were changed into temples of Vishnu. The nunneries (where the Bikshunis lived) became Devi temples. What we see today as temples of Dharma Sastha were originally Buddha or Jaina vihars. (Vihars were Buddhist or Jaina monastic retreats.)


During the later period, under the leadership of king of Pandalam, a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, which is now known as Sabarimala, was conquered. In this conquest the king of Pandalam, must have taken the help of the Muslims residing in the precincts of Erumeli. As a result, Vavar (Babar), a muslim commander, finds a place in this story or legend. All these events took place around 1600 AD.


The place conqured by the King of Pandalam, belonged to the Maravars of Tamilnadu. After the conquest, the king became a believer in Hinduism. As a result, this shrine became a centre of Hindu worship. Both the Saivaites and Vaishnavaites tried to take control of this temple. Based on a compromise between these two groups, the story or legend of Hariharaputra (son of Vishnu and Siva) gained popularity. May be in order to ward any further onslaughts, a temples with 18 narrow steps was built, which made access to this shrine difficult.


Till recently, Brahmins did not visit this temple carrying the traditional bundle of coconuts and rice (Irumudi-kettu). They called the temple as a Pulaya (lower caste Hindu) temple. Even today, the clothes worn by the devotees represent those worn by the lower castes/tribals.


The Mudra (symbolic gesture) attributed to Ayyappa is unique, where the index finger of the hand is kept joined with the thumb, leaving the other three fingers free. This symbolizes the steadfast aim of the devotee to achieve nirvana, by taking refuge in the three jewels (Triratnas), Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the fundamental commitments of a Buddhist. (Buddha- the awakened one. Dharma- the truth and tenets expounded by him. Sangha- the community following these principles.) Lord Buddha is popularly depicted as sitting in Padmasana (lotus pose) with the fingers of both hands held in Chinmudra.


There is no class discrimination in Sabarimala. Everybody is an Ayyappa (a representative of the deity) or a Malikapuram (mother godess). Even this concept has its roots in Buddhism and its principle of equality. Though people practiced different professions or crafts, there was no caste distinction in Buddhism.


The chanting of Saranam (refuge in God) is part of Buddhism. Buddham Saranam Gachhami (I take refuge in the enlightened One), Sangham Saranam Gachhami (I take refuge in the community of Bikshus/Bikshunis,), Dharmam Saranam Gachhami(I take refuge in the practice of Truth and righteousness). Today, these have been changed to ‘Swami Saranam’ and ‘Dharmasastha Saranam’. That is the only difference.


The word ‘Palli’ means place of worship in the Pali language. The Christians named their churches as ‘Christian Pallis’ and the Muslims their places of worship as ‘Muslim Pallis’. The word ‘Pallikettu’ also must have its origin in Buddhism. Palli-urakkam (God’s sleep/ King’s sleep) Palli-unarthal (awakening God/King) indicates their relationship to the word ‘Palli’, in Buddhism.


Eighteen Nikayas (canons) are the basic tenets of Buddhism. Nikaya literally means ‘corpus’ or ‘collection of Sutras’. In the Sanskrit lexicon (Amarakosa), Buddha has eighteen synonyms. Further the concept of eighteen can be explained as follows: Aryasatyas (noble truths) -4, Ashtangamargas (paths) -8, Triratnas (jewel) -3, Chitbhavanas -3 (Maitri, Muditam and Karuna). The concept of eighteen steps in Sabarimala must have come from these concepts in Buddhism.


Till about the 10th century AD, Tamil ws spoken in Kerala. In Tamil, Dharmasastha had names like ‘Ayyan’ and ‘Ayyappan’. This like the use of Muthappan to describe some gods. Even the cry of ‘Ayyo!’, in danger or distress (as calling God for help) must have arisen from Buddhism.


After 5th century AD, Buddhism and Jainism declined steadily in Northern India, and in its place Saivism and Vaishnavism grew rapidly. Later Hinduism emerged from the combination of various forms of worship of God practiced by Hindus, viz, Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu and his incarnations), Saivism (worship of Siva), Saktheyam (worship of Sakthi), Ganapathyam (worship of Ganapathy), Souryam (worship of Surya). In kerala this transition took place mainly during the period 12th and 15th century AD.


Though Buddhism declined and was eclipsed from India, the Hindus in Kerala accepted Buddha in the form of Dharmasastha. In most temples Dharmasastha (Ayyappan) is installed as upadevata (secondary deity).