Friday, December 2, 2016

History of Kaviyoor - 1

[In the article titled ‘Kaviyoor’ in Wikipedia, I had appended the history of Kaviyoor. Subsequently, I was also part of the project ‘Thrikkaviyoor’ (തൃക്കവിയൂര്‍), which historian Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair had initiated. The book by the same name authored by him over a decade ago in Malayalam still remains unknown to most of the villagers. Its central theme was the Kaviyoor Mahadeva temple. I have used here a lot of materials that I had put in as a contributor in the Wikipedia and the book of Mr. Nair - with some changes and additions. Many, like have copied the history from Wikipedia and have published it under their ‘authorship’.

If you use materials from this article, please note to mention this blog as your source.

There are references to religions, professions, individuals, upper castes, lower castes, conversion of people, conversion of worship centres, politicians, bureaucrats etc. which may not be palatable to some. Those who get offended may please excuse me.

For the benefit of youngsters, I have added many notes in blue font. They are based on my readings with a few personal opinions added here and there. If they contain extracts from any book/articles, names of the authors have also been added.

Some of the topics like the politics of the Kaviyoor Brahmins, the administration of the ancient village, the mysterious Brahmins of ‘Valiya Manakkal’ etc. may seem to be insipid to casual readers. Please bear in mind that the target of this article is the young generation of Kaviyoor and lovers of history. This may be considered only as an instructional document for youngsters. It does not bear the usual characteristics of an article on History.

Acronyms used: C.E., Common Era (instead of A.D.), B.C.E., Before Common Era (instead of B.C.), M.E., Malayāļam Era i.e. Kolla Varsham].

Last edited: July 28, 2019

Profile-Etymology: Kaviyoor or Kapiyoor-Early History of Religion and Migration-Jainism, Buddhism and Vedic Hinduism-Brahmins from Tulunadu-Buddhist Heritage

Profile of the Village

Kaviyoor (കവിയൂര്‍), also spelt Kaviyūr, is one of the smallest villages (Panchayats) of the southern Indian state of Kerala. Located in the Taluk (Tehsil, subdistrict) of Thiruvalla in the district of Pathanamthiṭṭa, it is now home to people numbering 16,852 (Census 2011). A tropical hilly village admeasuring 12.67 km2 (per official website of Kaviyoor Panchayat), Kaviyoor lies east-northeast of Thiruvalla, a prominent town of south-central Kerala. Distance to the Thiruvalla town is 4 km; another town, Changanassery, is 11 km away on the west. River Manimala, (മണിമല or വിഷഘ്നാ, Vishaghnaa, in Sanskrit), forms the natural boundary of Kaviyoor on the south/southeast. The canal at Kattodu is the boundary (see Kattodu Culvert in the map above) between Kaviyoor village and the Municipality of Thiruvalla.

Distances to various places from Kaviyoor are measured with reference to Kammaala Thakidi, the N.S.S. Higher Secondary School junction. It was also known as ‘ezhaam mile’ (ഏഴാം മൈല്‍) during 1940-1960 because the milestone denoting the distance to Changanasseri – 7 Miles – was placed at this junction.

Coordinates for Kaviyoor: N 90 23’, E 760 36’.

Formation of Modern Kaviyoor

Kaviyoor abuts the villages of Kunnanthanam, Mallappalli, Vallamkuļam, Nedungadappalli, Paippad, Peringara and Kallooppara, as per the map of the Local Self Government Department of the government of Kerala. The map could be wrong because Peringara does not share its border with Kaviyoor. Thiruvalla Municipality lies on the west-southwest. Eraviperoor and Kuttoor Panchyats just across the Manimala river also can be considered neighbouring villages. But the ancient Kaviyoor Brahmin Gramam was almost 5 to 6 times bigger and it included all the neighbouring villages of modern era including the modern village of Nedungadappalli but excluding Kuttoor and Perumthuruthy. It is not known whether the old Kaviyoor Brahmin gramam was divided and made smaller as per the Travancore Village Regulation of 1920 or Village Panchayat Act of 1935 or Village Union Act of 1940. The first Panchayat started functioning on August 15, 1953 following the first post-independence Panchayat election in the combined princely state of Travancore-Cochin.

The village comprises 14 wards which are:

Aikkuzhy, Munidyappalli, Punnilam, Nazhippara, Kottoor, Mathimala, Kaviyoor, Njalbhagam, Thottabhagam, Manakkal Chira, Padinjattumcheri, Polachira, Makattil Kavala and Eilavinal

Each ward is represented in the Panchayat Council by an elected member. Election is held once in five years. The post of president of the Panchayat is reserved for women.

Kaviyoor, A Brahmin Village of Ancient Kerala

The highest position in the multi-tier caste system practised by Hindus of India from time immemorial belongs to Brahmins. There were 64 ancient settlements of Brahmins (Brahmin-Grāmams, ബ്രാഹ്മണഗ്രാമങ്ങള്‍, or ‘village-conglomerates’) on the western region of south India – 32 in Kerala and 32 in Tulu Nadu, southern Karnataka. The Kerala Brahmin villages are believed to have existed from circa 8th century C.E. till about 1900 C.E.

Kaviyoor (not to be confused with a locality by the same name in Chokli village near Thalasseri in northern Kerala) is one of the 32 Brahmin Grāmams of Kerala. The Brahmins are believed to have been settled in Kerala by Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the trinity of the Hindu pantheon, though the truth is that it was ancient migration coupled with the efforts of a few local kings that brought them here. The other Brahmin Grāmams near Kaviyoor were Thiruvalla, Chengannur, Aranmula and Kidangoor. The Kaviyoor Brahmin village was ruled by Tulu Brahmins called Pottis (also called Empraans/Empraanthiris: പോറ്റി/എമ്പ്രാന്‍/എമ്പ്രാന്തിരി), an inferior section of Brahmins, for over 1000 years.

The Brahmin village was a province of the principality of Nanruzhai Nadu (നന്റുഴൈനാട്), which had its capital at Thrikkodithanam (തൃക്കൊടിത്താനം), 10 km west of modern Kaviyoor, till circa C.E. 1150. Nanruzhai Nadu was one of the administrative divisions of the Chera kings who had ruled from Kodungallur. Its rulers were called Naduvazhis (നാടുവാഴികള്‍). The Brahmin village fell under the kingdom of Thekkumkoor in circa 1150 C.E. and under the kingdom of Travancore in C.E. 1750-1751. Kaviyoor was attached to Thiruvalla Tehsil/Taluk in the 19th century and shrunk in area in the 20th century when some of its provinces, as mentioned earlier, were made independent villages. Following the Indian independence, it fell under the state of Thiru-Kochi (Travancore-Cochin) in 1948. When the state of Kerala was formed in 1956, the Tehsil was put in the district of Alappuzha. On Nov 1, 1982 with the formation of the district of Pathanamthitta, the taluk of Thiruvalla was merged with it.


The village is renowned for the deity of Hanūmān enshrined at the local Mahadeva (Siva) temple. About 1 km north of the temple is the famous rock-cut cave temple. Till the end of 19th century, the village braziers were famous for making a unique brass vessel with a spout called Kindi (കിണ്ടി). The production of Kindi was far more complex than the highly prized Aranmula mirror (ആറന്മുളക്കണ്ണാടി). The technique of making the Kindi is no longer available due to the skilled artisans of the 19th century having not passed the secret techniques on to their progenies or their younger generations seeking other vocations to have a better living in the 20th century. The ‘Thekkethil’ family of carpenters were known for their architectural skills throughout Kerala. It is believed to be a branch of the Thekkedath family that was patronized by the kings of Thekkumkoor. The beautiful wooden carvings at Kaviyoor Mahadeva temple were perhaps made by them. They are also credited with the construction of the Koothambalam, the temple theatre for performing Koothu, an art form of Kerala, at the Subrahmanya temple, Harippad in the district of Alappuzha.

(Late addition: In July 2018, one Kindi was traced to Kalluparambil house, near Kaviyoor Mahadeva Temple.

Read about the Kindi here: )

The Terrain

It is a hilly village. The flat wetlands at the foot of the hills became rice fields. The eastern areas bordering Kallooppara and parts of northern Kaviyoor are craggy. The famous cave temple is in north Kaviyoor. The three rocks elsewhere in the village (Puliyirikkum Para, Kaniyan Para and Nazhi Para) have all disappeared due to uncontrolled mining.

Certain hilly areas of Mundiyappalli, a province of north Kaviyoor, are at an elevation of about 70m above sea-level. At 3m, the rice field at western Kaviyoor (Padinjattumcherry) is the lowest terrain. These Google Map readings may not be reliable.

Religions of the Village

The famous Mahadeva Temple of Kaviyoor, one of the oldest Hindu shrines of Kerala, was established around C.E. 9th century. The first Christian church of the village was built by the Church of South India (CSI) in 1867. (There is a separate section for temples and churches of the village in this article). Although Hinduism was – and still is - the major religion of the village, the number of Christians grew steadily absorbing the low-caste Hindu villagers till the beginning of C.E. 20th century. The reformation movement of Kerala initiated by a number of modern social activists reached Kaviyoor very late; the atrocious caste system was practised in Kaviyoor till the late 1940’s by many of the ill-educated and illiterate upper Hindu castes, forcing a section of the ‘untouchables’ (now called Dalits) too to embrace Christianity. There were no Muslims in Kaviyoor till the 1990’s; their number is still very insignificant. The village does not have any family of Kshatriyas, the traditional non-Brahmin ruling caste. There are no Namputhiris/Bhattathiris/Namputhirippads/Bhattathirippads, (all upper caste Brahmins) in modern Kaviyoor.

Education and Health

Although there was a Vedic school attached to the Mahadeva temple, it was for the benefit of Brahmin students. It is difficult to find out its dates of establishment and closure. There is reference to it in the temple chronicles of 1530 C.E. and 1543 C.E. 

The C.M.S. Lower Primary School, the first modern academic institution of Kaviyoor is said to have been started by Rev. John Hawkesworth in 1850 at Pazhampalli. It is almost defunct now since the children of the village are sent to distant modern schools. Efforts are being made to restart the school.

Another school of Kaviyoor in the modern era was established by ‘Kaviyoor Swamikal’, a Hindu ascetic; its date of establishment is not known but it wound up in the 1940’s.  A school with classes from 5 to 7 was started by Madathil K. Narayana Pillai for the Nair Service Society, a body of Nairs, with the money collected from local Brahmins and Nairs. It was upgraded to higher secondary school in 1946. The village has since been inundated with educational institutions - there are now 5 higher secondary schools imparting the ISC, CBSE and Kerala syllabi, a Teachers’ Training School, a graduation-level college, a B. Ed College and a Nursing College. Quite a handful for a small village of 12.67 with a small population. The graduation-level college was started in 2015. All the higher education institutions are affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. 

Literacy (2011) is about 91%.

There was a cinema house in the 1970’s but it wound up a few years later.

There is a state-run Primary Health Centre, besides two small private health clinics. There are also Ayurvedic and homoeopathic practitioners. Within 15 minutes’ drive, at Thiruvalla, there are two medical colleges, a large private hospital and a large government hospital.


The prime occupation of the once agrarian village is no longer agriculture. Many old parents survive on their children’s income from various professions. Scores of educated, skilled and unskilled people had worked and are working abroad, especially in the Middle East. Many are employed as government servants. The enormous cost of manpower has reduced the villagers to being mere consumers of produces coming from elsewhere. Rice cultivation and vegetable farming have become negligible. There is a government-owned fish farm. For all daily requirements of grains, vegetables and fish and meat products, the villagers depend on ‘imports’ from nearby towns which mostly are arrivals from the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu.

Industry, Communication and Transport

There is no industrial establishment, except a small plywood manufacturing unit.

The village has got all the modern communication facilities - telephone, mobile network and internet services. Private bus services link the village with nearby towns. The nearest railway station is at Thiruvalla.

Etymology of ‘Kaviyoor’
The origin of the word 'Kaviyoor' has not yet been acceptably traced.

The modern meaning of Kavi, borrowed from Sanskrit, is ‘poet’. Oor means ‘land/place’. The literal translation of ‘Kaviyoor’ gives one the impression that it was a land of poets. It is far from true; though there were a few poets, they all belonged to 20th century.

Some, mostly the devotees of the temple deities of the village, argue that it was ‘Kapiyoor’. The records available do not support this argument.

1. The words 'Kaviyoor' and 'Thiru-kaviyoor' appear on the Sri Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) of the Mahadeva temple in the epigraphs of: 
  • 950-951 C.E.
  • 951-952 C.E.
2. The Daily Notes/Chronicles (ഗ്രന്ഥവരി): An entry dated Chingam 17, 686 M.E. (August, 1511 C.E.) written by the then chief priest of the Mahadeva temple, mentions ‘Kaviyoor’. 

This record of the chief priest, a Potti belonging to Vilakkilimangalam illam (വിലക്കിലിമംഗലം പോറ്റി) of Thiruvalla was transcribed by Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair in his Thiruvalla Granthavari, published by Mahatma Gandhi University, Koṭṭayam. The Vilakkilis, a short name for Vilakkilimangalam Pottis, were the most dominant of the Brahmins who ruled Thiruvalla Brahmin gramam. They were also the chief priests at the temples of Kaviyoor, Changanassery (Vazhappalli) and Thiruvalla.

(The concept of gramams is discussed in the next section)

The two documents that refer to ‘Kapiyoor’ are:

  1. The Chronicles of 726 M.E. (1551-1552 C.E.) of Puliyoor temple, near Chengannur.
  2. The Chronicles of 761 M.E. (1616-1617 C.E.) maintained at the Parampoor illam, (പറമ്പൂര്‍ ഇല്ലം) the residence of the tantri (തന്ത്രി), the chief priest of the Mahadeva temple, Kaviyoor.
Based on the 16th and 17th century documents mentioned last above, one may maintain that ‘Kapiyoor’ (കപിയൂര്‍) became Kaviyoor (കവിയൂര്‍) over a period of time; they attribute the name to the presence of the monkey god Hanūmān (Kapi=Monkey in Sanskrit), sub-deity of the local Mahadeva temple. This is nothing but fallacy. The argument against ‘Kapiyoor’ is that the authors who wrote these documents using either Ezhuthani (എഴുത്താണി, a pointed writing instrument made of iron used for writing on dry palm leaves) or any other etching instrument might have accidentally put a small round or horseshoe curve at the beginning of the letter 'വി'. When the curve at the beginning is smaller, 'വി' becomes 'പി '. The word thus appears as Kapiyoor (കപിയൂര്‍). Such errors galore in many ancient notes. This minor mistake is no reason to conclude that the name might have been Kapiyoor. But it led to another gaffe. When a flag post was erected at the Mahadeva temple in 1930, a Sanskrit hymn penned by a local poet and etched at its foot referred to the place as pļavagapuram (പ്ലവഗപുരം, pļavagam=monkey, puram=oor=place).

The older inscriptions and documents are more reliable. The inscription of 950-951 C.E. and 951-952 C.E. on the Sri Kovil uses ‘Kaviyoor’ thrice – once as ‘Kaviyoor’ and twice as ‘Thiru-Kaviyoor’. Which puts the proponents of ‘Kapiyoor’ in the dock. The claim that ‘Kaviyoor’ derived from ‘Kapiyoor’ is preposterous and was more based on religious belief than historical facts and logic.

The meaning of ‘Kavi’ relevant to the village is not yet interpreted. I could not get any proper explanation from historians and linguists. My personal ‘investigations’, however weak they may be, are worth considering:

In an unrelated article appeared in the Indian Express a couple of decades ago, it was stated that ‘Kavi’ is an old Kannada (the language of Karnataka) word meaning ‘cave’. Jains were probably the first evangelists to reach Kaviyoor. It was they who carved the cave in the village which later became a Buddhist shelter and Hindu shrine in that order. Since Jainism had reached Kerala through Karnataka, the Jains, proficient in Kannada, might have named the place ‘Kavi’yoor, the land of cave. The claim that ‘Kavi’ is ‘cave’ in old Kannada has not been examined by scholars. The Kannadigas I had met with could not corroborate this either. Another source could be the Brahmin rulers. They are believed to have come to Kaviyoor from Pulloor in Periya panchayat, 24 km away from Kasaragod which lies close to the Tulu region at the Karnataka border. Their language of the 7th or 8th century C.E. might have been shaped, to a certain extent, by Tulu and Kannada. Even if, as another theory suggests, the Brahmins had come from Thirunavaya, their roots must have been in Kasaragod. It is thus possible that they might have used the word ‘Kavi’ to coin the name ‘Kaviyoor’.

By and large, place names in Tamil or old Malayalam were in existence even before Brahmins arrived in Kerala. ‘Kavi’ had other meanings in ancient Malayalam and Tamil. Ancient Keralites had the habit of naming a place after its vegetation. Naykkurana, (Mucuna Pruriens, cowhage/velvet plant, നായ്ക്കുരണ) is a plant that was called Kavi by them. Did the rock and surrounding areas have a thick vegetation of the plant?

Kavi also meant sage/monk to the ancient settlers. Perhaps the Jain monks who stayed in the cave could have been the reason for the name Kavi-(y)oor. (In Sanskrit, Kavi means poet, sage, scholar, Shukra, Vishnu, Ādithya, Vālmīki, Brahma and Kalki’s elder brother. Siva is missing here; else I could have tossed up another theory because the chief deity of the village temple is Siva! All the south Indian languages have borrowed the Sanskrit word Kavi and most of its meanings).

Again, in Tamil and hence probably in ancient Malayalam, 'Kavi' means monkey. This is nothing but a corrupt form of ‘Kapi’ from Sanskrit. But the allusion to the deity of Hanūmān based on this interpretation can be ignored; it does not stand the test of logic due to the availability of the inscription of 950-951 C.E. and 951-952 C.E. the epigraph clearly mentions ‘Kaviyoor’. Besides, the deity of Hanūmān, normally not found in temples of southern Kerala, was understandably enshrined in the village temple by the Brahmins at a later date, although stories have been woven around the sage Vilwamangalam Namputhiri about its installation (discussed further down). The Brahmins, most of whom had reasonable proficiency in Sanskrit, had clearly used the word kavi, not kapi, in the two Sri Kovil inscriptions.

Another theory could be that the village was named after monkeys that were found here. A thousand years ago, monkeys were found all over south Asia. A locality in Kaviyoor is still called Mathi-mala, said to be contentiously a corrupt form of Manthi-mala. Manthi is ‘kapi’ in Sanskrit and it became ‘kavi’ for the villagers! Even during the mid-eighteenth century, elders say, there were other animals too including leopards and bears and even tigers (there is a place called Kaduva-kuzhi - tiger pit - near Chengaroor). Why was only one place in Kerala, or in south Asia for that matter, named after monkeys? Clearly, it is not any of the fauna that was the basis of naming in this case. But the most probable reason calling the hill ‘Mathi-mala’ is discussed in Part-4 (Manthi= common macaque, discussed here under ‘Etymology of Provinces of Kaviyoor’). We can simply dismiss the ‘monkey’ story.

In his ‘Thekkumkoor Charithravum Puravruthavum’, Prof. Keshavan Nampoothiri says the king of Thekkumkoor is referred to as ‘kavikshmaaramana’ (कविक्ष्मारमण:, കവിക്ഷ്മാരമണ) in Kaunothara (കൌണോത്തര), work of an unknown medieval poet. Kavikshmaaramana means, king of Kaviyoor.

കുമ്പിട്ടന്‍പോടു കുംഭിപ്രവരതിരുമുഖം ദൈവതം, വാണിമാതിന്‍
ചെമ്പൊല്‍ത്തൃക്കാല്‍ വണങ്ങി,ക്കരുതി മനസിനാരായണപ്രാണനാഥാം
വമ്പുറ്റോലിന്റെ വാചാ പുകഴ്മണിവാനിന്‍റു കൌണോത്തരാഖ്യാ-
മംഭോജാക്ഷീം കവിക്ഷ്മാരമണസുരലതാം വാഴ്ത്തുവാനുദ്യതോ ഞാന്‍

ഗണപതിഭഗവാനെ ഭംഗ്യാംവണ്ണം കുമ്പിട്ടു വാണീദേവിയുടെ സ്വര്‍ണ്ണതുല്യമായ പാദങ്ങളെ വണങ്ങി ലക്ഷ്മീഭഗവതിയെ മനസ്സില്‍ ധ്യാനിച്ചു വാക്കുകളിലൂടെ കീര്‍ത്തിയുടെ സൌരഭ്യം ലഭിക്കേണമേ എന്ന ഉദ്ദേശ്യത്തോടു കൂടി കവിയൂര്‍ ഭൂപാലനായ തെക്കുംകൂര്‍ രാജാവിന്റെ കല്പകലതയായി വര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്ന കൌണോത്തര* എന്ന സുന്ദരിയെ ഞാന്‍ വാഴ്ത്തിക്കൊള്ളട്ടെ.

[After bowing devotedly to lord Ganapathi, the golden feet of goddess Sarasvati and meditating upon goddess Lakshmi for enriching myself with the fragrance of fame through letters, may I extol the lotus-eyed Kaunothara*, the creeper that twines around the King of Kaviyoor].

*Kaunothara is the name of the heroine who is a devadasi, a temple dancer

(kshmaa=bhoomi, earth; ramana=lover/husband kshmaaramana=king).

[Since kavi also means scholar/poet, kavikshmaaramana could mean ‘the poet or scholar king’].

I stumbled upon a word Gavi (ഗവി, கவி) from old Tamil or the Tamil-like Malayalam used in ancient Kerala. Copycats beware! More work remains to be done on this theory. No historian or linguist has analyzed Gavi. (There is a hill station, Gavi, in Pathanamthitta district). Gavi means valley or cave. In Tamil and whatever was spoken in ancient Kerala, one letter Ka (க) stands for all the other consonants kha, ga and gha (,,respectively), though contextual pronunciations vary to make them sound similar to corresponding Sanskrit consonants. If we go by this assumption, Kaviyoor was actually Gaviyoor, land of cave. Probably, the immigrant Brahmins, confirmed Sanskritophiles,  retained the name, but used Kaviyoor rather than Gaviyoor. This also suggests that the famous cave of Kaviyoor existed prior to the arrival of the Brahmins. 

My enquiry stops here for the time being because I would personally like to accept the ‘gavi/kavi=cave’ theory, the second option being ‘kavi=sage’, both related to Jainism; but we need the help of linguistic experts. 

(Kaviyoor cannot be an eponym, though there is a family of Pottis called ‘Kaviyoor illam’. They are believed to have reached Kaviyoor in 12th or 13th century C.E. and adopted the name of the village as the name of their illam).


An understanding of the history of Kerala’s religions and migration would be helpful for young readers to grasp the polity of ancient Kaviyoor.

Religions, Early Settlers, Nairs (നായന്മാര്‍), Ezhavas (ഈഴവര്‍) and the Caste System:

The ancient history of Kerala is shrouded in mystery, controversy and confusion. One should read about the dynasties of Chera, Chola, Pandya, Ay, Kalabhra, Kadamba and Rashtrakuta (രാഷ്ട്രകൂടര്‍) to have a picture of ancient Kerala. At the end of it, there will be more confusion than clarity. One thing is certain – the rulers focused only on business and trade centres. Life in the interior was unaffected by the change of kings and dynasties till 10th century, C.E. The only changes that we can detect were brought about by religions. More than the rulers it is the influx of Brahmins, Nairs and Ezhavas that decided the destiny of Kerala.

A number of versions of Kerala history have been propounded by historians. The stone age drawings of Edakkal caves (Nenmara, Wynad) are dated 5000 B.C.E.  while spice exports to Egypt, Babylonia, Sumeria etc. are said to have been made from Kerala as early as 3000 B.C.E. To have a trade system and exports, there must have been a very well-developed society with a proper language, but such systems were all attached to ports and business centres. The state was not widely populated.

The translocation of Brahmins to Kerala is naturally one of the main topics of our history. It is discussed at various places of this article. Migration of the communities of Nairs and arguably Ezhavas predates the arrival of Brahmins.

The Nairs or Nayars, allegedly of Scythian origin, are also called Kerala Kshathriyas/Malayala Kshathriyas/Nāgavansha Kshathriyas. They might have arrived from one of the Himalayan regions to Kerala. Before Nairs, the forefathers of the people now referred to as Dalits and Adivasis (forest dwellers) must have settled in Kerala. They were the earliest settlers of Kerala. A little more advanced than the occupants of the time, Nairs began an era of their inordinate dominance. The strongest Nair in each province of a village might have controlled the lands. You may find an interesting discussion on their origin on Maddy’s Blog.

A write up on Ezhavas is available on this forum. It is said that they were brought here en masse from Ceylon, ancient (Sri) Lanka, when coconut (തെങ്ങ്) farming intensified. Another belief is that they were brought here by local rulers because of their prowess in armed fights. Yet another theory says they belong to an indigenous ethnic group. The Ezhavas were not just toddy tappers, but experts in coconut farming, Aurvedic system of medicine and one-to-one combats. Their migration might also have been engendered by peripatetic Buddhist monks of Ceylon. There is, however, no mention of ‘Thengu’(തെങ്ങ്in the travelogues of ancient visitors. Coconut is talked about in travelogues only about 600 years ago, i.e., after circa 1400 C.E. (P.K. Balakrishnan, Jātivyavasthitiyum Keralacharitravum). The palm tree was probably introduced on large scale after 12th century C.E. Linguists including lexicographers hold the view that ‘Thengu’ derived from the word ‘Then/Thekkan/Thengan’, തെന്‍/തെക്കന്‍/തെങ്ങന്‍, i.e. southern (palm) tree – alluding to its arrival from Ceylon.

The following, collated from my readings, is only a version of events as far as Kerala’s religions are concerned:

Before B.C.E 300: Kerala was sparsely populated during this period. Most of the inhabitants might have been the ancestors Adivasis (aborigines) and Daļits. Trade might have been controlled by merchants from Tamil regions. There was no particular religion during this period in Kerala. It might have been an era of paganism and/or animism. Casteism was unknown to the people. They followed their own style of worship or, perhaps, a kind of raw Hinduism. We are not sure what was the word used by them for their centres of worship in place of the modern words ambalam and kshéthram. It could be Kōṭṭam (കോട്ടം, fane). Each clan might have had its own Kōṭṭam. There are still temples which use the word Kōṭṭam in Kerala (discussed later in the article). We are also not certain whether Nairs and Ezhavas, immigrants from Ezham, (ഈഴം, Sri Lanka), had reached Kerala during the period.

1-100 C.E. The Ay kingdom (ആയ് രാജ്യം), with lineages of the Chera dynasty, is believed to have emerged in south Kerala. The dynasty lasted till 10th century, C.E. The Nairs were probably present in more numbers among the populace. Christianity reached Kerala during this period with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. This theory has been rejected by modern Indian and European historians and even Vatican is yet to officially accept that the apostle had visited south India. Historians argue that the arrival of Thoma of Cana in 4th century C.E. (see next paragraph) was misinterpreted as the arrival of St. Thomas.

300 B.C.E – 700 C.E.: Northern Kerala fell under Kadamba kings (കദംബരാജാക്കന്മാര്‍) of Karnataka briefly. The founder of the dynasty was Mayuravarman/Mayurasharman (345-365 C.E.) who might have encouraged the migration of Brahmins from north India in to the Deccan area. Originally Hindu Brahmins, the later Kadamba kings appeared to have embraced Jainism, which thus entered northern Kerala. The mysterious Kalabhra kings (കളഭ്രരാജാക്കന്മാര്‍), three branches of which had ruled from Madurai, Trichy and Kaveripatnam of ancient Tamilnadu (circa C.E 250-575), are believed to have been Jains but the Kaveripatnam lineage is believed to have patronized Buddhism as well. The Kalabhras might have played a strong role in spreading Jainism in south India. Kerala was therefore surrounded by Jainism and Buddhism – the former had reached Karnataka and Tamilnadu and the latter had been entrenched in Sri Lanka. Buddhism spread in Kerala mostly due to Lankan rulers. Jainism was mainly confined to Kasaragod-Ernakulam region (almost 2/3rd of Kerala) and some areas of Kanyakumari. It also had some settlers in a few southern villages like Kaviyoor. Some historians maintain that Thiruvalla was a stronghold of Jains, with the Erankavu temple (Kavumbhagom) being their main worship centre. In the southern localities of what is now Ernakulam to Thiruvananthapuram, Buddhism had spread in coastal areas and some parts of the interior south Kerala where travel by river was possible. However, in many areas paganism and animism continued to be followed by people. The Jain and Buddhist monks established temples/small pagodas for worship. In addition to temples, the Jains had also carved small worship centres and shelters out of rocks. During this period too, categorization of the society on the basis of caste might not have been prevalent. Circa 300-400 C.E., 72 Christian families led by Thoma of Cana from Syria arrived in Kerala. By 600 C.E.-700 C.E., Jainism must have been replaced by Buddhism in many places.

700-900 C.E.: The Rashtrakutas, a dynasty of Hindu kings that ruled from Gulberga, Karnataka, briefly seized almost all of south India up to Kanyakumari. The migration of Brahmins from Karnataka in the north was almost complete by 900 C.E., most of them having settled in lands nourished by rivers in different parts of the state by 800 C.E. They spread up to Chengannur in south Kerala. The kings and petty chieftains – mostly the Nairs - who ruled various principalities from Kasaragod to Chengannur not only fell under their spell but adopted the administrative system followed by the Kadambas and Rashtrakutas that the Brahmins were familiar with, thus laying the foundation of village-conglomerates or Brahmin Grāmams. Many rulers of such gramams were Pottis (see under Pathillam System). Each gramam was divided in to deshams (provinces) for ease of administration. (North of river Periyar, a Brahmin Grāmam always meant an area consisting 22 deshams. If the number of deshams was less than 22, such a village was not eligible to be called a Brahmin Grāmam. It is doubtful if such a rule existed ever in south Kerala). Hinduism gained upper hand gradually with the patronage of rulers. Initially the Brahmins did not move beyond Chengannur because the Hindu kings of the Ay dynasty who ruled most of the southern Kerala up to Nagarkoil were also patrons of Jainism and Buddhism. The secular Ay kings kept the Brahmins away because of their Hindu zealotry. The Brahmins, armed with the knowledge of Sanskrit, the so called language of heavenly beings, were apparently more literate than the locals. They wasted no time to introduce a caste-based society, rooted on their manipulative interpretation of the Vedas. The caste system would soon become the scourge of Hinduism in Kerala. Islam too reached Kerala during the period through Arab traders; and Christianity spread to more areas. (There are references to a sparse Brahmin population of Kerala, in works believed to have written in 6th century C.E.).

900-1300 C.E.: The Ay kingdom became extinct. The Cheras of Kodungallur, forced by the invasions of the Cholas from Tamilnadu, moved to Kollam,. Jainism and Buddhism virtually disappeared during this period and many of their shrines were converted in to Hindu temples. The Brahmins extended their settlement up to Kanyākumāri. The Chera kingdom too fell apart by 12th century, C.E. (There were also attacks of Pandyas of Tamil Nadu before 1100 C.E).

The Ezhavas appeared in the social scene of Kerala; the approximate period of their migration is not available. They were a strong presence by 1500 C.E.

1300-1900 C.E.: The Brahmins dominated the social and administrative scenes of Kerala, suppressing the gullible natives. Their word was the rule. They had total control of the Grāmams. The Low-caste - especially the Ezhavas - and underprivileged people got converted to Christianity to escape the cruel customs and barbarian laws that the Brahmins introduced. Islam too developed further during this period along with Christianity. The rulers of Kerala gave a helping hand to both. In 1815 (1812/1816?), the Travancore government took over 378 temples, as per the direction of Col. Monroe, the Resident of the British. By 1900, the Brahmins lost all the major temples to the state.

The caste system in Kerala was different from the one practised in northern India as per the Hindu holy scriptures.  The system here had the Brahmins at the top followed by the Kshatriyas, Nairs (soldiers), Ezhavas and the hapless ‘untouchables’ at the bottom. There were no kashtriyas (rulers), vaishyas (traders) and shudras (servants) initially during the Brahmin raj. Some of the Nair chieftains were elevated as Kshatriyas during 700-1300 C.E. However, around 1800 C.E., Nairs, till then called the ‘Kerala Kshatriyas’, began being referred to as shudras by the Brahmins, perhaps intentionally, as the influence of the Brahmins were being dented by the British who promoted Christians and Tamil Brahmins while the Nairs began asserting themselves, thanks to the establishment of western education system.   All the four Hindu castes had at least 72 sub-castes in total in Kerala, over 20 of them among the Brahmins! I remember seeing in my childhood a list in which Nair sub-castes totalled 128! The British census of 1891, outlandish to a certain extent, lists 138 types of Nairs in Malabar, 44 in Travancore and 55 in Cochin. Whenever the population of Brahmins diminished, they used to elevate to Brahminhood people belonging to other castes – like Ambalavasis (temple hands), Nairs and even the working class like Ezhavas, fishermen and carpenters. (This is discussed under ‘Division of Brahmis’, later)

Kerala’s caste system and the growth of Christianity and Islam are not discussed at length here since a number of articles on the topics are available on the web and in print. Unfortunately, it is a fact that casteism is still followed by Hindus, Christians and Muslims.

In Kerala, Hinduism made some compromises whereby some Jain/Buddhist deities were absorbed by it; some pagan deities continue to be worshipped with a Hindu label. Historians theorize that the worship of Yakshi, Ganapati and Serpent was a practice borrowed by Brahmins from the Jains and Buddhists and suitably modified to attract non-Hindus throughout India. There is a view, however, that serpent worship was prevalent in ancient Hindu societies even before Jainism and Buddhism were founded. Worship of the female deity Amma of south India too was assimilated in to Hinduism. Siva is also considered by many as a south Indian deity absorbed in to Hinduism.

To add to your confusion, here is a map acquired by me from an article. (The source is unknown):

Kerala 200 BCE
The Ay kingdom existed in 200 BCE! There are differences of opinion about the chronology mentioned above. Readers may refer to books on Kerala History by various authors. For example, Jainism is believed to have survived till the 16th century in Kanyakumari. The Cholas and Cheras and briefly the Pandyas also reigned parts of Kerala at times after the 1st century, C.E. Greek historians refer to the hegemony of Pandya kings (Madurai) in certain parts of central Travancore (Thiruvalla-Chengannur belt).

In the doctoral thesis of Ms. B. Padmakumari Amma titled “Jain-Buddhist Centres in the Early History of Kerala” (Department of History, University of Calicut, 1995), she says:

As Jainism declined, the Jain temples were converted into Siva temples and Devi temples. While the temples at Citaral (Kanyakumari Dist.), Kallil (near Aluva) and Paruvassery (near Thrissur) became Devi temples, those at Trikkanamatilakam (near Kodungallur) and Tiruvannur (near Kozhikode) became Siva temples. The period in which Trikkanamatilakam became a Siva temple is not known definitely”.

It is unfortunate that Ms. Padmakumari Amma, whose erudite studies extended from Kasaragod to Kanyakumari, makes no reference to the rock-cut cave temple of Kaviyoor, though the cave has been famous from 19th century among historians. The Jain legacy around Thiruvalla has also been left out. In her district-wise treatise she skipped Pathanamthiṭṭa for no apparent reason!

Everything we attribute to Buddhism could also be extended to Jainism. The cave at Kaviyoor which became a Hindu temple later was obviously the creation of the Jains. Its frontage is strikingly similar to the Jain temple at Thirunandikarai (തിരുനന്ദിക്കരൈ), Kanyakumari. The most famous Jain settlement south of Kottayam is Neelamperoor where a Jain statue is worshipped as Vishnu in the ‘Palli Bhagavathi’ temple.

The cave of Kaviyoor built probably before 800 C.E - may be further back at the beginning of the Christian Era? - out of a large igneous rock was a tiny monastery. The Jains also appeared to have built a small hamlet (kudi) in the craggy areas around it for accommodating their followers.  (Details of the cave are given under The Temples of Kaviyoor). It was then probably called Kal-Kudi-Para. (kal=rock/stone/laterite, Kudi=settlement/hamlet).  Hindus later called it Thri-Kal-Kudi-Para, (തൃക്കല്‍ക്കുടിപ്പാറ), ‘thri’ being a reverential prefix. (Prof. Keshavan Namputhiri uses the name ‘Thrikkaakkudi’, തൃക്കാക്കുടി, a wrong word being used by illiterate locals and also by authors who do not make proper etymological analysis. Thiruvalla and surrounding areas were strongholds of Jainism. Before 8th century C.E almost all the temples of Hindu goddesses have been Jain Yakshi temples.

The Jains must have lived in Kaviyoor between 300 B.C.E and 400 C.E.


After Jainism exited, Buddhist evangelists had a strong presence in Kaviyoor from about C.E. 4th century till 8th century. Although the Jains had created a small settlement around the cave, it expanded during the stay of Buddhist monks. As the population increased, the Buddhist settlements in different areas of Kaviyoor grew in number. The other indications left by Buddhism are the place names with the word ‘Palli’ (പള്ളി), a Dravidian word for Vihaara (monastery).
  1. Mundiyapalli, (മുണ്ടിയപ്പള്ളി), now the northern part of the village (Kottoor, a separate locality now, was within Mundiyapalli)
  2. Pallipuram, (പള്ളിപ്പുറം), the coconut grove behind the N.S.S. Higher Secondary School. This grove was sandwiched by hillocks on the east and west. The vihaara must have been close to where the school stands now. (The grove has almost disappeared).
  3. Pazhampaļļi, (പഴമ്പള്ളി, ‘old vihaara’), the western border of modern Kaviyoor
  4. Thengumpalli, at Thottabhagam, (തെങ്ങുംപള്ളി, തോട്ടബ്ഭാഗം) southern Kaviyoor where later a Brahmin family constructed an Illam. They were called Thengumpaļļi Pottis, one of the custodians of the Mahadeva temple. ‘Thengum’ is a corrupt word for ‘Thengan’ (തെങ്ങന്‍), which means ‘Thekkan’ (തെക്കന്‍, southern), perhaps due to the existence of a vihaara at the southern end of Kaviyoor. The Pottis had also owned plots near the Mahadeva temple.
The land opposite the N.S.S. Higher Secondary School is called ‘Puthathil’ (പുത്തത്തില്‍). The word ‘Putha (പുത്ത)’ could be a corrupt variant of ‘Buddha’.

The Ayyappa temple at Padinjattumcheri (പടിഞ്ഞാറ്റുംചേരി), the western part of Kaviyoor, can be presumed to be an old Buddhist centre of worship. Three kilometres away from this temple, just outside the border of the village, there is another Ayyappa temple at Meenthalakkara (മീന്തലക്കര). Archaeologist and epigraphist T.A. Gopinatha Rao (1872-1919) concludes that Ayyappa is an adopted deity:

“……….This deity is called Shasta because he is able to control and rule over the whole world; etymologically therefore, the word means a ruler of a country; and is sometimes applied to teachers and fathers. The Amarkosha applies the name to Buddha also. The Tamil Nighantus call him by the additional names Satavahana, the rider of the white elephant, kari, the wielder of the weapon known as sendu, the consort of Purna and Pushkala, the protector of Dharma and Yogi; they also state that the vehicle of Sasta is the elephant and the crest of his banner a cock. The **** names rider of the white elephant, Yogi, protector of Dharma coupled with the significance of Buddha applied to Sasta in the Amarkosha incline one to conclude that Buddha as conceived and worshiped in the Tamil country was ultimately included in the Hindu pantheon and a Puranic story invented for his origin at a later period of the history of Hindu Iconology. (Elements of Iconography)”.

Besides, there are Kaali (Bhadrakaali) temples within or close to the village at:
  1. Njaalikandam (ഞാലിക്കണ്ടം), Kaviyoor village
  2. Padapādu (പടപ്പാട്), Paipad Village - now worshipped as Vanadurga (Parvathi)
‘Pallikkoodam’ (പള്ളിക്കൂടം, school) is a word still used in Malayalam.
All Kaali temples (except the one at Kuriyan-Kavu of Kaviyoor built hardly 300 years ago) and the presence of a number of Ayyappa temples in the central Travancore area point to Buddhism that flourished in the area. (The Kaali temple at Kallooppara cannot be older than 500 years since it was built by the Edappaļļi kings). The Buddhists might have converted the Jain temples at Padapadu (along with the temples of Erankavu, Kariyanattu kavu and Alamthurithi) in to pagodas.

Mallappalli, a town east of Kaviyoor, was also a Buddhist village about 1500 years ago. Mallan was a tribal deity of agriculture. The Buddhists named the place Mallappalli after Mallan. 11 km on the west, Changanassery too was, apparently, an ancient Buddhist settlement, with Vazhappalli (വാഴപ്പള്ളി) as its hub.
The mound on which the Mahadeva temple was built is where a Buddhist shrine could have existed, goes an argument. A number of Hindu temples in Kerala were Buddhist shrines. The Siva temples at Vaikom, Vazhappalli (Changanassery), Thumpaman (Pandalam) and Thrissur (Vadakkunnathan), the Sri Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram and the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala – and many more - were all Buddha shrines according to some historians of Kerala. Elders of the village maintained that one cannot discount the possibility of the Mahadeva temple at Kaviyoor being a place of worship of the Buddhist residents of the village due to the following reasons:

In the post-Buddhism period of Kaviyoor, worship of Vishnu was strong. There was no Siva temple. The mound with the Buddhist worship centre atop it was, perhaps, avoided by the Brahmins tactfully to obviate a confrontation with the Buddhists who were still a majority. This must have been in the 8th century as conversion of the villagers from Buddhism to Hinduism might have been on a low scale. The very idea of a Mahadeva (Siva) temple occurred to them only after a large number of villagers were converted in to Hinduism and the Brahmins earned the patronage of the Chera kings of Kodungallur.

It is believed that the Mahavishnu temple (called the Keezhthrikkovil built about 5 metres below at the foot of the mound and now attached to the main temple complex) is older than the Mahadeva temple. What was it that prevented the early Brahmin settlers from building the Mahavishnu temple on the mound itself instead of about 5 metres down? Probably the presence of another structure on the mound! The structure could have been a Buddhist shrine.

The Ayyappa temples, Kaali temples and cave temple mentioned earlier might have served as provincial satellite vihaaras.

The first mention of the Mahadeva temple is in the inscription of 950-951C.E. i.e. a century or two after the arrival of Brahmins. Those were presumably the early days of the temple, the conversion of the villagers in to Buddhism having not progressed considerably.

The large Mahadeva temple complex that we see now was spruced up and enlarged only in stages. The Travancore kings did extensive reconstruction during and after the 18th century.

Perhaps a stronger candidate, I believe, is the hillock on the eastern or western side of Pallipuram. The word Pallipuram means ‘backyard of Palli (vihaara)’. The likely candidate, therefore, is the hillock on the west of Pallipuram because the road (a narrow pathway in ancient times) to the rock-cut-cave passed through its western side. The closeness to the cave, about 300-400 m away, is worth noting. The hillock was later levelled to make a shmashāna (cremation ground) for the village artisans.  The cremation ground was used by them till 1700-1750 C.E. The N.S.S. Higher Secondary School was built there in the 1920’s and handed over to N.S.S. management on November 19, 1929 (ME, Vrishchikam 03, 1105) by local nairs. (see under Kammaala Thakidi). The ‘Puthathil’ land mentioned earlier is on the western slope of the hillock. About 300m further west of this plot is the natural reservoir ‘Polachira’. The monastery could have extended from the hillock up to the reservoir.

There are many who do not accept Kerala’s Buddhist past. They argue that many Bhagavathi/Kaali fanes predate both Jainism and Buddhism and were, in fact, female deities (Amma) of the early tribal society; all of them could not have been Buddhist/Jain shrines. The Devi temple at Kallooppara is believed to have been founded by the kings of Edappalli, a minuscule kingdom near Cochin, hardly 500 years ago. According to the detractors of the pro-Buddhism camp, the presence of the temples of Ayyappa and Kaali need not necessarily support the view that they were Buddhist shrines. There is no vestige of Buddhism around the Mahadeva temple to prove the theory. The use of ‘Palli’ as a suffix in names of places does not always mean they were named so by Buddhists. It is a word that was used in ancient versions of Tamil and Malayalam. ‘Palli’ could have come from this ancient language i.e. the language that was in use before organized and structured religions arrived in Kerala. (‘Palli’ also means village or hamlet). Later, it was generally used to refer to ‘prayer centres’ of non-Hindus. As far as the Buddhist worship ce ntres of Kaviyoor desham are concerned, I believe, the number of inhabitants probably being hardly a few thousands within the service areas of the alleged vihaaras, there was no requirement of setting up of vihaaras every few kilometres.

However, learned historians say that the word ‘Palli’, statues of Buddha found in some places, the Kettukāẓcha (കെട്ടുകാഴ്ച) ceremony of Kaali/Bhagavathi temples (located around Kiliroor/Thiruvalla/Chengannur/Adoor and in coastal areas from Kollam to Alappuzha), Buddhist centres like Vazhappally (Changanassery) and the Paliyam (പാലിയം) copper plate are all evidences to support the presence of the religion in southern Kerala. Kaviyoor is no exception. Budhanoor (ബുധനൂര്‍) near Chengannur was actually Buddhanoor (ബുദ്ധനൂര്), according to historian A. Sridhara Menon. Well, these arguments cannot be ignored. [The Paliyam copper plate of C.E. 868 (or C.E 898, according to Prof. M.G.S. Narayan) contains the grant of land to a vihaara near Thrikkunnapuzha (തൃക്കുന്നപ്പുഴ) in southern Kerala by King Varaguna of the Ay dynasty (C.E. 885-925). Paliyam in ancient Malayāļam means ‘proclamation’].

The Buddhist preponderance thus being a fact, one cannot dismiss outright the view that Kaviyoor had a Buddhist past.

Kaviyoor’s Buddhist history spans approximately 400-800 C.E.

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