Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) and Ayyappa

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) – An ancient statue from Tibet (Picture courtesy: Himalayan Art Resources)

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) is a Buddhist Mahasiddha from South India who lived in the 11th-12th Century CE (AD). He traveled to Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and China and led many disciples to great realization. In praise of his realization, his disciples called him Pha Dampa Sangye or Paramabuddha (Supreme Buddha, who is like a father). Based on the Tibetan hagiographies, his birthplace can be identified to be in Kerala, near Sabarimala hills. One of his main teachers was another Buddhist Mahayogi named Aryadeva (not same as Nagarjuna’s disciple Aryadeva). 

It is highly possible that Paramabuddha’s Guru Aryadeva is none other than Ayyappa of Sabarimala. As per Paramabuddha’s biographic sources, Aryadeva’s (Ayyappa’s) gurus were also great Buddhist masters such as Mahasiddha Śarāha and Yogini Sukhasiddhi. Now Ayyappa is worshipped as a god, yogi, guardian deity, etc by the people all over South India. There are various legends about Ayyappa and the unique worship methods of Ayyappa followers that have some striking similarities with our context. 

Paramabuddha also has a lineage coming to him from Mahasiddha Śabareesha (Savaripa) through Matripa (Advayavajra). Paramabuddha’s Pacification (zhije) tradition became one of the eight great traditions of Buddhism in Tibet.  Chod practice formalized by his disciple Yogini Machig Labdron is very popular in Vajrayana circles around the world, particularly amongst  Yogis and Yoginis. 


Paramabuddha’s place of birth

In his hagiography ‘ ཕ་དམ་པ་དང་མ་ཅིག་ལབ་སྒྲོན་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར། ’ by མཁའ་སྤྱོད་དགྱེས་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ། , the birthplace of Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) is described in this way,

““His birthplace is in southern land of བེ་དྷའི་ཡུལ། (be dha’i yul) , the country of charasimha (ཙ་ར་སིང་ང་། ). .. Most people of that land followed Mahayana Buddhism and were open-minded. .. Being not far from the ocean, there were much variety of herbs and other precious substances. Since the place is auspicious for perfecting samadhi, many practitioners gathered there. Since it is near to the glorious mountain of the South, it is blessed by Avalokitesvara and the people took to heart the teachings on virtuous conduct. And, since it is near to the sandalwood forest of Bhishikota in the South, it also flourished with the teachings and blessings of Khadiravani Tara. His (Paramabuddha’s) birth was in a village, a very wondrous place connected to the forest of Sage Arya (drang srong arya), which also a place of many physically strong people.”

Resolving Be-dha’i-yul

As we shall see, all indications regarding the place from the above passage, except the reference to “be-dha’i-yul” points to Sabarimala in Kerala. Often place names of India are translated to Tibetan based on the word meaning. However, be-dha does not become a meaningful word. Hence, many scholars assumed it to be the transliteration of an Indian sound, and thus guessed the place to be in Vidharbha. Alternatively, Dan Martin, a Tibetologist, in his blog article [Ref-1], pointed out that a number of earlier biographical sources on Paramabuddha gives the place name to be བེ་ཏའི་ཡུལ།  (be ta’i yul), which means the ‘land of coconuts’. However, he took that phrase as a cover-all term for entire South India and then went on to identify the place to be Andhra Pradesh. The main reason for that identification was the mention of the glorious mountain (which usually is a reference to Sri-Parvata in Andhra Pradesh). In that case, the rest of the indications in the above passage do not match well.

Kerala is well-known as the land of coconut. The entire land of Kerala between mountain and ocean is a narrow strip that is suitable for the natural propagation and growth of coconut and is thickly populated with coconut trees. When this inference is taken along with all other indications in the above quoted passage, the place can be clearly identified to be Kerala, and specifically Sabarimala. Interestingly Dan Martin also noted in his article about the striking parallel between the postures of Paramabuddha and Ayyappa, but he left it open there. We were also curious about this parallel for a long time. Once “be-dha’i-yul” is corrected as “be-ta’i-yul” matching with the earlier sources, we could make the following inferences.

Inference from other Indications

In the quoted passage above, Charasimha is a reference to the Chera kingdom of Kerala during that time (11th Century CE).  The mention about the flourishing of Mahayana Buddhism in that country can also be validated. The records such as Paliyam copper plate inscription and the epic named ‘Mooshikavamsham’ make it evident that a reputed Mahayana monastery named ‘Sreemoolavasam’  was still active in Kerala during that time. Further, an 11th Century manuscript of Prajnāpāramitāsūtra from Nepal (now preserved in Cambridge Museum) contains an image of the much famed Avalokitesvara statue from Sreemoolavasam monastery, revealing its glory in that period.  There are also many ancient Buddha and Bodhisattva statues unearthed from various parts of Kerala. The mention of the forests and mountains as not being far from the ocean also matches well for Kerala than any other place.

The glorious mountain of the South, especially connected to Avalokitesvara is Potala, the pure land of Avalokitesvara. It is identified to be Agastyakootam (Potikai in Tamil), deep in the forest at the southern border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. [Ref-2

Bhishikota is not clearly identified. However, from the caption given for another image in the above-mentioned manuscript of Prajnāpāramitāsūtra, it can be seen that the sacred place of Khadiravani Tara is in Kongumandala. Kongumandala (also known as Kongunadu) was part of the Chola kingdom of Tamil Nadu. Its adjacent mountain terrains in the Kerala – Tamil Nadu border were also part of Chera kingdom during some periods. Since the reference of Bhishikota is to a sandalwood forest in Kongumandala, this could be around Marayoor in present-day Kerala. An ancient Buddha statue was unearthed recently from this place. 

A place between Agastyakootam and Kongunadu that is known as the forest of Sage Arya is Sabarimala that comes right in the middle of Agastyakootam and Kongunadu.

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) statue at Kumbum Monastery, Tibet. (Picture courtesy: Bodhi Malayalam)

Since the names are often translated from their Sanskrit form to the Tibetan language based on the word meaning, the name, drang srong arya (Sage Arya) would need to be translated back to the local form. In Dravidian language (Tamil) this would become ‘Ayyamuni’. This could very well be a reference to the famed Ayyappa of Sabarimala. The reference to ‘a place of many physically strong people’ also matches with this because the Malayaraya tribe living there also had accounts of warefare and victory, including a war led by Ayyappa before he leaving the mundane life. We will come back to the story of Ayyappa down the line for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with him.

Interestingly, Sreemoolavasam, the most famed Mahayana Buddhist monastery of ancient Kerala, is also located to be near Thrikkunnaapuzha by many historians. Thrikkunnaapuzha is on the coast close to where the river Pampa from Sabarimala flows down to the ocean.

The Story of Paramabuddha’s Birth

According to the biographic sources, Paramabuddha’s mother used to travel in deep forests for collecting medicinal herbs and other substances for making incenses. She belonged to a family that made incenses with such rare substances. Paramabuddha’s father used to travel to far away places to trade these.  From this, we can infer that Paramabuddha’s parents were from the Dravidian tribes of that place. In another Tibetan biography,  དེབ་ཐེར་སྔོན་པོ།   by འགོས་ལོ་རྩཱ་བ་གཞོན་ནུ་དཔལ།  it is told that Paramabuddha’s father’s name is Tsondru Goccha. When this is translated back to the local Dravidian language, it could be a name such as Veeran or any other name with similar meaning.

Paramabuddha’s mother used to go to deep forests with other relatives to collect the precious medicinal herb of Haritaki (ཨ་རུ་ར། ) that grows only in certain seasons. In one such trip, when she reached the sandalwood forest, she had a vision of Khadiravani Tara. Later she also had visions of bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara, Vajrapani, and Manjushri. Avalokitesvara spoke to her that a seventh ground bodhisattva will be born to her and that she should name him as ‘Ajitanātha’.  In fact, Paramabuddha (Pha Dampa Sangye) is a name that he got later in Tibet from his disciples out of their respect. The name he used in his writings is Ajitanatha. 

Guru Aryadeva (Ayyappa)

Ajitanatha went on to learn Buddhist philosophy and the practice of Mahayana and Vajrayana from 54 Gurus.  Ten of his Gurus were yoginis. According to him, his principal Guru is a Buddhist Yogi named Aryadeva. (Not same as Nagarjuna’s disciple Aryadeva.) It is also mentioned that Guru Aryadeva was Paramabuddha’s maternal uncle. Aryadeva is a Sanskrit name that transforms into Ayya-appan in Dravidian language. Thus, Aryadeva would be popularly known as Ayyappa / Ayyappan locally. 

It may be noted that mahasiddhas are often known by such local names than their formal Sanskrit names. For example, another Buddhist Mahasiddha, Śabareeśa is more popularly known as Śavaripa. Similarly, Mahasiddha Krishnāchārya becomes Kanhappa and Mahasiddha Tillipāda becomes Tilopa. In the same way, Aryadeva or Ayyadeva would be more popularly known as Ayyappa. This could very well be the person whom localities worship as Swami Ayyappa in Sabarimala. He is also said to have lived in the same timeframe (the 11th Century) as Paramabuddha. (There is also a lineage from Mahasiddha Śabareesha to Paramabuddha through Mahasiddha Maitripa (Advayavajra). We will come to that in another post later.)

The information that we could gain from Tibetan sources regarding Paramabuddha’s Guru Aryadeva (Ayyappa) are the following:

  1. There is a forest known as Ayyamuni’s (Ayyappa’s) forest between Potala (Agasthyakootam) and Sandalwood forest of Khadiravani Tara (Kongunadu)
  2. Paramabuddha’s principal Guru was his maternal uncle and Buddhist Mahayogi Aryadeva (Ayyappa)
  3. A short text of Buddhist teaching composed by his Guru Aryadeva (Ayyappa) was translated into Tibetan by Paramabuddha and taught in Tibet. It is named, ཚིགས་བཅད་ཆེན་མོ།
  4. Aryadeva’s main Gurus were Mahasiddha Śarāha and Yogini Sukhasiddhi

More details on Ayyappa

Sabarimala is an extremely popular pilgrimage place now amongst South Indians. They consider it as the seat of Swami Ayyappa. He is regarded as a great yogi or an avatar who lived around the 11th Century CE. As for who Ayyappa is there are many legends. Some of the most famous legends are:

  1. He was originally a warrior from amongst the local tribals (Malayarayar). He led a war to protect the Malayarayar clan from the invasion of Cholas. After the victory, he left the mundane life and went up to Sabarimala and stayed there. Thus he became a great yogi, but the type of meditation that he followed is usually not discussed. However, he was then worshiped as the principal guardian by the tribals. There is also a related story of the young Ayyappa learning martial arts from a martial arts family called Cheerappanchira. 
  2. The king of Pandalam found him in the forest as a small baby. The king adopted him as his child. Later, the queen had another son and so the queen conspired to eliminate him during his youth by sending him alone to the forest to fetch leopard’s milk. However, the young man returned with a pack of leopards, mounting himself on one of the leopards. Thus he tamed the king and the queen and then left home and went to the mountain at Sabarimala stayed there in meditation.
  3. Later, the Brahminical tradition considered Sabarimala to be the shrine of Dharma-Śāstha.  According to them, Dharma-Sastha is a God, as the son of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu.

Connections with These Legends

Of these, the former description matches well with the depiction of Aryadeva as the Guru of Paramabuddha (Pha Dampa Sangye) in the Tibetan biographic sources. As we have seen, Paramabuddha’s family and thus his uncle Aryadeva are from the local Dravidian tribe. The reference to ‘a place of many physically strong people’ in the biographical account regarding the place of birth of Paramabuddha could also be an indication to the martial training that people from this tribe undertook. The name of the tribe, Malayaraya could have its origin as Malaya-rāya, meaning the rulers of Mayala mountain. (The western ghats to the South was known as Malaya earlier.) 

It is also interesting to note that Sabara is a common name for tribals in many parts of India who lived in forests and organized as smalls countries of their own within their forest settlements. There are many historical records of warfare where Sabaras either helped other kings in their war or fought against the invasion by neighboring kings. So, it is quite possible that Ayyappa was a warrior in the early part of his life. Later, he would have taken to Buddhism, practiced Vajrayana in Sabarimala and became a Mahasiddha there. Thus, he would have also become the guardian of the people there.

The legend associated with Pandalam king also has striking parallels with the legends of Guru Padmasambhava – such as miraculous birth, adoption by a king, taming beings by appearing on a tiger, etc. Though Guru Padmasambhava and Ayyappa are not the same, the similarity in the legend could be due to the Vajrayana connection and the Mahasiddha appearance of both of them. In Vajrayana systems, such hagiographical accounts have a special purpose for the disciples in their practice.

Dharma Śāstha

As for the Brahminical legend of Dharma-Śāstha, it is already a well-known fact that Śāstha is an epithet of the Buddha. Amarakośa, the Sanskrit dictionary gives Sastha as one of the eighteen synonyms of the Buddha. In Pali Suttas, there are a number of places (including Mahaparinibbana-sutta, ) where the Buddha refers to himself as Sattha (the Pali equivalent of Sastha). In fact, the literal meaning of Sastha (སྟོན་པ་) is the one who holds the teaching or śāsana. Dharma-Śāstha means the one who holds the authentic teaching of the Dharma, in other words, a lineage master of Buddhism.  According to the Theravada, only the Buddha is considered as Sattha, and not other teachers of Dhamma. However, according to Mahayana and Vajrayana, Bodhisattvas who attained the grounds are also considered as Sastha.

Etymology of Ayyappa

Many other similarities between Buddhism and Ayyappa practice are well known to Keralites, and that led to the belief in some of them that Ayyappa’s origin is in Buddhism. The connection through the name Sastha, as explained earlier, is the foremost amongst those. The Buddhist root of the name Ayyappa is also well known. It derives from Ayya (Arya) + Appa (respected). Ayya (Arya) refers to a person who reached the path of seeing or beyond in the Buddhist path.  

Legend about Ayyappa’s Parents

The legends say that Ayyappan’s parents performed a meditation retreat on the neighboring mountain of Ponnambalamedu before the birth of Ayyappa, as per the instruction of another yogi. It is possible that there was a shrine of Avalokitesvara there earlier. It is also possible that Mahasiddha Sabareesha (Savaripa) was that yogi who instructed them, because Sabareesha is known as the lord of the Sabara clan, and lived possibly in 10th-11th Century. (We will cover this in a separate article later.) However,  Ponnambalamedu falls in a reserved forest with no permission for pilgrims to enter. There are rumors of remains of an ancient shrine there, but it is unconfirmed. There is an annual function associated with Sabarimala temple, where traditionally an approved person from the Malayaraya tribe goes up to Ponnambalamedu and lights up a fire there.

Iconographic Identifications

Old Statue of Sabarimala Ayyappan
Old Statue of Sabarimala Ayyappan. (Picture Courtesy P.K.Sajiv)

Many people in Kerala already consider that the statue of Ayyappa at Sabarimala is that of the Buddha, because of the many commonalities they see between Buddhism and the Ayyappa practice. Though Dharma-Sastha is included as a deity of Hinduism in South India now, there is no such deity in Hinduism in North India. Even in South India, such a practice started only within the last millennium. So, it is widely assumed that Dharma-Sastha was a Brahminized deity with its origins in the vestiges of Buddhism after its decline in South India. 

However, it is unlikely that the Ayyappa statue of Sabarimala is that of Sakyamuni Buddha (Gautama Buddha). It is not typical for Buddha to be depicted in this specific posture. Further, the Buddha would be always depicted with monastic robes. Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, a historian considered this statue to be that of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Dr. Ayyappan, another historian considered it to be Bodhisattva Samantabhadra [Ref-3]. (Could not get access yet to the direct works of these historians to see their reasoning). It is true that there are many statues of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra in South India, particularly with postures involving meditation belt. (We will cover that in another post later.) However, the posture of Ayyappa statue at Sabarimala is atypical for the depiction of Avalokitesvara or Samantabhadra though the meditation belt is in common.  We can see that there are striking parallels between the posture of Ayyappa statue and that of the pacification posture of Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye). Thus, it is very likely that Ayyappa is indeed Aryadeva / Ayyadeva, the Buddhist Mahasiddha, the Guru of Paramabuddha.

The Iconography of Paramabuddha and Ayyappa

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye), (Picture courtesy: Himalayan Art Resources)

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) is depicted in various postures. Amongst those, there are two postures that are very popular for Paramabuddha.

The first and foremost is with both feet on the lotus seat with both the knees up and closer to the chest, firmed up with a meditation belt. This posture is important in the Pacification (zhije) practice that Paramabuddha taught in Tibet. While depicting Paramabuddha in this posture, most often both the hands will be held in vitarka mudra (the symbol of giving teaching) or triratna mudra (the symbol of triple jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). The statue of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala also has striking parallels with this posture of Paramabuddha. Since we know that Paramabuddha’s Guru Aryadeva / Ayyadeva also gave a teaching on Pacification, this posture of Ayyappa statue is an additional proof that Ayyappa also practiced and taught this teaching. This is a further proof for Ayyappa being same as Paramabuddha’s Guru Aryadeva / Ayyadeva.

Mahasiddha Paramabuddha’s quote on the sublime wealth of mind
Paramabuddha (Pha Dampa Sangye) in Rajaleela-asana. (See “Padampa Sangye – Enjoying the Sublime Wealth” for the explanation of these lines) other popular posture of Paramabuddha, is that of rajaleela-asana (the posture of a king’s play), with one leg folded down on the lotus seat as in lotus posture, but with the other leg folded and raised up in a manner of ease, often with meditation belt used to firm up in that position. This depiction of him is usually related to Chod (severance) practice. This posture is also common for the general depiction of bodhisattvas.

Other Buddhist influences on the present Ayyappa practice

Yogi statue from Varkala
Statue of a Yogi unearthed from Varkala. Now kept in Napier Museum, Trivandrum. Archeologists presently identify this as a statue of Agastya. However, the iconographical details are closer to that of Paramabuddha. This could be the statue of another yogi in the lineage of Ayyappa and Paramabuddha.

Unlike typical Hindu temples, Ayyappa followers mainly chant sharanam (refuge) to Ayyappa. Many people consider this custom also to be originating from its Buddhist roots. However, they chant “Sharanam Ayyappa”, instead of the typical Buddhist trisharanam of “Buddham śaranam gacchami, Dharmam śaranam gacchami, Sangham śaranam gacchami”.  It is possible that “Sharanam Ayyappa” is based on its Vajrayana roots of considering Guru as the condensed essence of all the three jewels. 

As another similarity, unlike the present golden statue, the statue that was used before 1950 (given in picture) is depicted to be in meditation. Also, unlike traditional Hindu temples, Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala never had a history of prohibiting people of any caste or varna from entering and praying there. Many people consider this also to be due to the Buddhist origin of the temple.

Mandala Puja

Another striking connection is the Mandala-puja which is an uncommon practice at Sabarimala. Traditionally people used to visit Sabarimala only in a specific period of the year, and that too after observing strict vows of renunciation for forty-one days. (Nowadays people also go with a much shorter period of observance or even without such observance.) During this period, their main training is to consider themselves equal to Lord Ayyappa. They are also supposed to train in seeing others who have taken similar vows as Ayyappa. After such individual observance of vows, they travel together to Sabarimala in the deep forest, to the shrine of Ayyappa. Currently, their practice at the temple ends with praying and making offerings, while the temple rituals are done by a Brahmin priest. Then they formally end the strict vows upon returning to home. 

It is very likely that this custom was a partial continuity of an earlier Vajrayana practice at that place. The forty-one day period of the observance of the vow would have been earlier meant for strict individual retreat ( སྙེན་པ། ) as per Vajrayana practice, and training in pure view. Later, all those who had been initiated and completed such retreats would have assembled together in the deep forest for the final stage ( སྒྲུབ་ཆེན། ) of practice in a single mandala, as is typical of Vajrayana practice. The annual pilgrimage season of forty-one days in Sabarimala is known as Mandala-puja. This name would have originally come up in relation to the great assembly of the practitioners in one mandala as taught in Vajrayana. It is possible that in the olden days, the practitioners would have done a group practice ( སྒྲུབ་ཆེན། ) there for many days, instead of just praying and returning immediately. This custom could have started while Mahayogi Aryadeva (Ayyappa) was residing and teaching there, and would have over time lost the meaning. 

Paramabuddha’s Journey to Tibet

After receiving teachings from many Gurus, Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) engaged in meditation retreats in many parts of India. He also wandered in many places as an Avadhoota (careless yogi). Once when he was meditating at Potala (Agasthyakootam), he had a vision of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. He was instructed by Avalokitesvara to travel to the snow mountains and turn the Wheel of Dharma there. Later, he received similar instructions also from his root Guru Aryadeva. Thus he traveled to Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, China, etc. They received him with great reverence and felt that his realization is like that of the Buddha himself. Thus they called him Pha Dampa Sangye ( Parama Buddha, who is like a father). That is how Ajitanatha received the name Paramabuddha.

Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) had many disciples in Tibet. The most well-known amongst them was Machig Labdron, the great yogini of Tibet. Paramabuddha summarized the essence of the teachings of his Guru Aryadeva (Ayyappa) in this way to Yogini Machig Labdron:

The Essence of the Teaching

“Turn away from all non-virtuous aims.
Dispel all resistance.
Cultivate what seems impossible.
Severe all bondages.
Recognize your emotions.
Wander through fearsome and isolated places.
Understand that all beings are empty like the sky.
Discover the Buddha in you while you wander in the wilderness.
Then, your teachings will be radiant
Like the Sun in a cloudless sky.”


Here we have discussed about Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye), his birthplace, and his Guru. There are some established facts and some possibilities. They are:


  1. Between Avalokitesvara’s Potala and Khadiravani Tara’s holy place in Kongunadu, there is a place known as the forest of Sage Arya (Ayyamuni)
  2. Mahayana was flourishing in that place during that period.
  3. Mahasiddha Paramabuddha (Pha Dampa Sangye) was born in Kerala near that forest.
  4. He is from a Dravidian family there
  5. His uncle and principal Guru was Aryadeva, another Buddhist Mahayogi (not same as Nagarjuna’s disciple Acharya Aryadeva who also comes in the list of 84) 
  6. Aryadeva’s Gurus where Mahasiddha Śarāha and Yogini Sukhasiddhi


  1. The mention regarding the forest of Sage Arya (Ayyamuni), could be about Sabarimala, the forest of Ayyappa
  2. Aryadeva (Ayyadeva), uncle and Guru of Paramabuddha, could be Ayyappa of Sabarimala, a Buddhist yogi.

From the five circumstances of place of birth (forest between Agastyakootam and Kongunadu), period of living (11th Century CE),  the style of teaching (Buddhism, Vajrayana, sitting posture of Pacification), name (Ayyadeva / Ayyappa), family background (and related legends), the above possibilities can be inferred.

These facts and possibilities need to be seen only as a part of a quest to understand history. Making claims for places or statues is not at all relevant to Buddhism. Buddhism is not about religious clinging and the Buddha always taught to go beyond such attachments. Further, we do not gain by sticking to our past. Rather, we should move forward in discovering the Buddha in our own being. As Bodhidharma said, “Whoever denies entry to the three poisons (attachment, hatred and ignorance) and keep the doorways of senses pure, body and mind calm, has one’s own body as a great Sangharama (vihara). The sublime form of the Tathagata cannot be cast in stone or metal as they are subject to decay. The practitioners can cast a Buddha within their body by … smelting and refining their own true nature (Buddha-nature) and pouring it into the mold of paramitas …”

However,  it is beneficial to understand such historic connections as it removes the obstacles that the wrong history imparts to our minds. It is highly beneficial localites to understand that Kerala flourished with all vehicles of the Buddhist teachings such as Sravakayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana and that its effects in culture and traditions are still visible. Further, it greatly helps a practitioner of Buddhism in Kerala to know that Kerala too was blessed by so many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara, Khadiravani Tara, Sabareesha, Ayyappa, Paramabuddha, Bhavaviveka, Vajrabodhi, etc. Appreciating history can thus generate more auspicious circumstances for practice.


  • Ref-1:  Yerushalmi, Dan (2010), South India in Tibetan Geography, WEB  (extracted on 2018)
  • Ref-2:  Hikosaka, Shu (1989), Buddhism in Tamil Nadu: A New Perspective, Madras, Institute of Asian Studies
  • Ref-3:  Sadasivan, S.N. (2000), A Social History of India, APH Publications

12 thoughts on “Paramabuddha (Padampa Sangye) and Ayyappa

  • December 16, 2018 at 1:38 am

    Buddhist historian.. Dots connected!

  • July 14, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    1)Have you heard of the “thiruvalla pattayam” (12th century ), please refer then you can see the name “ayyappa”as upadevatha in sree vallabha temple
    2)the first inscription about ayyappa in kerala is on11th century at kanyakumari guhanatha kshethra. That’s by rajadhiraja chola. Its says “ayyappan vediya chathan koil ”
    3)the god chathan (sastha)is mentioned in chilapathykaram, appar thevaram etc

    So based on the above points can you be able to justify what you have written? So even the name ayyappa is there in 11th and 12th century in famous temples of kerala, how parama budha(11th century) is able to get a prathista in the kerala temples?

    • July 16, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      Dear Vinay,

      Glad to know about your interest in history and thank you for your excellent questions on our article. Before going to the specific answers to the three questions you raised, we need to discuss some general points.

      First of all, it is a well-known fact and a much widely discussed topic that Sastha and Ayyappa are names derived from Buddhism. Though we mentioned about the etymology of these terms in our article, we didn’t go deep into that. In our article, based on the records available in Tibetan, we establish six facts and then make two tentative inferences. Those are summarized in the conclusion section of the main article. Based on that, The Buddhist Yogi Ajithanathan from Kerala who traveled to Tibet and became renowned there as Paramabuddha was a disciple of Mahasiddha Ayyappa. Given the many Buddhist influences still visible in Sabarimala, as well as the similarity of timeframe, description of the place, the type of teaching, etc., our inference is that the Ayyappan who lived and attained Samadhi in Sabarimala is same as Ayyappa, the guru of Paramabuddha.

      However, this is by no means a claim that anyone who is known by the name Ayyappa should necessarily be the same as the Ayyappan of Sabarimala. The words Sastha and Ayyappan have originated much before the birth of Ayyappan of Sabarimala. As discussed in the article, the Buddha refers to himself as Sastha, and Amarakosa also lists Sastha as a synonym of the Buddha. Sastha means the holder of śāsanas (teachings). Dharma-Sastha means the one who teachers Dharma (Buddhism). Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Sastha is Sattha. In Tamil, that is written as சாத்தன். The Malayalam reading of that Tamil word becomes Chatthan (In Tamil ச is used for both cha and sa). So, originally Chattan means Buddha. Later, it was also used as a title for accomplished teachers of Buddhism, particularly in the South. The famed Buddhist author of Manimekalai is also Chitalai Chattanar. However, we can also spot later uses of Chattan as a proper name (given name of individuals) and not necessarily as a Buddhist title. For example, there is a reference about Chatthan Vadukan and Iravi Chattan, two Christian traders as belonging to the Manigramam trader’s guild at the time of King Rajasimhan (11th Century) (ref: Thazhekad Inscription, Travancore Archeological Series, Vol 8). So, though Chatthan’s etymology is from Buddha and Chattan was a title for Buddhist teachers, there are also other people with that name even as early as the 11th Century.

      Similarly, Ayyappan’s etymology traces to Buddhism. Arya (Ayya) refers to a practitioner who reached the Path of Seeing or beyond in Buddhism, i.e., one who has the direct experience, at least during meditation, of ultimate reality as it is. Appa is a term of respect. So, Ayyappan refers to any accomplished yogi or mahasiddha of Buddhism who has a high level of realization. So, even before the Ayyappan of Sabarimala, there could be many mahasiddhas who were called Ayyappan. It is also possible that Ayyappan became a proper name (a given name for ordinary individuals) well before the birth of Mahayogi Ayyappan of Sabarimala. In fact, Ayyappan of Sabarimala and Paramabuddha are some of the last luminaries of Buddhism from Kerala.

      It may also be noted that various statues, shrines and iconographic details of Bodhisattvas were later absorbed into various theistic systems during the decline of Buddhism. Wherever local Dravidian culture continued to worship either the statues of Bodhisattvas or shrines of a Buddhist Mahasiddha, such statues were called Ayyanar, Ayyanappa, and Sattan in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, it became Ayyappan and Chattan. These Ayyanars and Ayyappans had a different form than the Ayyappan of Sabarimala. Typically, one leg was folded up and fastened there with the help of a meditation belt (dhyana patta). Due to the decline of Buddhism, the original meaning was lost and the local people worshipped these statues as if these are local Gods. As the local people adapted Brahminical worship systems, these Ayyanars were pushed out as upa-devatas, and sometimes even to the periphery of a village as village-guardian deities. We also found that many statues of Jain Yakshas are now worshipped as Ayyanars by local communities. Over time, in place of these meditative and compassionate forms of Ayyanars, newer forms emerged with sword and other weapons, at the village entrances in Tamil Nadu. These were also called Ayyanar, though there is no connection to these with Buddhism. Similarly, over time, worldly spirits too were called Chattan in Kerala. The Brahminical system also absorbed Buddhist statues directly in their system. Sastha became the standard Sanskrit name whenever the absorption was into a Brahminical system. In Tamil Nadu too, the Brahminical absorption of Bodhisattvas happened in the Sanskrit name of Sastha. The trend of absorbing the Bodhisattvas would have started around the 6th Century itself with the rise of Brahminism in the South. Appar’s Thevaram is the earliest scriptural reference for that absorption, and that was much before the time of Ayyappa of Sabarimala.

      Now, coming to your specific three points:

      1. Thiruvalla Pattayam is a collection of copper plates preserved at the Sreevallabha Temple, Thiruvalla. These copper plates belong to different periods and the plates were collected and rearranged and edited at a later date. Historians date most of these plates to belong to the 12th Century, with some as early as the 10th and some going to a slightly later period. Yes, there is a reference to Ayyappan and Ayyappan Emberuman at one place, and another reference to Ayyappan Panikku Chivitam (Provisions for those engaged in Ayyappan’s tasks) at another place. However, we are not sure about the dating of these particular plates. The first reference comes in the context of earmarking the offering of rice for various temples, institutions, individuals, etc. The list has the deities or temples such as Varahappan, Thiruvaayambadi, as well as a mention about Atirashala (hospital), and then Ayyappan. It also covers Kuravaran to which usually the Brahmin priests do not go. There are also references to mayi-yakki (Maha-yakshi) and so on, which does not belong to the Brahminical pantheon. Further, Ayyappan Emperuman (the head of Ayyappan cult) is mentioned separately after completing the Brahminical list of Mel-emberumakkal (chief priest),santhikkar (priests), keezh-santhikkar (sub-priests), bhattar, etc. This indicates that Ayyappan referred to here is not a sub-shrine of the Sreevallabha Temple, but another separate place in the locality which also came under the king. In the second reference, mentions about Ayyaveli and the fields used for the rice supply to Ayyappan Panikku Chivitam. This also strengthens the possibility that the references of Ayyappan, Ayyaveli, Ayyappan Panikku Chivitam, etc. are about another place and not about a sub-shrine within the Sreevallabha Temple. There is a detailed study on this topic by Mathew Alex at

      Since, Mahayogi Ayyappan of Sabarimala, the Guru of Paramabuddha, lived in the 10th to 11th Century CE, it wouldn’t be surprising if shrines in honor of him (such as a stupa with his relics) came up in various places after his passing away. So, a connection for Ayyappan of these copper plates with Ayyappan of Sabarimala can’t be ruled out. However, to us, it sounds more likely that Ayyappan of Thiruvalla copper plates refers to another Ayyappan belonging to a place where Buddhism has already declined and where a local non-Brahminical community was continuing to worship a statue of a Bodhisattva, with their local theistic rituals. The usage of Ayyappan Panikku Chivitam instead of Bauddhar strengthens this thought. This must be in reference to a local cult with their own ritual systems.

      2. Yes, we are aware of the inscription about a grant to an “Ayyappan Vetiya Chathan Koil ”. Its mention appears in an inscription at Kanyakumari Guhanatha Koil. Vetiya (வேதிய) in Tamil relates to ‘alchemy’. So, this could be a reference to an Ayyappan (an accomplished Buddhist Mahasiddha) who is also an accomplished master of alchemy. By the way, many great Buddhist masters, such as Nagarjuna, were also said to be accomplished masters of alchemy. Sage Agathyar was also supposed to be an accomplished alchemist. To put it shortly, Ayyappan Vetiya Chathan Koil would have been a shrine dedicated to either the samadhi-sthala or a stupa containing the sharira (relics) of a Mahasiddha accomplished in alchemy. Is that Mahasiddha same as Ayyappan of Sabarimala? It can’t be ruled out since just after the passing away of Ayyappan of Sabarimala, it is possible that such a shrine comes up with part of his relics and the Chola king devotedly makes a grant to it. Just as many other Mahasiddhas of Buddhism, Ayyappan of Sabarimala also would have accomplished alchemy.

      3. Chilappathikaaram’s reference to Chattan is in the context of visiting some Chattan shrines. One of them is the shrine of Pachanda Chattan. Pachanda means Buddhist or Jain, and later it came to be known as a derogatory word for heretics, of course, from a Brahminical context. This Shrine of Pachanda Chattan could be a stupa containing the relics or the samadhi-sthala of an accomplished Buddhist master.

      So, overall, we do not find any contradictions in these.

      Warm regards,
      Prabodha & Abhayadevi

  • November 13, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    great. I loved it. I too have been studying these traditions and practices to get a better insights about our beliefs and practices. Also how the old yogis and siddhas are presented today. I hope we can discuss these matters some day. great work. keep it up.let us be in contact. I walk the inner path.

  • November 13, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    It’s very very clear that Ayyappa was a Buddhist monk, no doubts. Thanks for the research and blog.

    • December 9, 2019 at 5:21 pm

      This article clearly shows the missing link. Very good research. We can see how buddism casting its own shadow on the present day custom practices in deity as well as devotees of sabarimala. As far as I know the 18 holy steps in sabarimala implies the 18 Principal Insights of dhamma.

      • December 9, 2019 at 6:32 pm

        Dear Elavarasan, Thank you for the comment. BTW, the 18 steps could be related to the 18 stages in the path to enlightenment that the Buddha taught. The 3 of sambhara-marga + the 4 of prayoga-marga + 1 of darsana-marga + 9 of bhavana-marga + 1 of asaiksha-marga.

  • March 10, 2020 at 11:24 am

    I have read your article and briefly, I have translated in Hindi for public awareness

  • August 8, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Brilliant article! Thank you so much!
    May i ask you please, have you wrote something more about his posture in your article ?
    I am very interesting about this asana , the same you can find in dzogchen longde teaching
    And one more, you mention ” It is true that there are many statues of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra in South India, particularly with postures involving meditation belt. (We will cover that in another post later.) ” does this post exist ?

    • August 13, 2020 at 12:08 pm

      Thankyou Sergei,

      This posture of Dampa Sangye is used in Shije and Dzogchen for similar purpose.

      The article on Bodhisattvas is still pending.


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