Sreemoolavasam – an Ancient Buddhist Monastery in Kerala

Lokesvara in Kerala

 

This is a replica painting of the famed statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Lokesvara / Lokanatha) at Sreemoolavasam Mahayana Buddhist Monastery in Kerala around a 1000 years back. Avalokitesvara is flanked by (green) Tara and (yellow) Bhrikuti on two sides. There are no traces of the Monastery or these statues now, as almost everything to do with Buddhism had been wiped away from Kerala in the last millennium. Whatever we know about Sreemoolavasam Monastery are from the following sources:

 

  1. A palm leaf manuscript of Aṣṭa-sahāsrikā-prajñāparamitā-sūtra, made in the 11th century CE that contains the above picture with the title, Dakshinapathe Sreemoolavasa Lokanatha, as one of the holy places of Lokesvara in the Indian subcontinent. This manuscript was retrieved from Nepal and now preserved in Cambridge University.
  2. Paliyam Copper Plate Inscription of Vikramaditya Varaguna (9th-10th century),Ay king of South Kerala.
  3. Mushikavamsam’, by Mahakavya by Atula in the 11th century. 

 

Till around a 1000 years back, Kerala was a flourishing ground for Buddhism, particularly Mahayana. At that period, the southern part of Kerala was ruled by the Ay kings who had their capital first at Aykudi near Agastyakoodam (Potalaka/ Potikai – considered the abode of Avalokitesvara) and later at Vizhinjam in Trivandrum

 

Sreemoolavasam Monastery in Ay Kingdom
(Source for Map: Wikimedia Commons – South_India_in_AD_300)

Vikramaditya Varaguna (9th-10th century CE), one of the most celebrated Ay kings gave an extensive grant of land to the Bhattaraka (Abbot) of Sreemoolavasam Monastery.Paliyam Copper Plate Inscription documents this grant. The inscription starts with homage to the Buddha who has moon like radiance and from whom the nectar of grace flows down profusely and purifies everything, producing prosperity everywhere. He also praises the Buddhist view that shatters all assumptions about the nature of Self. He also pays homage to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. 

 

Later, in the 11th Century CE, a historical Mahakavya named ‘Mushikavamsam’, by Atula narrates about the strong connections King Vikramarama and King Valabha maintained with this monastery. 

 

Exact location of Sreemoolavasam is unknown now, but many identify it as Trikunnapuzha due to local legends, and also since the ancient Buddha statues found in Kerala are mostly from near this area. However, none of the statues found in Kerala matches with the famed Lokesvara statue of Sreemoolavasam. It may remain a mystery for the archeologists to uncover in the years to come.

 

Additional Note: For those who wonder who Avalokitesvara, Tara and Bhrikuti are in Mahayana, they represent the Bodhisattva ideal. They are examples of how the naturally perfect nature of our own minds can manifest in inconceivably numerous ways for the benefit of oneself and others, as we cleanse the mind’s obscurations through compassion and wisdom. Avalokitesvara is the power of compassion to take care of all beings. Tara is the swiftness and vibrancy of the very space of our experiences to naturally turn everything to the benefit of all and dispel fears. Bhrikuti is the power of that very space to naturally dispel negativities and obstacles without a trace. For more information, see the article Avalokitesvara, the Magnificent Play of Compassion.

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