Traces of Buddhism in Kerala

12 Feb

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Hi all,

On 7th Feb 2017, my 70th birthday, I did something that I had been planning to do for a long time. I gave myself a treat, hired a taxi and visited two Buddhist Monastery sites in Kottayam, the town where I was born.


Very few people know today that Kerala had a sizable population of Buddhists in the first century. Buddhism is believed to have reached Kerala from Sri Lanka or “Eelam”. The early Buddhists were called “Eelavar” or “Ezhavar”. In Malabar this group were called “Theeyar” (People from the “Theep” or Dweep).

Although Ezhavas are included as Hindus today, their organization, Sree Narayana Dharma Palanam (SNDP) promotes “One Caste, One religion, One God for man”, which is a Buddhist precept.

Hinduism was the ancient religion of the region, which was strengthened by Adi Sankaracharya in the eighth century (788–820 CE).

According to popular legend St. Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ is said to have arrived in Muziris, a port city near Ernakulam in AD 52 and converted some families. “There is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity spread in Kerala by the 6th century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically…”


There are two Hindu temples in Kottayam which were originally Buddhist Viharas or Monasteries.

1. Neelamperoor Pally Bhagavathi Temple believed to have been built between AD 250 and 300.
Location: Lat: 9:29:48.714 and Long: 76:30:20.658
Route: Thirunnakkara Maidanam to Neelamperoor 15 km. At Mandiram Junction near Kurichy turn right onto Chethipuzha Kurichy Road. Ask for the Pally Bhagavathi Temple. Originally only Buddhist temples were called “Pally” and the monastic schools attached to them were called “Pallikoodam”. Today Christian Churches and Muslim Mosques are called “Palli”… it is not a name usually associated with Hindu temples.

2. Kiliroor Kunnil Bhagavathy Temple is believed to be 2000 years old.
Location: Lat:9:34:52.344 and Long: 76:29:8.484
Route: Thirunnakkara Maidanam is 6 km on the Kottayam Kumarakom Road. Cross Illickal Bridge, turn left at Illickal Jn. and get onto Thiruvarpu Road. Turn left onto Kiliroor Devi Temple Road.

Instead of a lawn, the grounds are covered with ¼” granite chips and having to walk barefoot was a very painful experience.

I will add photographs when I post individual stories on each of the temples.

As a teaser, I am adding one photo each of the entrance to the two temples.

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