Jain religion was brought to the South in the third century B.C.
by Chandra Gupta Maurya (321-297 B.C.) and the Jain saint Bhadrabahu,
according to Jain traditions. These men came to Sravanabelgola
in Mysore. Later more Jain missionaries came to Tamil Nadu
and converted many Cheras to their religion. Prince Ilango Adigal,
the author of Shilappadikaram, is believed to be a Jain.
The Jains came to Kerala with the rest of the Chera immigrants starting
in the sixth century. The only evidence of their presence
in Kerala is the incontro-vertible fact that some Hindu temples
of today were originally Jain temples.
Matilakam was a famous Jain temple which Hindus shunned as late
as the fourteenth century according to Kokasandesam, though at present
it is a Hindu temple. Today, the presiding deity of Kudalmanikkam
Temple near Irinjalakuda is Bharata, the brother of Rama; originally
it was Bharateswara, the digambara Jain saint. Kallil, near
Perumbavur, has a rock-cut cave in which we can still see the images
of Parswantha, Mahavira, and Padmavati; the local Hindus worship
Bhagavati in this temple today. Several places in wynad have
Jain temples -an indication that North Malabar was once a flourishing
center of Jainism.
believe that the decline of Jainism started about the eighth century
during the Aryanization period of Kerala when Vaishnavism and Saivism
were active and aggressive. Jainism seems to have completely
disappeared from Kerala by the sixteenth century; the foreign visitors
from Europe do not mention the Jains at all. One lasting contribution
of Jainism to Kerala, according to wi'lliam Logan, is that the architecture
of the Hindu temples and the Muslim mosques of North Malabar was
influenced by the architecture of the Jain temples.
I may add here that there are some old Jain families in the Wynad-Kasargod
area even today.
Hindu Heritage of Kerala
the earlier chapters I have discussed the Aryanization process,
the Brahmins, the Nairs, the Ezhavas, and their festivals.
Those sections deal with some aspects of Hinduism. It is impossible
to treat the riches of this great religion and its historical evolution
in a short study like this.
a few important observations on Kerala Hinduismare in order simply
because Kerala Hindus are quite different from Northern Hindus.
This difference is built into the very fabric ofHHiiniil'fi.i's-m
which is not an organized system or creed but a congeries of loosely
related traditions and cults. In this sense, Hinduism can
be compared to Christianity which is made up of numerous denominations
like the Roman Catholics, the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox,
the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Jacobites, the
Marthomites, and so on.
is much in common in the beliefs and practices of these Christians
just as among the Hindus of Kerala and the rest of India.
Today the Brahmins, Nairs, Ezhavas, and the various other castes
and tribes of Kerala consider themselves Hindus though long ago
Ezhavas and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes were really not Hindus
at all. Most of them had their own tribal religions, as many
tribes still do, in spite of the overwhelming influence of Hinduism.
the many features of their religious belief, Kerala Hindus recognize
not just the thirty-three Vedic deities but many more; according
to popular counting, there are 330 million godsl The major
deities have a number of manifestations or incarnations known as
Avatars. The essence of all things is Brahman, the impersonal universal
soul, which is never represented by an image; he is like the Christian,
Jewish, and Muslim God ~ only in appellations is this God different
in all these religions. Of the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti), Brahma
has always remained cold and aloof, like God the Father of the Christian
religion. Vishnu, the Preserver) is represented as a god of
pleasant countenance, with four arms, eternally sleep-ing on his
couch, the many-headed serpent Ananta as in the An antasay an am
of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Trivandrum.
the best-known of the ten Avatars. the most popular in Kerala are
Krishna and Rama. Like Vishnu, Shiva is extremely popular
in Kerala. But among the three major sects of Hinduism--Vaishnavism,
Saivism and Saktism (derived from the worship of Sakti, the
divine mother)--Vaishnavism is the most popular in Kerala.
More Hindus take the Vaishnavite names than Saiv'ite names, and
more temples are dedicated to Vishnu than to Shiva. The divine
mother (Bhagavati), however, seems to have more temples in her honor
as the Virgin Mary has more churches in her honor than Jesus Christ
in the Catholic Church.
the ethical concerns of the Hinduism of Kerala are the important
concepts of ritual purity, Dharma. Karma, and Moksha. Ritual
purity implies that contact with impure matter (including low-caste
people) defiles or pollutes a person and this pollution or sin necessitates
physical and spiritual cleansing. Keralites tend to bathe about
two times a day for the sake of physical cleansing; they go to temples
for spiritual cleansing. It is interesting to point out that
the cow, one of the purest of substances for orthodox Hinduism,
is not so sacred in Kerala, which I attribute to Keralites' Munda
origins; for the Mundas, cow is not a sacred animal. Dharma,
the moral imperative, which is absolute, universal, and immutable
in orthodox Hinduism, is rather relative in Kerala Hinduism except
for the Brahmins. Karma or the acceptance of fate is becoming
less and less a formidable force in the lives of most Keralite Hindus;
most persons no longer believe that Brahma writes an individual's
fate on his forehead when he is born except when it is impossible
to get out of a tragic situation. Moksha, liberation from
the wheel of Karma and reabsorption into Brahman is still the ultimate
personal goal of all Hindus; this is pre-dicated upon the fulfillment
of the three paths of Jnana (knowledge), jihakti (devotion
to a personal god). Karma (devotion to duty).