Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu falls to the north of Trichy and Thanjavur, both of which were areas with a strong presence of Buddhism in the ancient times. Buddhism in Perambalur is now evident through two ancient Buddha statues, one at Ogalur village and another at Paravai village. Though currently there isn’t much awareness of the teachings of the Buddha in this region, local people regard these statues as auspicious and maintain them at public locations. Often, local folklore has been woven into the narrative as is the case with other parts of Tamil Nadu.
‘Dubai Buddha’, at Ogalur
The 5ft high Buddha statue at Ogalur village has a strange story. The locals call this statue ‘the Dubai Buddha’. According to the locals, someone got a long-awaited visa to go to Dubai for a job after garlanding this Buddha statue. After that, in that locality, whoever longed to go to the Gulf for a job started garlanding this statue. According to them, many people went to Dubai since then. Though people there have no particular interest in Buddhism, the Buddha statue is regularly receiving good care and many garlands because of this legend.
According to the locals, this statue was sitting by the roadside ever since they can remember. No one knows from where it arrived there. In all likelihood, it would have been found from a field and then kept by the roadside. After the statue rose to fame due to the ‘Dubai connection’, in the year 2001, some of those who managed to go to Dubai made a raised platform for the Buddha and protected it with a grill around. The statue could be from the 10th-11th Century CE.
The Dubai connection is reported here as believed by the villagers. While it is possible that the peaceful and clear state of mind induced by the presence of the Buddha statue would have helped them in planning properly and procuring the visa, the original purpose of the Buddha statue is far greater – as a support for the practice towards liberation. There is also the powerful condition of making aspirations in a virtuous state of mind after making offerings to the Buddha. It is not to be confused as Buddha taking offerings and granting boons like local gods.
A Buddha at the crossroads, at Paravai
Around 10km from Ogalur is another village called Paravai. There, at a bus stop in a four-way junction sits another ancient Buddha statue that again marks the presence of Buddhism in Perambalur during ancient days. This statue is of around 4ft in height. A short raised platform is made for the Buddha. Again, the locals remember seeing the Buddha statue in the same place for at least this generation.
We heard that on special occasions locals make some elaborate offerings to the Buddha by arranging a large spread of delicacies on that platform.
The villagers at Paravai gave us a lead that there is another Buddha statue in a bus stop at a nearby village named Perumathur, about 9km from there. We went to Perumathur and checked that statue too. It is not a Buddha statue, but the statue of a Jain Tirthankara. It is about 2ft6” in height.